I have recently read through my my fathers biography on his web site. Ok, it’s a marketing tool….a kind of abbreviated CV but it is also a summary of who he is in many ways. Reading through I realised not only how incredibly proud I am of my father but exactly how much of a creative pioneer he is / has been.
If we were putting labels on it he would be seen as a boomer who has the spirit of an X’er. He is part of what Richard Florida classes as the creative class, in his book “The Rise of the Creative Class“. All of this is a bit different to the view of him I have had of him until recently. Throughout my youth he was just the radical hippy with an embarrassing choice of clothers in my world.
There is a story the biography doesn’t tell and that, I guess, is why I just saw him as embarrassing and grew up wondering why I couldn’t have a “normal” dad with a regular salary. I was embarrassed sometimes by some of the manual and “low class” jobs he had to finance living the dream during the lean times. As a youngster I didn’t understand in doing them and financing the dream he was helping cut a path that both benefitted others in the community and built solid careers for those who were to follow. I didn’t understand the flak that he seemed to be taking from an establishment that now seems to be largely welcoming him.
In many ways my dad is a visionary, one who is working in an ancient tradition – that of the poet and storyteller to help create a better present and build a foundation for a more positive future. He has helped people turn their lives around, and contributed to his community through having the courage to live the dream.
This same spirit is, I am beginning to see, what the emerging church is about. It’s something that Michael Volland picked up in his post on one of the John Drane lectures I attended the other week and has also been taken up by others. In some ways these guys (and it is mainly guys) are doing nothing new, but in other ways they are. Whether you call it Fresh Expressions, Emerging Church or whatever they are creating recognition of something by “the establishment” by taking the risk of living out their dreams for a job.
Think it is also, to some extent, what the Christian piracy (and to a lesser extent heritic) debate going on around blogland is about at the moment. See Kester Brewin for the post which started the Christain Piracy thing (and maybe download his Greenbelt talk). Backburner makes some interesting Wibsite observations on it. The most solid critique appears to be coming from Richard Sudworth on Distinctly Welcoming. What I would add to the debate is a reference back to a book I reviewed a while ago, The Pirate’s Dilemma by Matt Mason. In this book Mason explores the creative tension exists within “Punk Capitalism”. I think to truly get to grips with what the debate is about and how it intersects with creative pioneers another good read is DIY: The rise of lo-fi culture by Amy Spencer, which I also blogged about, is worth reading aswell. Reflecting on these two texts theologically together with a good quality book outlining the development of the emerging church such as Emerging Churches by Gibbs and Bolger might help put the debates in context by placing them within a particular broader set of literature.
What I think is clear though is that creative pioneers have to make sacrifices and take tough decisions to live the dream. Those who we admire are those who take creative risks and resist through refusing to conform to the expectations others may have of them, but equally refuse to dehumanise the other in their pursuit of “the dream”. They are those who understand the power of the system and so work with it whilst resisting it through their compassion and refusual to give up on concepts of community. Thus, their resistance may make them pirates, but their resistance to dehumanising the other equally means they are not pirates in any sense of the word. Equally they cannot be freedom fighters, because their ways of doing things use art rather than violence.
Oh and at the end of this discussion, just incase I didn’t make it clear enough at the beginning. I am proud of my father. Proud of the man who, and this isn’t in the biography, was among the first CSV volunteers. Proud of the man who apparently was “one of the first fifty writers on the then, Eastern Arts Association’s, ‘Writers in Schools’ and ‘Writers in the Community’ schemes.” Proud of the man who was “was the first ‘Storyteller in Residence’ in a British prison “, (note on that one “in residence” means he was paid to go in regularly and help the prisoners turn their lives around by using the literacy and arts skills that he could bring as a storyteller – he def didn’t live there). Proud of the strange hippy who wears wierd clothes and has a lifestyle which involes working with asylum seekers, prisoners, disengaged youth, old people, posh people, black people, white people, urban people, rural people, suits and travellers in schools, libraries, village greens, prisons, shopping centres, festivals and all sorts of other places. Proud of the man who has done / does all this but is still had time to teach me to read as a child, taught me to ride a bike, drove me over to Northamptonshire to take me to Greenbelt the first time I wanted to go, took me on CND and anti-aparthied rallies as a teenager, listened to me and wiped my tears when my marriage fell apart and when I fell apart, supported me through my various educational adventures and supported me in my faith even though he has reservations about some of it. Proud of the man who as a grandad takes time to chill with my daughter and take her and her friends to theme parks and stuff. Proud of the man, who doesn’t profess faith, who taught me a little bit more than “the church”, (in the widest sense), about how to actually live out the gospel.