Flatpacks, meatballs and seeking God’s kingdom

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I’ve blogged about Minimal February before, but was reminded of my bid to declutter when I heard that the founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, had died over the weekend. His store has contributed to a good chunk of the stuff I’ve accumulated, but I’ve also appreciated his eye for design and imaginative storage solutions! I’m planning to declutter again this February. If you want to join in, just get in touch. Meanwhile, you can listen again to my Thought for the Day here at 01:22:02 or you can read it below.

Good morning.

Three years ago, I took part in the Minimalism Game with some friends. Every day in February we decluttered. One item on the 1st, two on the second, and so on until by the end of the month we’d removed 406 things from our homes and our lives. It was sobering to realise how much unnecessary stuff we had all accumulated.  And I’m planning to do it again this year.

The founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, who has died aged 91, had a simple philosophy. According to the company’s website, he ‘wanted to create a better everyday life for the many people’. If you’ve spent hours constructing flat-pack furniture with only a stick man drawing and an allen key for company,  you may not agree, but there’s no doubt that Swedish design, affordable basics and self-assembly goods have revolutionised how we live.

Kamprad began his business aged 17 when his father gave him a small amount of money as a reward for doing well at school in spite of his dyslexia. Whatever you make of his bookcases and his meatballs, it’s highly likely that Scandinavian design principles have impacted the places you live and work over the years.

How we think about material objects has a huge bearing on our lives. Jesus makes a clear link between worrying about what we wear and what we eat, and having the freedom to enjoy the life that God gives us. He tells his followers not to run after the things they think they want, but to seek the kingdom of God, and trust in his provision.

Many of us live in an anxious tension between wanting more stuff, and feeling overwhelmed by all the possessions we no longer need, so the idea that each day has enough trouble of its own rings true. How can we be free of this trouble? Seek God’s kingdom, says Jesus.

That doesn’t meant that we shouldn’t care how we dress or what our homes look like, but it means living with consideration for others and the planet. Thriftiness, sharing what we have, freeing ourselves from clutter and reducing our consumption are all means of creating a better everyday life. Seeking something more than stuff frees us from the worry that ensnares our hearts and robs our peace.

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Film-making on the cheep

The other night I beheaded a chicken. All, you understand, in the interests of art. And of course no animals were harmed in the process. The chicken was already dead and having enjoyed a full life of freedom and fertility is now immortalised on film.

IMG_7875Phyllis (the chicken) and I have a part in a feature film called Dalriata’s King being made in Scotland by Fellowship Film and due for release in Autumn 2016. It’s a brilliant story set in 9th century Scotland where good and evil forces battle across the land. Amongst the Celts, Picts and Druids a shadowy force is at work and children are being abducted but a rumour is circulating of a king who will rescue them from the darkness and hope begins to rise.

My character, Biddy, has a lot going on. Her daughter is abducted by tree demons, her husband bravely sets off to rescue her and she has her work cut out to persuade the local villagers to fight for the king. I can’t tell you much more – nobody likes a spoiler – so you’ll just have to go and see the movie when it’s released to find out what happens to Biddy and her village. Suffice to say that it’s great to be playing a character of depth and I feel very privileged to have been cast in the role.

And being part of a micro-budget production is causing me to think about the film industry and those who work in it. All of which has also given me pause to reflect on what it looks like when people work together to serve a common vision. IMG_7864

Being part of a cast and crew who are dedicated to telling a great story well with limited resources is one of the most rewarding parts of the actor’s life. Sure, there are plenty of people in the industry who want to achieve personal success and celebrity, and on film projects there can be a fair amount of rivalry and competitiveness but, like the majority of people working in the creative industries, most do it because they want use their talents to serve a bigger story.

IMG_7865On Dalriata’s King, everyone is trying to make the best movie they can, whether their job is to give a great performance in front of the camera, get the lighting and sound correct, create authentic-looking battle scars, look after the child actors well or make a temporary hut in a back garden feel like an authentic 9th century dwelling. The common goal is more important than the egos of the individuals concerned and, when everyone is allowed to play to their strengths, the result is magnificent.

IMG_7866Then there’s the camaraderie. People love watching those ‘behind the scenes’ documentaries that are often included in DVD extras. Partly it’s because the bloopers and mistakes are funny to watch, but I think it’s also because it gives us a glimpse into the feeling of family that develops amongst cast and crew. Working together on a project builds a level of trust and depth of relationship that is unusual in our self-absorbed world. That’s why it can feel like a bereavement when a theatrical project is over.

