Thursday, January 29, 2015

An afternoon conversation

Kristen Leigh has driven down to the city from her place in the woods an hour outside of Albany. To take care of some business and to continue our conversation. Living in the woods in  winter has made very elemental concerns…is there enough propane ? how much snow can the front porch hold? How will I  survive if my car gets stuck in the snow? Do I have enough food if I get snowed in? ….the highest priorities. And the fact is, that is where most of the world lives its life…struggling to get by for the next day, the next moment..
Her thesis Finding God in the in –between: A Post Modern Approach to Sacred Music and Art in Contemporary Western Culture tackled a lot of subjects, important for me was her critique of the institutional church for viewing music and art as illustrative or didactic exposition of the word when in reality, artistic expression is a word of its own, its own meaning inherent not derivative. The songs sung in  the Saturday night bar or cafĂ© just as much to God’s glory as a Sunday morning offering. On this we totally agree. In my own dissertation, I had written that in a post 9-11 world, creation itself was an act of defiance and resistance against the forces of non-being, an act of partnership, co-creation with the creator.

In her post-graduate travel to Bali, she had learned that for much of the world , the distinction between sacred and secular doesn't exist. It's just life. the separation is a particularly western enlightenment late development. Likewise, the concept of art as a separate category is itself also a western concept. All to be taken into consideration as we consider art and the holy.
She also critiques so-called art for art’s sake, looking for a connection between beauty and truth as I look for the intersection between beauty and justice.  She is helping me fill out what I had intuited when I saw this intersection as a vital part of an urban theology. Reading her thesis inspired me to go back and reread my dissertation which left me with ambivalence. On the one hand, ten years ago I had clearly seen what was essential coming down the road. And the plan that I had developed had already started to show success…23 new members in one year. But the intervening landmarks struggle, building struggles and resulting conflicts plus an economic collapse had drained our energy. Is there still time?
I had heard her say that church is needed for when the shit hits the fan, but she pushes me further on that.  Not church, but something deeper, God, Jesus , the source. Ultimately, church has to be not about us, but God.
In the meantime, we share our sense of the demise of the church as we have known it.  Yes, there are congregations with enough resources to keep on living the present reality into the future, but in the bug picture, we are already in the postlude.  In her view, church is there wherever there are two or three gathered…and that can even include a work of art, so there will always be church. But my question is what does that mean for small churches like West-Park who have to find the funds to support a creaky behemoth of a building? Is Sunday morning still as possibility for the community I see coming into being?
She’s also faced the reality of churches concerned with safety in downtown settings behind security systems like I encountered when I first came to West-Park. Our front doors, open to the street, move her. And there is the experience of liberal compassion from position of privilege combined with judgment around drug use, etc. What we’re called to, she agrees, is vulnerability.
We talk about roles. What I learned in Occupy. And the current Black Lives Matter movement and the emerging spiritual communities that are forming themselves. We (well at least me, she’s younger) are not going to be the leaders. (Sorry Union Seminary, not you either…) That day is past. We are viewed with suspicion as if we think we know better and are going to tell them what they should do. Which is frankly what a lot of us still want to do. But if we listen closely, stay present, earn trust, we will be given our opportunity to reflect, advise, exegete, share language and structure and strategy. It is a ministry of radical accompaniment.
The late afternoon sun is shining through the windows at the Gate. I’m looking forward to making music with her tonight.

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