One of the aspects of art that I have always enjoyed is how it commands different responses and different interpretations from the various people who view it. It has been fun listening to people share their interpretations of what they believe the stage design for the exile series represents.

I have heard some explain how the metal arches remind them of the castles from the story of Esther. Others have shared that the broken-down wood reminds them of the storm when Jonah was thrown off the ship at sea. Others have talked about how the colors of the graffiti names remind them of aspects of the Biblical stories those characters are associated with.

What I love about art is that none of those are “wrong answers” and yet, at the same time, these weren’t specifically on our mind when we created the stage design for this series. The power of art lies in the way it allows each person to explore it in their own way – and as long as people are interacting with the topics of this series – the stage design has done its job.

I believe that, as long as people are interacting with the series, there are really no wrong answers. However, I would like to share with you some of the thoughts that were on our mind as we created this stage design. The purpose of the design is to draw people into the discussion of what it means to be the church in exile.

We began this discussion by exploring what exile might look like. What imagery comes to mind when we think about living in exile? What does it feel like?

One of the images that came to mind was that of a refugee camp. We see the pictures in the news – people forced to leave their homes to live in a place they never wanted to go. This idea of exile rings true to many of the biblical stories we are examining through this series.

Even though we acknowledge that the physical conditions that refugees face in these camps are far greater than the issues we face as the church living in exile in our culture, these images seemed to convey the importance of this discussion for our church.

We began by using materials that seemed to reflect this image of exile we had developed. We used old, warped, broken pieces of wood; scraps of burlap; rusty corrugated sheet metal; bamboo poles and screens made from reeds.

As we examined these materials – they felt distant and far away. It felt like we were visitors in another country. We wanted our image of exile to feel more local. That in someway it would remind us of home.

We added the steel archways as a way of representing the bridges of our city. We added graffiti as a symbol of the marginalized areas of our communities. Our exile occurs in the context of our local culture – and we are to be a light in that culture.

From the beginning it was important to allow the cross to take a central place in the design. When we are living in exile as a church – we need to insure the gospel of the cross is central to all that we do. But we wanted a cross that was subtle – that blended into its surroundings. That didn’t fight with the culture around it. We also wanted a cross that felt organic in contrast to much of the surrounding metal.

The cross for this design is made from twisted willow. These willows reflect the colors of the rusted sheet metal behind it. The cross is central – but it is also subtle.

You will also notice that the cross has the greatest signs of life on it. Although their are small pockets of moss and signs of new life around the stage – the greatest concentration of this new life can be found in the ivy growing throughout the twisted willow of  the cross.

As we live in exile in our culture, the greatest source of new life – the greatest source of hope – the greatest source of growth can be found when we engage with the gospel message represented by the cross.

As was mentioned above, there are small signs of new life and growth scattered throughout the otherwise desolate stage design. These “pockets of hope” remind us that, even while living in exile, new life springs forth. We see this new life in each of the stories we will be examining throughout this series.

New life and hope grow out of the circumstances caused by the exile.

Where do we see these signs of life bursting forth in our lives? In the lives of our church? In the lives of our community?

Finally, we moved the band and the speaker to “new” areas of the stage from where we are accustomed to having them. Again, this is intentional. So is the large portions of “empty” stage space. By moving the band off to the side, the emptiness of the remaining stage space creates a feeling of desolation.

Exile often brings tensions and discomfort. It often forces us to compromise the comforts of life for the sake of the gospel.

We acknowledge that changing the order of the service, the location of the speaker and band, and other aspects of the way we do things on a Sunday morning can cause a feeling of discomfort and tension within us. For this series, we believed that this discomfort is actually helpful to our discussion of what we need to do to present the light of Christ in a culture of darkness.