The City Beautiful: Join Us for Special Events October 18-20

"Unless the Lord" by Gina Hurry, reflecting on Psalm 127 as part of project for Corner Room Music

"Unless the Lord" by Gina Hurry, reflecting on Psalm 127 as part of project for Corner Room Music

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,

restore old ruins,

rebuild and renovate,

make the community livable again.

Isaiah 58:12 The Message


"Stepping Together for The City Beautiful" 

Our Shared Dreams for Birmingham
October 18-20, 2016

InSpero believes in the power of creative community to help bring beauty, hope, and healing to our city and churches.  Join us October 18-20 as Dr. Steven Garber and Andi Ashworth engage us in the conversation and show us ways Birmingham can become "The City Beautiful." 

The Power of Two:  Steve Garber and Andi Ashworth Speak on Why You, Your Voice, and Your Vocation Matter in Our City

InSpero features two of our board members who are nationally known voices on the integration of faith, vocation, and the arts for the flourishing of our city October 18-20. They are Dr. Steven Garber, author of Visions of Vocation and founder and principal of the Washington Institute of Faith, Vocation and Culture and Andi Ashworth, co-founder and executive director emeritus of Art House America and author of Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring

In his book, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, Steve Garber asks, "Can you know the world and still love it?" He challenges us that as we see and know the world around us, we are implicated. What part do we play in this world that is not as it should be?  He invites us to a broad view of vocation which incorporates the whole of our lives with our relationships and responsibliites over a lifetime. 

Andi Ashworth and her husband, Charlie Peacock, have spent their lives loving and caring for the stream of musicians, artists, dreamers and drifters who have come to their home (a renovated church in Nashville) which became the first of the Art House America locations. In her book, Real Love for Real Life, she asks herself (and all who have been sucked into too-busy lives) the good and hard questions of "What kind of life do we want, and what choices can we make to move toward it? Has our busyness become so intense that we are no longer able to care for people out of love and freedom?" She speaks to the reality that hospitality and caregiving needs space and margin to love well without losing ourselves. 

Steve and Andi, good friends, weave their voices and visions together to speak to the artists, dreamers, leaders, restorers, curious, weary, the ones questioning their "career" choice, the ones needing hope, the ones who see Birmingham, love it, and want to know if they can have a part in making it The City Beautiful. 

Get Tickets Now as Seating is Limited for These Events


 Tuesday, October 18

"Havens of Grace: Hospitality in a Busy World" Andi Ashworth

2712 Alta View Drive, Vestavia Hills, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

Link here for tickets.

Andi will speak on the joys and realities of living a life of hospitality. Lunch begins at 11:30. Program begins at 11:50. Catered by Ashley Mac's.  Ashley MacMakin will also share on generations of hospitality which have resulted in the Ashley Mac's restaurants in the Birmingham area.  Andi's book will be available for purchase. Link here for tickets.


"The City Beautiful/The Church Beautiful" Pastor—Artist Dinner

6:30 p.m. 

By Invitation only


Steve and Andi will join with five local pastors from different denominations and five artists (ranging from a film maker to architect to musician) in a facilitated conversation of dreaming together on how beauty can bring healing and hope to our city and our churches.



Wednesday, October 19

"The City Beautiful" Lunch with Steve Garber and Andi Ashworth

11 a.m. - 1 p.m. (Lunch served at 11:30, Program begins at 11:50 a.m.)

Link here for tickets. 


Steve and Andi will speak on how cities around the country are being "flourished" by the shared vision and work of visionaries, leaders, artists, and those committed to the common good. This event is for all who love our city and want to know their "place" in it. It will be held at The Nest in Avondale with catering by Post Office Pies.  Limited seating. Link here for tickets. 


InSpero Family/Friend Feast

5:30 -8:30 p.m. The Salem Farm

By invitation only

Board and Advisory Council members and friends and supporters of InSpero will gather at the beautiful farm home of Richie and Melissa Salem for an Italian feast by Chef Benard Tamburello of Vecchia. Steve and Andi will speak around the campfire after dinner. 

Thursday, October 20

Stepping Together for the City Beautiful

16th Street Baptist Church

6:45- 8 a.m.

Link here for tickets


InSpero is honored to gather at 16th Street Baptist Church for a citywide catered prayer breakfast on Thursday, October 20 from 6:45 a.m - 8 a.m. Program will begin at 7 a.m. and Steve Garber will begin speaking at 7:10 a.m. This event is supported by 16th Street Baptist, Covenant Presbyterian, Mountain Brook Community, and Oak Mountain Presbyterian churches. Link here for tickets

Please go to our website calendar for list of all our upcoming events. 

Join InSpero in Bringing Beauty, Hope, and Healing to Our City

InSpero's financial and volunteer needs grow as we reach more of Birmingham's creative community to bring beauty, hope, and healing to our city and churches. Please go to our website to make a donation and contact Rachel Hunt at to find your place at InSpero to invest your time, talents, and passions.



InSpero People: Wellon Bridgers

Wellon was so gracious to allow us to use her art for the invitation for InSpero’s October events featuring Steve Garber and Andi Ashworth. We appreciate her generosity and are so glad to introduce others to her and her art. 

Tell us a little about yourself. 

I studied English and French at Auburn University and received my Masters in English at Wake Forest University. I taught for several years in the high school and university setting and have worked closely with service learning programs. During this time, I discovered a love for painting and enjoy exploring new techniques and styles. I currently serves as the US Director for Mwana Villages, a grassroots organization caring for the most marginalized in the Republic of Congo. I’m married to Stephen and we have four (playful, creative, determined and spunky) children: Fitz, Chloe, Daniel and Leila.

Where can we see your art?

I will be showing my work at two upcoming shows: Bluff Park Art Show (October 1st) and Moss Rock Art Festival (November 5-6). I also show regularly at Gallery 1930 and Scene and Art Alley in Birmingham. My website is and I'm on Instagram at @wellonart. 

How is your life different from what you imagined when you were in high school?

This is pretty insightful and VERY amusing to think about how my life is different than how I imagined in high school. In many ways, it’s exactly as I would have hoped or imagined—several of my same dear friends from high school (and before) have become like sisters; I still love some of the same simple creative things in life like  a woodsy stroll and a cup of coffee and time to journal. But to think of how the Lord has shaped and molded my early passions into callings and endeavors to which I devote my life now is humbling. My high school self may be surprised to hear that we have boy/girl twins AND two children whom we adopted from Congo; that my days would be spent between mama-ing; collaborating with partners in ministry from Congo, France, Canada and right here in Alabama; and painting (and showing those paintings!). But I wouldn’t trade any of it and am so deeply grateful for the opportunities He has provided.

What are three things that have inspired you recently?

I have been so inspired recently by a few people: 1. My brilliant artistic mama (Emily Lee) who designs incredible interior spaces. Watching her aesthetic change from French country to contemporary funky has been truly inspiring. She has a way to create lived-in, artistic, beautiful spaces that truly reflect individuality and creativity. 2. Heather Day is an artist out of San Francisco that is really inspiring me in her abstract interpretation of the world around her. I find that because I am always so inspired by other artists, it’s both a challenge and a joy to find your own signature within that inspiration—not borrowing from other artists’ work, but using that creativity as an impetus to push me further. 3. The Psalms. And our incredible music minister’s songwriting of those Psalms (Adam Wright with Corner Room Music at Cahaba Park Church). I am quite positive there will never be a day I crack open my Bible to the Psalms and am not awed by its poetry, comforted by its truth, emboldened by the writers' tenacity.

How would you like to be remembered?

What an interesting question. This very question was posed to a group of Congolese visitors we hosted just recently. My father was delivering the homily at a close friend’s funeral, and he in turn asked our visitors what they would most like to be remembered for. For me, I don’t really care to be remembered except by those I love most dearly, a simple handful of people and for them, I would love to know that they have come to know their Creator and Savior a little more closely because I have been continually awed by Him. Most days, I probably fall pretty short of it. But who knows…maybe one day they’ll read this back and find that we all journeyed together to see His goodness a little more clearly in life.

If you were going to be stuck on a desert island, what 5 things (besides food and other necessities) would you want to have? 

Well, as a mom to four kids six years old and under, being on a desert island with NO ONE and NOTHING around sounds pretty incredible for this very introverted mama! That simple gift of quietness is one that I cherish, even though I know these years of a noisy energetic home are to be cherished! So packing my bags for this dream of a quiet isolated place, I’d take some melancholy songwriter music (the Patti Griffin type), my journal and Bible (the Psalms are nearly worn through), cookie dough, leggings and my leopard crocs. When can we leave!?


The "Flourishing" of Birmingham

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins,
rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.
Isaiah 58:12 The Message


Helping Birmingham Flourish


InSpero believes in the power of creative community to bring beauty, hope, and healing to our city and churches. Join us this Fall as we explore The Art of Community in September and The City Beautiful/The Church Beautiful in October. 

The Struggle for Real Community

Listen in as two singer/songwriters, a storyteller and a counselor/author discuss their need for community in a world filled with isolation, comparisons, and competition. They will also share what creative community looks like in Nashville and how it’s forming in Birmingham. You’ll hear original songs from Eric Peters of Nashville and Corey Nolen of Birmingham, stories from author Jonathan Rogers of Nashville, and a reflection from Birmingham-based counselor Gordon Bals about the universal longing for community. It's this Thursday, September 15 at Pike Road Millwork. Link here for tickets. 

House Show with Eric Peters

Friday, September 16 at 7 p.m.

Join us for a special evening with singer/songwriter Eric Peters as he shares songs from his latest album, Far Side of the Sea.  Eric has a soft spot for folks who, like him, struggle with anxiety, depression, and are in recovery. An artist to the core, Eric also paints, creates folk-art sculptures out of repurposed, found objects (Daily Piece), and is an avid collector of books. He lives in Nashville, TN with his bride and their two boys.  It will be held at the Wolnski home in Vestavia Hills at 7 p.m. with music starting at 7:30 p.m. Please purchase your tickets in advance / $10 per person. Dessert and coffee provided.  Link here  for tickets. 


