Battle for the High Places (The Story: Ch. 14: Post 1)

Chapter 14 of The Story (with this chapter occurring approx. 930-848 BC) involves kings fighting for supremacy and kings using geographical high places for their own ambition.  The words “high places” occur 5 times in this chapter.  In one instance, after King Jeroboam built two golden calves he built shrines for them on “high places”.  Later, idols were also made of metal, “Asherah poles” were made to worship the deity Asherah (2X), sacred stones were set up “on every high hill and under every spreading tree”, and an altar and temple were later made to worship the deity Baal.  (Artistically, other items listed in this chapter included “treasures of the temple of the Lord and the treasures of the royal place”, gold shields, bronze shields, gold [4X], silver [3X], stones, and timber).  In contrast to his predecessors, King Asa “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done” and got rid of the male shrine prostitutes and the idols that had been made.  He even demoted his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother due to her creating a “repulsive image” for the purpose of worshipping Asherah.  King Asa cleared the land of Judah of all its idols.  However, King Asa did not remove the high places.  King Asa had it right.  Proper perspective involves looking upwards – towards God as the Creator – rather than for a person to elevate themself – and create with the intention of elevating themselves and accomplish their self-centred and ambitious objectives and to ‘be worshiped’.

“Measure your possibilities”

I can remember Marcel Marceau periodically saying to us as students, “Measure your possibilities.” Like most of his ‘quotables’, this phrase is packed with meaning and wisdom. First, Monsieur Marceau was encouraging us to be realistic in what we expect of ourselves. This includes not being too hard on ourselves relative to our artistic gifting and aptitude. Just as there will always be people who are more talented than ourselves, each of us are perceived by some to be more talented than others. Having taken stock of our capacity, we need to be at peace with artistic reality. In this light, it’s important that we be humble regardless of our relative place in our part of the artistic community. Second, embedded in the words of Marceau is a non-judgmental attitude. It’s essential that we don’t look down or think less of performance or visual artists who are not as trained, experienced or proficient as ourselves or others. Third and finally, for now, being able to measure our possibilities includes being increasingly self-aware and evaluating our art on an ongoing basis. Our individual and collective artistic possibilities must be critiqued by both ourselves and others.

Be Aware of Self-Assessors

When I was first introduced to a not-for-profit organization I heard the CEO comment, “We’re leaders in the field.” I can remember thinking at the time how commendable that was. However, as I got to know the agency and the respective field better I respectfully differed with the executive’s assessment. This is why I now primarily ask, “What do respected and reputable sources say?” As the saying goes – ‘Consider the source.’ Winning a talent competition at a local fair, as good as that may be, is not on par with winning a Grammy, Oscar or Pulitzer. Promotion will often include external third party endorsements in the form of quotes, a listing of awards rewards, and so forth. I try to not self-assess but rather let commendations, endorsements, recommendations, referrals, and so forth come from sources other than myself. A former colleague with whom I have not worked in 15 years recently said to one of my siblings, upon realizing they are related to me, “He’s an advocate for the people that he supports.” These words have stayed with me as I serve because they were unsolicited and came from a person who I respect very much. Finally, it is important to promote with integrity. The best way to explain what I mean by this is to ask, ‘What would people think of you or your organization if they investigated the claim?’ For example, a person’s assertion that he or she has worked in theatre for 30 years may be questioned if the reality is that the theatrical involvement consisted of volunteering as a stage hand for one weekend each year. Overall, self-assessment is a healthy exercise if it is for evaluative and not promotional reasons.

The Two Types of Mentoring

Mentoring is a training tool that is very much under used. There are two main types of mentoring – active and passive. Active mentoring occurs when there is an understood relationship of teaching between mentor and apprentice. The teacher must be aware that she is imparting and the student needs to know that she is receiving what is shared. In order for mentoring to be effective the learning must be welcomed and wanted by the understudy. Further, good tutelage doesn’t just happen. Both the trainer and trainee must do their best to ensure that planned mentoring sessions and meetings do not get squeezed out of their schedules due to the busyness of life. The second type, passive mentoring, occurs when there is not an understood instructional relationship and acquisition on the part of the person learning is primarily achieved through his observation. In fact, the two people concerned may never meet. A musician (or – dancer, videographer, singer, actor, painter and so forth) can learn a lot by observing, dissecting and reading about the art of others. Some mentoring relationships may involve both active and passive mentoring. However, nothing can replace a veteran musician intentionally sharing with a novice artist through a developing relationship how to be proficient. God created us to be in relationship and relationship is more important than any creation of art.

