Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Curator, A Teaching Pneumetaphor

One of the most significant evolutions in emerging worship is the swap of a worship service for a worship environment. More and more, we are seeing young leaders and entrepreneurial ministers establishing an ecosystem for the purposes of worship. Worship leaders are becoming less than Darlene Zschech and more like Martha Stewart. Worship is being seen as ecology, something more than music, something more like a wilderness of expression or an expanse of open thought and immersion theology.

To better facilitate individual people connecting with Jesus Christ, we are moving away from a front-and-center model of theatrical liturgy to a decentralized mapping of prayer stations, labyrinths, media interaction, personal and corporate prayer, individual study in the midst of conversation, and laughter alongside remorse. Such a radical redesign of contemporary worship praxis requires an equally radical rethinking of a Teacher’s leadership.

Mark Pierson offers the notion of a pastor/teacher as a curator in his groundbreaking CD Rom Fractals,[1] "So instead of being a worship-leader, or worship-planner, I have become a curator of worship. I provide contexts, experiences of worship for others to participate in… In a worship setting a curator would become: A maker of a context for worship rather than a presenter of content (the content would be prepared by others.), a provider of a frame inside which the elements are arranged and rearranged to convey a particular message for a particular purpose.[2]"

A curator sets up an exhibit so that guests can interact personally with the art on display. The curator his/herself is not the exhibit, but a facilitator. Teachers facilitate Christian people coming together to fellowship, grieve, worship, laugh, learn, love, and tell in the presence of God. He is the Grand Exhibit, the Display of Heaven, available for everyone to touch.

The Greek word didaskalos[3] is used 58 times in the New Testament, often as a translation for the Hebrew word rabbi. Jesus is referred to as didaskalos 41 times, translated in English as both “Master” and “Teacher.” A didaskalos appears in scripture as an instructor, someone who “communicates content by modeling a lifestyle.[4]” Weston defines the Ascension Teaching Gift as that which “God gives certain members of the body of Christ to present God’s Word in a manner that displays spiritual authority and unusual accurate promoting of health and maturity, while equipping individual members and the Body itself for the work of the ministry.”[5]

Both Jesus and Paul operated as excellent examples of Teachers in the New Testament, employing the traditional form of moral exhortation, called paraenesis[6] in Greek. Jesus utilized this known form while giving the Sermon on the Mount; but, like many things Jesus did, He offered paraenesis with a twist. He alluded to everyday objects and items as a means of illustrating divine truth, but went one step further than the conventional wisdom. Paraenesis consists of “traditional ethical material expressing conventional wisdom approved by society…and illustrated by models of virtue”, but Jesus exhorts His audience not only to obey the Law but to surpass the Law by loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, forsaking oaths, and even keeping our minds free from unfit thoughts.[7]

Similarly, Paul employs forms of paraenesis in his epistles as he instructs believers how to live “in the light.” This notion of duality – lights versus dark, the spirit versus the flesh – is common enough in wisdom literature,[8] and Paul continues his rabbinic trend-setting by calling upon believers to “focus on social virtues and vices…expelling such things as envy, strife, and malice.”[9] Some of these letters were written specifically to address situations where common sense should have ruled, and the paraenesis served to remind the people of those things they already should have known:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.[10]

Paul and Jesus used the role of the Teacher both to illuminate and to inspire in the New Testament, though – admittedly – the teacher types tends more towards a logical, rather than an emotional or sensual, approach to life and faith. It is because of this kind of tendency to over-intellectualize and systematize faith that Teachers need the “unction of the Holy Spirit to make teaching a channel for the impartation of life as well as knowledge.”[11] The ministry of a Teacher involves comparisons of spiritual things with other spiritual things, wisdom with divine speech, and knowledge with mystery[12]; and teachers must be careful to embed these comparisons with inspiration. The Holy Spirit Himself has a part to play in instruction, and we are instructed by St. John to be mindful of that anointing as we are taught.[13]

