So deep and still the lake this dawn

The morning sun breathes down the hill

This is the world, God, you move upon

And lead me forward, deeper still

Deeper still, Leader, deeper still

You lead me forward, deeper still

And through the forest, along the stream

My eyes with wonder and glory fill

This is the miracle, this is your dream

And as I wander, I go deeper still

Deeper still, Maker, deeper still

You made much more and deeper still

Out to the roads of rock we crushed

And iron forged and havens built

To make our millions, we kill and cut

But as we drill, you are deeper still

Deeper still, Provider, deeper still

You give me bounty, deeper still

Take us back, God, or make us stop

Or let us hear you and do your will

Press your palms on our broken eyes

And heal the wounds that go deeper still

Deeper still, Healer, deeper still

Come heal my darkness, deeper still

And when the dawn comes back again

Back to the lake, to drink my fill

Of all the beauty in the sun and rain

You will love me deeper still

Deeper still Lover, deeper still

Forgive and love me deeper still

 – Tom Carson

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Christian – No Longer a Noun?

January 25, 2013

Dr. Clyde Millhouse
Word Application and Definitions Committee
Global Council for the Usage of English
London, UK

Dear Dr. Millhouse and Distiguished Members of the Committee,

I am writing to urge the Council to consider removing the noun designation of the word “Christian” from the English language, and retain only the adjective usage.

Noun-Christians, who are known to proclaim,  “I am a Christian”, “they are not Christians,” “You can’t be a Christian if…”, are entirely ruining the good that honest adjective-Christian thoughts, words and actions impart. It seems to me that one cannot claim the noun Christian (Christ-follower) if the adjective Christian (Christ-like) cannot be applied to their thoughts, words and actions. Unfortunately, many who insist on the noun usage seem to do so with such a lack of grace, absence of active love and with an overwhelmingly arrogant, judgmental, bullying selfishness, that they abandon the adjective altogether, as if the noun usage can somehow be separated from its adjective companion.

This situation is critical.  Since those who are obsessed with the noun usage continue to display a complete lack of Christian character and judgement, I feel it is time for the discussion to be removed from places of worship, and tribunals of the self-righteous, and placed in the capable hands of those who take seriously the use of language.

Christian in its adjective form, “Christ – like”, is a notion many can get behind, regardless of noun-identity.  Even those who do not have faith in Jesus Christ, in the biblical narrative sense, may acknowledge that the identification of the humble, sacrificial, healing, giving, inclusive love as described by the adjective Christian is a positive force.

The conflict arises when certain groups claim hold of  “Christian” as a noun, and then vehemently refuse to apply the adjective in their defense of it.

In doing away with the noun Christian, we can in fact begin aspiring to thoughts, words, actions as Christian in quality, without identifying that they originate from “noun-Christians” or “non- Christians”. And, by removing the noun, it may cause us all to stop thinking that people can be destructive, bigoted, selfish and arrogant, and retain the Christian noun definition in their own opinion.  Perhaps we will begin to see that each thought, action, word, can be assessed on its own merit as being Christian or not.  And of course, it will eliminate the need to dismiss true Christian love, for example, as coming from those who are not included in a definition of  the noun Christian, prescribed by an individual, group or organization.

I dare say the reverberations of the Council’s decision will create wonderful ripples throughout the known world. What on earth will happen to the noun-Christians when the adjective is applied to all the proper nouns of the world?  A Christian husband, a Christian wife? How about, a Christian thief, a Christian whore? A Christian accountant, a Christian homosexual, a Christian lover, a Christian Muslim?

What strange and powerful possibilities!  Could it be that all of humanity would have equal access to the adjective Christian?  The applications have the potential to be truly beautiful, and perhaps draw the whole of humankind closer to a Christian worldview. For those that believe in God, it may mean that God indeed loves all of humanity enough to be the sole cosmic noun-definer, and pays no attention to  human noun designations, and  who only asks that the adjective be applied with diligence. It would be an acknowledgement that God that creates, and has dominion over, the noun definitions, and human-designated nouns would not apply.  What kind of God would that be, I wonder?