And finally, there’s the satisfaction of doing something well. So much of what passes for entertainment these days is cheap quality,  and so much of life is rushed, so there’s something beautiful about taking the time to do something with skill and care. And, necessity being the mother of invention, there’s a lot of imagination being used to see the possibility beyond the reality. Everyone on the cast and crew is buying into a reality they cannot see, and is committed to helping the audience see it for themselves.

For me, it’s interesting to take these observations and apply them to different situations, either in other artistic contexts, or as missional disciples working together for a different kingdom of light. Many of the ‘given circumstances’ are the same – everyone comes to the project with a different set of skills and experience, rich community is created when everyone is focussed on a goal and the pursuit of excellence sparks the creativity and commitment of the group. All of this reminds me of what the church looks like on a good day.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that church is just another expression of activity that we do. It’s not the same as making a film, playing in a sports team or going on a trip with friends. Church on a good day is the living, growing, dwelling-place of the Spirit of God (see Ephesians 2:19-22. In fact if you’ve got some time, read the whole book!). If you like, all the good characteristics of a committed film crew are reflections of something even better. Church on a good day is not an event or an experience but an envisioned, gifted, creative, loving body of people infused with the power of the Holy Spirit and focussed on the remarkable love of the Father made real in the death and resurrection of Jesus. When we understand that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work amongst us we are free to accomplish more than we can ask or imagine.

I stumbled across a quote from film-acting legend Uta Hagen the other day:

Thoughts and feelings are suspended in a vacuum unless they instigate and feed the selected actions, and it is the characters’ actions which reveal the character in the play.

She was talking about the actor’s motivation to action on camera – expressing the view that there is no point in feeling an emotion unless it is then used to prompt the physical action of the performer. People understand what a character is thinking or feeling by what they observe them doing. And the job of the actor is to allow physical action to reveal the truth of the character’s inner life.

And again, I think the same applies to God’s people on mission. Thoughts, feelings and experience of God prompt us to action, and our character is revealed to the world by our actions towards it. So, from a place of worship, presence and intimacy with God we are prompted to care and love and build his kingdom. So, our experience of God is not suspended in a vacuum but lived out in our day to day interactions with those around us, hopefully without harm to chickens, and without quite as much mud being applied as on this particular film set!

You can follow the progress of Dalriata’s King on Facebook or by going direct to the website. I’ll also be posting some thoughts and tips on acting for camera at a later date.

 

Inside, Outside, Underneath My Skin Worship

IMG_6852I went to a gig last week.

So what, you say? Well, partly because if I have spare time and money I tend to go to the theatre, and partly because I secretly find the whole process of gig-attendance quite stressful, and mostly because I’m now middle-aged, it’s an unusual occurrence these days.

On a side note, the stress is usually about the unknown nature of the whole experience – gigs don’t have definite start times, you’re never sure what to do with your stuff, I never seem to have the right clothes, and if, like me, you’re a visual person you never really know where to look when the music starts. When you analyse it, the whole experience is actually quite weird (and this from the woman who has quite happily spent 3 hours wearing a mask running around a warehouse in the pursuit of an immersive theatrical experience). Twice. If that has piqued your interest, you can find out more about Punchdrunk here.

However, I digress. Once I had figured out what to wear and made my peace with having to cart my handbag around the space all night, I began to look forward to seeing one of my heroes on stage again. Martin Smith was the lead singer of Delirious?,  a band whose lyrics and music had always stirred something deep within me. Somehow,  when I listened to them in the car, experienced them live in a huge crowd or lay on the floor at home allowing them to speak truth over me, I connected with God in a way that wasn’t ethereal and detached, but raw and truthful.

In a sense Martin Smith and his band provided a soundtrack to my 20’s, so:

I’ve walked down a road where the devil’s been
Where the kids have seen things they should never have seen
And the ancient stone knows the deeper tale
About a bloody game, they called the holy war

Heaven is my home and there’ll be no shame to bear
Heaven is my home and there’ll be no refugees

(Mezzamorphis, Heaven)

resonated, because sometimes I needed reminded of the heavenly home that was waiting for me, and for the children I worked with who had seen things they should never have seen.

And later, when I left home, work and all that was familiar to pursue a crazy path of drama training in the big smoke, it helped to remind myself that:

You, still captivate me, fascinate me
You still captivate me, saturate me
You still captivate me, liberate me
You still captivate me

(World Service: Inside, Outside)

So, although I was looking forward to experiencing the God’s Great Club tour, I was a little apprehensive that I might be disappointed. Maybe Smith would have lost that magnetic stage presence and the middle-aged Edinburgh crowd would shuffle home feeling sad that our glory days had passed. In the event, despite the handbag-carting and the oddly bright lighting, we were not disappointed. He still had it. Our glory days were not past. We could still be history makers in this land, speakers of truth to all mankind.