It is the ultimate aim of the Teacher to see the Word applied to our lives, and not merely be informed about the Word. As such, a Teacher should be a “living epistle”[14] and must teach by precept[15] and by example[16], , and by conduct[17] in what s/he does. The lessons are thusly enhanced by the Teacher’s own spiritual life as s/he is formed by the Holy Spirit and filled with the possession of true facts [knowledge], the interpretation of truth [understanding], and the application of truth [wisdom].[18] This is consistent with the wisdom tradition presented in the poetic books of the Old Testament where wisdom was defined as doing what you knew to be right, as in the case of the wise man and the foolish man where the wise man applied his knowledge and the fool – who also possessed the same knowledge – did not[19]; and it is consistent with latter New Testament writings such as 1 John 1.6 where we are warned to “do the truth.[20]

I’ve often thought o f curators as underutilized human encyclopedias, making their weary way through halls of artifacts that invigorate them while speaking to people who are dulled by them. Truly, the best curators are those who are able to translate their passion for art to their audience. It is this kind of curator to whom we refer below, and there are five significant ways in which the curator and the teacher crossover in local church experience. When we take the biblical materials and the pneumetaphor and weave them together, we’re left with a more holistic view of how the Teacher functions today.

A teacher/curator creates contexts
The Teachers is an experience architect. Their task is that of an interior designer, and they responsible for the space we use to interact with the Holy Spirit as a community. In western Canada the hunger for authentic spirituality is so strong, anyone who spends ten minutes on the street in downtown Vancouver will be assaulted by every conceivable manner of spiritual connectivity by a gaggle of bus-boy gurus and business-lunch witches. Sadly, church attendance remains depressingly low, and we are forced to conclude that churches are not meeting the demand for spiritual encounters. Our problem lies in not providing the “right kind of opportunities and environments”[21] for people to actually connect with the spiritual dimension of their lives.

We must respond to this disconnect by creating space. Such space exists simultaneously in three realms: [1] the chronos[22], [2] the diistemi[23], and [3] the phronema.[24] The chronos is the space in time set aside for worship and thanksgiving. Throughout Christian history and tradition believers have set aside daily, weekly, seasonal and annual space to remember and celebrate the goodness of God. The creation of chronos-space for worship is a statement of faith, particularly in our frenetic culture of busyness and fragmentation. More so, it is a statement of defiance that, in spite of the pace of life dictated to us by our culture and society, we – the people of God – choose to slow down and remember who we are and Who we are serving.

The diistemi, or “space apart”, is the physical dimensions we set aside for worship. Worship space, worship environment, and worship setting are all synonyms for this notion of sacred space. In the emerging world, diistemi-space will need to be mapped out virtually as well as physically, emotionally as well as kinesthetically and/or sensually as we endeavor to experience God through a multitude of new highs. It has been our great oversight to take diistemi-space for granted, and Evangelicals have allowed their auditoriums and worship places to be unset-apart thereby allowing the sense of holy space to become corrupted by an attitude of indifference.

Some factors to consider in creating “holy space” include the arrangement of furniture in the room, lighting, sound, the art/aesthetics, the equipment/tech, and the air.[25] Jonny Baker, in Alternative Worship, comments on the creation of sacred space through advanced mixed-media technology, an eclectic use of the worship traditions of the church, and ways in which fragments of liturgical tradition – rituals, icons, prayers, and responses – are inserted into a multi-media context.[26]

Another important Greek word here is the actual word used for “holy space” which is the word hagion. Strong’ defines hagion as:
1. reverend, worthy of veneration
a. of things which on account of some connection with God possess a certain distinction and claim to reverence, as places sacred to God which are not to be profaned
b. of persons whose services God employs, for example, apostles[27]
This is the word that is used when speaking of the Holy of Holies in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. There is precedent and exposition, then, of the importance of the space where we meet and meet God, and it is the duty of the teacher/curator to set it aside.

