Friday, August 2, 2013

A few moments, one of them missed

Warning: Creativity Ahead!
We climbed uphill to the Royal Mile in Edinburgh on Friday morning to enjoy the huge Fringe Festival. As we approached St. Giles Cathedral, two street comedians with unicycles began to draw a crowd. They joked, they juggled, they engaged the people, and the crowd grew quickly. There was much laughter, even new affection. Together we were swept up in the immediacy of good will and great humor. When they announced a later show, we were interested in exploring some more.

Thirty steps away, we entered the grand and imposing cathedral, the Mother Ship for all international Presbyterians. The bell chimed noon, announcing a service of daily prayer. So we sat for what we knew would be a brief time of scripture and meditation. The clean-shaven minister convened us by acknowledging we were surrounded by colorful creativity, but then proceeded as if it were twenty miles down the road, and not right outside the door. His handwritten prayers were eloquent, although they repeatedly hit on the theme of how much we ignore God in every day life.

All the while, the minister-in-charge (AKA his supervisor) traipsed the perimeter of the sanctuary, ready to bark out reprisals to tourists who used their cameras during the quaint liturgy.

Jamie and I have been here before. We should have expected it. While this ten minute liturgy was stately and traditional, I could not help but feel as if a huge opportunity was being squandered. Come on, folks:  the largest creative arts festival in the WORLD is happening outside your door and you are steering your Calvinist barge straight ahead, completely indifferent to your own neighborhood.

If this weren't enough, the service was followed by a concert of Chilean art songs set to nearly atonal harmonies. A small crowd lingered for these strange sounds that remained untranslated, a few of the listeners looking oh-so-important. Again, a near miss.

Treat your neighbor as gold
So imagine an alternative. What if the clergy spoke of God's presence to inspire creativity and human excellence, and prayed for the safety, joy, and empowerment of all at the festival? What if we were encouraged to catch God's Image on camera and submit them for a website, not afraid of idolatry, but to point to traces of Christ's lingering incarnation? What if the odd art songs were interpreted equally through dancers with colorful banners, to say nothing of a sign language interpreter?

What if the church spent some of its considerable endowment during the Fringe Festival to employ a theologian and an artist to present daily conversations about the relationships between the creative, the thoughtful, and the just? What if the leaders of the congregation put together - or employed - a drama troupe of their own, to present engaging moments on the steps of the church, gently inviting the crowds to consider the Gospel so treasured inside?

What if we engaged God's world rather than dismiss it?

As for Judge Doom, policing the sanctuary, I would fire his tailbone and dismiss him to a musty museum. His crime? A lack of imagination.

But all was not lost. For the first time, I saw a creative use for a set of pipes: Bagpipe Blowtorch! Now, that is imaginative!

He sets Mr. Hume on fire!


  1. Wonderful post Bill. We were there for part of the Fringe Festival and I share many of your "What ifs..." as St. Giles seemed like a dark rock on the hill in midst of God's colorful and creative living water.

  2. You question: What if we engaged the world rather than dismiss it? That's the essence of any Gospel hope for tomorrow's church! The question is gold.