From Memory to Story:

A One-Day Writing Seminar with Jonathan Rogers

Saturday, September 17
Covenant Presbyterian Church
9 a.m. - 2 p.m. 

We tell our stories, not only to be understood, but in order to understand ourselves. In this one-day seminar on the short memoir, author and teacher Jonathan Rogers will help you find your voice and shape your memories into written stories.The day's instruction will include short lectures, group discussions, and several short writing exercises. 
Link here for information and tickets.

What’s Coming Up


The City Beautiful/The Church Beautiful: Our Shared Dreams for Birmingham

Andi Ashworth

Andi Ashworth

Steven Garber

Steven Garber

This October InSpero presents a series of events featuring two of our board members who are nationally known voices on the integration of faith, vocation, and the arts for the flourishing of our cities. They are Dr. Steven Garber, author of Visions of Vocation and founder and president of the Washington Institute of Faith, Vocation and Culture and Andi Ashworth, co-founder and executive director emeritus of Art House America and author of Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring. 

Reserve Tickets Now as Seating is Limited for These Events

Andi will speak on "Havens of Grace: Hospitality in a Busy World" at a beautiful home and garden on Tuesday, October 18 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., catered by Ashley Mac's.  Ashley MacMakin and her mother, Sandy Deaton, will also share on generations of hospitality which have resulted in the Ashley Mac's restaurants in the Birmingham area. Sharing starts at 11:50 a.m. Limited seating. Link here for tickets.

Steve and Andi will speak on "The City Beautiful" on how cities around the country are being "flourished" by the shared vision and work of visionaries, leaders, artists, and those committed to the common good.  This event is for all who love our city. It will be held Wednesday, October 19 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Nest with catering by Post Office Pies.  They will begin speaking at noon.  Limited seating. Link here for tickets. 


Eat, Pray, and Love Our City

Thursday, October 20
16th Street Baptist Church
6 - 8 a.m.

InSpero is honored to gather at 16th Street Baptist Church for a citywide prayer breakfast on Thursday, October 20 from 6 - 8 a.m.  Get there early for food and coffee. Steve Garber will begin speaking at 6:30 a.m. Covenant Presbyterian Church is helping cater the breakfast. 

Please link to our website calendar for list of all our upcoming events. 


Join InSpero in Bringing Beauty, Hope, and Healing to Our City

InSpero's financial and volunteer needs grow as we reach more of Birmingham's creative community to bring beauty, hope, and healing to our city and churches. Please contact Rachel Hunt at to find your place at InSpero to invest your time, talents, and passions. Click on our donate button to help support our vision. 

Beauty matters and so do those who create it. 

InSpero People: Matt Schneider


Matt has been a friend a partner of InSpero’s for about two years. We met him through mutual friends and felt an immediate connection with him because of his vision and desire to see art bring renewal to this place and particularly to the City of Birmingham. Matt was also instrumental in making InSpero’s Five Men Show art show happen in October 2015. We are thankful for Matt, his work, and his heart for this city and its people. We look forward to collaborating with Matt more in the future as we continue to hope with him now.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Matt Schneider, and I’m on the clergy staff at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in downtown Birmingham. I am the pastor of our Five O’Clock community; I am the editor of our annual magazine, The Advent; and I oversee our newcomers ministry, among several other things. I’m originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, and I’m married to Hawley, who is from Washington, DC. We have two daughters, Eden (6) and Zoë (4), and we’ve lived in Birmingham for two years.

How is your life different from what you imagined when you were in high school?

When I was in high school I was an atheist. So that’s changed dramatically. But I knew I wanted to be a writer. I paid attention in my English classes, ended up being the editor of my high school newspaper, and knew I wanted to study journalism in college, which I sort of did. I ended up getting a degree in communications with a writing emphasis. But I changed course to become a teacher and earned a master’s in English for the sake of being a teacher. I was a writing teacher and a tutoring center coordinator for a while during and after grad school. At the same time I was becoming a Christian—against all odds. Through a long process of life happening to me, I ended up answering a call to switch career paths and pursue professional pastoral ministry. I didn’t realize it at the time, but all of my studies were part of a long progression toward something. None of my undergraduate and graduate schooling was wasted. I’ve applied my studies in writing, rhetoric, and teaching to ministry—I now have a very creative approach to being a pastor. But circling back to your question, if you would have told me in high school, while I was living in Northern California, that I’d be a pastor in Alabama, I would have figured you had the wrong guy for sure.

What are you creating right now?

As I mentioned, I’m the editor of a magazine, and we just finished our second annual issue. Most people push back when I call it a magazine, saying I should call it a book or a journal. This is because we intend for the publication to be timeless, something people will want to keep on their bookshelves or coffee tables for a very long time. It’s more akin to an arts and literary journal in its shape and feel, but it’s kind of like nothing else: It’s published by a particular type of church, so there is a clear theological current through everything. It’s literary, but the content is not predominately literature. It’s perfectly bound like a paperback book, and it’s printed on very thick matte paper. So it has the appearance of a serious literary journal. Probably the best way to describe it is as a compelling hybrid between Vice magazine, The New Yorker, and Modern Reformation if you know what any of those publications are. It’s serious with principled conviction, yet can be tongue in cheek and witty at points.

Each year we devote the issue to a theme. Last year it was storytelling and this year it is creativity. We’re trying to grapple with topics that people are talking about a lot in both secular and Christian contexts. I’ve noticed during the last few years that people have been talking about creativity. I see it in church with a growing interest in the arts. I see it in the city of Birmingham, which is going through a period of creative renewal that people are excited about. I also see it in bookstores around the country, where people seem to be buying more products like coloring books for adults and journals to get their creative juices flowing. Creativity is also embodied in the hipster, maker, and artisanal movements. Some of this is just trendy for sure. Some of it is sincere though. And it’s prevalent across cultures of varying stripes even in places we would have least expected years ago. For example—and I’m not judging but just observing here—it seems every young Pentecostal person I meet nowadays shops for clothes at Urban Outfitters and American Apparel.

I’m really excited about issue 2 of The Advent, the “Creativity Issue,” where we wrestle with all this stuff from a Christian perspective, predominantly influenced by the Protestant Reformation. Our treatment of the topic is by no means exhaustive, but I’m really happy with the content, both written and artistic. We release the issue this week, and it will be available at our church for up to a year until we run out.

What's a lesson your art and/or work have taught you?

I think tons about process. The popular culture’s fixation on art is with end products. But for me the process that gets me to my products is perhaps even more important. I’m a big fan of demystifying creative processes since a lot of people’s creative growth is stunted by fixating on end products. Any productive and respected artist knows that the stuff we put on public display has a lot of fits and starts, discarded drafts and sketches, and failures and embarrassments in the background. The creative process is humbling, maybe even humiliating. 

Can you describe a time you have failed?

Now that I do a lot of editing, I find it helpful to write for other publications so that I can be edited. I recently had a piece I was working on rejected by another publication. Most new writers are crushed by this kind of rejection—this applies to any creative endeavor really, not just writing. The more I fail and get rejections, the more accustomed I become to it as part of the creative life. In order to produce art for public consumption, I have to accept that taking risks, falling flat on my face, and then getting back to it is all part of a well-rounded creative career. I haven’t really mentioned my life as a minister much yet, but failure is true for me as a preacher, pastor, and mentor too. And it’s true for me as a father—I fail my kids everyday.

Of course, there are periods of grieving that come with the failure. I allow myself to feel crummy when a sermon seems mediocre or a piece of writing gets rejected. Then I come out of it by God’s grace and am able to start over again. It helps to work with caring people too when you’re creating. My editor who scraped that recent essay called me the next day just to make sure we were still on good terms. He’s sensitive to the vulnerability that is inherent to writing. I loved him for this, and his gesture helped me move on from the initial emotions I had. These types of experiences then make me a better and gentler editor (and pastor and father) because I’m reminded of what it’s like to be on the other side of the equation.

If you were going to be stuck on a desert island, what 5 things (besides food and other necessities) would you want to have?

Assuming I’m alone and can’t bring my wife and kids, I’d bring a pen, some paper, a utility knife, a broad-brimmed hat, and some high-SPF sunblock. I’m being honest about the pen and paper. If I can’t write stuff down, it just bounces around my head, stresses me out, and my sleep suffers. I’m sure this would be even more the case if I were by myself and accompanied only by my thoughts. I’d need to get them out. I think that’s better than talking to a volleyball named Wilson, at least for me.

Please tell us more about The Advent magazine release party and how people can get a copy.

The Advent magazine issue 2 Release Party will be this Thurs., Sept. 8 at 7 pm at the Cathedral Church of the Advent, 2017 Sixth Ave. N, Birmingham (downtown). After that, the magazine will be available to pick up during normal business hours or on Sundays around the church building. And the copies are free, a gift to the people of Birmingham. Also, folks can hear me preach most Sundays at the Advent at 5 pm.

Also, I mentioned my wife Hawley earlier. I want to give her a nod as an artist too. She’s a portrait photographer, and she is the staff photographer for The Advent magazine. Working on this magazine together has been a total joy. It’s actually one area in life where we’ve been able to work together without a hitch. Getting the laundry done in our house is perhaps more complicated than collaborating on a creative project! When you pick up your copy of our magazine, take a look at the photography first. Her work in this issue blew me away.

InSpero People: Connie Skellie

Photo by Corey Nolen.

Photo by Corey Nolen.

We met Connie through InSpero's Thy Love Inspires events. We appreciate her winsomeness and willingness to step out and take risks to share her gifts through Act of Congress and her church and the community. InSpero also appreciates her strength as a woman and is glad to support her work and encourage her in her music endeavors. We look forward to continuing to partner with Connie and are excited to see what the future holds!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a singer, songwriter, violinist, band member, worship leader,

retirement/nursing home entertainer, whistler, lover of creation,

lover of friends and family, mother to four children and wife of one

extraordinary husband. 


