Thursday, August 25, 2011

News from the Studio

My rate of blogging has slowed, but not because I'm not doing anything. Nope, I'm furiously throwing pots as the days of my sabbatical keep ticking away. I've got about a week to work in the studio before I close up shop. I've had a great summer working at Kevin Lehman Pottery here in Lancaster. Kevin does fantastic work, and I'm glad to have spent more time with him.

Meanwhile, one of the happy coincidences of the summer was getting connected to the Central PA Potters group, who happen to have a group show opening this fall.

So, today I sent off a little box of pots for an exhibit at Clay Place @ Standard (formerly The Clay Place in Pittsburgh). The show opens Friday, October 7, for any of you W. PA folks. Here's what I sent off to the exhibit..

Monday, August 15, 2011

Oxford Circle Visit

Yesterday I took a rainy drive into the edges of Northeast Philly to worship at Oxford Circle Mennonite Church. I had heard some good things about this multiracial urban church. And I have had the chance to meet their pastor, Leonard Dow a time or two. CMCL Senior Youth will remember him as the preacher at last year's ACC Youth Retreat. He's a fantastic preacher -- really one of the best I've heard in a long time. He manages to combine a strong black preaching style with solid Anabaptist theology informed by contemporary culture and his local context (click here for a little bio on him from EMU).

The church has also founded a community development corporation, which owns the building the church new meets in. It's a 40,000 square foot former medical clinic. Obviously they've done lots of learning on the job about being a landlord and have worked hard to take good care of this community asset. I got a mini tour of the place yesterday, and heard some great stories about the work they do.

Interestingly, the neighborhood and church are directly adjacent to a huge, huge military storage facility. Some of it is still functioning for that purpose, but after World War II, most of the barracks connected to the facility were closed. Some of these were turned into subsidized housing. That's why the church is there. Church planters from Lancaster Mennonite Conference started a Sunday School ministry near the housing projects 50 years ago.

One more thing. I want to mention that the offices of the Oxford Circle Christian Community Dev. Association include a little gallery space for artists. Right now they happen to be hosting part of an exhibit by an installation/performance artist from NYC named Gene Schmidt. The exhibit is called Lovetown PA, and involved spelling out the famous "love" passage from I Corinthians across the city of Philadelphia. It's awesome.

He did a similar work called Manhattan Measure a few years ago that involved literally measuring the entire length and width of the island of Manhattan on foot with yardsticks. Also awesome.

I'd say this visit was the highlight of my weekend, except we had also taken a day trip to the beach on Friday and hosted a pool party for Esmé's birthday on Saturday. So I've been having a blast all weekend.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Liturgical Arts Week

So I'm sitting in the "living room" at Seattle Public Library. It's got to be the coolest library on the planet.

I'm here in transit for one of the more exciting weeks of my sabbatical. I am participating in a Liturgical Arts Week at the Grunewald Guild, up in the mountains outside Seattle.

The workshop features Jan Richardson, and artist, clergywoman and writer. Her work has been an inspiration to many at CMCL, and we've used her writing from time to time in worship. The week should be not only inspirational, jogging me out of my comfort zone, but I think I'll actually come home with fresh artwork created at the workshop. Should be a great time, with fruitful outcomes for myself and the congregation.

Here's a poem from her book, In Wisdom's Path (and a lovely prayer for a week creating art in the mountains!):

God of eye and ear,
of taste and touch,
of smell and of every sense
and source of knowing,
bless me not
with sight alone
but bless me also
with ears to hear
your voice
and tongue to taste
your essense
and nose to breathe
your fragrance
and fingertips to touch
your nearness
and heart to open
that door which is wisdom,
which is wonder,
which is all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Daily Routine

For now, at least. Seems like I and my household never have routines that stick for very long. But for this week, at least, I have a lovely, quintessential sabbatical routine:

Spend the morning in the studio making as many pots as I can -- today it's plates and serving bowls.
Stop at the Garden of the Five Senses in Lancaster County Central park to meditate and reflect for a while.
Hop over to the county pool and meet Jess and the girls, where Esmé has just finished swim lessons, and swim a bit.
Then back home to be with the girls while Jess goes to work for the afternoon.
Close the day out with garden and farm-stand-fresh goodies and a glass of home brew.

