This week whilst journeying through the readings I came across the words, large souled. This caught my attention and I decided to explore what it might mean. Sometimes large souled seems to mean pretty much the same as big-hearted – but this did not satisfy me and so I kept up the search.
This led me to the TED talks. These short talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design, push the frontiers of the way we often think. They are not overtly religious, but, as with much of life we can learn things in all sorts of places. The talk that most got my attention was one by artist Phil Hansen.
Phil Hansen went to college to study art. He did a lot of those dot drawings and because of the repetitive movement his hand got tired so he just held the pencil tighter. One day he developed a tremor, and the dots turned into dashes. A neurologist told him he had permanent nerve damage and his dot picture days were over.
That could be the sermon right there – hold on too tight and you will end up hurting yourself. But it isn’t.
Phil Hansen quit for a while, but he still had the art bug. One day he discovered that he could make pictures out of squiggles instead of dots or straight lines and he was off again.
That could be the sermon too – when something is broken in your life, keep looking for where God is opening unexpected doors. But it isn’t.
It is what Phil Hansen learned next that fascinates me. Phil was hard up for a while, whilst he was a student and made do with make-shift art supplies. When he finally got a paying job he rushed out and bought himself a load of new stuff. Went home hoping for creativity to strike, but it didn’t. He had everything he might need, but something about being able to do anything actually trapped him into doing nothing.
He decided to set boundaries for himself. Art for a dollar, art that would be destroyed after he made it, art from the stories people told him on the phone. He turned a prairie of possibilities into a ballpark of imagination. So that is it – right – we need to set boundaries, that is what the sermon is about. Well, not really.
Being large souled seems to have something to do with allowing our creativity, with finding our place but letting our boundaries be in Christ rather than giving in to an endless and futile sea of possibilities.
Then there was Jack Silver. He decided to combine the natural world and electronics. So, he can make a computer keyboard out of a banana, a computer mouse out of a piece of paper and a musical instrument out of ketchup. His company sells kits so that you can do it too.
My first thought was – well, that is fascinating but what use is it. I would buy the kit and make a few vegetable keyboards or fruit musical instruments and be bored. Perhaps it is an artform, I can get that and many artists are using the technology. But then I sat with the idea and began to understand a different sort of purpose.
By making electronics fun and a little zany Jack Silver is opening up a world of possibility. Who knows whether a banana keyboard really has any practical application but it grabs the interest of people who might, one day, find one – or more to the point find all sorts of other things which we have never dreamed of which might change lives.
Jack Silver has a crazy idea – which might not go anywhere in itself, but might lead to other ideas – might engage those who will change the world.
That is being large souled – seeing that even the craziest of ideas might make a difference and being willing to plant a seed and never see the fruit.
The message of Jesus does make a difference in itself. In John’s Gospel today many people walk away from Jesus. I wondered whether they had really sat with the idea, or how many of them might have gone home and thought it through and come back. Just like my having to sit with the banana keyboard idea. That is being large souled, being willing to sit with an idea, to turn it over, to listen to God and reflect upon that listening.
One thing that does not come across in the English translation of John is his own creativity. The Greek is complex but in this passage he jumps between two words for word. One is the common or garden word, the other is logos – which many of you know is how God is described in the first chapter of this Gospel. John both uses and pushes the meaning of the words in order to say, in effect, when you reject what I am saying, you reject the Divine Logos, you reject me as God and Messiah.
This careful use of what he has marks John out amongst the Gospel writers as the one who provides the most complete and yet most challenging picture of Jesus.
This Ephesians reading is a challenge for many. The militaristic images are divisive. But let’s take a step back. The writer is in prison, a Roman prison and is trying to pour out this letter. He is trying to explain what this strength of God might look like in a tangible form and he looks out of his cell and sees a soldier – the shield, the sword, the helmet. He might even have remembered the image of the Greek messenger God Hermes and his winged shoes and he weaves these together in examples which people can understand.
In the Gospel those who leave have small imaginations and cannot break free of their assumptions about the way things are. John carefully weaves the Word which is God and the words Jesus speaks into a unity (he uses different words in the Greek). Abide, he says along with the other three great abides in the Gospel – abide in the vine, abide in the Spirit and abide in love. This weaving of words is a creative outpouring of the Good News of Jesus in a picture of the Godhead which is both complex and beautiful and yet still draws us in as a work in which we must participate.
God’s call is surrounded time and again by creativity. Again and again those called say – I can’t do this and again and again God reminds them that this God who brought light from darkness and day from night can certainly manage to give the bold hearts and strength for the journey. Those who look strong and mighty, who look brave and bold but are not a part of God’s endless creativity in calling are missing the point.
You see, it was not that Phil Hansen did something which should be a pattern for all our lives, it was not the finding new ways, or not holding on too tight, or not giving up no, what makes the story great is that he was brave enough to let go of his assumptions and find his creative soul.
And isn’t that the story of the Bible – that the creative God seeks to dance with His creation. How often do we respond to that call with – sorry I don’t dance instead of asking how we might learn?
This week I was having a conversation about sewing with some folk. One said she could not sew because she had tried to make a jacket once and had given up. A jacket? Really – you start with a jacket? Some would say that shows boldness but, personally, I would say that shows she did not know what she was doing. Start with a pillowcase, or a skirt – start with something with straight lines and without sleeves, facings and buttons holes. Strength is sometimes the ability to say, this is where I am, I need to take it from here.
That is what the writer of the Ephesians asks prayers for – this is where I am, in chains, pray that from these chains I might tell the story of Jesus as I ought. Pray God will bring His creativity here and make me bold. Phil Hansen found his boldness in setting tight boundaries, another TED talker called Jack Silver wired a banana to function as a computer keyboard, he has found his creativity in a bizarre melding of electronics and the natural world – and this is not even explicitly religious creativity.
The front of your bulletin says, Be Bold. You get letters with Be Bold. Before long you will be able to buy mugs and t-shirt and who knows what else with Be Bold on it. But what does it mean to be Bold. I think it means that we start with the idea that we are vessels to be filled with God’s creativity. That we have a story to tell which involves us as part of it.
Even if you do not like the soldier picture, you get what it means –so be creative, how do you say that all strength comes from God and make that real to people. God calls people to crazy and impossible actions. They are not all public, they are not all huge and then some of them are.
Being bold means that every time you are tempted to say “I can’t do that” you might want to say, “Let me pray about that.” The real problem with my friend and the jacket was not only that it was just too hard but that she had no one to help her. Her creativity was stifled both by a lack of skill and the inability to learn that skill.
Time and again the story of God’s people shows that there will be a way even when we can see no way, if we are following the call of God. But boldness is not just about ploughing on through every opposition, boldness is about first of all setting out feet down upon God’s created earth and acknowledging God from whom all strength comes. Abide here, remain in me, says Jesus and with this act of boldness and faith we can trust that God will continue God’s work of creation, even in you and me.