Anything I have done that is noteworthy is only because God through

His spirit gave me the grace and means to do it.

I am so thankful He allows me to continue to have musical outlets that

satisfy this creative desire and love of music. 

Album art byWhitney Preg.

Album art byWhitney Preg.


*"Let all People Praise You" will be released Tuesday, August 23rd! I currently do not have a website but please feel free to send me a Facebook friend request if you want updates on my current musical endeavors.*


What is a lesson your art and/or work have taught you?

I've learned that to be good at something you must always be willing

to be a student and keep learning.  I'm honored to be able to work

with some of the finest musicians around and they have modeled this so

well.  Their humility, openness and honesty continues to challenge me,

and their example has given me more of a desire to grow as a musician.


What are you creating right now?

Right now I'm finishing up an arrangement of the Lord's Prayer.  I'm

hoping it will be the next single I record. 


I have lots of ideas!  In fact, I just checked my voice memos and

there are 137 recordings!  Most are melodies and reminders of

something I played on the piano or a new song I've begun. 


One idea I had a few months ago during what seemed like one horrific

event after another was to arrange and record "This is my Fathers

World".  Instrumentally it would be recorded with the violin playing

the melody in sort of a haunting, tender, beautiful way. I envisioned

getting a few photographers to capture rather difficult images while

looking for the hope in the midst of them reminding us all that.....


"This is my Fathers world,

Oh let me ne'er forget,

That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

This is my Fathers world,

The battle is not done, 

Jesus who died shall be satisfied; And earth and heaven be one."


Can you describe a time you have failed? 

Just to be clear, I have learned that failure is a necessary part of

life. I try look at failure as an opportunity to grow. 


Musically speaking, I failed at my very first violin recital when I

was about 4 years old. I began to play my song and hit a wrong note.

Even then I wanted nothing less than perfection and was devastated. My

mom tells me I ran out crying. 


Fast forward a few years to the 7th grade. My sweet math teacher was

getting married and asked me to play the violin during her ceremony.

As I walked up to play my mind went completely blank and I awkwardly

walked back to my seat without playing a single note. 


In college I put on a concert and during the last number my voice

cracked so badly and I literally froze. 


There are many, many more stories like this. I used to think they were

failures but now I know it was just me being human. It wasn't an easy

lesson to learn but eventually God taught me that the ultimate place

of rest was in my true identity. I am loved by Him no matter how I

perform.  It has been one of the most freeing truths of my life.


When in life have you felt most alone? 

Two out of the four songs on "Let all people praise you" were born out

of a very difficult time in my life.  We were in the midst of a very

painful move and also dealing with family health issues.  Both of our

sons had been diagnosed with juvenile macular degeneration, a visual

impairment that has left them legally blind with no cure. The

realization that I had taken my church family and friends for granted

for the last ten years was such a burden. I looked at my neighbors and

saw how I had failed to love them well.  Looking back on how I had

chosen selfishness instead of love for my family time after time, and

looking at the house we would soon be leaving, just made me weep. 


I played the piano for hours and hours during those hard days. It was

the only place of relief I could find, as I sang songs the Lord had

given to me. 


Trust in the Lord with all of your heart,

Trust in the Lord with all of your heart,

And lean not on your own understanding.

In all of your ways acknowledge Him.

He will make your path straight,

He will make your path straight,

So trust, trust in the Lord with all your heart,

Oh trust, trust in the lord with all your heart. 


I sang this at least 100 times. It would become the first track on my

ep. I had no idea I would end up recording these songs, but God had

already begun preparing me for it. These verses were in my heart and

the Lord gave me a melody for them. 


This is my commandment,

Be strong and courageous.

Do not be afraid or discouraged,

For the lord your God

Is with you wherever you go,

He is with you wherever you go,

With you wherever you go.

He is with you wherever you go.


I began to sing these songs in faith because sometimes the promises

were hard to believe.  But He was with us and He is with you. No

matter how hopeless you feel. He will never leave you. 


For my sons who can't rely on their vision to see, and for you and me

when this world seems unbearable, and your situation feels lost - His

Word will be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. 


Oh God let it be so!


InSpero People: Adam Wright


Adam is excellent at what he does. He's passionate about his music and bringing other artists (musicians, visual artists, and varied audiences) into the process to share an experience together for the good of the city and the church. InSpero is thankful for his courage to try new things and to reach out to new artists in the city.

Here’s a bit about Adam and his work:

Adam Wright, writer and producer for The Corner Room, has been a musician his entire life.  He has had the privilege of leading worship at Cahaba Park Church for 7 years now and is excited about sharing this new music project.  As a founding member of acoustic music group, Act of Congress, he has enjoyed many other musical opportunities including traveling internationally as an ambassador with the State Department, collaborating with regional symphonies and writing, arranging and recording over 40 songs since the band’s creation in 2006.  Over the past 10 years, he has also taught private music lessons to over 50 students in the Birmingham area.  

The Corner Room has a new release, "What Great Mystery," coming out tomorrow (August 2) on their website, and iTunes. Also, here's a link to a video from the album,

What's a lesson your art and/or work have taught you?

Music is a gift that has continually been teaching and challenging me for almost 30 years.  It brings to light my strengths, my weaknesses, my joys, my ambitions, my fears and failures.  But, the most valuable lesson it has taught me in every facet of my work as a musician is how to worship: planning a worship service so that the congregation and I hope in nothing but Jesus; calling on the Lord for help and wisdom when producing a recording; prayerfully considering a song lyric and how it may or may not honor the Lord and His truth; playing and singing, not out of duty or for a paycheck, but because it brings me joy to praise my Redeemer; striving to love and serve the teams of musicians around me, even when there are tensions that need to be resolved.  Worship runs through every word, thought or deed in our lives and we are all always worshipping something.  Music helps to focus my aspirations and efforts on the only One worthy of worship.

How is your life different from what you imagined when you were in high school?

To be honest, I was a student who had no idea about what I wanted to do for a career.  From an early age, I was heavily involved in choirs, ensembles, private music lessons, worship teams and even began writing songs in high school.  It seemed to be a natural gift.  Upon graduation from college, I still had no “plan” and found myself taking a retail position at a honey glazed ham store.  I can still see my Dad scratching his head. 

In that same season in the “desert,” a weekly jam session at a friend’s house was becoming a more serious business endeavor.  (This would become the band of which I’ve been a part for ten years, Act of Congress.)  A move to an apartment in Moody became an opportunity to take a job helping to lead worship in a local church with good friends.  The good friends connected me with a school of fine arts that employed me for a decade as a private music instructor.  A few years later, I began working part-time in a young PCA church plant called Cahaba Park Church.  Now a full time employee, I’ve been serving as their music leader for almost eight years and have been able to use my skills in weekly worship and in writing and recording music for The Corner Room, a music ministry of the church.  

God has faithfully provided a clear path for me and my family and I am so incredibly thankful to work as a musician, especially when I imagine the monotony of working as a honey glazed ham cashier.

What are you creating right now?

Currently, I’m finishing up a very active season of writing and recording.  The Corner Room released a new project called Psalm Songs, Volume 1, a collection of original music arrangements of ten entire Psalms from the ESV.  I spent 2015 producing this album and have just finished producing our second project, What Great Mystery. While Psalm Songs was intended as a devotional/Scripture memorization tool, WGM offers more selections for corporate worship (two retuned hymns, two original worship songs and a fresh rendition of the Doxology).  This project will release at the end of July.  I already have plans to release a Scripture Song project for kids and another batch of Psalm Songs in 2017.  Setting Scripture to song has quickly become one of my favorite things to do and I plan to do much more of it in the future.

Act of Congress is finishing up pre-production for a new 3 song EP due out in fall/winter of this year.

What does your future hold?

There was a point in my life when being able to play and record music in a touring band excited me.  The allure of a life known and praised by many for my skills was enticing.  This also seemed a very complicated venture, one that would require endless sacrifice from me and my family.

Now, a (hopefully) matured thirty-something, the thought of that life absolutely repels me now.  There is great joy in living a simple life, loving my family, friends and others the Lord places in my path and using the gifts God has given me to make much of His name and grow His kingdom.  I don’t know specifically what that will look like, but I know that it’s exactly where I want to be.

What are your hopes for Birmingham's creative community? 

In the past ten years, I have grown in my awareness of and appreciation for the artistic community in Birmingham.  Two specific ways that have broadened my view are Inspero event, Thy Love Inspires and VIBRANT, Cahaba Park Church's annual music and arts festival.

Thy Love Inspires is a special event to me because it's an opportunity to band together with friends I've known for years for a night of music.  Our set list is compiled of a very diverse collection of original songs intended to encourage and empower the church.  As individuals, we bring these songs to the table, but collectively, styles and personalities merge to create a collaborative tapestry of music.  It's a beautiful picture - we're called into community together and this event is a direct reflection of that.

VIBRANT is an event that features artwork and music based on the Psalms.  I am not an artist, but have grown to appreciate the diversity in artistic style to communicate and display the grace and truth of God.  There is supreme value not only in the artwork, but in the artists who are using their gifts to point people to the beauty of creation and it's Creator.  I'm so grateful to be a part of the event and am looking forward to next year's festival.

InSpero People: Charity Ponter


Charity Ponter has been connected to InSpero for about three years. She is a treasure to Birmingham and embodies much of what InSpero is about. Charity has a heart for helping other people tell their stories. She also values artists and their processes, and she is a safe person for those she comes in contact with. 

Tell us a bit about you and your work.

I’m a creative documentary photographer native to Birmingham Alabama. I specialize in capturing creative people in their natural habitats and in a way that enables them to visually share who they are and what they do with others. I also often create personal artwork projects in the the form of conceptual photo series. 

