Something that will convince the world

Today’s thought for the day centred around the 150th anniversary of the birth of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and encouraged us to think beyond the here and now. As ever, you can listen again here at 01:22:58 or read the script below. On a side note it was also good to meet Dr Deborah McNeill from the Glasgow Science Festival who was enthusiastic about all the events happening across the city in the next fortnight. You can check out these events by clicking the link above.

Good morning.

The artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born 150 years ago today. There are numerous opportunities to rediscover his work in Glasgow over the summer, and the new V & A museum in Dundee will include a full restoration of his Oak Room tearoom when it opens later this year. Even if you have never visited one of Mackintosh’s buildings, you will undoubtedly be familiar with his designs from a tea-towel, mug or coaster.

Like many visionary artists, Mackintosh was not always acclaimed in his lifetime, and his work did not receive the same degree of interest at home as it did in Europe. Now, however, he is regarded as one of Scotland’s greatest creative influences. What he would make of the tea-towels is debatable.

In a lecture given in 1902, Mackintosh stated:

Art is the Flower. Life is the Green Leaf. Let every artist strive to make his flower a beautiful living thing, something that will convince the world that there may be, there are, things more precious, more beautiful – more lasting than life itself.

Legacy is something we recognise in hindsight. The green leaf of life is often misunderstood until the flower blossoms much later, and the task of the artist in convincing the world of what could be, can feel fruitless during his or her lifetime. 

Whether or not we are artistic, the idea of striving to leave something beautiful behind is an appealing one, but in the day to day reality of existence, we seldom live with such high-minded purpose. 

The apostle Paul encouraged the Christians in Philippi to choose not to grumble or argue, but to shine like stars in the sky. Whatever job we do, whatever struggles we face, however dark the world appears today, perhaps we need to encourage one another to keep going, shining like stars and convincing the world that there are things more precious, more beautiful and more lasting than life itself.

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Lessons Learned In Doing Nothing

IMG_8625Last week Rachel and I spent a good amount of time doing nothing.

Let me rephrase that.

For three days last week, Rachel and I set off from Glasgow at the crack of dawn heading west. We boarded the ferry to Dunoon in order to get to the secondary school for 8.45am and…er…do nothing. We’d been invited to be part of an Easter project run during Holy Week by a local youth worker and, after much creative brainstorming about the Stations of the Cross, we came up with the idea of setting up a living tableau that would build towards the end of term assembly.

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Over nine break times we proceeded to build a newspaper stall with headlines proclaiming the events of the Easter narrative and culminating in the question ‘So what?’. To create our piece of performance art we also added a prop for each headline and took up residence on stage as newspaper sellers. We read the papers, chatted, ate, slept and interacted with any pupils brave enough to approach us.

IMG_8602Meanwhile, the level of interest grew. “What are they doing?”, “Why are they just sitting there?” and, most often, “Do they get paid to just sit there?”. Staff encouraged pupils to come and find out for themselves. We attracted a small band of loyal followers who would come over and chat at any opportunity. During one lunch break I was offered a choc ice by an S5 pupil. She said she felt sorry for me just sitting there while everyone around me ate lunch, but later in the day confessed that really she came over because she was utterly intrigued.

But most people just walked past and averted their eyes when they realised that we had spotted them looking at us.

IMG_8609All was revealed at Thursday morning’s assembly when the two newspaper sellers shouted their way through the headlines then relaxed with a creme egg to discuss the ‘So what?’ question. There was more news, they had heard. The man who was so brutally crucified the other day had been seen alive and well – talking, laughing, eating, living. What kind of man was this? One who could break the rules of the universe, and defeat the powers that held him dead. Good news indeed!

IMG_8639And why am I blogging about this? Obviously, I’m quite pleased that the gamble of doing nothing paid off. The pupils were engaged with the topic.  Staff were generally enthusiastic. The head teacher is looking forward to whatever we choose to do next Easter. The local team had great conversations with young people about Jesus. We managed to cross the stormy Clyde six times without losing our breakfast or lunch.