Phronema-space is the space made in our minds for the Spirit. Distractions abound. There are always many, many things greedily tempting our conscious self, and it becomes a matter of discipline in worship to stop the mental chatter and make space in our minds for the Spirit. The Jesuit prayer site http://sacredspace.ie/ is an excellent working model of a Teacher motivated to help his constituents make phronema-space, using slow scene transitions and a serene musical score to enhance the experience of the written prayers supplied by the Order. Despite our collective unfamiliarity with mixed media, Evangelicals can look to sites such as this as a practical blending of ancient faith with future experiences rooted on a timeless God.[28]

A teacher/curator facilitates interaction with the exhibit by the people
Folk theologian/philosopher/storyteller Garrison Keillor once wrote that:
If you can’t go to church and, for at least a moment, be given transcendence; if you can’t go to church and pass briefly from this life to the next; then I can’t see why anyone should go. Just a brief moment of transcendence causes you to come out of church a changed person.[29]

We must always be mindful of the fact that people are not coming to church to experience us and our ideas; people are coming to church to experience God and His love, power, grace, mercy, transcendence, joy and peace. The task of the Teacher is to put them in as close and inviting a locale as possible with the Holy Spirit in order that people may experience God themselves, and not be funneled through a mediator, for there is but one mediator between God and men.[30] As Mark Pierson says, “the worship curator trusts that the Holy Spirit will make the exhibition uniquely real, alive and appropriate to each participant.[31]” Even in the secular realm, there is widespread recognition that deep spirituality involves “the direct investigation of the experiential evidence”[32] that we encounter when in the “higher stages of consciousness development.”[33] This direct investigation may be thought to include rites of passage[34], such as baptism or weddings and funerals, as well as meaningful worship experiences.

Spirituality is about transcendence, about connection with the supernatural, and moments of divine contact. This transcendental priority is often recognized by everyone but church leadership. As a result, the most important task of the Teacher may be to simply get out of the way.

To illustrate, know that in 2002 80% of polled Canadians claimed to believe in God[35], while 75% of adults and 70% of teens claimed to believe in a God that cares about them personally, while approximately one in every two adults reported that they have experienced God’s presence.[36] Even among those who do not believe in a God who cares about them personally, approximately one-in-five report that they have actually “experienced the presence of God”[37] and report that that experience has lasted within their consciousness over time. Those direct experiences with the divine cannot be substituted by our words and actions, so we must re-focus our efforts onto getting people into the presence of God.

We have to get them close to the Exhibit.

A teacher/curator possess insight and knowledge into the exhibit that most people don’t have the time or leisure to acquire, though many may come who do.

Teachers and professional clergy are blessed to have as part of their life’s work the study of God’s Word. Our profession affords us the opportunity to dialogue with intelligent and critical thinkers on a host of theological issues, to spend time in silent meditation and prayer before an open Bible, and to count as part of our work the pursuit of God and His specific will and purpose for our lives and the lives of those in our care. Few others can boast about the access they get to the life-giving scriptures, but it is also the task of the teacher/curator to distil these wondrous moments of elevation into a drink everyone can taste. A teacher/curator has to take profound thoughts and make them simple. A teacher/curator has to field questions and probe insightful comments about “how things work” and how “they were made.” It is the task of the Teacher, not only to learn, but to teach so others may learn and know.

A teacher/curator cares personally about the exhibit and is not emotionally detached from what is on Display

Perhaps the most heart-breaking story in the Old Testament is the tale of the Levites who devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the people and, and in the process, overlooked God. This passage out of Ezekiel is the horrible judgment God passes on ministers who place the ministry over the Creator:
11 They may serve in my sanctuary, having charge of the gates of the temple and serving in it; they may slaughter the burnt offerings and sacrifices for the people and stand before the people and serve them. 12 But because they served them in the presence of their idols and made the house of Israel fall into sin, therefore I have sworn with uplifted hand that they must bear the consequences of their sin, declares the Sovereign LORD. 13 They are not to come near to serve me as priests or come near any of my holy things or my most holy offerings; they must bear the shame of their detestable practices. 14 Yet I will put them in charge of the duties of the temple and all the work that is to be done in it.[38]

The Levites are permitted to continue ministry, but God punishes these servants with the ultimate torment: separation. Because of the misplaced priorities of the Levites, God promises to allow them to continue ministry at the cost of relationship.

Relationship is the most significant task of the Teacher. God is not just for the customers, God is for the Curator.

A teacher/curator cleans up when everyone else leaves
When a museum closes for the night, the last person to leave is the curator. The curator makes sure everything is reset for the next day’s customers. The curator makes sure nothing was damaged, or taken that should not have left. The curator ensures that the janitor knows which spots are dirty and need to be cleaned, or what access needs to be closed off until further notice.