I am currently working on a commissioned documentary photobook about the past 20 years of a southern, counter-culture community and music festival in Haleyville, Alabama that is planned for release around October 2016. 

What's a lesson your art and/or work have taught you?

One lesson my art has taught me is that it is very possible, even likely, that the things I photograph and the way I see the world will be different from anyone else’s perspective. I think I have learned and am still learning to use my unique visual “voice” and to listen to my gut instinct, to capture what inspires me, even if it may not be trendy or crowd-pleasing at the moment. I have learned that sticking to a core value of authenticity in my artwork is a battle worth fighting, and that translates into other areas of life as well. 

When in life have you felt most alone? When have you felt most surrounded by others who support you?

Feeling alone is a constant struggle (I say this as a happily single 20-something). There was a span of time when I was newly divorced, and didn’t have many close local friends and had not yet found my current church family/community. I poured myself into my artwork but it was very difficult to stay motivated and to keep depression at bay (translation: I did not keep it at bay). I don’t think we are designed to live alone, or with just two or three other people. I think the “American Dream” is isolating. Even when you’re married or have kids or both, you have your own house and your own little bubble. People need to be in community with others - and I think proximity is a huge part of that. Even if you’re in community with others, if you don’t live near them, it just isn’t the same. I would like to see my generation become a part of more community-living situations. My dream living condition would be to live in a big house with a diverse group of people, everyone having their personal space but sharing the rest. Any time I have felt most loved and supported and not-alone, I lived with a lot of other people in one building. That may not be realistic, so my secondary dream is to share art studios in that kind of setting. I’m still figuring out what community looks like. I don’t think the only options are to have a significant other or to be lonely. I think we all need WAY more community then what we are getting or giving. I want to know what that looks like, so I plan to keep figuring it out. Also, and unfortunately, to be an artist means that sometimes you simply won’t be understood by the general public. That’s not being “emo" or egotistical, it’s just true. Sometimes being an artist means being lonely, no matter how involved you are in a community. I love being an artist, so I’m ok with the trade-off. 

What are you proudest of?

In 2014 I started a project that took a year and a half to complete. I created a coffee table book entitled “for the beauty of: Birmingham” that featured a photo series of 14 different local artists in their studios. I poured all of my free time and energy into it and released the book in November of last year (2015). It was a learning experience and I created an enormous book (350 pages!) As a result the project offered little to no financial yield, but the relationships that were built and/or strengthened in my community as a result of my time and effort were well worth all I had invested. I sold nearly 100 copies and when sales slowed down I had to retire the first edition to be able to take on my next large project. I am still considering creating a limited second edition, but even if I never do, I’m proud of myself for sticking with the project, doing 95% of the book myself start-to-finish, and all during the worst/most difficult year of my life! 

What are your hopes for Birmingham's creative community?

My hopes for Birmingham’s creative community is that we as artists would be able to collaborate and support each other -- not just showing up for each others art shows but spending time with those who bring you joy and breathe creative life into your own work. I love it when I see the creative community working together to make art, looking out for each other, trading skill sets, and just generally investing in relationships with each other. I think that kind of support can only stem from genuine love and respect for each other along with a conscious decision to leave competition at the door. I can name a long lists of artists in this town that I admire who are my peers, and I can’t wait for the day when I am able to financially invest in their work in addition to relationally investing in their lives. 


Being Astonished by Beauty in Birmingham

“Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still
 and learning to be astonished.”

Mary Oliver
excerpt from her poem The Messenger

 Annual Pastor/Artist Dinner

The Beauty of Conversation Around the Table

April 14, 2016

This April, InSpero hosted a Pastor/Artist Dinner at Feast & Forest. This annual event is a perfect example of how InSpero loves to give good gifts: facilitating deep conversation around a beautiful meal, building understanding and community, igniting dreams for the good of our city, and finding ways for the church and the creative community to reach the city together.
Five senior pastors and five artists sat around the table with Nancy and Gina to discuss what fuels and frustrates their work and calling, what sustains them in the midst of criticism and isolation, and what they envision and hope for the city of Birmingham. 

These pastors and artists were surprised much more by their similarities than their differences, by the shared weight of the call or cross they’ve taken up, the conflicts and criticisms internally and externally they face, and the courage to be true to who they are. All have seen the power of beauty and truth transform individuals and communities and it keeps them up at night as they long to be found faithful to the end. For one, it is through teaching music to teens in juvenile detention centers in Shelby County. For another it is mentoring at-risk teen girls in Ensley through creatives arts. For one pastor, it is breaking through to men and women in Fairfield to see they truly are made in the image of God. For another, it is choosing to preach in a vulnerable, honest way which provokes as well as comforts. 

The participants this year included:
Bruce Andrews, Executive Director of the Shelby County Arts Council, visual artist/illustrator and singer-songwriter with the band 2BLU. Bill Boyd, Senior Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church. Deidre Clark, Ambassador for Ensley, photographer and founder/administrator of Kuumba Creative Arts, a career readiness after-school program for teens interested in graphic design. Gary Furr, Pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church, teacher, speaker and writer, songwriter and musician with local acoustic band. Alton Hardy, Church planter and Lead Pastor of Urban Hope Community Church in Fairfield. Derek Jacks, Pastor of Homewood Cumberland Presbyterian. Alicia McCool, Adjunct professor of dance at Samford University, modern dance teacher at Briarwood Ballet, and board member, dancer, and choreographer with Sanspointe Dance Company. Mark Quay, Rector of St. Peter’s Anglican Church, adjunct faculty in Anglican Studies at Beeson Divinity School. Troy Rhone, Landscape architect and designer and owner of Troy Rhone Garden Design. Ty Smith, Painter, teacher (UAB & AU, Adjunct Faculty), and stay-at-home father.
InSpero will host two pastor/artists dinners this coming year in October and April.

Magic City Storyteller
A Night of Story and Song

(and some pretty awesome cookies)

Poet Ashley Jones reading from her upcoming book,  Magic City Gospel

Poet Ashley Jones reading from her upcoming book, Magic City Gospel

On Thursday, May 12, people feasted on wine, cheese, cookies, along with amazing stories and songs touching on themes ranging from Sammy Davis Junior to mysterious coffins to the musical Hamilton to turtle soup. Thanks to our dear friend Bob McKenna for giving us the perfect setting at The Clubhouse on Highland. 

InSpero Keeps Growing
Our New Advisory Council and Junior Board

New council members discussing what "flourishing" the city looks like. 

New council members discussing what "flourishing" the city looks like. 

As InSpero grows, a diverse and talented group of people have joined us to serve on the InSpero Advisory Council led by Gary Purdy and Junior Board led by Susan Gordon, Charlotte Ann Adams and Courtney Wright. Link here to scroll through the people who’re jumping on board.

What’s Coming Up

InSpero’s 2016-2017 Calendar of Events Please link to our website calendar for list of our upcoming events. Here's what's happening in September and October:

The Art of Community  Thursday September 15

Jonathan Rogers, storyteller, author

Jonathan Rogers, storyteller, author

Eric Peters, musician, songwriter

Eric Peters, musician, songwriter

Corey Nolen, musician, songwriter, photographer

Corey Nolen, musician, songwriter, photographer

Gordon Bals, counselor, author

Gordon Bals, counselor, author

Listen in on a conversation on creative friendship with storyteller/author Jonathan Rogers, musicians Eric Peters and Corey Nolen, and author/counselor Gordon Bals at Pike Road Millworks. There will be storytelling and music as well. On September 16, Eric Peters will give a house show (limit 50 people).  If interested, please contact Rachel Hunt at

The City Beautiful/The Church Beautiful: Our Shared Dreams for Birmingham

October 18-20

Andi Ashworth

Andi Ashworth

Dr. Steven Garber

Dr. Steven Garber

This year InSpero will present a series of events featuring two of our board members who are nationally known voices on the integration of faith, vocation, and the arts for the flourishing of our cities. They are Dr. Steven Garber, author of Visions of Vocation and founder and president of the Washington Institute of Faith, Vocation and Culture and Andi Ashworth, co-founder/director emeritus of Art House America and author of Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring.  This will be followed in March 2017  with an InSpero fundraising dinner at Pike Road Millwork as we together rejoice in the rebuilding of The City Beautiful and what “stones” we will add. (Jeremiah 29:7, Isaiah 61:1-4)

How We're Bringing Beauty, Hope and Healing to Our City
And How You Can Join Us!

InSpero is stirring up conversations and community around the city, including:
InSpero Profiles:  InSpero's new monthly interview with creatives from around the city who share the same vision for hope and healing for our city. Our first profile is on Corey Nolen, our latest addition to our Board of Directors.  
InSpero Response: Monthly gathering of artists and creatives in the Woodlawn area led by Deidre Clark and Charlotte Donlon
The Art of Hospitality: InSpero is creating a community of those with the creative gift of hospitality (the foundation of all we do) and will kick it off with a discussion with Andi Ashworth on October 18.
InSpero Bridge-Builders:  We are excited to be gathering a forum of artists and advocates who are grappling with the hard issues around justice, brokenness, inequities, and the historical wounds of Birmingham.
The Listening Room: InSpero is creating a community to give local musicians a way to encourage one another, including several house shows a year.
Young Creatives: Communities are forming for young creatives to connect and encourage one another. 

Join Us!

InSpero's financial and volunteer needs grow as we reach more of Birmingham's creative community to bring beauty, hope, and healing to our city and churches. Please click on donation icon in this website to make a donation and contact Rachel Hunt at to find your place at InSpero to invest your time, talents, and passions.

InSpero People: Corey Nolen

Photo by Rob Culpepper

Photo by Rob Culpepper

InSpero is delighted to highlight Corey Nolen. Corey is a Birmingham-based photographer and musician. He is a dear friend of InSpero’s and is coordinating some of our efforts with musicians in Birmingham. We are so glad to learn more about him and his work and to share it with the InSpero community.

Tell us a bit about you and your work.