But, as the sign read, so what?IMG_8616

I think there are a few lessons we can learn from our week in Dunoon Grammar.

Firstly, there’s the challenge to those of us who work in schools to value the benefit of working within the parameters of the educational context. Too often over the years I’ve encountered Christians who try to ‘get away’ with as much as they can in schools,  shoe-horning a message into anything they’ve been invited to do. I’ve done it myself. Most of the time this is fine, albeit a little rude to the host school and insensitive to the environment, but at times it can verge towards a form of spiritual bullying that tries to force a response from young people who have not chosen to be present. It can also make life very difficult for Christians who work in the school regularly. Learning to serve is even more important in a post-Christian context. Many young people I encounter have very little knowledge of the Bible or understanding of the gospel. While the temptation to pack a message that includes everything I think they ought to know is strong, it takes more imagination and prayerful sensitivity to find ways of working in a wholly appropriate manner within the context of Religious Observance, or a subject-based curriculum.

IMG_8627Secondly, there’s a challenge to those of us who are artists who follow Jesus, to allow a piece of art to speak for itself. Recently I heard a story told by the Christian visual artist, Bruce Herman, who was asked why he thought that no great artist had come out of the evangelical Christian community. Stuck for an answer, one of his colleagues interrupted him and suggested that, “The imagination doesn’t grow in this soil.”. What a searing indictment of our heritage. Herman’s response to this haunting comment has been to see the fostering of imagination amongst Christian artists as his mandate as a painter and teacher.

I am someone who loves words and action, and as a writer and performer, I have to battle the desire to control the message and people’s response to it. The artist wields the power to evoke response in the audience through manipulation, but often there is greater power in allowing the art to speak for itself. Sitting on a stage doing nothing surrounded by seemingly unconnected props afforded those who observed the chance to form their own responses,  ask questions,  and ultimately made space for God to speak.

IMG_8642Thirdly, those of us who live in this post-Christian world can take something away from this art. My observation when apparently “reading the paper” was that many people were drawn to look at what was going on simply by virtue of the fact that there was something unexpected and unusual amongst the normal setting of the school hall. By reimagining the story into the ordinary context of daily life we engendered curiosity and interest, finding a hook to the genuine astonishment and pace of the first Holy Week as it would have been experienced by the disciples who lived through the events.

It’s simple to achieve this with a piece of art, but I’m left wondering what it looks like to reimagine this incredible, life-changing, cosmic gospel story in the normal setting of my street, my workplace, my family? The most obvious conclusion to draw is that Christians need to be in the mix to start with. Being a living, breathing, eating, helping, thanking, serving, forgiving, praying ‘work of art’ in the ordinary setting of the place where we live speaks volumes before we open my mouths and speak. And being prayerfully present, and willing to be observed, will prompt the ‘so what’ question from those around us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Creative Fool speaks up…

FullSizeRenderHaving flirted with various forms of blogging and communication over the years it seemed sensible that at last the fool should speak up. So here I am.

I work for a company called Foolproof, and we like to think we have things to say that you might want to read. I’d like to make you laugh, cry and think about what really matters in life. That’s the job of the fool.

Why the fool? Well, historically, the fool serves as the truth teller in the royal court. Through jokes, tricks and comedy, the fool has the power to challenge and provoke with impunity. The fool is a clown who bursts the bubble of pomposity and challenges the accepted norms.

Meanwhile, in the Bible, Paul speaks about the foolishness and wisdom of God:

“Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe…For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
1 Corinthians 1:20-21, 25

At Foolproof Creative Arts we want the foolish things to challenge and provoke our culture. We believe that we have been given a foolish upside-down, creative message to share about a God who chooses lay aside the riches of heaven to get involved in our lives.

So, if you’re the kind of person who slips on the occasional banana skin, walks into the odd lamp-post or spills their drink down their front when checking the time, then read on, because I think you’ll like our foolishness…

Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me
Those who find they’re touched by madness
Sit down next to me
Those who find themselves ridiculous
Sit down next to me
Love, in fear, in hate, in tears

(Sit Down, James, Rough Trade Records)