An Improvising God

Many years ago I worked for an interfaith organization that did work in the Third Ward of Houston. One of the congregations there overlooked a building that had been tagged with graffiti. Various people had painted over the graffiti, but it always came back with a vengeance. So the congregation worked with an artist to design a mural that incorporated the graffiti into the design. The wall was never bothered again. I can't find a picture of the wall, but a Google search suggests that this is a common approach to graffiti. I remembered that today when I saw this piece on Colossal: Brilliant Urban Interventions by OakOak Turn Crumbling City Infrastructure into a Visual Playground. Click the link for more, but here are two of my favorites:

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I've been thinking for some time about the rules of improv as they relate to life, church work, and even our ideas about God. The basic rule of improv is to yes-and---to accept what is offered and to build on it. That's what I see in these images, and in the Third Ward mural. (Listen to Stephen Colbert talk about yes-and in this YouTube video; skip to minute 18:00 for the pertinent bit. Or just watch the whole thing, because Colbert.)

This is a personal journey for me---I'm such a planner at heart. If I can plan it, I can control it. If it all fits on the calendar, then it will fit in real life. But life doesn't work that way, and the older I get the more I see the limitations to planning. It's not that planning is useless. But what's more important is cultivating the grace and especially the skill to adapt to changing situations. Like Eisenhower said, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything." I take "planning" to mean preparation, analysis, skill-building, and discernment.

This improv stuff is also a pastoral thing. When I arrived at Tiny, there was some discussion of making a five- or ten-year plan. It just didn't seem right. Especially in a small church, where deaths and departures of just a few key leaders can fundamentally alter the makeup of the church. Plus I think the world is changing too fast. You have to know your values and your purpose, but a ten-year plan? Makes no sense to me.

And all of this has theological dimensions. As I've written here before, the idea of God's Plan doesn't work for me. It really never has. And it doesn't work for a great many people. But an improvising God... that's a God that intrigues me. And I think we see some of that God in scripture.

I'll be thinking and writing about these things a lot in 2013. (I'm also trying to figure out how to get myself into an improv class, which will take some MacGyvering of my schedule.) In the meantime, I began work on some of these ideas at the NEXT Church regional gathering in Rochester last November. Click here to get to the audio of that presentation.

Incidentally, my friend Ashley Goff is also doing some work with improv as it relates to liturgy. She will be speaking about this at the NEXT Church National Gathering in Charlotte in March. She rocks, and the conference will rock.