The Group – Monthly Letter. August 2012

by Geoff Hall on August 25, 2012

August, 2012.  Writing in the Dark

Mentoring support for word, image and performance arts

Hi,

I awoke from sleep last night, or rather woke up from my non-sleep at 2:47. I went downstairs so as not to disturb anyone and began to write in the dark without my glasses. The irony of that statement does not elude me!

I was troubled, obviously, as I tried numerous changes of position to get to sleep, but I was always conscious of my body and not of any visit from the friendly Sandman.

I started by reading something from the New York Times about a minister (Jerry DeWitt) who has given up on God and religion (as if the two were synonymous!) and is now networking amongst other lapsed clergy, who equally have given up on religion and ergo, God. (NYT, 24th August. “From Bible-belt Pastor to Atheist Leader”). The whole thing seemed unbelievable, as he testified to his new found ‘faith’ after having served his church community for decades. He admitted to feeling high with the adulation he’d been given after some of his sermons and he’d been told of miracles happening during the services, but then after a problem with one of his parishioners in which he felt he no longer had the faith to respond to her dilemma, he decided that he’d had enough and left his church.

 

Of course, Atheist groups are crowing about this, but it got me thinking about my own dilemma and continually coming across people for whom church was no longer the place of inspiration and empowerment that it used to be, that it had taken on a more Corporate role and vision for numerical growth and income. Even in my church it’s a case of following the party line, (official policy) or ‘go somewhere else’. Uniformity over Diversity, or perhaps diversity perceived as division; for unity does mean we all think the same things. Right?

I continue to meet a lot of disillusioned people for whom this Corporate, thought controlling God is not enough. (The God of the controlled environment is actually an idol ‘we’ can control.)

 

So, where is the real God in all of this? Well, my problem is that God at the moment is making life harder than it needs to be. I feel equipped but not resourced. I also feel the call to build community, but see my wrestling partner’s free hand take away those I’m closest to and cherish working with. I believe it is through community, not Corporation that we subvert the darkness. However, whilst there are those who tell us that the Age of Christendom is long over, (as if this was news!), why do ‘we’ continue with the forms of it; that is the Institutions of Spirituality, wherein we seem to struggle between the poles of unworthiness and triumphalism? Why hasn’t another way of being together been developed? If we are truly free, why has no one come up with something a little more radical than ‘Fresh Expressions’! Why does everything look like a clone of the Institution. Whatever happened to humanity?

 

I have met so many people like myself who are disillusioned with this Spiritual Organisation; who have been marginalised, their commitment questioned and all because they don’t conform to one model of the so-called truth! They have no wish to give upon God, but have been scrutinised by the Corporation. We have been so programmed with this simulation of spirituality, that we have lost an understanding of authentic spirituality! We can no longer live it, because there appears to be nothing outside of Mother Church’s warm (stifling) embrace!

 

For the last few months I’ve been meditating on the Songs of Abandonment (desolation) (#22, 44, 77 & 88). I’m left tonight writing in the darkness of Song 88 and stanza 18 – “You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.” This is how it is tonight.

I’m beginning to ask whether God has lost interest in this little project; and this is not an exercise in grumbling, but in lamenting the possibility that it may be true. Why does God equip us (artists) with the gifts of transformation, when he left his vineyard to professional administrators years ago?

 

This is a valid experience of God, there’s plenty of written testimony about abandonment, but when you read Scripture as something of a triumphalist tract then you are blind to it. I am wrestling with God tonight and awaiting the gift of the limp. My heart yearns for something more. I’m wondering if what we have today is what Jesus had in mind. I have a hunch it’s not and if it’s not, what are we going to do about it? Will we collaborate or resist?

 

People who find consolation in religion are simply sowing the seeds of further despair; for if you put your faith in religion, you’ve already given up hope. The problem today isn’t God; it’s the concept of God along with the Corporation which says it represents God’s interests.

 

As artists, we are to show the possibility of a new creation, a new future away from the institutional control of truth, beauty, justice and love. We never get around to this in the Institution, because you can only control the past, you can’t control the future if something new appears and you lose credibility.

 

It’s 3:47 and I’m wondering if this it will make sense in the morning? Time for a Glenfiddich!

