art of worship

[i didn’t get the learning group stuff finished yesterday, and i’m not back in the office now until thursday. i am officially running late with everything. no apologies – some non-work things have taken priority this week]

i spent today at mark pierson’s “Art of Worship” workshop. It was excellent.

i learn so much from Mark. He’s incredibly generous with his wisdom and with giving other people space to be good in his area of expertise [i always think that’s the sign of true genius!]. i think brilliant leadership can be defined as those who give you the space for your mind to go places it otherwise wouldn’t know to go. It’s a wonderful skill Mark has.

most of the notes i wrote down were my own thoughts that were diversions from the workshop, rather than actual content. the stuff that i was working through most in my head was the question of the sloppiness-excellence continuum in worship, and its relationship to participation. mark said that he was anti-excellence, because participation is the priority. i think he’s wrong [i’ll tell him that next week!] – i think excellence is a priority for mark, but that he knows how to encourage people to work within their competence, and to skill them up to increase their competence. i wonder, also, if it’s the ‘sloppy-excellent’ continuum in itself which is wrong – it leads to comments like ‘you’re so clever/creative etc.’ [which are lovely, but always make me feel like i’ve failed!]. the point of everything we do in worship is to let people forget what we do, and to look beyond it. the technology, art, music, etc. should – in a sense – become invisible, in order for the meaning / story/ grace / transformation behind them to become real.

i don’t believe all of that as starkly as i’ve written it. i’m just trying to remember the extremes so i’ll think it through a bit more.

Kate said something that i’m going to chew over for a long time… ‘The one place excellence does matter is in terms of the curator’s intuition’. it occurred to me today that not everyone can curate worship, and maybe it’s that intuition which makes the difference.

[my next page of notes is all ideas for a workshop i’m doing in june for the opening of the centre for theology and ministry. i can’t wait.]

great quote from mark: ‘Stations are the new altar call’. which of course means they’re open to the same abuse and manipulation.

and from brian eno ‘interactive means unfinished’… which connects with something i always say in workshops ‘participation means you influence the outcome’.

in the afternoon, a friend of Mark’s, Bruce Ramus, came and talked for an hour or so. bruce has recently moved to melbourne, and is the lighting director for U2’s concert tours – he’s done their last four tours. He came and talked about their process of creating the concerts, and how U2 end up with the concerts they do.

he described the concerts as a spiritual exchange – translating the intimacy of the message behind U2’s music to 80 000 people. the concert is a journey, a dance [highly controlled, but with moments of choreographed spontaneity]… they decide in the design process the points at which they will draw people in, where they will push them back… where the audience will be soothed, buffetted, stunned… “we seduce people in by making the lights dim, so they crane forward and you can almost see their pupils widen, then dazzle them with light”….

bruce said it takes four songs to hook people, in every concert. “that’s the point at which people get out of their heads and into their bodies”. if bono starts to play tricks – to interact with the audience, or go off-script – before the fifth song, the concert doesn’t work. the audience aren’t yet out of their heads, and they won’t get there at all. “our heads can stop us connecting”. If it’s working, the show takes on a life of it’s own. It takes the band and the crowd for a ride. “we have to let it become the show it needs to be.”

Resonance is the primary thing. the concert is about finding the points of connection. They tried trendy. it just doesn’t work. the hardest thing in creating the shows is getting the technology and money and ‘cool factor’ out of the way so that the show they need to have can appear.”the show only works if we’re honest… if it has integrity, if it’s honest to the song.”

someone asked bruce about whether it was manipulative. he said some would accurately describe it as such … or maybe it was actually directing attention to where a connection could be made.

[thanks mark… fabulous stuff]


  1. sounds great, as i knew it would be, i like the idea of “dazzling them with light”

    wish my meetings were cancelled earlier than friday so i could have driven up…

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