I make my living as a commercial, lifestyles photographer. I travel around the US taking photographs used for marketing material, editorials, and advertisements.  In the gaps of my travel I am able to dedicate concentrated time on writing, recording, and playing original music.  

I didn't learn how to operate a camera until I was 27 years old. I wrote my first song within a couple of years of learning to play the guitar which was when I was in college. I'm certainly an example of a late bloomer. 

I'm married with 2 boys. My wife is a great encourager and a fine photographer herself.  She is no doubt the primary reason I've excelled in photography.  

As a photographer, I work with numerous universities, industries, corporations and am represented worldwide by Aurora Photos. As a musician I have recorded 5 albums, 3 EP's, and consistently play live shows.  I never dreamed I would be doing either one of these things at this stage of my life.  Prior to this I've worked more jobs than I can count simply trying to keep my head above water and hoping to find my place.  I fully count on my situation changing again but for now I'm very grateful to have 2 major creative outlets in my life.

What's a lesson your art and/or work have taught you?

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about how strange it is that everyone around us sees, hears, experiences us for who we really are. We however are shocked (often disgusted) when we occasionally see a photo of ourselves or hear our own voice recorded.  When we look in the mirror we don’t even get to see ourselves for who we really are. It’s literally backwards.   

I don’t think we are ever really able to know ourselves the way we really are. Putting my art out there (most clearly with music), I’ve had to come to terms with the reality of who I really am… the person everyone else already knows. Though I would often like for my voice to sound different or my stories to say something different, putting myself out there for myself to see/hear has allowed me to be honest about who I am. Over time I’ve learned to value and love the specific, unique person I am even though in some ways I’m quite different than the person I would have hoped to be.

How is your life different from what you imagined when you were in high school?

My problem with answering this is that I don’t think I ever knew what I really wanted. There was never a clear, strong desire to be anything specific. Looking back I see that I was highly emotional and probably had a lot to express however I never had any solid outlets that gave me any direction. Now that I’m in my mid 30’s and my occupation and my hobby are both creative, it seems like I should have had some stronger indicators when I was in my teens. I find hope in knowing that we aren’t ever really done developing and changing into the person we have the potential to be. Not until we’re dead. Because of my bizarre route to where I am now, I fully expect my life to hold something different in another 15 years. 

How would you like to be remembered?

I hope I’m remembered as someone who ultimately was restful. I continue to work through a lot of anxiety, but I like to think that as my experiences have broadened, my faith has deepened and I’m settling down despite moving into environments that are more overwhelming. I’ve failed and thrived enough to know that both of those things are a part of life. I hope people will remember me as someone who was calm enough to be able to pay attention to the present moment. Hopefully in turn, while I’m alive, I’m able to speak some truth through my understanding of my experiences. I hope that truth outlasts me. 

Can you describe a time you have failed?

On numerous occasions with photography I’ve attempted to be represented by agencies that I respect. For a long time I was rejected by every single agency I approached. Every time I put my best work forward someone told me (if they answered at all) that my work wasn’t good enough for them to be associated with. Every single time it was crushing and it would usually take a couple of days for me to level out and regroup. However, over time I was able to see more of who I was and the reasons I didn’t fit into certain agencies (on top of my work not yet being to their high standards).  

These failures gave me direction. Eventually I focused on one of those agencies and made it my mission to build a better portfolio and try again. After a full year of making these efforts I finally found my representation, and it’s been a great fit ever since. Experiencing those failures helped me believe my work had progressed and was good after I finally broke through.  

If you were going to be stuck on a desert island, what 5 things (besides food and other necessities) would you want to have?

A photo of my family.

A guitar.  

A notepad. 

A pencil.

A fishing rod.

What are some of your goals for nurturing the creative community in Birmingham?

I hope that through my experiences in music and photography I am creating authentic relationships.  As an extension of that, I hope those relationships lead to a deeper community that helps diffuse some of the insecurities we all feel as creatives.  Ultimately my hope for this city would be to see more encouragement between artists and a greater openness to other people's creativity.


Entertainment that Expands the Soul: Magic City Storytellers

For tickets, link  here . 

For tickets, link here

by Charlie Ritch, InSpero board member, poet, teacher at the Westminster School in Birmingham

“Entertainment” gets a bad rap when confused with “amusement.” Amusement is literally activity done “without the Muses” — that is, mindlessly. There is a time and place for that kind of amusing, Netflix-surfing vegetative state we go to when we need a break from the realities of life.

Entertainment has a more nuanced meaning. “To entertain” means to show hospitality or to consider something in the mind. In one case you are receiving someone into your home; in the other, you are receiving an idea into your mind. In our homes, we cook, converse, and connect; in our minds, we consider and contemplate. In both, the receiving is purposeful and involved, but also delightful and edifying.

In college my roommate and I hosted a regular gathering of friends we called “A Listening.” The principle was simple: invite a dozen or so undergrads to bring one song; stuff them into a dorm room that barely held the persons and effects of two people; power up the roommate’s classic component-based sound system; and spend the next 90 minutes quietly listening to other people’s music. The response to our first Listening was surprisingly enthusiastic, with music ranging from Chemical Brothers to Dave Brubek. The act of sharing our favorite songs allowed us to tap into something very personal. The evening had a cathartic quality as the attendees felt that they had been vulnerable, but respected. Entertainment forged a bond between us.

What happened at our Listenings (and what entertainment in its highest form is capable of delivering) is self-expansion, what C. S. Lewis calls the “enlargement of our being.”

Great entertainment makes us more than we were. It does not merely ameliorate our stress; it stretches our souls. Without it, we shrink into ourselves, listening, reading, viewing only to soften the pain or reaffirm the self we already know.

At InSpero’s Magic City Storytellers on May 12, we hope you’ll find this kind of “enlarging” entertainment as you welcome the beauty and truth of storytellers into your soul. You’ll encounter songs, stories, poems, and ideas that will bring you out of your world and into the world of local essayists, songwriters, poets, and novelists

Songwriter  Corey Nolen  and singer Ashley Spurling entertain in the best sense of its meaning.

Songwriter Corey Nolen and singer Ashley Spurling entertain in the best sense of its meaning.

Award-winning novelist  Michael Morris  will share stories of the South.

Award-winning novelist Michael Morris will share stories of the South.

Gabriel Tajeu  shares songs from his new album, Finding My Way.

Gabriel Tajeu shares songs from his new album, Finding My Way.

Charlotte Donlon  reads her creative nonfiction.

Charlotte Donlon reads her creative nonfiction.

Nathan Klose  serves as our emcee and shares some wild tales as well. 

Nathan Klose serves as our emcee and shares some wild tales as well. 

Award-winning poet  Ashley Jones  will read poems from her upcoming book Magic City Gospel. 

Award-winning poet Ashley Jones will read poems from her upcoming book Magic City Gospel. 

Cherokee poet Jerri Beck will share from her collected works. 

Cherokee poet Jerri Beck will share from her collected works. 

The  Clubhouse on Highland  again hosts Magic City Storytellers. Wine and cheese on the patio at 6:30 p.m.

The Clubhouse on Highland again hosts Magic City Storytellers. Wine and cheese on the patio at 6:30 p.m.

Kristen Hall of  Feast & Forest  provides "Milk and Cookie Happy Hour for Adults" at intermission.

Kristen Hall of Feast & Forest provides "Milk and Cookie Happy Hour for Adults" at intermission.

Entertainment that invites you into beauty and story. Entertainment that stretches your soul. Entertainment that connects you to the heart of Birmingham.  Link here for information and to secure your ticket to Magic City Storytellers. Seating is limited.

Beauty matters and so do those who create it. 

Tax-deductible donations can be made to InSpero, Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization.

Mail checks to

246 Marwood Drive, Birmingham, AL 35244

or make a credit card donation at our website at



Leaning In and Making Space

A Conversation with Sandra McCracken and Kenny Meeks

A small gathering of musicians, potters, painters, writers, and other artists captured a few quiet moments of food and conversation with singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken and musician Kenny Meeks in the home of Birmingham painter and InSpero founder, Gina Hurry.

In hopes you can be encouraged—and feel less alone—in your own creative process, here are some notes jotted by Nancy Carroll from the morning.

Where does the depth of your work and words come from?

S: I hold loosely the seasons of flourishing and feasting with those of disappointments and roadblocks. Some of my best creative work comes from leaning into my limitations and wrestling with God over the confusions and realities of life. 

K: I’m currently providing guitar tracking for an album about a man’s journey in the loss of his young son to cancer. To feel and reflect back his pain is both a privilege and weight, but the takeaway is the honest emotional truth of the material, and how universal and confessional it is. It takes courage for him—and me—to embrace utter disappointment and still hang onto God.


Many artists juggle multiple jobs and family responsibilities. What advice do you have to help us keep creating?

S: To be sustained creatively, I need to make space for God and people. Because I am a worship leader, Sunday is a work day so I carve out a Sabbath on Wednesdays. It’s tempting, especially as a mom, to fill it with my to-do lists, but I choose to be intentionally non-productive.  It helps remind me to rest in a God who provides.

Then I have to make space for relationships—people I know and know me.  That means giving myself to a local body, a church, as well as family and friends.  These are the people who love me when I fail and don’t care if I never succeed.

And there’s nothing like children to keep you humble and grounded. They really don’t pay much attention to your career or creative process. I’m learning to lean into life’s constant “interruptions” as a way to have my curiosity and wonder awakened.  In the way of interruptions, my kids give me good gifts.

We noticed a sense of freedom and spontaneity between you and your band members.  What role does creative collaboration play in your music and performances?

S: I like to remember and remind our audience that the Spirit is already present and working and weaving together people’s stories. For me, a live performance feels like I’m on the edge of a wave, living on the edge, open to what may happen in the moment.  Like that Willie Nelson song feeding through the sound system and interrupting our first song of the set on Sunday night; though it came in as a startling interruption, it ended up being a great ice breaker for the evening.

