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O come, O come Emmanuel… we pray that you will…

unwrap our doubt to make a space for love…

unwrap our grief to make a space for joy…

unwrap our resentment to make a space for peace…

unwrap our sentimentality to make a space for life…

unwrap our skepticism to make a space for hope…

unwrap our darkness to make a space for light.

(from a prayer by cheryl lawrie in the book hold this space (see proost.co.uk) – christmas confession)

Watch a video by Jonny Baker with this prayer.

Complex Christ book cover

The Complex Christ, by Kester Brewin

This week I’ve been re-reading a book by Kester Brewin of The Vaux Community in London, England, The Complex Christ: Signs of Emergence in the Urban Church.

I want to share a few thoughts from the chapter on “Gift.” These are direct quotes from the book. I encourage you to purchase the book from Amazon.com by clicking on the book cover to the left. I cannot say that I am in total agreement with all that he writes in this book, but once again, it has impacted my life and ministry.

Christ began his journey to embrace the city in the desert, where he rejected the crude transactionalism of those who would tempt him to seek devotees through stunts and bread. He turned away from a style of ministry that tried either to get people to exchange their commitment for the meeting of their material needs, or wow them into belief through displays of power and magic. Christ did this because he had dedicated himself to a new way, to a conjunctive approach to the city. . .

However it is clear that, despite resisting these trades, there was some kind of transaction occurring in Christ’s ministry, just as there is in the Church’s ministry today. Something is given, and something is received. It is vital that we, like Christ, get the nature of this exchange right, for we risk ending up as another product to buy or sensation to seek unless we do… a conjunctive approach to faith must re-evaluate the Church’s modes of exchange, and … central to our critique of consumerism must be the rediscovery of the transaction of gift. (p. 117)

At a basic level then, we might reflect on the extent to which our practices in church function as commodity or gift. . . We must clearly be careful about our gift practices in the context of faith, and ensure that we get the distinction between appropriate commodity transaction and appropriate gift transaction. To blur the line between the two is likely to cause all sorts of problems and lead to allegations of manipulation. (p. 120)

… if worship is a gift, then it is absolutely not about what I am looking to get out of it, but what I am looking to give. Churches must steer clear of ‘selling worship’, as if it could be re-marketed and rebranded through some surface pick-and-mix of popular culture. Who am I to come to worship the Almighty and expect to get something? Yet that’s what most of us do,, turning up tired from the week’s work and busy weekend, needing our batteries recharging, looking for a bit of a power-pack from God or to be caught up in some holy moment. (p. 121)

Churches must aspire to become centres of gift exchange in the broadest sense. They should provide hanging spaces for artists, venues for music of all types, forums for discussions and debates, classes for expectant mothers… whatever gifts there are in the local community, the church should be the place where these gifts can be exchanged or shared. I reiterate: this is not just about services of ‘Christian’ activities. This is about engaging with the local environment and having open boundaries. It is about refusing to see this as infection, but encouraging it as cross-fertilization. It is about declaring our interdependence with the locality we find ourselves in. (p. 128)

My thoughts:

As an artist, as a musician and as a minister of the gospel, my spirit resonates with these thoughts on gift. I believe that too often the church has commercialized its worship, offered assistance to the community with strings attached, or has had a ‘patriarchal’ attitude toward the people groups in the community.

The church must allow people to bring their gifts and share them at all levels of ministry, with no string attached, with no profit expectations, with no analysis to see how many new worship attendees or church members have resulted from the ministry attendance and response.

Jesus wants to reunite us with God because he loves us and longs for an intimate relationship with us. If we are to love others as Jesus loves us, we too must offer such a loving relationship as a gift, without any function or expectation.

The power of space to change and enhance worship is rarely considered, except perhaps when a building is (or was) being designed by an architect. The space and the furnishing of the place of worship directly impact people’s experience of God’s presence and how they perceive God and one another. The atmosphere, the visuals, the furniture, the spatial distance, the size of the sanctuary, the “look and feel” from inside and out, converge to influence and shape the worshipper’s response to God.

The important feature of Christian worship is that the internal experience of salvation in Jesus Christ, combined with immediate external expressions of this experience, has stamped the use of space in Christian worship with a particular character. Spatial arrangements differ as a result of varying emphases on table fellowship, preaching, baptism, the orders of ministry and gifts, and the sense of body ministry.

