Johnny Baker : "My job is to give the church a whack on the side of the head."
[Above Photo: Remove shoes before entering the labyrinth.]
A great joy of "working the web" is discovering (or being discovered by) someone in quite a different realm who shares some similar interests. This has happened to me in the past month with Englishman Jonny Baker.
Jonny found this blog last month through a post I did on Heraclitus, and made a link on his blog to my site. When I noticed a huge amount traffic coming from this link (from Jonny's many, many fans), I went to Jonny's blog and discovered a fascinating man. Since then, we've been emailing one another.
Jonny describes himself as "a spiritual creative helping re-imagine worship, faith and community in postmodern and emerging cultures." Put another way, he says, "my job is to give the church a whack on the side of the head."
Jonny is a wonderfully curious mixture of talents, passions, and interests:
- BSc in Statistics and MA in Applied Theology from University of London;
- Independent record producer (Proost) and father of two "amazing" sons;
- A lover of Belgian beer and coordinator of worship at Greenbelt Arts festival;
- Author of Alternative Worship and lover of Chelsea football.
The following is from an email interview I did with Jonny.
Roger: Your faith seems quite important to you. I get the sense that you are using your creative abilities to shape and discover alternative forms of worship. Correct?
Jonny: Yes, faith is important to me. I am inspired by and try to follow in the way of Jesus Christ (who got killed for his attempts to creatively whack the religious understandings of his day).
I believe that God is the ultimate artist. Like a lot of people at the moment I find a big disconnect between faith and church.
Attending church can be like visiting another planet. You live your everyday life six days a week and then Sunday morning enter another world at church, and then go back to the real world. I'm generalising, of course, and there are creative exceptions. But alternative worship was a creative movement in the UK that was begun by people saying "what if" we created worship that related to that real world.
Roger: What happened?
Jonny: The results were a breath of fresh air - culture, theology, music, artistry, all remaking the world. I have been a part of this movement and involved in a community of Grace that has been an amazingly creative group to be part of.
If your readers are interested in finding out more www.alternativeworship.org is a good hub, though my favourite is probably www.smallfire.org which is a photo site run by a friend Steve Collins who has taken photos of lots of alternative worship gatherings over the years.
Roger: Tell me about the labyrinth.
Jonny: The labyrinth that you refer to in your title was one of the creative ideas that we came up with along the way that has had an amazing journey. This took the old idea of walking a labyrinth and gave it some contemporary twists.
It's like an art installation meets a spiritual journey which you are guided through by listening to a series of meditations and music. The response to it has been overwhelming in many countries round the world.
Roger: Is there an on-line version of the labyrinth?
Jonny: Another creative guy who always inspires me is Bruce Stanley. He designed an online version that's fun - see www.labyrinth.org.uk Your readers should check it out!
Roger: What about youth groups?
Jonny: I've worked with young people for years but not so much now. The stuff I do in that area is training leaders in creativity and imagination — abilties that are so important in youth work. And conversely young people have so much creativity and energy that they are an inspiration.
Roger: My blog is not a religious blog. But over the years, I have heard from many religious people (clergy, believers, etc.) who like my books and other products.
Jonny: Religion has a great tradition of creative characters — prophets, tricksters, mischief makers, etc — that have remade their traditions so that they live again after they've become deadened. Their strategy is often to take the resources of the tradition itself, the dangerous memories located there as the spark to remake it.
So I'm not surprised you have found fellow travellers from faith communities and equally that they have found your resources an inspiration.
Roger: Any words of wisdom on how to get ideas or boost creativity?
Jonny: The single most important route to being creative is to believe that you are. If you say you're not it will become a self fulfilling prophecy.
Roger: What do you do to stimulate your own creative juices?
Jonny: I live in London — there is so much creativity here.
- I love talking with and hanging out with creative people - they always spark me. Friends in Grace are one such group for me.
- I visit art galleries - especially contemporary stuff.
- I love design/image books.
- I read a lot.
- Travel to other cultures and places.
- One of the strategies that I have embraced from Edward de Bono is what he calls provocations — learning to embrace things that happen to you even when it seems like they are things going wrong and see what creative can emerge as you are knocked off your usual pattern/track.
- Photography has been my big thing this year. I have loved being part of the flickr community (www.flickr.com) - I think the thing I love about photography is that it makes you look at things in a different way when you are looking for a shot to take. It increases awareness.
- I have two teenage sons — they and their friends are amazingly creative — they spark me in wonderful ways.
- Attending the Big Chill festival is an annual boost to my creative juices.
- And taking time out - walking alone, embracing silence often recharges me.
[Photo below by Jonny Baker: Southwark Bridge at Night with dome of St. Paul's in rear]
Roger: What career choice did you have along the way that had you made a different decision, your life would be quite different now?
Jonny: At one stage, I was thinking of being a church leader but they sent me away for a couple of years. I never went back. I think that enabled me to hang around much more on the edges of the institution where I have stayed to provoke and encourage change.
Looking back I think that route gave me space to be creative. If I had gone the more institutional route I wonder what would have happened. I suspect there would be less room to manoeuvre.
Roger: Thanks for your time!
Jonny: Thanks for your interest and inspiration.