K: Sandra encourages creative collaboration and freedom within live performances. That’s rare.  Musically, it feels like living in a jazz moment: less scripted, more energy, and room for the Spirit to move.

What feeds your soul?

S:  I can’t jump into my day too quickly. That means not grabbing my phone or answering emails first thing in the morning. This new album, Psalms, flowed out of allowing myself to sit in the quiet of the morning to sing back the Psalms to God.    

What doesn’t feed your soul?

S: Production and marketing are harder for me.

K: There can be pressure to present yourself in a certain less-than-genuine way, or to follow the advice of others when it doesn’t feel honest, just to be what some might consider more marketable or more successful. So learning who you are and who you can trust is part of the process.

S: I try to remember that we are simply to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us. It takes a long time to find out who you are and what your gifts are and to recognize your own artistic ‘voice.’  When I can just be myself in any given situation, it helps me in the struggle to compromise vision or please people.  

I love Henri Nouwen and how he explains in his book, Reaching Out, that we must first live in our Identity as someone who is loved by God, so if we fail or flourish, our identity holds, regardless of the changing circumstances of our lives and regardless of our performance.  Nouwen talks about true hospitality as making peace with our own loneliness, which then makes space for others to do the same. It’s a more generous way to love and receive.  And it’s actually, for me a pretty difficult thing to practice.

You mentioned Joni Mitchell’s turning to painting after producing an album, what she called “crop rotation.”  What is your form of crop rotation?

S: I have to be intentional to give myself permission to play with my kids. When I can unplug from all the tasks at hand and enjoy the unstructured moments with them, it helps me return refreshed to my music.




Thy Love Inspires March 6

Thy Love Inspires March 6

Gray skies and skeletal crepe myrtle trees broken by a surprising pop-up show of the first jonquils, hyacinths, and camellias. Boots and scarves for weeks, then flip-flops and sunscreen for a day.

Alabama in February. 

In every season, hints of hope, what is to come,

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,

And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

InSpero seeks to brings these hints of hope to our city and churches by bringing moments of beauty to what feels like an “always winter” world. We do this through inspiring creative community to come together and bring good gifts to our city.

Two such events are Thy Love Inspires on March 6 and Magic City Storytellers on May 12. 

For more information, go to Thy Love Inspires website. 

Photo by Emily Kicklighter

Photo by Emily Kicklighter

Corey Nolen, one of the collaborators of this special evening, explains his desire to expose more people to the “depths and riches” of hymns and texts set to music by this amazing group of musicians

Photo by Emily Kicklighter

Photo by Emily Kicklighter

“A few years ago while searching online, I found a Duke Divinity School catalogue of unpublished Charles Wesley texts that had recently been assembled. I grew up in the Methodist church and was familiar with Charles Wesley (he and his brother John founded Methodism), however it wasn’t until I started going to Presbyterian churches that I started appreciating the gifts he brought to the church at large. Charles Wesley was second only to Isaac Watts in the number of hymns selected for corporate worship.
I literally found thousands of completed texts and poems in this catalogue that had never formally been set to music. Texts that dealt with broad theological points of faith as well as with the finer details of life (births, illnesses, deaths). It occurred to me that Charles Wesley wasn’t so impactful because he was so prolific. He was so prolific because he was so inspired.   
There are enough good corporate worship songs to last us for eternity. There isn’t a need to keep writing. However, I believe that though the larger story of God’s mercy and grace are constant and steady, each of our roles in that story are nuanced and emotionally charged. There is certainly something beautiful and reassuring about joining in the same songs with saints of the past 250 years (or even the last five years for a contemporary song). But there is something equally as beautiful about seeing ourselves and interjecting our stories into the words and melodies of traditional hymns, historical texts, Psalms, and even words never before written.“
Thy Love Inspires exists to encourage musical creativity within the church. These events are intended to be an outlet for this continued inspiration and a way for others to corporately share in the offerings of the artists.
Corey is joined by Nathan Gumeinhart, Chandler Parker, Connie and Stokes Skellie, Ashley Spurling, Jesse Suttle, Josh Vigneulle, Adam Wright with a special guest, Will Mason
This event is free to the public with a love offering to help cover costs.

Magic City Storytellers May 12

Photo by Bill Carroll

Photo by Bill Carroll

Mark your calendar for Magic City Storytellers where Inspero host local writers, poets and songwriters at a special evening at the Clubhouse on Highland on Thursday, May 12. More information to come.

Easter People


Images such as this by  Adorned Floral  will be featured in Easter People reflections .

Images such as this by Adorned Floral will be featured in Easter People reflections .

For those of you seeking a way to reflect through the Lent Season, we invite you to the Easter People Facebook page or easter_people on Instagram to see images of art from regional artists and read a brief reflection to prepare for Easter.

Creating Space for God Allowing Him to Create Through You

Undone  by  Amy Grimes

Undone by Amy Grimes

Yet whatever else it may be, Lent should never be morose—
an annual ordeal during which we begrudgingly forgo a handful of pleasures.
Instead, we ought to approach Lent as an opportunity, not a requirement.
After all, it’s meant to be the church’s springtime,
a time when, out of the darkness of sin’s winter,
a repentant, empowered people emerges. 

Shauna Niequest, Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter

InSpero offers you two opportunities to create space for God in your busy lives this Lenten season. Through our Lent retreats and Easter People daily "cyber" Lenten reflections, we encourage you to consider the power of Scripture in your creative process. 

Lenten Retreats

You are invited to our annual Lenten retreat for a time of beauty, rest, quiet community, and Scripture in preparation for the Lent Season. This retreat includes a Lectio Divina (a slow, meditative reading of short section of Scripture), a time for personal reflection, and thoughtful discussion on how to use Lent as a time of creative offering. Register early as each session is limited to 30 people. The cost is $12 for evening session to cover materials, coffee and dessert and $25 for the day session to cover materials, light breakfast, and lunch. To register, please go to the invitation link.

Evening Option
Wednesday, February 3, 6:30-9 p.m. $12
The Clubhouse on Highland
2908 Highland Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35205

Day Option
Thursday, February 4, 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $25
The Salems' Farm
2732 Eastern Valley Road (Hwy 119), Leeds, AL 35094


Easter People

Join us in our Lenten journey of creating space for God with Scripture, art, and a briefdaily reflection, this year focused on the theme of light and darkness. Follow Easter People on instagram at easter_people, twitter on @easter_people and on Facebook at Easter People.

Arrangement and photo by  Adorned Floral

Arrangement and photo by Adorned Floral

Embracing Mystery

InSpero begins a series of guest contributions with board member and author Marjean Brooks. To read more from (and about) Marjean, go to her website.  

Photo by Bill Carroll

Photo by Bill Carroll

Everyone loves a good mystery.

Nothing engages the imagination like an intricately woven story without an obvious ending. We imagine possible outcomes until the final scene or page.

Who done it? Did he get the girl? Was justice served?

Years ago I learned from T. A. Noton in The Joy of Writing that a story was “an interesting combination of words which produce a problem, a deepening of that problem, a point at which the problem seems insurmountable, and a final solution to that problem to the complete satisfaction of the reader." We love the twists and turns of a plot line but, in the end, we want it tied up in a satisfying answer.

We don’t like to live with mystery.

So it’s no surprise we don’t want mystery in God’s story, either. We prefer a God who is easily explained. But that’s not the God of the Bible; once we have him figured out, another fact or circumstance contradicts our tidy conclusions. Our completed picture often feels like an intricate 1000-piece puzzle with one missing piece.

In one of my favorite stories in the book of Acts, the people of Athens constructed an altar with the words, “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” In their pursuit of worshipping all deities, they added this tribute in case one was inadvertently missed. The apostle Paul came to their city and proclaimed the triune God as the “unknown God”—who became known through Jesus coming to earth. Paul explains Him as the creator of the universe, sustainer of life, ruler of nations, Savior of the needy, Father and King of all, and judge of the world. He clearly paints a portrait of a God who can be known.

Photo by Bill Carroll

Photo by Bill Carroll

Yet mystery is woven throughout the entire Bible. In the opening pages we read, “Let Us make man in our own image.” Why the plural? Mystery of Trinity. In the Exodus story, a pillar of cloud leads the Israelites by day and a pillar of fire by night. Mystery of Supernatural. In the books of the prophets, God chooses to judge one nation and forgive another. Mystery of Mercy. Between the New and Old testaments, four hundred years of silence exists between Malachi and Matthew. Mystery of Silence. God then chooses to speak in his Son, whom he sends as a baby born of a virgin. Mystery of Incarnation. God reveals that the hope of glory is Christ in us. Mystery of Indwelling.  Jesus inaugurates the Last Supper when believers feast on bread and wine signifying his body and blood. Mystery of Presence. Jesus dies and yet his tomb is empty. Mystery of Resurrection. In Revelation, Christ is seen as a glowing vision with white hair, flaming eyes, and a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, to judge and make all things new. Mystery of Restoration.

We become so familiar with these outrageous words and stories that we miss that from beginning to end, God’s story is bathed in mystery.

We prefer a predictable God-in-the-box who caters to our requests and follows our formulas. Sadly, when we eliminate all mystery, we lose all sense of awe and wonder.

Photo by Bill Carroll

Photo by Bill Carroll

The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed belong to us.” Jeremiah 29:29.

This verse brings me comfort. When we wrestle with unanswerable dilemmas, we can rest in the fact that “the Lord, He is God.” (I Kings 18:39) We discover the depths of his character to be loving, sovereign, and just—and relinquish what we cannot understand. We leave the secret things to God and pursue the things revealed.

And we choose to live with the tension of mystery, believing—one day—the story will be finished to our complete satisfaction.

The Link Between Beauty and Hope

Photo by Amy Henry Photography. Jenny Pruitt's children joined her to sing one of her songs at  Creation Waits  Advent Offering at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church November 29, 2016.

