Monday, April 26, 2010

The poetics of restorative theology

From Harrisonburg, VA, USA
As a gift for my high school graduation in 1997, someone gave me a journal. The first use of this journal was a guest list for my graduation party. I've gone over that list a number of times in the intervening thirteen years and have been surprised again and again at the people who showed up at my parents' old house in Prairie City, Iowa. I'm still writing in this same journal these days, but I'm starting to run out of pages, and it won't be long until it's completely filled up and I'll move on to another.

The other night, I couldn't sleep, so I did something with this journal that I had never done before. I read it cover to cover. Thirteen years of my life captured in periodic snapshots, covered in about two hours. The highs and lows of college, a career in IT/corporate America, being in a family, life in the church, going back to college, and finally moving to Virginia into our current phase of life.  Something struck me as I waded through all this reflective writing, and that was a near-constant expressed desire to be doing something creative or artistic in some way. Early on it was focused on my band/music project, Honnold, which started as a band in high school and has since morphed into a website that joins the music we've produced with a small virtual community. As I transitioned back into college in my mid-20's, I was studying English literature and taking a writing class or two, and my journal entries became attempts at creative writing in either fiction or non-fiction, and sometimes poetry. I can trace this artistic impulse all the way back into my childhood, so it's clear to me that this is a life-long dimension to how I come at life. So read on after the break for a few more thoughts on how the arts inform my life's work/project/ministry/whatever, that I've here called "restorative theology..."

Since coming here to EMU, I've been testing this artistic impulse in a few ways. Last fall, I took an arts-based research class that became the impetus for the creation of this blog. It was here that I was able to explore audio/visual arts combined with interview-based research and blogging. This coming fall, I'm taking a course at the seminary called "The Religious Imagination in Contemporary Culture," taught by Jerry Holsopple, who has been in Lithuania this year on sabbatical, focusing on iconography in the Orthodox Christian tradition.

Two weeks ago, CJP co-founder and former director, John Paul Lederach, came to EMU and delivered a lecture entitled "The Poetics of Peacebuilding." (I produced a short video for my job at CJP based on an interview after the lecture.) In the lecture, John Paul described how his artistic impulse is inextricably linked from his extensive work in the field of peacebuilding. He particularly focused on the poetic form of haiku, but also connected this broader artistic impulse with his Christian faith and devotional life. So for Ledearch, peacebuilding, poetics, and spirituality are all tightly interwoven. After reading a few of his poems from past peacebuilding work, emotion swelled in his voice. It seems that this creative energy is a way in which to instill vision and imagination in a vocation (and any vocation can do this, I believe) that can sometimes be anything but creative and artistic.

So whatever else "restorative theology" is, it must include this artistic dimension as a beating heart and dreaming spirit for the work at hand and the road ahead. May God's Spirit draw alongside and call this project into the eternal springs of living water.

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