Sunday, March 27, 2011

Canada's youngest rock band; The Brothers Dubé - Boom Boom - Out Go The ...

Just read about these guys and their message to the NHL. The Dube Bros are an Ottawa sensation - they raised over $100,000 in response to the Haiti Earthquake, have played on parliament hill, jammed with Arcade Fire.
As always, the young pave the way for us! Rock on, lads.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Spectacle or Spectacles?

Twenty some years ago, i got home from leading two worship services and sprawled on the couch to watch (or doze through) PBS’s Great Performances, but on this particular Sunday, i discovered a dream not for the drowsy – the Earth Mass at New York City’s Cathedral of St John the Divine. A few weeks ago, i experienced the Earth Mass (now named The Feast of St Francis) at that great gothic pile in Gotham City.

The music (much of it by Paul Winter) was stunning, incorporating the howl of wolves and the sonic soundings of the humpback whale, creature cantors. As well as the Paul Winter Consort, worship was deepened by two dance companies, a puppet artist, 8 guest choirs joining the Cathedral choir, and the presence of animals throughout the sanctuary (mostly dogs, who sometimes added their thoughts to the proceedings). The Cathedral was packed – i imagine it is not this full on Christmas Eve – and the high holy event was not the sacrament of communion, but another sacrament, the procession of animals.

An air of reverence and awe enveloped the requested silence as, lead by a service dog, the procession of creatures to the altar went by: camel, yak, tortoise, llama, gibbon, macaque, swans, sheep, snake, pig, bunnies. i experienced a deep sense of thankfulness for Creation, for the amazing diversity of life on this planet. Each creature reminded me of my own creaturlyness, the marvel of DNA and adaptation. i will have some further reflections on this part of the worship in a subsequent blog, but for now, i am pondering the role of spectacle in Protestant worship.

The Cathedral of St John the Divine is Episcopalian (that’s American for “Anglican”), and there was certainly a high church tone to the proceedings, including incense, several processionals, chanting, and the recessional. But there was also dance – exquisitely beautiful dance – filling the aisles, fabric ribbons on what appeared to be fly-fishing rods expertly floating overhead, an amazing fish puppet that swam through the air above us, and, of course, the spectacle of the animals.

In mainline Protestantism, there is nothing like it. Crazy Appalachian Bible churches have a frenzy culminating in handling poisonous snakes (no thanks),

and evangelical churches are not adverse to people clapping, dancing, ecstatically harmonizing. But we mainline Protestants have let our deep love of education erect a wall of suspicion about any emotion-provoking form of worship. Yes, we are permitted to shed a tear or two at a funeral or baptism or wedding...less so if something else in worship moves us deeply. We place our emphasis on the arts of music, preaching, liturgy, and are suspicious, if not snooty, about ritual, drama, spectacle.

Of course, few of our churches have the budget of a St John the Divine (see below for their current list of artists and ensembles in residence (thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s budget!). And if we Protestants believe that liturgy truly is the work of the people, is our reluctance about spectacle in worship that we are afraid it won’t be “good enough”? Would we be willing to risk liturgical dance that had some fumbles and flaws if it was honestly offered by a local dancer? Can we receive the gifts of the people, not just in money, music, baking, pastoral care and the church’s assorted administrative tasks, but also in drama, dance, clowning, acrobatics, visual arts – stuff that moves us to a place of ecstasy?

There is a legend about Amish quilts and Islamic carpets – that a mistake is built into the art, because only God/Allah is perfect. Might we mainline Protestants, while seeking to offer our best, also make room for what is not perfect in our worship. It doesn’t need to be Broadway quality. It just needs to move us, to open our hearts as well as our minds.

Artists and Ensembles In Residence at St John the Divine:

Mary Buckley, Painter

Jason Robert Brown, Composer

Judy Collins, Musician

Glen Cortese, Conductor

Early Music New York

The Forces of Nature Dance Company

i Giullari di Piazza

Jean Claude Marchionni, Sculptor

The Mettawee River Theatre Company

The Omega Dance Company

Christopher Pellettieri, Stonecarver

Philippe Petit, High Wire Artist

Simon Verity, Sculptor

The Paul Winter Consort

Greg Wyatt, Sculptor

Cynthia Zarin, Poet

Monday, August 23, 2010

Saint Sullivan

News flash: Local church says “Everybody welcome”!

Compare and contrast with Martin Luther King, Jr’s observation that eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America.

Is it just me, or is western culture becoming more and more segregated? As well as the usual suspects of race and class, we are increasingly fragmented in the 1,000 channel universe, able to avoid any music, TV show, dance, theatre, etc. that we think we don’t care for in favour of stuff that confirms our own prejudices.

When i was a youngster, one of the most unifying hours in North America was the Sunday evening at eight o’clock TV show, The Ed Sullivan Show. With a host who could only be described as unbelievably uncharismatic, the show offered a true variety of entertainment. It was on The Ed Sullivan Show that i first saw and heard the Kirov Ballet, the Moscow circus, the great African American singer/actress Ethel Waters breaking my heart with her song, “Suppertime” about the mysterious disappearance of her partner, old burlesque comedians like Henny Youngman and Milton Berle, puppetry (anybody remember Topo Gigio?), Broadway musical show-stoppers with the original cast in costume (Carol Channing singing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”; Julie Andrews and Richard Burton singing the title song from Camelot and even the hirsute kids from Hair). Sullivan was famous for the Beatles’ appearance and Elvis before them, but he also made sure that African American performers – Harry Belafonte, Eartha Kitt, Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, the Supremes – got airtime. To a kid growing up in the WASP enclave of suburban Toronto, this was heady stuff. Is there an equivalent of Ed Sullivan on air today – a show that eschews niche marketing and seeks to expose us to a broad palette?

Last spring, i had a great rambling conversation with Cynthia Dyck, the administrator of the Refinery (the arts centre affiliated with St. James Anglican in Saskatoon, SK). Although hired by the church, Cynthia is an arts administrator. She maintains that not being a church person makes it easier to do her job at the Refinery. As someone well-known in the arts community, Cynthia had the credibility to bring in the artists/renters. Any defences the artists might have felt about coming into a church space was dissipated when they asked Cynthia, “Do you go to the church?” and she answered, “No, I don’t, but this building is for everyone.” That leant credibility to the Refinery, as potential renters thought to themselves, “Huh! It really is for everybody, or you wouldn’t be working here.” For Cynthia, the joy of her job is that people can’t silo – they have to deal with each other. She says: “The yoga students have to deal with the theatre people upstairs. The theatre people have to deal with the tai chi class. The 12 Step Program has to get directions from the weird gay guy up there. So they’re always forced to deal – they can’t silo. If they want to work here, they can’t silo. Even if it’s just sharing the same doorway, it’s amazing how we are changed by sharing space. We’re going, Hey! This is important! Look at these two people having to work things out, and they normally wouldn’t run into each other. Relationships are the most important. If you get those relationships right, then everything else falls into place.”

At the church i live and work at, our congregational demographic doesn’t match the demographic of the neighbourhood. Nor the city. While i would like to think that Martin Luther King’s statement about churches and segregation is no longer true, i am not convinced that churches, rather than being meeting places, are silos. Perhaps these silos are reflective of our wider culture, the iPod age when we download what we already like and ignore the rest. Congregations tend to have their own “playlists” – musically, theologically, socially. How do we Ed Sullivan our churches so that we can expose ourselves to rhythms not our own, to arts that challenge our spirits, to the music of Saturday night (as opposed to the four-square hymns of Sunday morning)? When i consider a new pantheon of saints, Ed Sullivan now comes to mind.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Money Talks

Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts? -Gabrielle Roy

Suggesting the church could function as a Third Place (the place of community that is neither home nor work), the workshop leader asked us to take out a five dollar bill and look at the fine print on the side of the bill showing Canadians at winter play – hockey on the pond, learning to skate, tobogganing. My middle-aged eyes had a hard time with the tiny text, but when i got focussed, i was delighted to read this:

The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We had three places – the school, the church and the skating rink – but our real life was on the skating rink.

This sent me on a quest to see what other quotes are on Canadian money. i discovered that we put out a Canadian Heritage banknote series between 2001-2004. Check out the Bank of Canada web page (you’ll have to poke around a bit to find the series, but once you do, scroll over the bills, and all kinds of elaborations pop up –

i am not a student of money (seems i can’t hang on to it long enough to be collector), but i wonder if Canada is the only nation to have quotes and images from our artists on our money? For the record:

$5 – the above quote from Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater and the image of children at play;

$10 – “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow/between the crosses, row and row,/that mark our place, and in thy sky/the larks, still bravely singing, fly/scarce heard amid the guns below” from John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields. The image is a Peacekeeping scene.

$20 – “Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?” Gabrielle Roy, and images are by Haida artist, Bill Reid – Raven and the First Men, and Spirit of Haida Gwaii

$50 – from the UN Declaration on Human Rights, this quote: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and the image is Barbara Paterson’s statue of the Famous Five women who made sure that Canadian women are considered persons

$100 – “Do we ever remember that somewhere above the sky in some child’s dream perhaps Jacques Cartier is still sailing, always on his way always about to discover a new Canada?” from Miram Waddington’s poem, Jacques Cartier in Toronto. The images are of exploration: a canoe (is anything except Maple syrup more Canuck?), maps, radar.

Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts? Our money talks, and says something about who we are as a nation.

Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts? Can you think of some arts that have helped you to know a culture (your own or another’s) more deeply?

Have a look at the Canadian money in your pocket/purse. What does it tell you about what Canadians value and celebrate?

Have a look around your church, both inside and outside. What does it tell you about what Christians value and celebrate? (below is the Jubilee Church in Rome)

If you were designing a new building for your congregation, what would it look like? How would you communicate visually what Christians value and celebrate? (below, a different kind of church)

Monday, July 12, 2010

the beauty of all things broken

Even dressed for the weather of a Saskatoon winter, it must have been cold and dirty work. It was cold because it was Saskatoon in January. It was dirty because it was combing through the wreckage of the fire that destroyed St. James Anglican Church for the second time in its history – rubble, ice, ash, broken glass, burnt timbers, Bibles and prayer books charred beyond use, a congregation in shock.

Day by day after the fire, St. James member Mr. Pascoe patiently dug shards of stained glass out of the rubble. This labour of love began long before the congregation had decided what to do in the face of this disaster. Digging through ice and snow and soot and ash in search of what once glittered and now was blackened, smoked. What once was whole, beautiful, inspirational was now dirty, sharp-edged, fragmented, broken.
In her book Finding Beauty in a Broken World, Terry Tempest Williams uses the metaphor of mosaic to begin to make sense of the spiritual, ecological and political fragmentation of our time. Mosaic, she notes, is a conversation between what is broken. The play of light is the first rule of mosaic, she discovered when she travelled to Ravenna, Italy to learn this art. Mosaic as a metaphor is not exactly a new thought – our Jewish friends have long believed their mission to be tikkun olam, mending the world. And those of us who claim Christianity also take what has been dis-membered, and re-member, particularly in the sacrament of communion, a feast of re-membering as we remember the story of Jesus’ daring love and seek to affirm our membering among the people of the Way. Yet Williams’ image of mosaic resonates deeply with me in this broken world. How we need this dazzling conversation of light and broken glass, artist and viewer.

Great art – whether it be mosaic, theatre, dance, music, writing – great art brings what is broken to our hearts and urges us into conversation with it. If we are blessed, the conversation with the broken inspired by the art changes us, and we begin to see differently. Sometimes, we might see beauty and commit ourselves to protect it (the work of Robert Bateman, say); sometimes, we might see horror and know we aren’t doing enough to make peace in our day (the stunning play Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad).

But it begins with someone like Mr. Pascoe, someone who knows that the broken shards are worth gathering. When St James Anglican decided their church would rise from the ashes, decided to rebuild, they commissioned stained glass artist Lee Brady to do their new windows. Below, is the window he created with the broken fragments lovingly gathered and kept by Mr. Pascoe. The tree of life is the symbol for both St. James congregation and their arts centre, The Refinery. Rooted in history, this rich symbol of life, growth and care for the creation speaks to the community out of the ashes, out of the fragments, offering hope in creativity.

What are the broken pieces in your world, your neighbourhood that you want to gather carefully? How did they get broken? Where do you need to go to find them?
What new thing might be made of those fragments? How might artists and church folks work together on such a project? What art form might these fragments take to best speak to your community – visual, spoken word/theatre, musical...?
How is your congregation already engaged in tikkun olam (mending the world), mosaic, re-membering what has been dis-membered? How might you move that work forward in art?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ben Hur meets Harriet the Spy

When Senora Monte went looking for her black shawl, she didn’t like what she found. It took her some time to find the shawl, which was not where she left it. And when she did find it, there was a hole in it where no hole had been before, a hole that no moth had made, unless that moth had the dexterity to use a pair of scissors. A little bigger than a playing card, and about the same shape, the hole in the black shawl was a portal to the magical world of film-making for Senora Monte’s son, Fernando, a frequent flier at coffeEco, a hip and happenin’ java joint in downtown Kingston, Ont. Four or five of us (the numbers were fluid) gathered around a table as the enthused (from en Theos, filled with god) Fernando told us of his Cinema Paradiso childhood. He borrowed his mother’s shawl to make a movie for his neighbourhood pals. Not just any movie, but the famous movie of the day, Ben Hur. He had no camera, no film, no projector – all that would come later. But he had his mother’s shawl, a pair of scissors, and a series of Ben Hur trading cards, which he flashed by the hole in the shawl to the derision of the children who had paid admission for this.

An indie film maker, Fernando Monte is currently completing a trilogy on the Bible’s wisdom literature – Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs are done, and now he faces Job, a subject he frankly admits is terrifying. “This age in my life is frightening, it’s the Job age. You feel so small, but you try to make the best with what you’re given. In my case, it’s a camera.”