And, for those who do not believe in a higher power, the adjective would be a positive one, since it would signify the qualities of the character of Jesus Christ, as described in the narrative of the Christian scriptures (adjective Christian here, of course).

With the removal of the noun, the adjective becomes noteworthy for its usefulness in a hopeful society.  And, it seems to me, to be a much more productive, dare I say, Christian use of language to insist that a Christian person be one who in fact displays Christ-like behaviour. And, the adjective applies whenever appropriate, to whatever the noun, and when the adjective cannot be used, no one can hold claim to it.

In anticipation of the Council’s favourable decision, it will be my pleasure when I hear people say, “I am a Christian” to reply, “a Christian what?”.

Of course, I will petition all who are currently trapped in other restrictive religious proper nouns to request alteration of their definitions as well.

Thank you very much for your consideration, and I eagerly await your reply.

Tom Carson

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Snow Angel

Christmas morning, I’m walking alone
And everything’s perfect
the snow’s coming down
I can hear the breath of God in my ear
He whispers a secret
– oh I wish I could speak the language of stars
Wish I knew what He says

Just off of the porch of my childhood home
wind kisses my cheek
but I’m warm inside a jacket and sweaters and shirts
that I borrowed from my own old dresser drawers
in the closet in the room that still belongs
to a teenage son that left years ago.

snowflakes fall like memories and hopes
each of them different
but all just the same
I stick out my tongue to taste them all
They melt like Communion bread placed in my mouth
By a priest leaning over the alter rail
This must be Eucharist, this must be peace

I’m a child again, I’m free, I’m a man with a family
I’m my wife sleeping next to me on a bed that we bought,
on a bed we could finally afford
I’m my mother growing older and smaller and finer
Growing sweet and edgy and soft
I’m my father forgetting where I put my name
On a shelf, in a drawer, tucked in a book on the floor
I’m my sister laughing and pulling cheeks
Of nieces and nephews, like she did to me
I’m my brother swinging his kids in his arms
He’s the father he wishes he had
I’m my son, my child, as a baby lying
naked in blankets in Sunday morning sun
I’m all of us now, I’m Christmas morning
And everything’s perfect, the snow’s coming down

Flailing, failing, falling, fallen, fluttering, flying now,
I lie on my back like man in a coffin
Looking up into nothing, or everything falling
Then I spread my arms with my palms open wide
And I wave like a man drowning
With one last beautiful breath
Or maybe like a four year old actor on stage
“It’s me, It’s me, look at me! I’m here, It’s me!”

(Jesus, I wonder if God can see
Through all this flurry
Coming down around me)

Does He see me calling out for help?
For a future I can’t picture, or won’t, out of fear?
Does he see me waving so he’ll wave back,
Just give one divine sign that I’m holy somehow
Or does he
See the shape of the angel I’m making here
On the snowy front lawn of my family home
Like I did as a kid years ago?

– Tom Carson

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My Theory of Art Making

My Theory of Art Making

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The Ghosts of Mariposa – from playwright SC Pinney