Worship in emerging churches as a holistic experience of the saving grace of God is created in part by space. The return of worship to the people, as a work of the people, permits greater use of artistic interpretation, Scripture reading and prayer. In that participatory experience, worshippers acknowledge and celebrate God’s mighty acts of salvation.

Worship is no longer something to be watched or listened to, but something to be done by the people. Thoughtful reconstruction of worship space in sanctuaries constructed many years ago can bring new life and direction to a congregation. Large aisles and larger chancel space allow for greater movement and participation in expressions of worship. Churches that invite people to come forward for prayer, for laying on of hands, and for other kinds of ministry need adequate space for these functions of worship ministry.

New attention is being paid to church architecture. New or refurbished church buildings need to facilitate the relationships of people to one another, renew the holy and allow for appropriate use of artistic symbols, sights and sounds. Above all, the church building must express hospitality and acceptance.

In Romans 12, worship is described as presenting our whole beings to God as living sacrifices because of his grace and mercy. These sacrifices are a spiritual act of worship, sacrifices of ourselves for God’s glory. God reveals Himself to us in worship; we respond to him in joy, praise and thanksgiving. He speaks to us through His Word: the story of His kingdom communicated verbally, visually, spatially and experientially. His Spirit convicts our spirits, hearts, mind and emotions; we are changed; we repent.

God extends his love and mercy to us and in worship, we offer ourselves to him, loving him with all our hearts, all our minds, all our souls and our strength. We experience personal connection, personal healing and personal restoration. We experience joy.

Dance, an art form long disallowed in the church, is returning in the form of choreographed liturgy. Worship is redeeming this art form of the use of the body. Charismatic churches have championed its renewal… dance in worship is gradually being understood as a movement of praise, a means of setting the body free to worship God.

Art has the power to reach the emotions are nothing else. When words are used creatively, using poetry or story people’s emotions will begin to respond. Nevertheless, when verbal expressions of worship speak more to the rational mind than to the heart, emotions are not engaged. The use of the arts is not emotional manipulation but an intentional effort to encompass the full range of biblical worship.

God taught his people wandering in the wilderness to worship him with a full range of artistic expression. They decorated the tabernacle with beautiful artistic ornamentation. God called two artistic leaders to empower all with creative gifts to participate in the creation of the tabernacle. God calls pastors and leaders today to affirm the creative gifts he has placed within his followers today. Leaders in the future will intentionally and effectively create space and opportunity for the creative arts gifts in community, allowing and encouraging artists to become all that God desires for them. Just as communities of faith have encouraged and empowered people with musical abilities, those with other artistic gifts are waiting to be unleashed to serve God. Through the arts in worship, we will discover many ways to engage people’s heart and souls through experiential worship.

(continues in installment 7)

view of hand-painted Good Shepherd mural

view of hand-painted Good Shepherd mural

The Good Shepherd mural was created as a portable backdrop solution for contemporary worship services… it is 20′ wide by 6.5′ high, made of five panels with canvas stretched on a lightweight wooden frame. The mural backdrop was originally created for contemporary / Spanish services at Coburn Memorial United Methodist Church in Salisbury, NC and was used there for about a year. Then it was used in the Spanish contemporary services in the Hispanic/Latino Mission of the Waynesville District, Western North Carolina Conference for a couple years. The mural is currently in storage.

To see the original design, the painting process and photos of the entire mural, go to http://www.dancingdragonfly.info/murals.html. This is an example of the use of visual art in worship.

Here are some other interesting resources / examples of the use of visual art in worship.
1. http://www.calvin.edu/worship/visual_arts/art_in_worship/index.php
2. http://blog.nextlevelworship.com/2007/04/10/using-visual-arts-in-worship/
3. http://www.surfinthespirit.com/art-literature/worship.html
4. http://www.rejesus.co.uk/creativity
5. http://www.halmoran.com/welcome.htm
6. http://www.lca.org.au/worship/visualarts.cfm
7. http://blog.worship.com/worship/2007/04/using_visual_ar.html
8. http://www.artforworship.com/
9. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2096/is_3_52/ai_94983829/
10. visualimagebookcover1 Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Engaging Culture) By William A. Dyrness

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