Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Parable of the Podcast

There are three parts to many of the sermons that I like:
  1. Some context and background information for the biblical text being explored 
  2. Stories from today's world juxtaposed with the biblical text
  3. Some sort of commentary and/or interpretation that ties together the biblical text, the context, and the stories from today's world.
As a pastor and a nerdy sort of guy, #1 and #3 are by far the easiest parts for me.  But #2 is a little trickier. As a 27-year old who has had a relatively easy life, I have limited supply of awesome stories.  I find that sometimes the stories I know just aren't the most interesting or relevant to the text.  Which is a pity, since I know that there are amazing stories out there which could make us see scripture in a whole new light. 

This is where you come in.

I want to hear your stories! I want to know the tales that rise to the surface of your subconscious when you hear a biblical text.  Where do you see your own life in these stories?  Where to you see the lives of people you know or have read about? 

Inspired by the credits to the NPR show, Radiolab, in which callers record the names read at the end of the show, I've set up a digital voicemail that can be called at any time.  If you call (862) 243-2763, which spells 862-2HearMe, you will hear my voice encouraging you to record your reflections on a specific biblical story and giving you some simple information on how to go about it. 
I will then put together a podcast inspired by the type of stories in This American Life and Radiolab, in which different stories are told around a certain theme with some narration to tie them all together.

Since the Parables group has been exploring Chapter 1 of the Book of Ruth, will be the first text for Parable of the Podcast. I'd like to put out a podcast sometime during mid to late August, so plug (862) 243-2763 into the contacts on your phone, browse through Ruth 1, and the next time you are taking a walk, give Parable of the Podcast a call.  If you want to talk about Ruth, call by August 12; after that, we'll some new text to explore! And check by here in a couple of weeks to hear what we've made!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Won't You Paint My Picture?

A while ago, I mentioned the giant, paint-your-own-adventure-coloring-book that we were planning.  I was super excited.  Even before it was colored, the object was truly a piece of art.  Four 5ft tall panels beautifully illustrated by Ari Dallas and bound together by organic hemp strung through brass grommets.  Each panel even had four color-coded quirky questions that allowed participants to decide what was happening in the story.  There was a big arts festival happening in Williamsburg and I just knew people were going to love this.  
  But they didn't. 

Oh sure, a few people did.  Particularly small children who enjoyed making random marks with large crayons on giant paper.

But the vast majority of people just walked on past.  Now, with most interactive art, the majority of passersby won't participate, but in this case the participation rate was particularly terrible.  Many people would glance at the coloring book and smile and then walk on by; some wouldn't even notice the thing.  
So why didn't people get excited about a giant paint-your-own-adventure coloring book? Having worked on a fair number of interactive art projects, I've developed a rubric by which to evaluation them: NEFAR, an acronym that as the advantage of sounding the like beginning of "nefarious."  NEFAR stands for:


Noticeable: The coloring book was somewhat noticeable.  I was banking on its size to catch people's attention, but for a while we had it on the ground which diminished its visibility. Later, we tried holding it up, but it sort of looked like a sign or banner.  In the middle of a festival, it was not particularly unique.
Easy: I think this was one of the two main problems.  The system of answering questions was quite complex. Each question had a color, and you would show your answer to the question by which medium you used to make that color in the picture.  However, this was not immediately obvious to passersby, who could barely make out the difference between mediums anyway. So either the whole thing was really complex, or if you just ignored the questions, it led to a different problem...

Fun:  Just coloring a picture is not actually that exciting.  Especially when there are tasty food stalls nearby, warm sun, soft grass, and good friends to talk to. If people actually took the time to read the questions and understand the story, they usually were quite intrigued, but usually not enough to bend over and color something. They would rather just pick their answer and laugh than go through the work of identifying a medium and pouring on the elbow grease.

I won't even bother going into Affirming or Relational, since most people never got that far.

Instead, I'd like to contrast it with a community mural I participated in this past week.
This mural is "NurtureNature" on PS84 on the corner of S 1st and Berry in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

Noticeable: Yes.  There is no way that some can walk past a three story mural on a street corner with a swarm of people painting it and not notice.

Easy: Yes. The lead artist has drawn the outlines of everything.  Assistants tell participants what colors to paint where.  It's basically paint by numbers but you don't have to even know numbers or colors, just apply the brush where the person pointed. 

Fun:  Not really.  It's basically like painting your house.  A lot of repetitive motion without any artistic creativity.  But it's really easy to talk to the other folks while you are doing it!  

Affirming: I usually mean this in the sense that the project affirms your creative self-expression.  But in this case, the mural offers a different sort of affirmation.  After you've painted a portion, you can step back and see that your contribution will be visible to the whole community for years to come.  There's definitely a sense of pride that comes with that. 

Relational: You aren't really making relationships with the other artists, although I did strike up a few conversations while painting, but you are creating an incredible sense of relationship to the neighborhood.  Suddenly this street corner is important to you, because something you have created has made it beautiful.

Of course I'm not sure anyone off the street randomly participated in the mural, so ultimately the invitation to participate and sense of openness has to be present.  The coloring book definitely was very explicit about the invitation to participate, and those people brave enough to join in received a completely unexpected infusion of silly art in their lives and left with very large smiles. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Parables: Re-imagining the Bible through Art

Let's face it, the Bible is boring. Psychological motivations aren't explored, timelines have major gaps, and characters randomly appear and disappear.  Plus, all the major stories are soaked with dogmatic interpretations.
So let's re-imagine the Bible! Let's retell it in ways the are interesting and meaningful to us. Artist of all types are invited to bring their materials, make art that re-imagines scripture, and share what they make with each other. Each week we’ll spend about 15 minutes examining and discussing paintings, poetry, music, and midrash that artists have already created around a biblical text.  After asking what questions, characters, and perspectives we still want to explore, people will be given 45 minutes to create in whatever way they are inspired.  At the end of the evening, people will have a chance to share what they've made and talk about the choices they made in creating it.  The goal is not to create a finished work, but to explore our stories and our art together.

The whole month will be focused on a single text. This month we'll tackle the first chapter of the Book of Ruth. People are free to either spend the whole month developing a single work of art, or create multiple pieces along the way.  The goal is for people to really dig into the stories and have time to be influenced by what they see other people creating.  Ideally folks will come every week to deepen the conversation, but if they can only make it occasionally, that’s fine, too. 
We'll be meeting in the bell tower of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Williamsburg on the corner of S. 5th and Rodney, Sundays at 7:30pm.  Enter through the doors on Rodney, turn right, and climb the stairs until you're in a bell tower. We'll have our first meeting on July 15th and meet weekly through August 12th.  Then we'll decide what we want to do next.
Let me know if you'd like to join us!  Also, there's now a Meetup group if you like to keep track of things that way.