Sunday, December 09, 2007

Prophetic Art, Prophetic Action

Cranmer is currently posting on the state of Bethlehem and its beleagured Christian population, and put up this picture of a new take on the nativity scene:

including the new Israeli security barrier. The sets are produced by the Amos trust, and the larger church-sized version has a 'detachable' security barrier. If only it were that easy in real life.

It's interesting that it's art and craft pieces which are drawing more attention to the situation in Bethlehem than words. That's something which Archbishop John Sentamu recognises, hence his dramatic chopping up of his dog collar on the Andrew Marr show today (watch it here) .

The trouble with prophetic action is that it always runs the risk of looking like a gimmick or publicity stunt. What's the difference between Sentamu's protest against Robert Mugabe, and David Blaine fasting in a perspex box for 40 days? There will no doubt be some people who cry 'gimmick' - it was clearly premeditated (why else would he have a pair of scissors with him on the show?), but it's grabbed the headlines, and is an image which people will remember.

Being a prophet is a risky business. People might label you, in Blairs word, a 'nutter'. Ezekiel cooking over his own poo, Jeremiah hiding his underpants under a rock, these aren't exactly the actions of fine upstanding members of the community. The line between prophetic action and idiocy is sometimes visible only to God. In a culture saturated with the media, prophets both have to be more media-savvy, but also more innocent. Everyone is after their 5 minutes, or 5 megabytes, of fame, and if people remember the messenger more than the message, then somehow the action of prophecy has gone wrong.

The other fascinating thing is the use of the visual. There's no doubt that words, in the hands of a master craftsman, can be incredibly powerful. But the visual arts, and dramatic actions have a power to communicate that leaves most of us amateur wordsmiths standing. Approaching Christmas, and thinking about how to communicate the old old story in fresh, challenging and meanginful ways, I have to tread the line between gimmick and dramatic visual aid in the search for things to show and do that will illuminate the Christmas crib from a new angle.

What helps of course is that pretty much every day at the moment there is a story in the news which can be worked with, whether it's the Archbishop, Blairs interviews, the survey on nativity plays, or the swell of voices from other faiths telling the secularists to lay off Christmas (see Cranmer again on Fridays 'thought for the Day'. )

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