Creating Communities of “Artists”

This morning I noticed a torn piece of paper with something I’d written on it from awhile back:

  • How do we form a community that creates artists rather than just critics?
  • Justice should always come first, justice is innovative.

I am not sure what I was reading when I wrote these two thoughts down, but I know they are not original to me. But today I found these two statements helpful in reflection as our meeting is currently struggling to decide what to do with a house we own but is in need of a lot of care. We are a smaller church without a ton of resources but we have a deep desire to do what is right not only for us but also for the broader community of Camas and Washougal.

The house has been used as a rental in the past, and was once (I believe) the parsonage. The last tenants took advantage of our church and not only stopped paying rent but continued to trash the place. Finally, they had to be evicted, which was a very difficult thing for us to do. This house has since become a burden. It needs a lot of work and repairs with funds we don’t have and volunteers we are short on or who are worn out. And many don’t really want to rent the house out again (who can blame them), yet no clear vision of what God might have us has come forth.

There are people who need a place to live in Camas, people living under bridges, people on the verge of being evicted from their homes for one reason or another, so keeping it available as affordable housing is not a bad idea. But there are other needs and ideas as well. Maybe we could turn it into a community living room, a kind of open and creative space for youth. Maybe we could turn the house into a communal home for young Quakers wishing to have training in ministry and do justice-related work in the community. Maybe we could turn it into a cafe, a thrift store, etc… We are currently working with the local Food Co-Op to have them potentially take over the bottom level of the house! So there are many ideas but we are not sure which is the proper one to pursue, and it feels like until we can really have a good purpose for the house, it’s going to be difficult to rally the  people needed to get the place up and running again. So what feels like a major time-sink and energy drain becomes a vicious cycle.

Then, I sit down and read this little piece of paper and I wonder if this house might not be somehow connected to trying to form a community of artists? And how and in what ways God’s desire for justice is guiding the vision of the house?

Whenever we come up to difficult problems and questions like this it is really easy to find the critics and naysayers and there are plenty who want nothing to do with working through the solution. For some it’s easier just to disengage. The people who have the vision and willingness to implement it are harder to come by. I am one who can have ideas but those ideas tend to be grandiose and I have difficulty with following through on them. We, like any community, has a variety of folks on this spectrum. What I am interested in knowing is how we might help people be free enough to be inspired by creativity and imagination to re-imagine a holy use for this house (or whatever the question is that faces us in a given setting). People who are able communicate that vision in a way that helps others come onboard and gain energy and excitement rather than being left with the feeling of exhaustion is a gift.

So who are “artists” and what do they do and how might we as to become more like them. I guess for our purposes we might say that artists (in a broad and general sense) are:

  • Relient upon the creativity of the Spirit of God
  • Skilled practitioners
  • Rooted in the practices of their tradition
  • Open to new “techniques,” ideas, innovations
  • Deeply invested in their work
  • Have the space to envision different possibilities and dream
  • Willing to implement through hard work a particular vision

Here I am not trying to describe Van Gogh, or the hipster artist using his Powerbook down at the coffeeshop, but more of a way of life and way of approaching questions and issues. Our community already has a lot of these qualities but what gave rise to them?  And what about the ones that we could do better at? What might help to facilitate those? So I wonder what we might do as a Church to be more like this, what do we actually need to do to practice this?

And then I realized that this house, which has been cause for some much stress, might be the very thing that could help us be creative and engage the Spirit on a different level and in a way that might help us find life in this project rather than fatigue. Maybe there are clues already to what we should be doing, tools, that point us in the proper direction that God has placed before us that we need to attend to?

(I am considering a threshing meeting (sort of a Quaker and Spirit-led version of a brainstorming session) or a clearness committee around the question of the house. It seems like this may be a helpful step.)