Defining Mission: Les Salons Korero – Stuart Vogel

The Auckland Chinese Presbyterian Church (ACPC) needs a clear, well-thought out, vibrant, missiological vision and strategy if it is to have any chance of success of presenting the gospel in inner-city Auckland. Even though it is a small geographic area, it is culturally super-diverse and 40,000 people call the inner-city home, with another 40,000 students come here to study.

ACPC needs an image to capture our vision and calling. We have chosen the adapter plug as our symbol. We are “plugged in to” the eternal and unchanging love, grace and power of Jesus Christ. We are also “plugged into” the constantly changing, dynamic inner-city of Auckland.

We are called to energise and light up the inner-city with new and creative flows and expressions of the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

300px-J._VERMEER_-_El_geógrafo_(Museo_Städel,_Fráncfort_del_Meno,_1669)The Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) captured this “electric energy” in his painting The Geographer (1668 -1669). Vermeer portrays a scholar contemplating the world that God has created. His maps are spread out before him and the globe is behind him.

But the geographer is not looking at the globe or the maps. He seems to be contemplating the beauty and the mystery of the world and indeed, why there is a world at all.

Vermeer captures something more: an instant of revelation. The geographer lifts his gaze and his face seems to be suddenly bathed in the light which shines through the window. It is as though there has been a break in the clouds and sunlight pours in. He is almost squinting in the brightness.

His hand carrying the compass is immobilised while his left hand grips the book on the table (which looks rather like the Bible).

Vermeer captures that dramatic instant when we as Christians are grasped by something – or, better, by someone. The geographer has been struck by a moment of revelation, of enlightenment.

Perhaps Vermeer is inviting us to contemplate that wondrous and amazing moment when the light of Christ pours in to our lives. The look on the geographer’s face is one of both illumination and yet of being almost overwhelmed by the sheer force of what he is only just beginning to grasp.

He is wearing a Japanese cloak, apparently common among scientists of his time. The cloak and the oriental rug on the table reminds us of the world beyond the geographer’s study. The Christian is like a geographer who is grasped by the light of Christ as it embraces the world as a place of beauty, to be studied and enjoyed as well as to be brought in to that light.

Auckland: an Enlightened City?

From the time of the enlightenment, Paris famously became known as La Ville Lumière, the City of Light. Artists and philosophers gathered on Parisian Salons to discuss art, literature, faith and politics. People were drawn to the city because of its traditions of openness to new thought and ideas.

Salons were a drawing room in a large house, or perhaps a private room in a café, where people could meet to socialise and reflect on life.

Women played central and important roles in Salons. The novelist Getrude Stein (1903-1946) hosted meetings with writers and artists in her home in Rue de Fleuris to encourage the exchange of friendship and mutual critique of their work. Picasso, Hemingway and Matisse among many others attended.

So perhaps, just perhaps, Auckland could have its own unique Salon Korero, “room for talk” where a “meeting of minds, faith and worldviews” can take place.

The International Film Festival Meetup is a Salon Korero for Aucklanders to discuss thought-provoking films. After seeing a film, we go to a nearby coffee shop to share our ideas and perspectives.

The discussion is not always “heavy stuff”. At the New Zealand Film Festival last year, we saw the Steps, a film about a group of Afro-American girls at a poor school in Baltimore. It was a feel-good movie based on fact. The girls were trying to win a cheerleaders’ dance competition and so win scholarships to good Colleges.

What struck a non-Christian who attended the meetup to see and discuss was that the girls all prayed before their rehearsals and before the competition. It impressed him that the girls did NOT pray to win the competition and/or to get the scholarships. They prayed for the strength not to let each other down, not to let their school down and they prayed for the ability to show everyone that black girls from a poor school in Baltimore were God-gifted.

They were in essence praying that Baltimore would see that teenage Afro-American girls had dignity, value and abilities.

That was impressive, even for a self-avowed agnostic, which as we talked about the film, was possibly a break in the clouds for him.

We also went to the premiere of the film Waru, a New Zealand film about child abuse, which was held in the ASB Waterfront Theatre. The directors of the film, (eight young Maori women, each filming a segment of around 10 minutes – quite extraordinary really) were all there along with the cast.

I saw Acacia Hapi standing by the door. In the film, she plays the part of the teenage girl Mere who dares challenge her uncle with the murder of Waru. I congratulated her on a very fine performance. I said I hoped our church could challenge society on this issue with the courage Mere had shown. I have no idea what she thought. Possibly she thought I was nuts. But the ASB theatre was for a brief moment, a Salon Korero, an attempted encounter.

On a lighter note, an interesting comment (I think it was a compliment) came when a young woman from Hong Kong found out I was a minister. “Man”, she said, “you are the most laidback minister I have ever met. I didn’t think ministers went to movies.”

A revival of the concept of the salon, adapted to Aotearoa in the 21st century, may provide a way forward to enlighten our ever-changing city with the never-changing gospel. But we have to be there with our maps of the city and remembering that moment when we were first grasped by the light of Christ.