Friday, 10 April 2009

"Pause" - a review

Here are my thoughts on an inspiring evening titled “Pause” by the Christian drama and arts group Acts 29. As one Reading student pointed out, it’s a way into evangelism that isn’t purely middle class! (That’s one thing about the arts – they can work on lots of levels.)

OK, so here’s what you need to know about Pause.

The idea? To run an evening of intimate entertainment which does more than entertain – which aims to stir up thought about the deeper issues of life and to provide a conversation starter, through a variety of high quality acts, from an R&B/Soul singer to a hip-hop duo, from impressive, rousing rock to probing poetry to sharp, engaging monologue. I particularly enjoyed the cleverly layered guitarwork, the way you were made to feel at ease during the monologues, "down the pub" style, the classy, funky keyboard-accompanied songs - and the way the poetry brought a sense of place and roused feelings about situations and systems, and yet had the power to get us to think. For instance at one point our enigmatic poet recasts tube passangers as silent beings frozen on their "pillar arms". Where has the life gone out of this picture? It is in the poet, who is there, it seems, actively questioning the situation.

The writers behind the project clearly see the power of great art to raise our eyes from the things of everyday to the Maker of everything, and I can imagine the performance nudging non-Christians to respond to these attitudes and ideas, and to take time to consider where their lives are heading in the middle of all the messages and ideas in our society. All this will provide a chance to speak about our message of hope “in season”.

What makes it good?

Well, on New Word Alive, I learned about the value of shared life experiences in the dialogue between Christians and our largely secular culture. These experiences are made possible because of God, who made us in His image. We have emotions and hopes, because we were built for good things, and we have, like God, the capacity for joy and love - and brilliant thoughts, which we can think “after His thoughts”. He dreamed every creative thing up before we even thought it, as He (specifically Jesus) is the source of everything good (cf Colossians 1:16-17).

"Pause" connected with us as it sought to evoke and reflect on important life experiences and feelings in our culture - helping us relate to the characters involved, and also (sometimes more directly) pointing to the one who designed us to enjoy such experiences. Here’s a quick list of issues which were suggested or came up in the evening:

Our sense of humour about all kinds of things,
peer pressure, and group behaviour,
the way we can’t escape media and information in a non-stop TV world,
the way we hide behind masks, looking good but being broken inside,
the way we often refuse to be vulnerable in front of someone,
the joy that someone’s love can bring us when they make incredible sacrifices for us, and how we treasure them,
the way we build our lives, and the direction for them,
the idea of not being real, or the feeling of being out of place in the world, or the idea that we are just cogs in a vast impersonal machine, and related questions about the value of working,
the way we tell, and love to hear, stories (even tall stories), the way we feel threatened in our society when asked about religious things, unless it is in the pub, or very casually discussed,
and finally, the wonders of creation and expression, demonstrated in music and rhythm and in the way we experiment with sound and words.

Many of these themes and ideas celebrate what is good about mankind, and face us with our huge aspirations in life, filling our horizons with new perspectives, some right, some foolhardy. The acts suggest that we long for authentication, love, friendship, expression, freedom, and to be taken seriously, and that we are frustrated in many ways and have reason for sorrow. More than once I heard a biblical strand of thought suggested, that we should seek God's help, and that His love is there for us if we come to Him - really the only answer to humanity's real problems.

Without being in relationship with Him, forgiven freely through the death of Jesus, and accepted into His family, our lives our ultimately futile, and fragile, something that can sometimes be sensed in art. The Bible clarifies this, teaching that man is "like breath" without God, quickly fading away, and having no hope - without Him we are not ultimately heading towards great things but towards death, after which we will have no hope to produce or to experience anything good at all: In fact we will reap the rewards for living bad lives, by facing God’s punishment in hell.

Sobering words, but necessary ones: life is meaningless without the hope of a future, and this is reflected in the way the working life can become a drudgery, and things seem to keep going round and round; we were designed for somewhere better (as CS Lewis suggested, cf Ecclesiastes).

Other reflections: For what is effectively a pre-evangelism event, there was a lot of talent on show, and great production values (good work, team) – and this made me think more broadly about the state of things in the UK. We are so fortunate to have all these resources for an event targeted brilliantly to a certain audience, a certain type of friend, who is up for discussion and who enjoys stimulating art.

But why do we need pre-evangelism in the UK? Part of me tends to think it’s because we are now either too afraid or unimaginative to develop good relationships with those who are not Christians and to speak up to let them know about our wonderful gospel message, and so we want to rely on a packaged resource like this one. Or perhaps we are just too unconcerned for our friends’ eternal future? Whatever, we really need more creative ways to raise questions and starting points to speak about the true and triune God of Christianity, as our society has become increasingly reluctant to discuss Him and increasingly unaware of what the Bible has to say about Him. I’m all for more projects like this one!

Anyone else got any views on Pause?

1 comment:

Geoff Youngs said...

Great review - I wish my memory was that good.... :-)

One of the strengths of pause is (I think) it's creative embrace of mystery mixed with insightful cultural awareness. Our generation is suspicious of anyone who claims to have the answers, particularly if they sound too easy or as if they have simply been repeated, rather than thought through personally.

Many people have bought into the myth that to be a Christian is to commit intellectual suicide - a kind of non-surgical lobotomy. But pause helps crush the myth as it thoughtfully (and enigmatically) draws out points of connection between the gospel and the shared experience of the audience. And in order to do that it starts by showing a considered concern for the world/culture/society we share. (Unless I am willing to share someone's concerns, how will they know that I'm not simply manipulating or trying to control them?)

It's reminiscent of Acts 17, where Paul preaches at Mars Hill and starts by connecting the message to the culture and concerns of his audience: they wanted knowledge and understanding and - to their embarrassment - they had an altar to a God they didn't know anything about. Paul proposed to solve this missing piece in their puzzle - by showing how Jesus was, to them, an unknown God but through the gospel he could be known; showing that the gospel was the unveiling of the wisdom they were searching for. (In much the same way that he turned up at synagogues of Jews waiting for the Messiah and showed them that Jesus was the power they were looking for). Both cultures had to deal with the offence of the cross - it seemed like foolishness and weakness - but it ultimately brought them the completion, the salvation, that they yearned for.