Photo by Amy Henry Photography. Jenny Pruitt's children joined her to sing one of her songs at Creation Waits Advent Offering at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church November 29, 2016.

Was it a "silent night" for you?

It's that brief window of time between Christmas and New Year's: de-decorating, weighing in (literally), and re-focusing on getting it right this next year.

Perhaps you, like me, are once again surprised by the reality that it's never enough even when you do everything possible to create your perfect picture of the holidays for your loved ones. Because life is broken. We are broken. So, we fight to not give in to that haunting refrain

"Is that all there is? If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing." 

Our longing for something more, that hunger for "Shalom,"  the all-as-it-should-be desire for peace and wholeness, is perhaps our greatest gift as humans. It shows we are truly alive and we haven't given up or given in.

"If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world." C. S. Lewis

Beauty reminds us there's more to come

InSpero helps you keep alive to your desires for something more. We believe in the power of creative community to bring beauty and hope to our city. George MacDonald in describing Heaven wrote that it is

"the region where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence."  

Please consider us for your year-end giving so we can continue to nurture artists, musicians, writers, dancers, and creative risk-takers to give moments of beauty in our busy, noisy, pragmatic, often painful world. InSpero, Inc. is a 501c3 tax-deductible organization. You can mail a check made to InSpero, Inc. to 246 Marwood Drive, Birmingham, AL 35244 or go to our website and click on our Donate button.  

Below are images of InSpero's Advent offering, "Creation Waits," which combined Jenny Pruitt's music with live painting by Gina Hurry.  It was held the first Sunday of Advent at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church. 

Photo by Amy Henry Photography


Photo by Amy Henry Photography

Photo by Amy Henry Photography

Photo by Amy Henry Photography


Photo by Amy Henry Photography 

Beauty matters and so do those who create it. 

For more information about InSpero or to become involved, sign up at our website,
Tax-deductible donations can be made to InSpero, Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization.
Mail checks to

246 Marwood Drive,
Birmingham, AL 35244
or make a credit card donation at our website at

O What a Night!


Hundreds of people from around the city enjoyed great art, music, food and conversations at InSpero's Steel City Makers 5 Man Show held October 23.  

For Gina and Nancy, it was a dream realized as it combined in one event our vision for InSpero:  nurturing and cultivating the creative community, providing collaborative events for artists to create together and give good gifts to Birmingham, starting conversations for the common good, and celebrating our creative community and our city. 

We want to show you a few images from this magical night and thank a few of the amazing people and sponsors of this event.



The Church of the Advent

Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church

St. Ambrose Church

Issam Bajalia, Salon U

A&G Lighting

Cahaba Brewery

Octane Coffee

UPS Store Caldwell

Susan Gordon Pottery

Eric Goss Art

Vintage Wines

Emily Kicklighter Photography

The Matchcoats

Gabriel Tajeu

Aaron Conrad

Savor Salt Co.

Dixie Design Collective

Party Time Turner Rentals

Jay Loughner

Dawn Designs

Banks Nash

Ed Cates

Creation Waits Sunday November 29 at 6:00 p.m.

Slow down to let your heart experience the beauty of the season listening to Jenny Pruitt sing her original songs focused on Advent and by observing Gina Hurry paint live in response to the music.  It will be held at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church and nursery is provided. Reservations needed by November 16 to 


To make a tax-deductible donation to InSpero, please click on the donation link on our website or make checks to InSpero, Inc. and mail to 246 Marwood Drive, Birmingham, AL 35244. 

Please consider InSpero, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization for #givingtuesday December 1 and for your year-end giving. Events like the 5 Man Show and Creation Waits depend on your donations. 

Steel City Makers 5 Man Show Friday Oct 23


Birmingham was birthed out of steel.

All the elementsincluding the men strong enough to make itmeld together to make this city grow. Although Birminghams Steel Age has passed, the strength, endurance, and determination of these men still permeates the DNA of our city. Its in our bones.

Thats how InSperos 5-Man Show was born. We believe these male artists contribute beauty and meaning to our city, and its in melding their art into one show that the strength of this city will be seen. They use different media, come from different backgrounds, and stir different responses. But together they show a glimpse of what Birmingham is and what it could be.

Why do we do this? 

We believe beauty matters and so do those who create it. We believe that when our creative community flourishes, our city will flourish. 


Hear the heart and creative process of each of these five men in our short video produced by Banks Nash. 


Our Steel City Makers 5-Man Show has come together because of the undergirding of the donors, sponsors, volunteers, dreamers, visionaries, risk-takers, and encouragers. It’s taken a team of unsung/unseen heroes to make this night magical: the installation artists on their ladders, the lighting geniuses, our musicians, the foodies, the potters and their hand-thrown pieces, our designers and writers/editors, our beer and coffee makers, hospitality givers and our board. We can continue to present these creative collaborations only through your generous contributions. To make a tax-deductible donation, make checks payable to InSpero, Inc. and mail to 246 Marwood Drive, Birmingham, AL 35244 or visit our website at


The Church of the Advent

Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church

St. Ambrose Church

Issam Bajalia, Salon U

A&G Lighting

Cahaba Brewery

Octane Coffee

UPS Store Caldwell

Susan Gordon Pottery

Eric Goss Art

Vintage Wines

Emily Kicklighter Photography

Aaron Conrad

Savor Salt Co.

Dixie Design Collective

Party Time Turner Rentals

Jay Loughner

Dawn Designs

Banks Nash

Ed Cates


Mark your calendar for one of InSpero's favorite annual events, Creation Waits.  It is our way to help you enter the Christmas season in a quieter, richer, more beautiful way with music by Jenny Pruitt and art by Gina Hurry. It will be held Sunday evening, November 29, at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church.

Flying Broken

Nancy Carroll, Co-Director, InSpero

Nancy Carroll, Co-Director, InSpero

I'm speaking on "Does Beauty Matter?"  at Q Commons Thursday, September 24 at 7 p.m. at the Avon Theater in Birmingham. Please come hear how InSpero and other local groups are impacting the city. Below are some thoughts on why I joined Gina in this "unexpected" journey to bring beauty and hope to Birmingham through creative community. 

I used to wear a perfume called Realities until a friend challenged me with “Who wants to smell like reality?” 
It made me think. How do I deal with the reality of brokenness and pain around me and in me?

There was a time I perfumed over it. I closed my eyes and breathed in my own reality.
But it’s hard to keep my eyes closed. When a refugee baby lies on a beach in Turkey. When injustice and inequities exist just “over the mountain.” When the sex trafficking trade thrives on our Alabama highways. When a friend commits suicide. When the battle against cancer, addictions, and abuse seems futile.

I spiritualized that we live in a fallen world and the best thing I could do was pray and wait to get to the Promised Land. Wait it out in my comfortable suburban home and comfortable suburban church. Avoid the pain, protect my kids, and prettify my immediate surroundings. It took a surprising amount of energy and left me numb.
C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 
I began to fear my comfortable "coffin" more than my broken heart.
Embracing Beauty and Brokenness
I can best illustrate how I’m now dealing with reality through two butterflies and an Old Testament prophet.

The first butterfly my husband and I found a few weeks ago while hiking in North Carolina. A beautiful black swallowtail, perfect and still in the middle of the worn dirt path. I wanted to take it home to display it. As I touched it, its antennae waved weakly. It was still alive, though barely. We left it on the path.
That butterfly’s unbroken beauty haunted me. Why didn’t he fly?

Contrast that to the feisty yellow tiger swallowtail that floated onto my deck and flitted by my face as if daring me to take its photo. I grabbed my cell phone and snapped away. Then I really looked at it. It was the most ragged butterfly I’d seen. A third of one wing and tail were gone. The other wing had a bite out of its side.  And yet it simply went about its business, dipping in and out of my late-summer zinnias, spreading life.
That battle-weary butterfly gave me hope. 
Beauty and brokenness are a package deal. If I live only in beauty, I live in denial. If I live only in brokenness, I live in despair. Beauty in the midst of brokenness is the cup of cold water, the hint of hope that there is more to come.
Jeremiah, an Old Testament prophet, spoke to the Israelites exiled in Babylon. They too were just waiting to go home. He told them to get a life and become an integral part of the city God had sent them to. He said,
Seek the shalom of the city for in its shalom you will find your shalom. 
Shalom is the Hebrew word for wholeness, peace, well being, a sense that all will be made right. It's the battlecry against brokenness.
InSpero is a shalom seeker for Birmingham, born out of a vision of founder Gina Hurry. It comes from “spero” which means hope in Latin and also means unexpected. I crawled out of my comfort zone and joined Gina in this unexpected journey as we saw the reality of a world right in front of us that is not as it should be. 

  • A city with a broken past.
  • Artists and artisans who were disillusioned and marginalized and wondered if their work mattered.
  • Churches that didn’t know how to use the power of beauty to help reach and restore the city. 

 And we asked:
What would Birmingham look like if every creative soul in this city stepped out in courage—knowing their heart and their gift mattered—and had life-giving, hope-stirring impact? The kind of impact that could rename our city? That Birmingham, in spite of her scars, could transform from the city broken to the ‪#‎thecitybeautiful.

Love the Ham by Abby Little

Love the Ham by Abby Little

We're trying to live out Jeremiah's message by inspiring Birmingham’s artists and makers, dreamers and risk takers to invest in our city, because we believe when the creative community flourishes, Birmingham will flourish.
Be Part of the InSpero Dream for #thecitybeautiful
Be part of the community.
Go to our website and Instagram to follow us and find out about our events. We need volunteers, advocates, ambassadors, artists, networkers, promoters and participants. Fill out our survey to find out where you want to serve. We need financial donors because beauty that matters, costs. Donations to InSpero, Inc., a 501(c)(3) are tax deductible. Go to our website or make checks payable to InSpero, Inc and mail to 246 Marwood Drive, Birmingham, AL 35244.
Be part of our conversation and collaborations.
Share your space, your ideas, your creativity, your dreams for Birmingham. Invite your church or group to be involved.

