Friday, August 15, 2008

How I Spent My Summer “Vacation”

I feel like so much has been said already about my artist residency, that I'm tempted to stay quiet. But I did say that reflection is a key part of the artist's involvement in worship. As a member of the Convergence community, I feel both honored and obligated to reflect on the opportunity you all provided me.

As an artist in residence, I had a dual task: participate in a community project to benefit the life of the church, and use the dedicated "time off" to work on my own projects that have been hounding me. I began the summer with ambitious plans for my work at the church and my personal work. For the church I was going to do a space use plan, lecture and discussion series, and conceptual design for the sanctuary. For myself, I was going to attend a conference, write at least three papers and take at least two architecture licensing exams. And I was going to relax, get fit, go tubing, visit friends, and maybe brush up on my salsa skills. If I had written this down as I am now, I would have seen how impossible that list was for less than two months. (I'm just now recognizing it's too ambitious for a whole summer too!)

I began with the space use plan, which made recommendations about the use of rooms in the Potts Building (the Lab) and the main building. I wrote a nice little document only to realize at the end of the summer that it never got sent from my outbox. Fortunately, the process was a collaborative one and Lisa and Todd knew what my recommendations were and articulated this to the advisory team and others who were trying to figure out building use. As part of this project, I tried to learn new computer drawing skills. As a result, I have unfinished drawings that are now at the top of my short to-do list. So, alas, my work is not yet done. As for that conceptual design… Maybe in the winter or spring. J

The work I did finish was the lecture and discussion series for the Fueling Creative Convergence Project. It was incredibly exciting to put a great deal of my academic work to use in service of the church. The lectures affirmed to me the importance of theology within the local church and reignited my sense of humility and excitement at being equipped and able to do that task. The discussions stirred my soul. I was exhausted by them, but encouraged and inspired. As I continue to do my work, I will take your insights and stories with me. I will represent the struggles of artists in the church to the best of my abilities, knowing that they are not abstract ideas, but the lives many of you lead.

On a personal level, the summer was incredibly transformative. Soon after I arrived, I was struck with a professional identity crisis, wondering what if anything I can do as a job or career to support myself before I finish school. I attended the Americans for the Arts convention and found that there was real interest in how I connect art, design, and theology. I learned to speak about what I do in a non-church, non-academic context. This is quite an accomplishment, since I was afraid my church life and academic life were too disconnected from the world beyond its borders to have any practical relevance. I found out I was wrong. And I was reminded that there are Christians and those who are sympathetic to Christians in the arts management world. The convention provided me with lots of information about civic engagement through the arts, and it also gave me a chance to do some career development and networking. I came away with the idea that I CAN start a consulting business merging theology and design, and the experience was supplemented by the boot camp and coaching I did with Marga at the Entrepreneurship Academy for Artists.

I also wrote this summer. A lot. A flurry of activity previously reserved for the end of semesters only. I wrote papers, mini-memoirs, journal entries, personal statements, reading notes and cards to friends. I ventured into the world of blogging and found out it's not so bad.

The most transformative aspect of this summer, the part buried after all this other stuff, is that I rediscovered the beauty of relationship with God through Jesus. When I got to consider again the experience of baptism on my last Sunday with you all, I was overcome with emotion as saw the metaphor in new, profound ways. I rediscovered the meaning of blessing, seeing that I have been given not only grace and relationship with the God of the universe, but a spiritual legacy, a calling, and a fellowship with others that is indescribable in its sweetness.

After spending time in worship at Convergence and my previous church in Silver Spring, I am inspired to find a worshipping community near my California home. I confess that for the previous year, I had focused on the energy spent, the time required to be a vital part of a church, but I forgot about the joy that comes from connecting with others who share the bonds of fellowship in Christ. God worked through you all to remind me of that. After talking so much about the artist as prophet, I have a real desire to read again about the prophets in the Bible. From getting to know better people like Jay and Shae and Amy and Amanda who rely on their faith in real ways to enrich their lives and their art, I am learning to be open about the ways I can do the same. I've left this artist residency as a much more prayerful person. Lisa taught me how to confess to the God that forgives and the friends who support. Spending time with Lisa, Rita, Susan, Joanne and Pam reminded me how important real friendships are in times of chaos and confusion.

For all your prayers, kind words, and encouragement, I thank you all. I thank you especially for the part you had in helping me finish work I was too blocked to end and in helping me begin work I was too trepidations to approach. Convergence privileged me with the task of shaping a place which reflects our local church community and culture and also gave me a time and place to write.


Manda. said...

I love you, Elise! Thanks for sharing this--such an encouragement.

Susan said...

Elise, I got tears in my eyes reading this, thank you for sending it to me! Little Evie is going to be baptised tomorrow, and I'm re-reading the blog that talks so freshly about baptism, it made a difference for me, too. I know what you mean.I was distracted, thinking about babies that don't get to be baptised before dying,Heaven and Hell, etc. Focusing on the grace aspect of it all is just what I needed, the day beforehand, especially with my house full of my parents, sisters and various spouses for the last four days. :) God's timing is perfect.