This essay is part of the Vocation of Peacemaking series where we asked members and friends of the BPFNA to write brief essays on their peacemaking work. The Vocation of Peacemaking stories come from students, activists, teachers, parents, pastors, lay people, and retirees who work for peace in their jobs, their communities, their families, their volunteer time, and their neighborhoods in a wide variety of ways. Each story is a wonderful reminder that there are as many ways to live a life of peace as there are people, and that we can act for peace in real and important ways wherever we find ourselves.
We will be publishing the stories one at a time over the next several weeks and then compiling them into an Issue Monograph before the end of 2014. The monograph will be available as a free download from the BPFNA website.
Keep checking the Vocation of Peacemaking webpage for more!
Few things are more caricatured in the church than Sunday School pageants. I spend a lot of time working against pre-conceptions in explaining my work as artistic director of Sacred Canopy, a grassroots performing arts organization mandated to stage biblical narratives. Yes, we do work in a church context and yes, we do tell Bible stories but that is where the similarities with the Sunday School pageant of old ends. Most of our storytelling is done through music, dance, physical movement and large set concepts. What’s more we rarely mention God. We dig deep into the human dimension of the stories and let “the God element” catch the audience off guard when they least expect it. We consider the whole sanctuary an extension of our stage space and the congregation an extension of the Story. The tagline to a Sacred Canopy production is “Where my story and God’s Story meet.”
So what does any of this have to do with peacemaking? Let me offer four ways:
First of all, the primary theological lens for the telling of our stories is one of restoration and reconciliation. We believe that the overall orientation of the biblical vision is that of recovering right relationship at every level of human encounter both with self, other, society, culture, creation and God. Whether it’s Jacob being reconciled to Esau or Judah to Joseph, whether it’s Jesus giving away his own power to “the least” in exchange for their brokenness or a community living faithfully in exile, whether it’s the rainbow above the ark after the flood or the tree of Revelation that stands in the centre of the heavenly city for the healing of the nations, all our stories call the audience to a path of transformation that moves them beyond isolated living and a calculating spirit.
Second, all Sacred Canopy productions are child-led. In speaking of the peaceable kingdom the Prophet, in Isaiah 11:6, writes that “a child shall lead” the way. We live in a so-called post-Christian era where people have become hardened to the stories of scripture. From my 16 years of experience I’ve concluded that few people can lead a jaded and suspicious audience into liminal space the way that kids can. Our skeptical audiences come expecting nothing (after all it’s “just” a kids’ performance) and leave having encountered the Real Presence.
Third Sacred Canopy is a peacemaking organization in as much as we are committed to the work of stewarding cultural heritage. Each of our storytelling events explores the traditional and contemporary artistic landscape of one of the cultures represented in our city and by extension, given the multicultural nature of Vancouver, our world. In the face of a corporate-driven consumerism determined to create a global mono-culture, this is our small act of resistance By telling the story of Elijah using ancient Chinese storytelling art forms or the story of exile in Babylon with Coast Salish drumming we not only teach kids the beauty and inherent God-given value of cultural diversity, we invite them to become stewards of disappearing indigenous cultural traditions.
Fourth, Sacred Canopy connects communities of children and youth from different faith backgrounds to stage a biblical story that they share in common. This is a longer, and in some ways, more arduous road but one that we are committed to nonetheless. One of our ongoing projects involves bringing evangelical (“Protestant”) kids together with their Catholic peers in Mexico City to tell stories that both communities hold dear in their religious devotion. One year we told the story of King David, another Adam and Eve, and this past season we shared beautiful, transformative moments taken from the post-resurrection narratives of Jesus. Catholics and Protestants were represented in both the cast and the audience and both groups were moved to tears by a shared story that each cherishes deeply. We’ve also begun work with Muslims both in Kenya, East Africa and here in Vancouver, British Columbia looking for ways of doing biblical story together in a manner that honours the artistic preferences (and restrictions!) of both groups.
Sacred Canopy is a Baptist Sunday School initiative that grew! What began with a small group of a dozen mixed-age kids in a struggling urban church in East Vancouver has now become a non-profit organization mandated to staging Bible stories in countries around the world. To learn more about the work of Sacred Canopy or to become involved in our peacemaking initiatives please check us out at sacredcanopy.com and be in touch.
Tama Ward Balisky is the artistic and storytelling director of Sacred Canopy. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband, Loren, and her teenage children, Abigail and Oliver. They are active members of both the Baptist and the Catholic Church in their neighbourhood.