The play The Ghosts of Mariposa began as snippets of dialogue culled from conversations with and between a trio of young men who hung around the Farmers’ Market in Orillia when I was working there as the market’s part-time manager. The animated banter and warm personalities of these men with intellectual disabilities were sifting their way into my imagination and scenes were beginning to appear.
Prior to moving north from Toronto in 2002, I had had very little exposure to the world of intellectual disabilities. The lives these people lived were, for me, invisible. Now, they were opening up to me and I was engaged and compelled.
There was talk in town about the imminent closing of the local regional center and accounts were being published in local newspapers – heart-wrenching stories – of parents dropping off their five-year-old kids and being encouraged not to return for months in order to ease the transition to the institution. There were hints, at times, of hard conditions and, even, abuse, but at other times, appreciation that this had been a place of sanctuary for families amid very trying times.
When I began a support work position at a local group home in the area, I read more and experienced more of some of the men and women who had lived in the Huronia Regional Center. Thousands of people had been assimilated into communities in and around Orillia from Huronia and other area centers in the past few decades. Legal battles were being fought over how best to serve ex-residents right up until the closing of the center in 2009.
One of the themes that recurred in the lives of the people I worked with was romantic relationship. Several men dreamed of “getting a girlfriend”, and women dreamed of  “getting married” and, though some of their contemporaries were to experience just that, many were unable to fulfill this aspiration.
A plaque “commemorating” the site of the town “lunatic asylum” down at the lake helped establish a dynamic (and troubling) historical backdrop for the story. There was a wide gulf between that dark, haunting past (portrayed in movies and novels) and these present individuals I was meeting.
All of this merged with town rumours of ghost sightings in the opera house or at the local mansion and gradually the work formed.
The play allowed me a place to pour out my anxieties and to celebrate and pay tribute to individuals who were expanding my view of life and testing my understanding of myself and the world.
The play, I believe, encourages questions: In a world that believes in “progress” and the evolution of the human animal, how much have our systems of support changed in the past hundred years? What is the role of a support worker, a doctor, medication? What is the role of a municipality, or society, in general, when it comes to these people whose needs can be more extensive than ours? Are their needs all that different from ours? Why do we use so many labels in dealing with people who are different from us? What is the role of family?
At the heart of the play (characterized in the pulsing quest of its central character), is a pining for health – a health and peace that must be fought for in a world that often seems prone against it.

– SC Pinney

Tickets to The Ghosts of Mariposa can be found HEREImage

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Theatre as/in Worship

Here’s an article by JasonHildebrandand DonTjart(the cast of Fish Eyes www.fisheyes.ca) about theatre and worship.  It makes some really good points:


I have a whole lot of thoughts to add to it, and maybe even argue a bit with it.  These are thoughts are pretty loose, and I should do a lot more research and source-finding to back these thoughts up.  But hey, this is a blog!

The origins of theatre are in worship.  Theatre was born out of ceremony, and it arose out of community expressions of faith.  The first known “plays” were enactments of harvest legends, fertility rites, etc.  Western theatre largely extends from the Greeks, which at the time were worship experiences.  They were community proclamations/exhortations to the gods on the state of society, etc.  (forgive my very loose summation of theatre development here!)  But obviously, as theatre began to formalize, it began to take different shapes, and its artfulness began to surpass its function.  However, the CORE of theatre, in my opinion, remains rooted in spiritual experience.  That doesn’t mean it is worship, but it means that it arises out of the impulse to worship. The other thing that ties theatre to worship is that theatre is not storytelling, it is storyBEING.  It is enactment or incarnation in thought, words and action.

The bottom line for worship is expressing love and adoration for God through thoughts, words and actions.  A worship service is supposed to help us get there, I suppose. Theatrical techniques of guiding thought – soft music in the contemplative moment, loud singing in the celebratory one, visual beauty, etc. are used in a worship service even on the most basic level.  The use of “script” to guide the process – liturgy or any pre-set form.  The words we say and hear are meant to lead us to God, and in many churches, people do things as well.  Catholics and Anglicans kneel down to adore – evangelicals tend to close their eyes and raise their hands, etc.   So, in that respect, all the actions we do in a worship context  are theatrical, because theatre is humans thinking, saying and doing.

But “theatre” implies an audience.  A moment of theatre requires an action and a viewer (thank you Peter Brook).  So, I think that’s the big difference between worship and theatre in my opinion.  If church becomes theatre, then it is dead because you have some people worshipping, and some people witnessing, but not participating in it. If worship is happening, no one is outside the “performing” circle.  No one is in the audience except God.