So it is with the teacher/curator. After everyone leaves, the Teacher must endeavor to know what happened: did anyone get hurt? Is everything as it should be for the next gathering? Did someone get too close to the Exhibit and not understand it? Was there anyone who never got to see the Exhibit firsthand, and, why not? Did something not work that will require that area to be “off limits” temporarily? These are the questions that stay with a teacher/curator during times of decompression.

These are the closing thoughts.

[1] Due to our use of the Five Ascension Gifts in this paper, we will expropriate this metaphor for teachers, having ascertained that the Pastoral Gift is better illustrated otherwise.
[2] Mark Pierson, Fractals. (see http://www.cityside.org.nz/events.html)
[3] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 1320. http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=1320&version=kjv
[4] Owen Weston, Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God. (Bethany: Lifesprings, 1996), 43.
[5] Owen Weston, Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God. (Bethany: Lifesprings, 1996), 43.
[6] M.B.Thompson, "Teaching/Paraenesis," in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, 1993 ed.
[7] cf. Matthew 5-7
[8] cf. Proverbs 4.18, 19 and Psalm 1.6
[9] M.B.Thompson, "Teaching/Paraenesis," in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, 1993 ed.
[10] Phillipians 4.8,9
[11] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 191.
[12] 1 Corinthians 2.6-14. “6We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”[a]– 10but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.[b] 14The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
[13] Cf. 1 John 2.27
[14] 2 Corinthians 3.3
[15] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 192. Also, 2 Timothy 3.10.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 192. Also, John 13.12-15, Matthew 5.19.
[18] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 192.
[19] Proverbs 12.15, Proverbs 14.16, Proverbs 17.28, Proverbs 29.11, Ecclesiastes 2.19
[20] poiou’men th;n ajlhvqeian, lit. “do the truth”
[21] Reginald Bibby, Restless Churches: How Canada’s Churches Can Contribute to the Emerging Religious Renaissance. (Kelowna: Wood Lake, 2004), 90.
[22] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 5550. lit. “time” http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=5550&version=kjv
[23] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 1339. lit. “space apart” http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=1339&version=kjv
[24] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 5427. lit. “spiritually minded” http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=5427&version=kjv
[25] cf. Michael J. Gelb, How to Think like Leonardo Da Vinci. (New York: Delta,1998), 140, 141.
[26] Jonny Baker and Doug Gay, AlternativeWorship: Resources from and for the Emerging Church. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 27, 95.
[27] Crosswalk New Testament Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Number 39. http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=39&version=kjv
[28] There is no shortage of arguments among Evangelicals that internet community isn’t real community, and that “church” cannot happen without being together in a physical sense. While this may have been true at one point, it becomes increasingly less true everyday and we may find that our grandchildren relate on an entirely different level via cyberspace that offers them more meaning than other forms of community. Consider that in 1998, 48% of adults in the USA had Internet access, but 88% had it by 2002 of which almost half are business users comprising over one million businesses online. Source: Michael Levine, Guerilla P.R. Wired. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001), 18.
[29] Garrison Keillor, “Door Interview: Garrison Keillor,” The Wittenburg Door (Jan-Feb 1985), 16. As quoted in Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami. (Grand Rapids, 1999), 211.
[30] 1 Timothy 2.5
[31] Mark Pierson, Fractals. (Auckland, 2004).
[32] Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything. (Boston: Shambala, 2000), 77.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Reginald Bibby lists rites of passage as one of the key contributors to Canadian religious curiosity in his book Restless Churches: How Canada’s Churches Can Contribute to the Emerging Religious Renaissance. (Kelowna: Wood Lake, 2004) He maintains that churches are too often bothered by these requests from outsiders, but that the reality is that these rites are among the highest successful entry points in bringing new people into church communites.
[35] Versus 18% annual church attendance. Reginald Bibby, Restless Gods. (Kelowna: Wood Lake, 2002), 150.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Reginald Bibby, Restless Churches: How Canada’s Churches Can Contribute to the Emerging Religious Renaissance. (Kelowna: Wood Lake, 2004), 15.
[38] Ezekiel 44.11-14

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