© Kev W Wood 2014

The Shortest Lesson I Teach

I sometimes lead in to teaching on ‘How to Receive a Compliment’ by saying that it’s the shortest lesson that I teach. That’s because all that a person needs in responding to hearing praise are two simple words – “Thank you.” However, it’s often difficult for people to accept adulation for at least two reasons. First, and unfortunately, many people are more accustomed to hearing destructive criticism than positive feedback. Second, it is natural for a person to want to clarify and justify any perceived shortcomings in herself or himself – why something was not A+, 100%, and so forth, and basically – perfect. In this way, the principle consists of two words and not the three of “Thank you but…”. As artists we can be extremely self-critical and hard on ourselves. We can almost always (quickly) point out how we could have done things better. However, we need to practice resisting this urge. It’s important to find our worth in who we are and not what we do or create.  It’s also important to do our best and to be able to leave it at.  The maturity of a person, and an artist, includes developing the skill of receiving a compliment with the two words above, and not three or more.

© Kev W Wood 2014

How Long Does It Take?

My post last week, ‘The Marinating of Art’, was regarding how created art needs to have time to ‘marinate’. This week I will address the question, ‘How long does it take for art to marinate?’ The answer is that it depends since different types of art require varying amounts of ‘lead time’ for preparation, and possibly creation also. A worship leader leading a song which both she and the congregation are familiar vs. a musician creating a new arrangement. Actors preparing execution of an existing work vs. a script being written and then performed. I encourage church service design teams to plan as far ahead as possible to allow for as many creative options as possible with different ideas and artistic disciplines needing different amounts of preparation time. How nice it was once to be booked at the beginning of September to minister in a Sunday morning worship service at the beginning of December with the pastor being able to tell me not only his topic and text but his main points as well. The advance notice and information helped me to prepare very well. In contrast, some excellent and creative ideas are conceived when it is too late to implement them, or to execute them with excellence. On this note, respecting volunteers (or even compensated artists) includes inviting them to be involved with sufficient notice. As I wrote last week – a commitment to excellence may result in an artist turning down an invitation to serve when there is not enough time to prepare well.  We perform for an Audience of One. As we prepare a feast of artistic worship for him, may we take the time, effort and care to ensure that it is as seasoned as possible.

© Kev W Wood 2014

The Marinating of Art

The creation of any type of art is much like the marinating of a steak. The famous mime Marcel Marceau was known to have told students that their new choreography was excellent and did not need to be changed. However, he would sometimes qualify, it needed to ‘marinate’ before it was ready for the stage. His feedback alludes to an excellent principle that is not only applicable to the arts but life overall. Rather than to simply meet deadlines, an approach that allows for greater excellence is to schedule completion of the creation of performance, literary or other art sufficiently in advance of the deadline or booking so that appropriate changes and revisions can be made. For example, a dancer will finalize choreography significantly sooner than the day when a new piece is presented. This is assuming that an artist is booked or engaged far enough in advance to allow for such planning. However, practice of this ideal may require an artist to turn down an invitation when a person would be rushed to prepare and there is not time for proper ‘marinating’. As the saying goes, ‘Failure to plan on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on mine.’ If we expect our art to be anointed we need to allow for God’s timeline and not expect him to bless our ‘cramming’. Even the most talented and gifted chefs can’t rush marinating without compromising. The question asked by many cooks, ‘How long does it take to marinate?’ will be answered in next week’s post.

© Kev W Wood 2014

The Danger of ‘War Stories’

Some of the best advice that I received at one point during 21 years of working in group homes was to not tell ‘war stories’ to new staff. This wisdom also applies to arts ministry. War stories are those that often start with the words, “Well, when I was…” or “Well, I remember when…”. They are what veterans find tempting to share with novices; supervisors with subordinates; mentors with protégés. To not share war stories was good counsel since they may be the result of an urge in the teller but do not meet a need in the listener. Further, exchanging war stories can also lead to a back-and-forth conversational one-upmanship. A better use of communication is to support, affirm and encourage those whom we train, mentor and lead. Put another way, war stories are about reference points. If the resulting reference point helps the listener to have a more balanced, healthy and realistic perspective, the sharing of a war story has been beneficial (even if such a recalibration is difficult for the listener). On the other hand, if the new reference point is detrimentally and destructively disheartening and deflating, the teller likely should have resisted the urge and shown more discernment.

© Kev W Wood 2014

To Play the Right Notes

It goes without saying that one of the goals of a member of a church worship team is to sing or play the right notes. For somebody to miss this objective is distracting and affects a worshipper’s experience. In defining who constitutes a worship team most people think of those who play instruments and sing (even though the leading of worship can include spoken and other mediums also). In referring to the singers and musicians I believe that it’s more appropriate to use the term music team. I believe that a worship team, in any given setting, is everybody involved in the leading of worship – on and off the platform, both visible and behind the scenes. What good is it if the singers sing the correct notes and the musicians are in the right key if an audio operator overlooks turning on a microphone when needed? An actor forgets her lines? A computer operator advances a song slide prematurely? A dancer doesn’t become familiar with the stage beforehand? A lighting operator changes a cue at the wrong time? A stage hand doesn’t put the podium in place? And so on. By each person involved in the carrying out of a service plan being proficient in his or her area of responsibility and committed to striving for excellence (but not expecting perfection of one’s self) worshippers present will be able to focus on worshipping. May we each seek to consistently play the right notes in our respective roles of service.  May leadership expect excellence in each area of ministry.

© Kev W Wood 2014