Besides, as a theatre person, it’s very very difficult for me to adore God while I despise the hokey theatrics in a worship service.  I don’t want theatre in worship, I just want to worship. The theatricality in worship ought to be rendered beautifully and with integrity. As for the pageant – I love watching children learn to express themselves through theatre.  But, I can’t say I’ve seen a pageant that has real integrity.  I’ve seen a lot of slap-together cute kid-parades.

But, I can definitely love God in a beautiful moment of theatre.  When theatre is good, my thoughts turn to God for sure. As a theatre person, I need to do my best work in order to bring my faith and art together.  That doesn’t mean adopting a Christian pose, or having Jesus in a play, it means creating the play with integrity.  What makes that effort “Christian”? Well, it’s not just that I happen to be one.  I don’t think it’s accurate to say that because I am a Christian, all my work can be called “Christian” work.  I believe for my work to be called, “Christian”, it needs to arise out of the Christian community.  It’s not enough for me to do a decent production of Moliere and say, “this is a Christian production because I did it with integrity”.  I think that the work needs to address core spiritual experience, and be a voice of the Christian community or speak to the Christian community.

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The Ghosts of Mariposa

Playwright and poet  S.C. Pinney has written a new play called, "The Ghosts of Mariposa", which focuses on 3 characters with intellectual disabilities.
The central character meets the  "ghost" of a woman with cerebral palsy in a soon to be demolished  regional center and falls in love with her. Though the play has a  tragic ending, it brims with love for and celebration of the central characters.
The Arts Engine has hosted two readings of the script, and we have also videotaped some excerpts.  We have discovered that the characters are drawn so completely, they emerge regardless of who is reading the text:  the mark of strong, capable writing. We hope to produce the play this coming season.
S.C. Pinney clearly loves the characters in this play.  His work with intellectually disabled adults has clearly led him to a straight-on appreciation for the worlds that these people live in.  The play doesn't talk down, it doesn't over-sentimentalize, it just tells a compelling, human story. The dialog is simple direct, and poetic.
Here are short excerpts from the play.
This is from the opening scene where the characters Bob, Cal and Joe break into the MRC regional centre one night:
This next excerpt is between Bob and Patricia, Bob’s worker:

In this scene Bob, Cal and Joe are hanging out atBob’s apartment:

In this scene,  Bob takes Patricia to the MRC regional centre to see the “ghost” for herself:

In this scene, Bob,Joe and Cal talk about going back to the MRC:

In this excerpt, Bob talks to the “ghost”,Judy and takes her for an imaginary walk:
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This article, published in Christian Week, pretty much says it all.  It’s so important that as Christians we find our way through the confrontations and hurts that we encounter along the way.

I hope that this reconciliation allows for new life in the Christian theatre community.


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 ….is such an overused word these days.  I wish it wasn’t because when I really mean it, I want to be able to use it.  This is one of those times.

There is a community that lies at the intersection of my Christian and my artist communities.  It occupies a small space.  It doesn’t fully belong to one or the other, but remains in the tension that comes from being on the edge of both. I think it’s a place that many Christian artists share, we just don’t talk about it very much.  I look one way or the other in any given project:  I either speak into the Christian community from the edge of art and culture, or I speak into the artist community from the Christian perspective.  I have a kind of intentional disconnection when I do this.  I turn my back on one community in order to speak to the other.  As a theatre person, it drives me crazy to always have my back to half the audience.

This uncomfortable space is a location all of it’s own.  And, if I can speak out of this community – this awkward, intersection position where there are no hard and fast rules, I can actually start to speak to both communities with honesty, truth and integrity at once.

