Recently Beverly and I visited a unique exhibit in New York City, the Van Gogh Immersive. The exhibit was creative, inspiring and innovative. Standing in a light box we watched the works of Van Gogh emerge from under and all around us. His works are imaginative, his life a mystery. A dance between hope and despair, between faith and rejection.
Vincent Van Gogh, a Dutch painter born in 1853 was named after his still born brother, something that haunted him. His father and grandfather were both pastors, but Van Gogh was never fully accepted by the church. His brother, Theo often supported him with lodging, food and money to pursue painting.
He began painting at the age of 27 and painted 900 works of art by the age of 37 when he died. During his lifetime, he only sold two paintings, but today he is known as one of the great artists. Many of his paintings vacillated between dreary dark paintings of working class people hard at work and bright vibrant imaginative artwork.
I found the immersive exhibit to be extraordinary in which you find yourself in deep absorption (immersive) of the art and life of this extraordinary person. Many of the more than 300 people I watched the exhibit with had a similar experience. Yet there are others who found themselves deeply disappointed and feeling that the works of Van Gogh were exploited with modern technology. Like his life, the exhibit drew different reactions.
As we emerge out of the pandemic, I am hearing and reading that people are seeking something different than their pre-pandemic life, an immersive experience where life is emerging all around them. It is more than the fear of illness and even death, it has to do with life itself. The pandemic has taught us that we cannot prevent disruption or avoid dramatic changes in life’s routines and relationships. Emerging out of the pandemic, some people are retiring, and others are looking for new jobs that are more purposeful, understanding of personal and family needs and have greater fluidity between work, meaning and life.
As we emerge from the pandemic, are we being called to be an immersive church where Christ emerges from under and all around us? As society becomes clearer about purpose and meaning, the church is called to examine who it is, and how is God calling us to engage with society and culture. This is particularly true of our ministry with those who were not a part or marginally part of the church prior to the pandemic. Even the faithful are looking for something more. A church in which you find yourself absorbed in its worship, group life and service ministries. It emerges from under and around you. But I fear as we emerge from the pandemic, we are or will quickly settle into old routines and ways of being the church. Churches that settle into the pre-pandemic routine will not last.
What does it look like for us to further create immersive, absorbing church experiences that emerge from under and around us that offer meaning, purpose, understanding and fluidity?
It is ironic that the church was not fluid enough to welcome Van Gogh, but Theo, which means divine or divine gift was grace for Van Gogh. What does it mean when grace is coming from outside the church rather than within the body of Christ?
It is ironic that computer and light exhibits are more inspiring and regenerative than Sunday worship. What will it look like for the church to become the light box where Christ emerges from under and around us?
In GNJ, I have been overwhelmed by the Theo’s and the Theo congregations that gave themselves fully following Superstorm Sandy or stood up and stepped out during the pandemic to feed and care for people. I have been impressed by some of the creative online worship experiences during the pandemic. What the church is yet to become is within our reach. We are being beaconed to be more graceful, purposeful, creative and fluid. God has a great future for the church, and I call each of you to help shape what God has next for the church.