Come to our next event, The Steel City Makers 5 Man Show on October 23 at the Cranmer House in Homewood. 


I'm learning if we're going to fly, we're going to fly broken.

All shalom seekers, those with a vision for the world as it should be, will have their hearts broken. That's why we need community and beauty as reminders of what's to come.

Why am I part of InSpero?

Because beauty matters and so do those who create it.


For Love's Sake

Gina Hurry, Founder of InSpero    Photo Credit Alan Matthews                                                                                                                                      

Gina Hurry, Founder of InSpero    Photo Credit Alan Matthews                                                                                                                                      

A post from the heart of Gina Hurry

"For a good life, knowing must become doing. Human flourishing requires that knowledge has to become responsibility. But not for mere duty's sake, though that is not nothing; eventually duty has to become desire.  

We have to see ourselves as implicated in the way the world turns out, for love's sake."  

Steven Garber, board member of InSpero, in his book Visions of Vocation.

Photo Credit Charity Ponter

Photo Credit Charity Ponter

We spent last weekend in the desert with family celebrating some good things. The trip was a much needed break for me as there has been a lot swirling back here at home.  

Ultimately the extremes in the desert and the need for water and relief reminded me how I long for glimpses of something beautiful in this life.

I do love the desert light.

As long as I can remember, I've loved and been taught to care about beauty.  I'm a painter, but the longer I live I feel that my gift might be equally in seeing and bringing dignity and value to the beauty other people bring to this life: especially those artists, songwriters, makers, visionaries, and risk-takers who are bringing glimpses of beauty that remind us there's a better day coming.  

Those glimpse of hope help my heart hold on in this broken world.

I've found how much I need you. How much I want to fight for you. How much I want to champion your process and want to know your story. How much you matter.  I want you to know the risk is worth it, both for me and also for those all around us who long for beauty.

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.   Pablo Picasso

 I'm drawn to beauty because my own soul desperately needs to drink in reminders of the goodness of God.

In recent years I've come to see my personal deep need to be near beauty and to fight for the hearts of those who create it, a side of me you may not know.

This passion/calling consumes me at times. Maybe this "gift" is selfish, but I believe God cares deeply for the creative heart. This is the lens through which I see and process as I think about life and hope and restoration.

The question is:  "HOW DO I GIVE THIS GIFT AWAY?"

The answer seems to be

Beauty heals.  Beauty stirs hope.

I'm not naive enough to think that other people view life this way. Over the last few years I've learned the hard way that it is painful but okay to be misunderstood.  It is painful but okay to fight for something other people don't value or even see.  It is painful but okay to look foolish, especially for love's sake.

As we waited in the airport for our return flight, there was a man playing the most beautiful music. I was drawn to him and settled in on the floor near him with our kids: drinking in the complex melodies and allowing my heart and soul to be nurtured by the music of a stranger. 

(Thank you strange guitar man!)

As I savored his music, I was receiving texts from a friend walking in deep darkness. My heart was simultaneously breaking and being healed.

Such as it is most days: brokenness and beauty at work at the same time. Never separated.

I have this vision that beauty is going to be a part of the healing of my soul, but there is also a bigger story.


The best way I know to give this gift away is to invite you to be a part of the vision and story of InSpero.  We need you. Join us at our birthday party on September 17 at The Nest in Avondale and hear more of our vision. Fun libations. Food by Kristen Farmer Hall and Aaron Conrad. Art by Arthur Price, Adorned Floral and Charity Ponter. Music by Deidra Hurdle-Ruff (the Blues Diva) and Keithen Ruff. Funky Birmingham posters by Abby Little to those who donate $100 or more. 

They'll rebuild the old ruins, raise a new city out of the wreckage. They'll start over on the ruined cities, take the rubble left behind and make it new.  Isaiah 61:4 The Message

Photo Credit Charity Ponter

Photo Credit Charity Ponter

"People who keep at their callings for a lifetime are always people who suffer. The world is too hard and life is too broken for it to be otherwise." Steven Garber

Mark your calendars for October 23.  We cannot wait! (Location change will be announced soon!)

Photo Credit Alan Matthews/ Dawn Design

Photo Credit Alan Matthews/ Dawn Design

To give a donation to InSpero, come to our birthday party or mail check made to InSpero Inc. to 246 Marwood Drive, Birmingham, AL 35244. 

The City Beautiful The Church Beautiful

Two InSpero events last month show the power of creative collaboration to bring hope and beauty to our city and churches.

Our first Magic City Storyteller event at the beautiful Clubhouse on Highland

Our first Magic City Storyteller event at the beautiful Clubhouse on Highland

Magic City Storytellers: A Night of Story and Song

More than 130 people packed the Clubhouse on Highland on May 14 to enjoy wine, cheese and Milk-and-Cookie Happy Hour and hear from Birmingham-area artists, including short stories (Nancy Carroll and Riley Kross), poems (Charlie Ritch, Nathan Klose and Irene Latham), and songs (Bradley Harris, Allison Ritch, Joel Madison Blount). Many thanks to Bob McKenna for opening up his beautiful home which is one of Birmingham’s favorite venues.  

Joel Madison Blount (with Josh Vignuelle) sharing his original music

Joel Madison Blount (with Josh Vignuelle) sharing his original music

Baking Bandits  provided Milk and Cookie Happy Hour after the readings and songs. 

Baking Bandits provided Milk and Cookie Happy Hour after the readings and songs. 

Nathan Klose, poet and emcee (and semi-wild man), for the evening.

Nathan Klose, poet and emcee (and semi-wild man), for the evening.

Pentecost, the Holy Spirit and the Mystery of the Creative Process

InSpero partnered with Independent Presbyterian Church on May 17 for “Waiting for the Muse: Pentecost, the Holy Spirit and the Mystery of the Creative Process.” IPC Pastor David Seamon engaged singer/songwriter Joel Madison Blount and potters Susan Gordon and Lana Hobbs in a conversation about the creative process and invited the audience of 150 to participate. This was concluded by a concert by Joel, and band members Josh Vignuelle and Will Weer, and Susan and Lana creating on pottery wheels and audience members contributing their own clay handiwork.

Some of the audience's clay contributions 

Some of the audience's clay contributions 

For those who weren’t able to come, read as these artists muse about the creative process, the purpose in failure, and work as worship.

Joel playing and talking about his songwriting process at Waiting for the Muse

Joel playing and talking about his songwriting process at Waiting for the Muse

Describe your creative process:

Joel: Dedicating time to write music everyday is the only way I'm going to actually write new songs and continue to refine my skills as a songwriter.  All that to say, I can’t always write every day. Some weeks the responsibilities of life consume me and I'll be a nervous wreck because I haven't had time to write. However, if I carve out a few hours to develop an idea, I feel much more at ease at the end of the week. 

Each day, productive or not, that I invest in becoming a better singer, songwriter and guitar player builds upon itself like compounding interest. Waiting for the perfect time, situation, equipment, people or idea is procrastination. My best songs are usually written during the most hectic and tumultuous times of my life.  

When I write, I sit in a hard chair, alone in a room with as few distractions as possible to give my mind room to wander uninhibited. When I feel stuck, it's time to get up and invest in relationships. I'm inspired to write most often through shared experiences with my friends and family and witnessing how God is working in our lives and in our communities. 

What blocks your creativity? 

There will always be work by others that is better, more interesting or more intriguing than anything I‘ll ever do. That's hard to accept. But, when I focus on doing the best work I can with the tools I have now, I end up happier and more productive than when I allow myself to wallow in self-pity or fall into a death spiral of comparing myself to others.

Lana Hobbs on wheel

Lana Hobbs on wheel

What do you do when nothing seems to work?

Lana: There are days, weeks and months where nothing goes as planned and nothing comes out as envisioned. When I lose a piece or open the kiln to find something ‘hideous,’ it feels wasted and I’m disappointed. But upon reflection, I go back to the value of the process and everything I learned along the way. There is always a take-away from the process, a nugget of goodness in the failure.

Susan Gordon finishing pitcher

Susan Gordon finishing pitcher

Do you see your creative work as a way to worship?

Susan: When I throw on the wheel, making humble mounds of clay into beautiful and useful vessels, it reminds me of how the Holy Spirit transforms and makes us into vessels for his glory. The clay is, in some ways, a child to me. My hands shape and tell it to bend this way or be straight that way. I worship Him through my dependence on Him and delight in the often-surprising result of the work of my hands.

Upcoming InSpero Events

The Spirituality of Wine: Wine Tasting Event with Dr. Gisela Kreglinger  Friday, June 26 

Gisela grew up on her family winery in Germany and has a doctorate in the theology of the imagination and has spoken extensively in Europe and North America. She will talk about the spirituality of wine in the Bible (based on her upcoming book) and will show us how to befriend our senses more fully as we come to the wine tasting. Limited to 30 people. $25 to cover cost of wine, material and instruction. To register, go to our website.

The Five-Man Gallery Show: Steel City Makers

Friday, October 23, The Nest, Avondale, 6-9 pm

Photo by Alan Matthews

Photo by Alan Matthews

Five up-and-coming Birmingham artists (Marty Balencie, Bruce Phillips, Ty Smith, Matt Underwood and Michael Whitten) are collaborating to show their paintings, sculpture and mixed media art. Suggested donation of $25 covers the show and wine, beer, appetizers and live music from Gabriel Tajeu.

We're finalizing our 2015-2016 calendar of beautiful events.  To subscribe to our mailings, fill out the form on our contact page. You can also keep posted by liking and following InSpero on FacebookInstagram and Twitter

To make a tax-deductible donation to InSpero, please click on the donation link on our website or make checks to Clerestory, Inc. and designate in a separate note that it is for InSpero and mail to Clerestory, Inc. at Two Perimeter Park South, Suite 550 East, Birmingham, AL 35243.