Reflections on CNMAC11 – number three

I used to say that it wasn’t worth going to a Christian conference unless you got a cooked breakfast. Not only was it a shallow thing to say – but also it clearly doesn’t apply to a day conference such as CNMAC. These days I would say it isn’t worth going to a conference unless my intellect is shocked, my creativity is sparked, or my network is expanded. CNMAC won on all three.

However, there can be no doubt that the intellectual shock element was delivered by this simple phrase:

We should remind ourselves that Christ did not come to make us Christians or to save our souls only, but that he came to redeem us that we might be human in the full sense of the word. (Hans Rookmaaker Art needs no justification, emphasis mine).

Pete Phillips then went on to expand on this, talking about the call from the Trinity as a ‘social creation’ to express our humanity through creativity. In his all too brief analysis of this ‘speculative theology’ he talked about the ongoing presence of God in human creative endeavour.

It was at this point that I left the room, metaphorically speaking. I left Pete at the front talking about the exquisite beauty of a cello recital, and wandered into a kitchen where a young single mother was making appetising food with few resources and brightening up the drab walls with her daughter’s crayoned pictures. From there I went up the garden path onto an allotment where a pensioner was rubbing the soil between finger and thumb to see if it was just right for planting. Both of them, the young mum and the pensioner, looked up at me as I passed and guffawed at the idea that every human was creative. When I muttered under my breath that we could not be fully human without expressing our creativity they looked ready to clout me.  Beating a hasty retreat back to the safer environment of the seminar, I resolved to look into this further.

Spurred on by Pete, I have just read Rookmaaker’s paper in full.  It has troubled me, stimulated me and reassured me in equal measure. Interestingly, Rookmaaker states that the best metaphor for art is neither preaching nor teaching but plumbing – for it serves its purpose without shouting about its importance. He goes on to say that ‘Plumbers who give great evangelistic talks but let the water leak are not doing their job. They are bad plumbers. It becomes clear that they do not love their neighbour’ . I wonder what my companions in the allotment and the kitchen would have thought of that?

Like Peter Phillips, and like Hans Rookmaaker before him, I believe that the creative gene is our inheritance from God. The desire to create – to make something from nothing and something better from something drab, is a priceless gift. It stirs the pool of humankind – ruffling its waters and sending off a myriad unexpected reflections. It is that same gene which fuels the pursuit of speculative theology – and long may it do so!

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