People who go to church are consumers of/participants in contemporary culture.  Christians go to Hollywood movies, for example.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have been in the company of evangelical men who talk with zeal about having seen the latest shoot-em-up action film.  Yet, get these guys in a church setting, in the sanctuary or even in the auditorium in the church basement, and they are suddenly horrified at the slightest inappropriate word or idea.  In this context, they are in their church community, and the cultural rules are different than when they are hanging out with friends on Saturday night.  The usual church response is that these men should be more discerning about their cultural choices.  Because of that response, they will compartmentalize, and be “appropriate”  in church community but not real, because the fact is, they like shoot-em-up action movies.  It gives the air of hypocrisy, one of the main distasteful observations of those who criticize religion. So the questions arise – should we be fully “in” church culture?  Should we turn away from contemporary “secular” culture? Close our eyes to it?  Stop going to movies, only listen to “safe” music, etc? Or, should we bring secular culture into the church?  What about “sacred space”?

As a culture-maker, it becomes doubly hard, especially if  I produce work for a church audience.  That’s because if I speak to a church audience,  I’m not actually talking to real people.  I’m talking to their church personae.  I have to be appropriate, but not necessarily real.  In this context, it’s actually more desirable to be false as long as it’s not inappropriate.  That’s a crushing blow to art that has any meaning at all.

That’s what it often feels like in the church context as an artist.  It’s painful.  It rubs against all my instincts.  It makes me want to run from the church, vowing never to sing another trashy worship song that doesn’t dig in to where I really am, but skips along with platitudes.

On the other side of the road is the artist community.  So many artists I speak to long for work that is real, engaging, and deep.  They want a forum, an audience, that will go deep with them, that will allow artistic work to change them. To be open to truth, to be open to discovery.  But, there are conditions to that discovery, and there are cultural norms there too.  Spirituality is OK as long as it is formless.  Yet, many artists I know are tired of doing “gigs” and jobs that scratch the surface of their talent and their intellect.  They are looking for something more, something that matters. The Christian faith has gifts to offer them.  Gifts of hope, redemption, forgiveness, unconditional love.

At this intersection, this uncomfortable crossroads, is where we’re pitching our tent at The Arts Engine.  We’re going to hang around here, speak from here, and see what happens.

It’s going to mean that we will be asking the church to dare to open up, and allow us to create from a place of honesty and truth and integrity.  That might mean speaking to real people instead of their church personae.

It’s going to mean that we will be asking artists to dare to go deep with the church.  To reach in, and stop being pedantic and regular.  And, it’s also going to mean that we will be daring artists to actually work through  and with  the church, so that this community can grow.

My instincts tell me that if we stick to the challenge the edges will blur, and we may actually  exist in an artistic faith community that celebrates both spirit and fully realized art. The hope is that this work will transcend the boundaries that being a community creates.

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Make Good Tables

As Christian artists making art for a “churched” audience, we often get stuck between the forces of “good art” vs. “church-appropriate”. We often feel the pressure from church leaders and audiences to offer work that is message-driven, preachy and palatable.  Our struggle is that this is often at odds with our artistic sensibilities.  Often, to create material that is meaningful, true and resonant, the work demands other forms.  Sometimes, the story takes us places that are uncomfortable.  And, as artists, to be stuck in a “nice” place is virtual death to our creative centres.  It also becomes false and pretentious.

It’s our own fault.

As artists, we find ourselves second-guessing our instincts.  We pull back from letting the work be truly itself, presupposing that the church won’t approve.  I think we need to be bold.  Of course, some individuals in the church won’t like it.  It wouldn’t be worthwhile art if everybody liked it all the time.  But, we need to make honest work.  So that we can say, regardless of the reaction, that we are being true to our call and that our work has integrity.

Here are some quotes from Dorothy Sayers’ essay “Why Work?”, from her collection,  “Letters to a Diminished Church”:

“The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.

Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly–but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.
Yet in Her own buildings, in Her own ecclesiastical art and music, in Her hymns and prayers, in Her sermons and in Her little books of devotion, the Church will tolerate, or permit a pious intention to excuse work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent draftsman.
And why? Simply because She has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work. (139-140)”

As artists who are Christian, we need to “make good tables”.  And that means we need to do a better job of making bold work that is honest and fully realized.

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