I sat in Sanctuary 21 tonight waiting for the time set for the big introduction to this ‘thing’ that has been playing through my mind since Christmas to arrive. As the time ticked by and it got closer to the start, the big cloud of doubt floated into the space and hovered over me. “What if no one comes?” “What am I doing?” Throughout this all I remained optimistic “People said they’d come.” “This is clearly a need in this theatre community.” “People are excited about it.” The event was scheduled to begin at 6.45pm. Fifteen minutes after this time one person walked through the door.
Ministry training does not prepare you for this. One person! There are two responses to this fact; one, be positive or two, be disappointed. If you’re positive there’s plenty of Scripture that talks about persecution, the hard walk of faithful discipleship but then again, there’s of equal balance Scripture telling of God’s blessing to those who are faithful. I have spoken in the past about how to face disappointment and justifying reality til the metaphorical cows come home. This is not a time, while it is still raw and fresh, to justify what God is doing (or not doing). But I think it’s important to talk about failure.
In our church we hear success stories all the time, it’s not good for publicity or authority if we fail. Despite our deep understanding that for every good idea there are an average of 8 not so good ones. We push, as leaders and visionaries, our connection with God’s vision and God’s plans. In order to have the authority to lead a community one needs to have the discernment of God’s will and dream dreams and see visions. The truth is, we are not immune from spiritual confusion. But if I am to model authenticity then I need to tell the stories of failures or misguided vision as well as success and ‘wins’.
To be a pioneer is to take risks; to see an opportunity and to resolutely pursue it. I have taken a risk and it hasn’t worked so what is the response?
Return to the original, basic call.
What was it that God put on my heart that drove me to pursue this opportunity? My passion to connect with those involved in the theatre community, to offer them an opportunity to explore who they are and discover their creative voice; to give them a place where they can truly express who they are based on a knowledge of themselves.
Has that call changed? Is that not what is being asked of me now? No. That call is still there. What, therefore, is the next step? To continue and persevere with this idea or to change tact? Two interesting reflections; one, if I think back to my time in Byker (see ‘Death and Resurrection’ post) I am reminded of the power of continued presence in the face of so much temporary incarnations (quangos, consultants,etc) The second reflection is one that I want to explore in more detail and extends my reflections on the Cathedral Event that I’m apart of (see ‘Theatre Church (part VIII b)’ post).
In both the church and the theatre world the majority of thinkers and commentators would agree that to be product focussed stunts the exploration and deep reflection on culture and social movements. Both parties would bemoan the emphasis on being activity driven rather than the existence as good in and of itself. In the theatre, as the funding is cut, companies don’t have the luxury to explore, to research and develop ideas. There is no space, time or finances to allow the artists to explore, discover new things. Peter Brook suggests this replication, churning out products that are safe and driven by success, is ‘deadly’ and most people would agree. In the church, as we discover that creating a weekly event/service is sucking all our time and resources and distracts us from being community together, we speak about the ideal of being process, relationship based. The truth is, however, that processes, relationships, explorations cannot be measured. It is part of our capitalists’ mindset that if it has no profit, measurable success then it is worthless.
Success is measured on product shown, assets, ‘what have you got to show for this?’ The worth of something must be measured. Fresh Expressions are trying to counter this thinking but we can’t fight free from it. My latest experience would be measured as failure. If someone had invested in it then I would have failed and now would be the time to lessen the losses and salvage something from it. I want to shout from the rooftops “This is worth it! I have risked something, stuck my neck out and now I know what would happen!” To butcher a quote from Ernest Hemingway,
‘Only those who are prepared to go too far can possibly know how far they can go.’
I want to stay true to my call to process. To resolutely pursue this call to process, relationship and swim against the current of the capitalism that is a part of both church and theatre. I want to own my disappointment, yes, but to continue to explore the call put upon me. But how do you incarnate the importance of process in a world of product?
Well, like the Cathedral event, work with the current in order to subvert it. Sell a product in order to achieve a process and get people to explore and discover the benefits of the process. It’s a paradox that we exiles need to live in. In order to be counter cultural we need to be in the culture. To show the alternative we need to shine a light on the weakness of the option. Daniel, when in Babylon, lived the good Babylonian life and it was within this that he showed of the alternative way of life or the Pauline model, to become a Jew for the Jews, a
Gentile for the Gentiles all in order to show them the way of Jesus.
Connected with this is some thoughts on Fresh Expressions which were sparked by a fascinating conversation with Paul Burbridge from Riding Lights Theatre Company I had last weekend. He suggested the reason a theatre company cannot be church is down to the need for it to be inclusive of all people. If you limit the membership to those that understand theatre then it cannot be broad and inclusive. This is a very fair point. What makes a ‘theatre church’ church? Inclusion of those from all walks of life. Fresh Expressions need to embrace this inclusivity and not be limited to ‘skater church’, ‘curry church’, etc. Community must be defined by that which unites people in a group. These ‘expressions’ (skater, theatre, curry, etc.) gather people round something that makes them distinct but in order for them to mature into full expressions of church there needs to be deconstruction of that which excludes others.
It’s a paradox that one must define and sell the product in order to show that it’s not about the product; to show people that it’s the process of belonging that is more important than the product that you belong to.