Over the next few weeks, the newsletter will explore some resources — books and beyond — that consider stewardship from a variety of perspectives. I’m starting things off with a book that may not be on many church leaders’ lists, but that certainly has something to teach us about artistry, giving, and a spirit of imagination.
Adam J. Copeland, Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
Church as Street Performer
by Adam J. Copeland
I first came across Amanda Palmer’s work through her $1.2 million Kickstarter campaign. Soon after, I found her TED Talk, “The Art of Asking,” that today has been viewed 7.5 million times. So, I had to pick up her book, The Art of Asking: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help[AC1] . It’s quite a read, and I actually assigned it for the seminary’s Money and Mission of the Church course last semester.
Let me be clear, Palmer is not your usual church stewardship type. For one, she’s not traditionally religious. Second, she’s a punk cabaret artist known for her intense performance style that often includes nudity, and always profanity. But, she’s thought deeply about the human acts of giving and asking, and Palmer’s book is an ode to the art of inviting people to collaborate through their gifts, whatever those may be.
Palmer argues against our culture that associates asking for help with shame. Instead, Palmer says, “Asking is, at its core, a collaboration.”
Those who can ask without shame are viewing themselves in collaboration with — rather than in competition with — the world.
Asking for help with shame says:
You have the power over me.
Asking with condescension says:
I have the power over you.
But asking for help with gratitude says:
We have the power to help each other. (The Art of Asking, 48)
Palmer often performs as a street artist, giving out flowers, playing music, standing still in elaborate costume, and making people smile.
As Palmer puts it, when we pass a street performer playing music in front of an open guitar case, we have a choice. We can view that person as a mere beggar, opening their guitar case out of desperation, playing on our guilt and shame. Or, we can view the street performer as an artist, inviting us to watch, listen, enjoy, and embrace their act of asking for money as one of dignity, collaboration, vulnerability, respect, and love.
I hate to admit it, but often asking for things in congregational life looks more like that guilt-heavy way forward, even though much of what we do together is artistry.
There’s the art of the potluck, gathering God’s people around a common meal, not knowing what it will be, but trusting that together we will taste and see that God is good.
There’s the art of worship, offering our praise to God and finding ourselves sent to love beyond that place.
There’s the art of reading scripture, listening to the Spirit’s guidance that shocks and surprises, gifts and graces.
Most of the strange things we do as church are, in fact, art. Ideally, they are God’s art. As Isaiah 64:8 puts it, “We are the clay, and you are our potter. We are all the work of your hand.” The art of the church, at our best, reflects the brilliance of God the potter.
And so, when we ask others — whether for their time, or possessions, or money, or that their story includes more of God’s story — let’s live into our call as artists. Let us ask with respect, vulnerability, collaboration, and love. And, let’s learn one last thing from the street performers: it’s OK to have fun!
Rev. Adam Copeland directs the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary.
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