Friday, March 22, 2013

The challenge of disorientation....

Yesterday I read that Gordon Cosby, founder of the Church of the Savior and the Potter's House arts ministry in Washington, DC, had passed from this life into the arms of Jesus. He was 94.  On Tuesday of this week, the United States marked the 10th anniversary of our ill-informed and reckless invasion of Iraq.  And throughout the week, Pope Francesco I offered gentle, hopeful and healing words to all types of people of faith - even those who declare themselves to be atheists - noting that we all need one another as allies in our quest for compassion, beauty and peace.

I feel close to all men and women who, although not claiming to belong to any religious tradition, still feel themselves to be in search of truth, goodness and beauty. You are our precious allies in the effort to defend human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples, and in carefully protecting creation.

How did Paul Simon put it 25 years ago?

Earlier this week I was interviewed by a reporter from a small, local paper re: our up-coming DISORIENTATION meditation on Good Friday.  One of the most interesting questions was, "A lot of churches have, you know, started using contemporary sounding music to try and attract back some young people.  But what you are doing doesn't sound like this at all, right?  You're doing totally secular songs so what's up with that?" 

I suspect that my answer was a little too long for print (although we'll see) but what I was trying to say is:  we live in extraordinary times filled with "angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity and shouting, 'hallelujah!' (to paraphrase St. Paul (Simon.)  But because most of us are too busy - too depressed - too tired or simply too dispirited - most of the time we don't notice.  And when we fail to notice and honor the sacred in our midst, two things happen: we grow a little more cynical and unobservant, and, our soul slips further into malnutrition.  Our imagination atrophies incrementally and we find ourselves trusting a one-dimensional way of living more than the splendor of our Creator. Walter Brueggeman put it like this:

We need to ask not whether (an alternative to the status quo) is realistic or practical or viable, but whether it is imaginable. We need to ask if our consciousness and imagination have been so assaulted and co-opted by the dominant (vision) that we have been robbed of the courage or power to think an alternative thought. Imagination is a danger… that’s why every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist.  It is the vocation of the prophetic poet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king – or dictator – or CEO or even President – wants to urge as the only thinkable one. And the characteristic way of the prophet is that of poetry and lyric. (The Prophetic Imagination)

What I have experienced taking place in so-called "secular" songs is an awakening to the sacred in the middle of the ordinary - the shock of discovering the voice of God as something deep, beautiful and even challenging in an unexpected place - the surprise of grace coming to me where I really live.  And when other people are encouraged to hear God's still speaking voice in the midst of the every day life - in the music on their MP3 or car radio (or TV sets or computer screens) - they, too start to reclaim the wonder and sacredness of life.  They see angels in the architecture.  God in the beggar.  Christ in their own fears and wounds.  Not all at once and often haltingly but authentically and honestly.

So what we're trying to do on Good Friday is to keep this awakening rolling - to encourage more people of any or no official spiritual path to pause and listen for the divine - because we were created to be precious allies in the effort to defend human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples, and in carefully protecting creation.  I learned some of that from Gordon Cosby back in 1968 when I received a call to ministry in his Potter's House coffee house/art gallery/worship center.  And like brother Brueggeman said so clearly, artists and poets have kept the spirit burning deep within as I've been led into a ministry of the imagination.  Mako Fujimura put it well after September 11th:

Often our reality is a broken and fragmented story in which dignity and value are stripped from humanity. (Like the prophets of old, I have found that) art can begin to address this dehumanization… (it can help us travel from) the trivial to the transcendent, bringing synthesis to fragmentation and hope to despair.” He adds that our creativity, however, must be generative:  A generative response will mean that we reflect deeply to cherish what we love, and lament for what is lost. Art has a greater role to play today to help grieve and attempt to capture the "groans that words cannot expressthan any time in the past 50 years.

These are, indeed, extraordinary times - please join us if you are in town on Friday, March 29th @ 7 pm for DISORIENTATION.  We are using the music of Portishead, Arcade Fire, Delta Rae, Herbie Hancock and Glen Hansard to evoke an awakening of imagination and the presence of the sacred in our every day lives.  I think Vaclav Havel was right:

Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.


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