A letter from John McCall serving in Taiwan
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One of my major goals in my teaching here is to help my students and fellow pastors reclaim the imagination with which God has gifted them. Often their earlier educational experience has not encouraged these seminary students and pastors to dream and ponder and wonder.
So another faculty colleague of mine at Taiwan Seminary in Taipei and I decided to host a conference called “Serving the Artist God with Imagination in the Parish.” Our goal was not to shape painters and photographers and musicians (although if this happened, it would also be wonderful), but to help local pastors see and hear in a new way. Jesus seems to care a great deal about the way we see and hear. He is especially attentive to those who seem to think they can see clearly but are really blind. And he often asks, “Do you have ears, but fail to hear?”
In that beautiful story in chapter nine of John’s Gospel we see a man born blind who sees more and more clearly, and we see those in the center of religious power who become more and more blind to the grace in their midst.
God sets us in the midst of a marvelous world with geckos that sing in southern Taiwan and are mute in northern Taiwan. From our campus we see the crested serpent eagle soaring high above us and from that high distance can see a snake in the grass. We hear the unique call of the five-color bird that sings without opening its mouth. On the subway we see a variety of faces and ages and shapes and sizes. If we look, we can see Christ in these faces.
This Artist God calls us to join in God’s creative work.
But there are so many obstacles to seeing. In the busyness of Asia, our heads are often down in our cell phones or making sure that we do the right thing. Risk-taking is often not encouraged. But if we begin to look, really look, at the world around us and if we listen, really listen, to the voices of nature and the voices of our neighbors, we catch glimpses of grace.
So for three days we invited a number of Taiwanese Christian artists and musicians to our campus to invite local church pastors to see and hear in new ways. Most of our conferences are more passive, sitting listening to a person speak. But this conference, in addition to several talks, had these pastors rotating to different art and music stations, where these artists and musicians encouraged these pastors to join with the Artist God in creating something new.
The wind of God’s Spirit blew through our campus these three days, opening windows of opportunity and grace. It was thrilling to see these artists invite the participants to use their God-given gifts. In one station the pastors created a mosaic. In another station they saw biblical characters in the faces of Taiwanese women and men and children. In the seminary chapel they used their ears and voices to praise and encounter this Artist God.
The worship services each day also used indigenous art and music to invite folks into God’s presence. In one service each worshiper came forward and scooped up a handful of Taiwanese dirt to connect with the land. An aboriginal musician who makes a variety of instruments out of bamboo talked about how he joins all of God’s creation in praising God. He gave us a new way to join with trees and birds and whales in responding to the wind of God’s Spirit.
The pastors, who are used to “talking at” others in worship and “being talked at” in conferences, seemed to relax in this environment of creativity. They laughed and shared and risked. They seemed to return to their places of service in Taiwan’s teeming cities or in high mountain villages with new expectation of how God can use them and their churches to bless this land and to bless the world.
The word “to be busy” (hun mang) and the word “to be blind” (mang mu) are very similar in Mandarin. But they don’t have to be synonymous. It is really about perspective. Even on the busy road, we can stop to notice, to pay attention to what this Artist God is doing in our neighbor, in creation, and in this vast world.
Thank you for your prayers and support of how God is working in this land. This weekend the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan will celebrate 150 years of ministry. May God’s Spirit continue to inspire and equip this church as we join this Artist God in bringing in God’s Kingdom.
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 253
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