the veil

he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. – hebrews 11v27

beauty is an unseen hand
that pulls you through
the veil your eyes
can’t see beyond
to see a world
untouched
invisible

imagination
spills beyond
the frame which
tries to comprehend
this world, untouched
is breaking through, and
no one passes through unchanged

culture care – makoto fujimura

Who has time for beauty anymore? We have places to be, work to do, mouths to feed. Yet even in the rush of our busy lives, we need to feed our souls too.

Over the last few months, the Globe Creative Team has been reading Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care, thinking about what it looks like to strive for human flourishing. Here are some reflections on what we read and discussed.

I Need More”

We all recognise that “Success for a large part of our culture is now judged by efficient production and mass consumption.”[1] Our worth is based on how much we do; our security is found in how much we have. But, as Nigel Goodwin says, we are human beings, not human doings. By considering only what we need to survive, rather than what will allow us to thrive, we’re missing out on Jesus’s invitation to experience life to the full.[2] Fujimura warns that, “When feeding our souls we dare not substitute surface attraction—that which is effortlessly appreciated and soon exhausted of virtue—for true beauty.” In doing so, we deny ourselves the opportunity to experience the reconciling power of the gospel in the whole of our lives.

Quick-fix solutions will never solve our longing for something more. Starkly, Fujimura points out that, “The church is no longer where the masses come to know the Creator of beauty.” How easily we fall into the trap of thinking beauty is a frivolous add-on to what we “need” to be doing, rather than an opportunity to experience the goodness of God.

A Culture of Generosity

Fujimura talks frequently about “generative thinking” – the creation of cultures “in which people and creativity thrive,” where beauty’s presence is known and felt, and where future generations continue to reap the benefits.

“Generative thinking is fueled by generosity because it so often must work against a mindset that has survival and utility in the foreground.” God’s gifts permeate every moment of our existence, but if we’re not stopping to make the time for gratitude, how can we expect to be generous – as individuals and as a church? “An encounter with generosity can remind us that life always overflows our attempts to reduce it to a commodity or a transaction – because it is a gift.” Beauty is an act of generosity—the giving of something good—that the church needs to receive and give.

Plantings of the Lord

“Do we need beauty in our lives? If we desire to be fully human, the answer is yes, absolutely. [But] even this question is ultimately utilitarian. We must shift from asking ‘What do we need?’ to ‘What do we long for?'” All of us long for beauty in our lives, a deeper satisfaction in the midst of busyness and frustration. Let us rejoice therefore in Jesus, who “bestows on [his people] a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.”[3] Let us be those who put God’s glory on display, who reveal the source of beauty to our dry and parched land.

[1] Fujimura, Makoto. Culture Care. InterVarsity Press, 2017. Kindle Edition. Unless otherwise noted, further quotes are taken from Culture Care.

[2] John 10:10

[3] Isaiah 61:3

this post was first published on the globe church blog, 29th january 2020.

free improvisation & anarchy

It takes no great stretch of the imagination to find anarchy in free improvisation – there is no apparent sense of order, structure, hierarchy. This is a music determined to topple traditional musical structures, replacing them with noise and protest. As Christians, should we be worried about the anarchic implications of this music?

I will not take a side on whether a Christian should be an anarchist. What I write here will instead particularly focus on oppressive structures that need to be challenged.

Improvised Music & Justice

Improvised music has always been political. European improvised music was largely a response to totalitarian regimes, and the American equivalent was closely intertwined with the civil rights movement. Both are overtly political, existing to subvert oppressive hierarchies and structures. But both are statements that Christians should be quick to affirm – that all people have value, giving a voice to the voiceless, and justice to the oppressed. It is a form of non-violent protest to oppression and injustice.

Romans 13, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities,” has often been used to justify non-action towards social injustice – including the slave trade, apartheid, and more recently, the Trump family separation policy. But Calvin stuanchly argued that the Bible does not allow us to “yield a slavish obedience to the depraved wishes of men.”[1] Where there is injustice, we must do something about it. Improvised music can act as a form of “crying out”: as the Israelites cried out in their oppression, so we cry out at the injustice that goes on today. And, as we see in scripture, God hears the cry of the oppressed. We long to see God’s kingdom come “on earth as it is in heaven,” so we cry out in anguish to the one who can do something about it. Our music becomes a call to action, a plea to act justly and love mercy: the very thing God calls his people to do in Micah 6.

Improvised Music & Power

Free improvisation often functions as a means of representing power structures. Prolific art curator Hamza Walker describes the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians [AACM] as “practicing democracy as a non-hierarchical thing, in the music, as an allegory for a model of liberational modes.”[2] It is about having a voice, not being silenced – an acknowledgement of value for all people.

Diego Chamy, an artist with an extensive involvement in free improvisation, observes that “Force and power relations are everywhere, and a collective improvisation is no exception. One can see all kinds of power relations in a collective improvisation.”[3] Anarchy strives towards an ideal where power is balanced equally – but Chamy observes that “this balance is impossible to achieve: force relations are by nature unbalanced.”[4] As soon as musicians play together, there are power relations going on. I was playing with my trio the other week, and we finished our first improvisation feeling like I had been in control and the others had been accompanying me. So, in our second improvisation, we made a decision to play like the other people in the band – and as we tried to get imagine what it was like to be the other instruments, it made us play in a way that allowed everyone to contribute much more.

We must acknowledge that power relations exist – based on things like experience, comfort, control. And from a place of acknowledgement, it is possible to lay down your power for the sake of others – to recognise when others are not being heard and allow them a space to speak. Just as Jesus didn’t use his power to his own advantage, but rather made himself nothing, as Christians we have a unique opportunity to lay down our power for the sake of our bandmates. Here, all people are given value, as people made in the image of God, and all have something of worth to contribute. No longer is the performer exalted to a place of worship – instead, we acknowledge the worth of all people.

I would argue, therefore, that free improvisation is political – yes; subversive – yes; but anarchic? Not as much as we might fear. Christian musicians have a responsibility to think about the political implications of the work they are involved in, but free improvisation as a response to injustice, inequality, and as a means of valuing all people,is a noise that will echo to the heavens.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes, chapter 20, https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.vi.xxi.html, accessed 03/03/2020

[2] Jennie Gottschalk, Experimental Music Since 1970 (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), p191

[3] ibid., page 197

[4] ibid.

this post was first published on the UCCF music network blog, 13th march 2020.

a birthday poem

for my Mum

each laugh is a lesson
itself a confession
of He who works all things for our good

each tear tells a tale
that although we still fail
we know He works all things for our good

brief moments of wonder
we cheer at the thunder
we jump in the rain
and we sing at the dawn

all this a reminder
of the one who is kinder
our Father, He works all things for our good

september 2019

reflection on psalm 126

what are dreams but memories
of moments that you failed to live
for in the moment, you were busy
waiting for the next one

a sunset filtered through a screen
laughter just to draw attention
food not tasted, barely seen

glancing at your dated shoes
conscious of your own pretension
checking your watch, checking the news

but sometimes you forget to hope
and for a moment really live
and for that moment, you are busy
living in the next one

my thanks to ellie west for comments on the first draft.