Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Outsider Art

Spiderweb 2
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Pastor Cindy had a sermon a few weeks ago where she was talking about artwork, specifically a type of art called, "Outsider Art." This is an excerpt...

As I said, the label for what “Outsider Art” actually is is fluid, but this is the definition I’ve heard that I like the best:

“I have come to use the phrase Outsider Art to refer to the creative work of artists who are self-taught and/or those who, for a variety of reasons, are what I consider fortunately impervious to being taught how to make art. It now includes all of the following: The naive, the innocent, the self-taught, the visionary, the intuitive, the eccentric; the schizophrenic, the developmentally disabled, the psychotic, the obsessive, the compulsive.”

That’s a pretty cool definition, isn’t it? It really struck a chord with me, and of course, the reason that it struck a chord with me is that it describes, not just Mr. Finn and Mark Anthony Mulligan and Larry Smothers and some other artists I know, it describes our church: the naïve, the innocent, the self-taught, the visionary, the intuitive, the eccentric, the schizophrenic, the developmentally disabled, the psychotic, the obsessive, the compulsive.

A Mutt. The Wretched Refuse. A Funny Looking People.

That’s not all of us, of course, not all the time. But it’s who we are at our best, a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a diverse bundle of humanity. It’s who we are at our best. So I’ve got a new label for us.

We are an Outsider Church.

When we were kicked out of our building by the Long Run Baptist Association 19 years ago for calling a woman pastor, that would be me, the most crucial decision that we made was to stay in our rough and tumble neighborhood. Looking around now, it’s not so rough and tumble. But it was then, and I am convinced that it was that decision that has pushed us more than anything else into any radical thing that we’ve ever done...

...You and I, because we are an Outsider Church, because we have been in relationship with the cast-out, the funny looking, the dispossessed, the mentally ill, the poor, we have a different slant on things, and it’s crucial that we don’t lose it. It’s crucial that we don’t lose it.

Which means, as our neighborhood changes around us, that we are going have to do something different, something new in order to continue to live in relationship with the marginalized. We’ve always had the luxury of never having to go look for human need. These other churches come down here on Sunday mornings to do the Welcome Table, to feed meals to homeless men and women because they know that it’s not just important for the homeless, but that it’s important for them.

We’ve never had to go that far. It’s been a precious gift, our proximity to the poor. But we’re not across the street from a housing project anymore, and we are going to need to do something different. To maybe come down to the Hospitality Program one morning a month to sit with Diane and to learn the names of some our homeless guests. To figure out who is actually living in our new neighborhood, and if they might need us, if we might need them.

To come down to the Goatwalker Coffeehouse, not just to enjoy the music, but to intentionally build a relationship with one of the homeless guests. To maybe take on one of the Welcome Table meals ourselves once a quarter. To trip over each other on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights as we rush to welcome the stranger, the odder the better.

Or... what? What other ideas do we have? It’s not just the poor who are marginalized, of course. Immigrants, transgendered persons, gays and lesbians, mentally ill persons, addicts.

There’s a whole slew of people who we need to learn from, who we need to foster relationships with. It’s always been a gift, a luxury that people like "Louise" would just walk through the door and delight us and frustrate us for months with her request every week during joys and concerns for a new bra. But she didn’t just give us fodder for funny stories, she unmasked us. "Louise" constantly reminded us that our system isn’t working. Her life, her crappy, sad, heartbreak of a life howled like a cry through every smug pretense our life afforded.

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd,” said Flannery O’Connor.

"Louise" wasn’t just odd herself, she made us odd, thank God, and what a wonderful gift that is, to be odd, and to be unmasked, and to be an Outsider Church...

...As we enter into this new year, may we be looking for ways to retain our saltiness, our flavor, our identity as an Outsider Church. May we irritate the crap out of the Powers that Be, may we heal the brokenhearted, may we season this city with mercy and justice and grace, may we ever preserve our oddness, following the One who calls us to be salt for the earth.



At 9/16/09, 7:03 AM, Blogger Dan Trabue said...

A note of clarification for those unfamiliar with Jeff Street: We are in an urban setting in downtown Louisville. We have always been across from a housing projects until about three years ago when the city tore them down and moved the people out (mostly to other housing shelters) in an effort to gentrify this now highly valuable land.

There are still homeless shelters and poverty around, but it's certainly gentrified at least a bit in the last few years...


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