IMG_6851As I belted out the classics and allowed my heart to melt to some newer songs, I reflected on why I respond to this music. It’s not just that Martin Smith has an ease and energy when he performs that make for a good night out. It’s not just that the music is written to stir a spiritual response.

It has something to do with integrity and the presence of God.

It has something to do with lyrics that connect with the heart of humble worship before God and the desire to be part of something bigger and better. These words and this music tell my story and God’s story.

The evangelists among us sometimes get frustrated with worship music. We want to be out there telling people, not hanging around with a bunch of Christians singing mushy songs. It’s fine for the prophets, pastors and teachers, but we want to get active. Now. There’s not a minute to lose. Of course, that’s a gross exaggeration and a dangerous path towards self-reliance, but those of you who have a gift of evangelism will understand what I’m talking about.

What Martin Smith has always been good at is speaking truth about God to the hearts of people who love his world. He’s a missional worship leader in the sense that his songs allow us to tarry in the place of awe and wonder, but don’t let us wander into a place of safe introspection. Look on God, then look on his world. Mission is the response to encounter. Music to the ears of those who long to see God’s kingdom break into the world of need and shame.

If not us who will shout
Your song of praise
For every soul to be saved
in Jesus’name
So we must keep the faith
not backing down
We must live the faith
This is our time

(God’s Great Dance Floor Step 2: Keep The Faith)

I’m glad I went gigging on a chilly Tuesday evening, because I left having met with God in an underground vault off the Cowgate and with a renewed sense of God’s call to his world. And a deep gratitude for guys like Martin Smith who continue to speak truth to my generation, and those who come after.

And like the Creative Fool that I am, I left wanting to us all to be able write, perform and worship like that. Who else wants to join me and make some history?

Are you tired of sleeping alone, Admin?

Do you ever wish we could turn back the clock to a simpler time when technology didn’t dictate our lives? It’s fairly predictable to hear people of my age (a still foolish 43) pine for those endless summer days when we ran free from the tyranny of the overflowing inbox. “We didn’t need Facebook when we had real friends”, we cry, “and don’t get us started on the needy, involuntary status sharing of the digital natives. What do they know about real life?!”

Well, it seems to me that they know what we have taught them. Or rather, they don’t know, because we have not taught them.

plugholeI was emptying my spam folder last week. It’s not so different from clearing the shower plug hole really. You take a deep breath to quell the rising nausea, grab a handful of muck and throw it in the bin with a grateful shudder. Cleanliness restored. Amongst the predictable flow of detritus was a subject line that caught my eye.

Are you tired of sleeping alone, Admin?

Like all foolish truth it made me laugh and then brought me up short. That one question seems to encapsulate the contemporary human condition in 38 characters (and before you try and tweet it, let’s just pull it apart for a minute).

The question strikes at the heart of contemporary isolation, offering the false hope of superficial self-improvement, and confirming our suspicion that we are not truly known. Tired of sleeping alone, or just tired of how your life has turned out? Tired of the lost dream of the happy ever after and the false promises of consumerism? Want to do something about it? Just click here and you’ll feel better…for a bit. Want to change your life? Just try harder. Who do you think you are? You’re just “Admin”. We don’t really care about you or know anything about your heart, your mind, your inner being. See what I mean? 38 characters that say an awful lot more.

I’m not a Luddite. Technological innovation has opened up amazing opportunities and has changed how we communicate and think forever. And there’s no going back, however we might wish to in our rosiest-tinted moments. But the truth is that the dissatisfaction we feel about how life has turned out simply points out the fact that we are created to experience a fullness of life that cannot be bought, worked for or furtively found in the dark places of our most self-centred fantasies. Rather, it’s a gift. A grace-infused, unearned restoration of meaning and purpose that comes from the one who knows us, really knows us, by name, by heart, by soul.

Michael Frost uses the word “excarnation” to describe the way many of us in the West are choosing to live. In an interview with Christianity Today last year, he stated:

My concern is that many people don’t think hard enough about whether they like the way technology is shaping them, and in particular how it is shaping interpersonal relationships. We need to live a fully embodied existence, in community, and in place. Of course, having global connections is a wonderful aspect of 21st Century life, but if technology wrenches us out of a meaningful sense of embodiment, away from connection with neighbors, and out of the place in which we live, we lose something precious and important.

So my foolish challenge this week is to live incarnationally. To speak to people face to face. To spend time away from the screen. To breathe deeply and live fully. To allow myself to be truly known. To be more than Admin.

 

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)