Next week I'm out of town all week, so the routine will change yet again. But I'm so grateful for what I have at this moment. If nothing else sticks, this at least is a generous gift of a sabbatical learning -- gratitude for what I have today.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Steelton Visit

Last Sunday Jess, the girls and I visited Steelton Mennonite Church for their 75th anniversary worship service.

Jess' earliest church memories are at Steelton, where her family attended from a few months after her birth until she was 4 years old. She continues to recall very formative memories there.

Steelton is a mill town a bit downriver from Harrisburg, PA.

The church was a Lancaster Conference outpost started by missionaries back in the 1930s. In the 60s, the only two Mennonite churches in town, one black and one white, merged out of a sense of calling in solidarity with the civil rights movement.

Jess remembers it as local, multiracial and not oppressively bound to Mennonite ethnic traditions.

The stories we heard last Sunday confirmed this. There were literally hours of storytelling within the Sunday morning service, including from pastors that served from the early 60s to the early 90s. Their theology was refreshingly open. Not much "Lord and Savior" language. But lots of talk about the love of God, supportive community and caring embrace of each other during hard times. The man who pastored in the 1960s was not from Mennonite background, but had become a part of the church in his youth. Several of his siblings followed and have remained pillars of the congregation for 50 years. This was a powerful example of a congregation that has transcended ethnic and cultural boundaries for decades with seeming grace and enthusiasm.

There were also stories of pastors who lived in a parsonage across the street opening their home to any and all in the neighborhood for meals, playtime and fellowship (Jess has memories of this too). I could tell from the stories that pastors and congregants were deeply rooted in this little town and committed to its well-being in their daily lives -- not just on Sunday morning. In its welfare they found their welfare. Sounds like they lived how church is supposed to be, in my estimation. 

Last Sunday the church was packed out. It's hard for me to tell what life is like there on an average Sunday these days, but I guess it's not nearly so full. I hope they still embody some of the vibrancy that made for such a meaningful history. I'm so grateful for the impact Steelton had on my wife and, by a degree of separation, on me and my kids. That little neighborhood church shaped Jess' theology, her way of being in the world and her sense of how to "do" church way back in those earliest years of her consciousness. What a gift.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Back in the Studio

This week I've been back to work throwing pots in the studio. Here's a glimpse of what I have been working on this week -- a series of small vases that will be part of a project related to an exhibit I have opening this November. The show will be at CMCL's Parrot Gallery.

I continue to be amazed with how much work I'm able to get done with consecutive days in the studio. What a treat!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Church Visits

When I proposed my sabbatical, I had in mind two focus areas for my summer activities: 1. studio art work, and 2. visiting progressive, multiracial churches. Turns out I did not have the time and energy this spring to plan the second very well. So when June 1 approached, it was clear my heart was really in the first focus of getting back into studio work (also helps that I received a small grant to support it). Furthermore, as I got to work in the studio, I quickly realized that will keep my plenty busy for the summer.

That said, I am enjoying at least visiting some area churches on Sunday mornings, if not traveling much further.

In June, my parents and I visited Bright Side Baptist Church in Lancaster. I've had the opportunity to interact with Louis Butcher a couple times, and as many of you know, Glen Lapp's memorial service was there. So I have been wanting to visit the congregation for worship sometime.

And yesterday I walked a few blocks to visit Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church on South Duke Street. It's one of the oldest churches in Lancaster (built in the 1760s), and the building itself is worth a visit. The service was a lovely mix of high church, old fashioned mainline worship combined with thoughtful, progressive clergy. The sermon was by their resident scholar, and Lancaster Theological Seminary prof, Greg Carey. The presiding pastor was Sadie Pounder, who has been an active, prophetic voice on prison issues in the County (coincidentally, she was quoted in the paper yesterday).

Greg's sermon was spot on, one of a series on civility in public discourse. It was a good palate cleanser after a week of rather uptight feelings as a delegate at the Mennonite convention.

I hope these old churches like Trinity find was to hang on long into the future. They feel like kindred spirits to me. And they offer a compelling mix of tradition and progressive thinking. Most of the people in the room were over 65 years old, so who knows what's in store for them. But they are an active and valuable presence in the neighborhood.