Fernando saw his first film at the age of 3, and grew up inside his family’s cinema, experiences that set him on his creative path. For me, it was encountering Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, the story of a loner-child, an observer who records her snap moral judgements about her friends, family and the unsuspecting souls on her after-school spy route in her spy journal. i was in grade 6 when i met Harriet, and knew i wanted to be a writer. My mother, by the way, did not find my witty observations nearly as clever as i did. i exercised my moral outrage that she had read my PRIVATE journal (which i had left on the dining room table, hoping it would be read and my family would at last understand what a genius i was). My indignation relieved me of dealing with the content of my mother’s comments. Dodging critics is a good skill for artists. But so is taking them seriously, and engaging in conversation.
One of those gathered around Fernando’s table (a classics prof, if i remember rightly) said, “If you find a job you like, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Which is true and not true. Oscar Wilde said he spent the morning taking out a comma, and the afternoon putting it back in. Making art is work, sometimes inspired, sometimes tedious, sometimes physical. It is also joy, the place where your deep joy and the world’s deep hunger meet. Claire Marchand grew up in Brandon, Manitoba and became, of all things, one of Canada’s most astonishing flamenco dancers, unexpected in the land of farmers and ranchers. How did that happen? Is it divine mystery, divine calling?

How did it happen for you, whatever your art form? What was the spark that set you on fire for painting, gardening, gourmet cooking, wood carving, photography, quilting, theatre, liturgy, tap dance, blues harmonica?

Is there a sense of call for you in your art?

Is this the place where your deep joy and the world’s deep hunger meet? How does your art celebrate the world, and/or speak to the deep wounds of the world?

If you were to bust out of your comfort zone and try a different art form, what might that be? What might you discover by trying your hand at writing hip-hop or taking a modern dance class?

Do you see the divine spark in arts not your own, in arts outside your own zone?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Extreme Make-over

A wave of Italian immigrants to 1950s Toronto was followed by a curious culture clash, as police officers kept breaking up gangs of Italian men hanging around on street corners – vagrancy, loitering...or, according to my pal Vince from Winnipeg’s Italian Holy Rosary parish, a culture clash. The immigrants were used to piazzas, the ubiquitous public squares in their home country. Most piazzas have a house of worship on one side of the square and a house of government on the other, with bars, cafes and shops on the other sides. They are places of intersection, places of meeting and mingling, “thin places” as Celtic spirituality might say – places of encounter with the Holy. In this case, the Holy as met in neighbour and stranger.

St. Angela de Merici, a founder of the Ursaline religious order, urged her sister-nuns to “be like a piazza” – be open, gracious, hospitable, and engaged in the world. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, took this vision to church, inspiring a historic cathedral designed for a lost world to demolition and reconstruction. Pews? Gone in favour of chairs which are both more “traditional” in the cathedrals of yore, and also free up the cathedral’s space for other uses. Storefronts attached to the diocesan office boast Cafe Ah Roma and a Ten Thousand Villages shop. An attractive outdoor garden with street access (above), gives neighbouring university folk a place to enjoy their coffee breaks and lunch. An art gallery has been incorporated into the reconstruction as well. And, the cathedral’s upgrade made it Cleveland’s largest geothermal heating and cooling system, cutting electricity costs from $78,000 to $35,000 in its first year of operation – and making a green witness to the wider community. The welcoming lobby of Trinity Commons boasts two soothing floor-to-ceiling fountains and inviting benches, a public space of serenity in the heart of the city. Trinity Cathedral has clearly reinvented itself (or perhaps “restored” is a better description), offering hospitality not only to church folks, but to the city.

i am just back from Toronto, busily preparing itself to host the G-20 (at a security cost estimated to be 6 times higher than the security for the FIFA World Cup). On my way to meet relatives at Smokeless Joe’s downtown, i chanced by the security fence – some ten feet high and much tighter than chain link. There was already an enormous police presence on the streets, bigger than any i can recall seeing in Canada – ever. Shops and businesses inside the security perimeter are closing for the duration, with a loss of wages for the workers, including a congregation member appearing in a show at the Royal Alex theatre.

Canada has no history of piazzas (could it be our winters?), but we increasingly have a story about the disappearance of public space. When Toronto hosted the Du Maurier Jazz Festival, that city’s public Nathan Phillips Square became corporate space, owned by the sponsors. While churches are hardly “neutral” space, we do have the gift of uncontested space to offer our communities.

If your church were inside the security perimeter, what would its ministry be during the G-20? Would you join the other businesses, and shut down or relocate for the duration?
Would you offer hospitality to journalists? To protesters? To diplomats? To police?
Would you hold a worship service lifting up the wounds of the world that your church thinks should be on the agenda of the meeting?