[photo stolen shamelessly from Christop]
I am back in Melbourne which is deliciously balmy after Christchurch. I had a fabulous time. It’s really good to be home.
Just Worship was a great event. Thanks to Mark Pierson for making it happen, and for enticing an amazing group to come together for the weekend. I was inspired by the stories of imagination and creativity from all over New Zealand and Australia, and from the passion of those who hadn’t yet begun but knew they were ready to. It was a reminder – if we needed one – that the imagination and creativity lies at the heart of each of us.
It was lovely to be able to tell the story of what’s happening here. The danger, as we kept saying on the weekend, is that it can sound much grander than what it is, and much more difficult. Stuff only sounds creative when it’s something you never thought of doing, or never thought you could do. If i were to highlight only one of the things that i said on the weekend again, it would be that you can’t actually tell if you’re ‘creative’ until you start trying to be creative. I didn’t know I could write until just a few years ago. Most of the time now I still don’t know if I can write, but the only thing that ever stops me from writing is the idea that maybe i can’t. So now I just say ‘yes’, and see where it goes.
I remembered again how the most disheartening comments in any conversation are ‘but that wouldn’t work for me’ and ‘we couldn’t do that with our people’. When those comments come up, it feels like we haven’t communicated the most important primary principle behind alt worship / sacred spaces: that what works for me – or my people – will not be what works for you and yours.
[actually, I know that I said that over and over on the weekend, so perhaps my question is ‘why can’t people hear that?’.]
As you might have seen here, I curated a space on the last night. It’s always an honour to be asked to do that, and also one of the most challenging tasks. It’s really, really difficult curating worship that isn’t a showcase, with a group of people you don’t know. When I ‘design’ worship, I do it with a person in mind – it’s the singularity of the person that gives me inspiration [I’m reminded again of Kurt Vonnegut, and his great line ‘If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.‘]. I remember conversations I’ve had with the person, the moments of resonance where I’ve caught a glimpse of a bigger story in their story. Honing in on that gives me a reference point for curating the worship, where i find the connection between what’s human in them [and, most often, me] and the story. My instinct, otherwise, is to create worship that’s too big, too proclaimatory, too generalised [what everybody ‘needs’ to hear/experience]. It preaches rather than entices.
As always, the best part for me was the conversations with people that go beyond our best ideas, and start to bring to light the questions and provocations that each of us encounter. I’m so grateful for the few interactions I have each year that push me into that different space – that let us bring the unanswered questions to the surface, with no expectation of resolution; the moments that aren’t about ego or expectation, or things we’ve done, but simply an enjoying of the shared inarticulable longing for something beyond us. There’s a lovely comfort in those conversations. In that vein, Jemma Allen’s stuff about invitation and risk was really important. I also really enjoyed Mike Crudge’s presentation from his masters’ research, in bringing to light the perceptions that people outside the church have about the church, and the factors that lead to those perceptions. I think i’ve got more to learn from Dean – what is your surname Dean? – who works in one of the less advantaged areas of Auckland, who obviously really loves the people in his community, and creates experiential moments with them that seem simultaneously understated and amazing. Spending time with Mark is always food for the soul. I loved meeting some of the prison chaplains in Christchurch, and finding some like-minded souls there, which in turn gave me some confidence in the thinking around prison stuff we’re doing here. In fact, the entire conference was filled with amazing conversations and people – I learnt a lot. thanks.
I stayed in Christchurch for a few days after the conference. I set aside three days after the weekend to write, deciding that if I couldn’t get a decent start on a book about the stuff we do in prisons, then I needed to let the idea go. It worked brilliantly as a motivation; as did the rain / hail / freezing weather which made doing anything outside very unattractive. I deliberately rationed my internet use last week in order to not get distracted. Apologies if you’re waiting on email from me – i’m not quite game to look at them yet…