There is a freeing power in creative gestures like song and we are met in surprising ways. Song, poetry, image, drama, dance and a good story seem to have the power to move us while providing fresh vision, glimpses into what is possible and so be a catalyst for action.
The theme of transforming culture keeps showing up in books I read, conferences I attend and people with whom I have conversations. It is a buzz word both inside and outside the faith community. Linked with transformation is creativity. I think for example of the work of Richard Florida – The Rise of the Creative Class – where he documents how the increasingly large numbers of creatives in the workforce have been forging a new world. The creative class spans a wide spectrum of work options, scientists, engineers, architects, designers, business, education health care and law to name a few. The artists are also on the list and it is their style of thinking, discerning and intuiting the world that has now been grasped by a much larger group. I noted a similar theme in another book I dabbled in recently, written by the well known Canadian culture critic Max Wyman. The Defiant Imagination: An Impassioned Plea to Keep Culture at the Heart of the Canadian Experiment. By culture Wyman means the arts and his book is an extended apologetic for a Canadian commitment to the arts as a resource for mapping what it means to be human and shaping a national identity. I confess I am not quite as optimistic as Wyman that the arts will deliver the values we need. On this matter there is evidence of both success and failure. One thing is clear art fuels the imagination and opens heart and mind to fresh possibilities.
Art also can temper human passions at the flash points of our differences – and foster a sense of unity that is often hard to come by.Some of you may have seen the recent film The Singing Revolution not a blockbuster by any means. It is a gentle film that draws you into the life of the small European nation of Estonia. In the mid-twentieth century this nation experienced a profound intrusion with the coming of the Russian army to take control of its government and to reshape its identity.
Large numbers of Russians moved into the country and large numbers of Estonians met their death. The Estonians have a repertoire of songs reaching deeply into their culture and tradition. There were a number of gatherings between 1987 and 1991 where the people would sing. In September 1988 about 300,000 gathered to sing. The underlying script was the cry for independence. Hope that independence would come was generated through andexpressed by the singing. Protests and acts of defiance were part of the effort to regain their country and the gathering to sing was in its own way an act of defiance. I have been wondering how one might make a virtue out of employing a “defiant imagination”.
Defiance doesn’t normally sit well in a list of virtues – but I find myself wanting to make it something of value. It resonates with what we find in the biblical narrative.The prophetic voice is often a defiant voice, taking on the prevailing values and actions of a nation, culture or people, compromised in belief and practice operating well outside the divine intention.