Peace and Love,

Geoffx

4 comments

‘Why does God equip us (artists) with the gifts of transformation, when he left his vineyard to professional administrators years ago?’
This is a poignant question, if we are trying to take our image from well-administered churches (and how sad that we do!). But I guess God brought in all those administrators to free up artists to get on with art. I am so grateful for the people who enjoy the ‘boring bits’. Try leaving the church to artists to run!

Speaking for myself, I am the one who thinks I should be a corporate clone. The church would be rather happier if I got on with being me. It is true that the temper of our times is homogenising and corporate, and this is painful, really painful, because the church is not what it should be. But the artist is welcomed as never before – at least in the churches I know – and in a conference I have just been to, Mark Stibbe devoted his entire session to ‘where are the writers, artists, filmmakers etc?’ and the need for them to touch this generation.

Yes there is a time-lag, but pioneers seldom have the joy of seeing what they long for happen immediately. Sorry, chaps, but the pain is the price. Keep on bewailing,take the anaesthetic if you need to, and keep on producing!

by David Thistlethwaite on August 27, 2012 at 5:06 pm. Reply #

Thank you for your comment David,

Mine is an anaesthetic-free journey! Pain teaches us so much about life , doesn’t it.

My bewailing is mostly against the impedance of an art of the free Spirit. Most Institutions of Spirituality seem to expect an art which is message-based, a form of propaganda that meets the requirements for theological verity.

You are very fortunate to have an understanding community. I know many, too many, who are abused; pressurised and eventually marginalised from such ‘communities’!

I’d like to see a greater coming together of working artists, outside of the clamour and control of such bastions of ‘truth’, it is then I think we’ll be a little more dynamic in our culturing!

My concern in the meantime is that we have an august body, which is not fit for purpose in the 21st Century!

Times are difficult and disappointing to the point of disillusionment, but like you say, ‘keep on producing’.

Peace and Love,

Geoff

by Geoff Hall on August 28, 2012 at 1:42 pm. Reply #

“Why hasn’t another way of being together been developed…… I’d like to see a greater coming together of working artists, outside of the clamour and control of such bastions of ‘truth’..”

It has been developed – it’s called Greenbelt Festival and we’re just dusting off the dried mud from it’s 39th annual gathering at Cheltenham Racecourse! Greenbelt Festival is an incredible meeting place and melting pot of ideas, thoughts & expressions of the Christian faith in diverse forms. There are talks, art displays, discussions, expressions of worship, music from thrash metal to folk with everything in between, art classes, dances classes, films, performance art, and much much more…..! (Did I mention the belly dancing ;-). There’s a throng of diverse folks milling around, rubbing shoulders and sharing ideas over cups of tea at venues like the Tiny Tea Tent. And a huge marquee full of stalls where one can network with people from charities & organizations all brimming with energy to make the world a better place!
This time around I attended a talk called “the New Christianity” which presented the view that the Church is ultimately responsible for the individualism that has led to the excesses of global capitalism that hasve in turn resulted in the current economic & environmental crises..and raising the question how will the Church now respond? (Peter Owen-Jones). Followed by an exquisite stirring concert by Bruce Cockburn, and viewing a marvellous art installation called The Resurrection by Anthony Green RA. (Geoff: see if you can find Si Smith’s book-of-Job-inspired artwork “Rage, Despair & Hope”). The next day a discussion led by George Elerick on “Why the church doesn’t need missions” (soundbite: the story of The Good Samaritan in modern context would be The Good Muslim or perhaps The Good Homosexual!). And Anthony Green’s ebullient talk on his artwork was just great: “I know where I’m going: and I refuse, Mr Dawking, to end up as just a bag of compost!”

This festival embraces diversity and mystery, and like a child Greenbelt loves to play. But what truly surprised me is what a tiny minority of the followers of Jesus – especially those who enbrace the arts – attend this wonder-fest. I hope to see more there as we celebrate its 40th Year next August!!

by Kit Jennings on August 29, 2012 at 8:31 pm. Reply #

Hi Chris,

Whilst yes, I’m obviously aware of Greenbelt that’s not quite what I was hinting at. What I mean is not a large festival meeting once a year, but the everyday working together of artists. The intimate spaces of the studio, the Cafe and our homes.

Peace,
Geoff

by Geoff Hall on August 29, 2012 at 9:25 pm. Reply #

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