Reaching for an identity (Urban Art 002) #OurLadyOfGrace

I was at a recent meeting of the Borough Council for my neighbourhood of Côte-des-neiges/Notre-dame-de-Grâce, at which the council approved a new mural for a building up in the northern wastelands of Snowdon (at least I think that’s where it is). The counsellor for that district, Marvin Rotrand, made a point of saying that he would approve the mural since the building owner had approved it, but that he didn’t think much of it as a piece of art.

Rotrand went on to say something to this effect: “It’s kind of like that mural on Sherbrooke Street west – I don’t think it’s too impressive. I’m not sure why people call it art.” Here’s the mural that Rotrand was referring to – just three blocks over from Kensington church:

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As with the graffiti art (word art) on the side wall of the Akhavan market, the group that completed this mural has very real artistic skill. It is a carefully executed urban-art variation on the works of Alphonse Mucha, a Czech artist from the first part of the last century who inspired the art nouveau movement. Mucha’s own style is almost immediately recognizable, and is recognizable in this mural. Much of his work has a definite ‘decorative arts’ feel – as if it belongs on a large panel in a living room or in lobby of a theatre in the early to mid 1900’s. The team that created the mural (the A’Shop) did their research and went successfully beyond what was a natural fit for them in terms of style and content. Continue reading

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esteem for the everyday – Mary, Weaving, and Peruvian culture

At the Musée des beaux-arts the other day, visiting the exhibition on Peruvian art and culture, I was intrigued with this 18th century (Cuzco School) painting of Mary. The painting owes a great deal to European traditions – both artistic and religious/cultural – and to some extent represents the effort to convert Inca peoples to Christianity. There is, then, much that is ambiguous about it. Yet there is also much that is interesting and hopeful about it.

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The image casts Mary as a child weaving, with traditional indigenous weaving materials. This owes to two things: a tradition from the (non-canonical) gospel Pseudo-Matthew which represents a young Mary as spending her time weaving from the 3rd to the 9th hour; and, the tradition of weaving that was common among the indigenous peoples. The painting represented an attempt to both valorize the everyday activity of weaving and to draw a link between Christian spirituality and the indigenous women of Peru. Thus we have the following detail from a painting of the (later)  indiginismo movement in Peru, which shows women with similar spinning materials.

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Aside from hesitations on questions of Mariology (and on the elevation of cloistered life, where weaving was done) and also acknowledging the colonialist heritage represented in the first painting, there is nevertheless a very real valorization of the tasks and vocations of everyday life as these are given by the God of creation/covenant and as they are experienced/lived in the Spirit. There is an effort to take seriously the life and experiences of those to whom the gospel is being related. The gospel of Jesus Christ encounters the culture, valorizes aspects of it, and insists that here the Spirit of the risen Jesus (of the creator God) is present.

honest engagement and the reality of risk #beingmissional

It goes without saying that we like to be in control – we as individuals want to be in control – and we as the church want to be in control. But being faithful to Christ will often mean relinquishing control. After all, the Spirit blows where it will, and the Lord we serve bears the marks of the nails in his palms today. The cross doesn’t correlate well with control.

If we are engaged meaningfully with the wider community, and are to enter into meaningful partnerships with the wider community, we do so because we trust that the Spirit is at work there, and that the reign of Christ may come to expression there.

But such partnership will mean not being able to control the other’s perceptions of the partnership, their actions in the partnership, or  the language they use to describe the partnership. That is always the case in meaningful relationships where we remain in some sense vulnerable – we engage honestly and faithfully with others where we perceive mutuality and respect, without presuming to tell the other who they are or how they must act/perceive/speak. In fact, there may be times we don’t like what is said or done by partners. (Discernment, of course, also means learning when a partnership can’t be a partnership anymore.)

There are those within the church who approach such engagement with the wider community under essentially unitarian assumptions – “God” is at work (whoever “God” is) in the culture and in the church, and we have nothing decisive to hold on to or offer in this context. We are all just stumbling in the dark trying to make the world a more beautiful place. And “God” is there helping, working. Continue reading

on starting to say something interesting – and then totally missing the thread – #oldhabitsdiehard

UnknownIn this Huffington Post Religion blog post (click the image), Henry Brinton (don’t know him at all) starts to say something quite profound – and then drives into a cul-de-sac

Here’s the money quote: “Congregations need to establish hospitable ‘threshold places’ that link the church with the world around it…” It’s very well put. And the specific architectural example he gives leading up to the point is an insightful one – a church building that is both indoor and outdoor.

But then he drives into that cul-de-sac – he gets into full attractional church mode: parking lots, landscaping, greeters, etc… Please, no.

The image of ‘threshold places’ could be explored to great profit. To my mind, such threshold places would be contexts in which the church is drawn into meaningful encounter and work and conversation with the world around – and very often it will be a territory in which the church is guest or partner. Thinking missionally, it will necessarily be a territory in which the church is not ‘in control’ and is not  ‘host’, but in which it may nevertheless live graciously and confidently in Christ, serving his kingdom.

The one example I think of is Paul and Lydia outside of Philippi. Lydia was free to listen, or not. In that public place she was free to stay or to walk away. Paul simply spoke of his faith in Christ and, in that ‘threshold place’ (a place of open and honest and transparent encounter), let her freely respond. In her case the response was one of faith, and insistent hospitality.

becoming missional

Had a good retreat with the elders of KCKF this past Saturday – reflecting on who we are and who we are called to be. A part of that discussion was around the attractional/missional debate and we had a good, open discussion about what it all means for us.  I personally like the logic behind And: The Gathered and Scattered Church. We also watched this (from one Jeff MacGuire – don’t know him) which doesn’ t totally hit the mark but does a good job setting us up for discussion: