Growth in Faith and Art is a Risky Business

adult learning, arkansas, art, brain plasticity, change, Children, Creativity, Faith, Holy Spirit, hope, Icons, Imagination, inspiration, john wesley, Ministry, New Year, Painting, Pantocrator, perfection, photography, purpose, risk, Spirituality, vision

Oscar Wilde famously said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” This is because the self-conscious aim of life is to find expression and art offers it certain beautiful forms, through which it may realize that energy. Yet most people who look at artworks judge them for the degree to which they represent “three dimensional reality,” in either two or three dimensions (painting, draw,or sculpture and assemblage).

Often I’ve been asked about my colorful landscapes, “Don’t you ever paint these in normal colors?”

My answer is usually, “How do we know the colors we see today are the original colors of Creation? After all, we now live in a fallen and broken world. Perhaps these bright colors were God’s original palette.” I’m not painting just what I see, but what was and what is yet to come. These are visions of a better world, where the leaves clap their hands for joy.

In art class, we not only struggle to master drawing shapes “as they are,” but also to challenge our minds to break free of our need to exactly reproduce the shapes before us. We always have the tension to make only a “copy of the image before us,” rather than to meet the image on a spiritual plane and portray an intimate portrait of its inner truth.

When we meet a stranger, we can hide behind our masks and keep our distance. Likewise, we can fail to become intimate with our painting’s subject matter. The resulting work is cold and dead, like a limp handshake. It’s a risky business to bare your heart to the canvas and paint. The brush will tell if your heart and soul is in it or not.

We get more comfortable with this risky business by practicing risk taking. It’s not like we’re facing tigers in a circus cage or jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. We can’t lose our salvation in Christ if we make a bad painting. We only have a new level from which to start afresh. All growth requires risk and failure. We discover what works, keep that, and eliminate the unuseful.

Willingness to learn is related to the “growth mind-set.” This is the belief your abilities aren’t fixed but can improve. This willingness is a belief not primarily about the self, but about the world. It’s a belief every class or learning experience offers something worthwhile, even if we don’t know in advance what that something is. Every teacher or parent worth their salt has to believe their students or children can learn and grow, or they need to give up their profession so another can grow. The first lesson even the most recalcitrant student needs to learn is to believe growth and progress is possible.

Christ on Tree of Life, San Clemente Basilica, 12th Century mosaic, Rome, Italy.

The Christian life has a parallel to the growth mindset. The whole of the Christian life is wrapped up in this faith: with God’s help, we can go on to perfection. This is a basic Methodist belief known as sanctification. We also call it going on to perfection in love of God and neighbor. Some of us think because we’re not able to change on our own, we don’t need to grow in our love. God has done all the work for us in Christ. The Holy Spirit was sent to be a truthful guide:

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;
for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears,
and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13)

Christ in Majesty, Book-Cover Plaque, French, Limoges, enamel, ca. 1200 CE, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.

Paul speaks of this truth in Philippians 3:20-21, when he reminds the people of their present state as sojourners in this world, while their citizenship is elsewhere:

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that
we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will transform our humble bodies that they may be conformed
to his glorious body, by the power that also enables him
to make all things subject to himself.”

Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child Mary Cassatt, 1880

If life is a journey, the Christian life is even more of a pilgrimage. We all go through stages of faith if we seriously reflect and consider our beliefs when our life experiences intersect with our faith. Our earliest stage of faith begins with our parents or caregivers. Here we learn to trust or distrust, as we experience an embodied faith. The next stage is early childhood (age 3-7). Faith at this stage is experiential and develops through encounters with stories, images, the influence of others, a deeper intuitive sense of what is right and wrong, and innocent perceptions of how God causes the universe to function.

Michaelangelo: Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel Ceiling

The next stage has been labeled “Mythic-Literal Faith” (Ages 7-12). Children at this stage have a belief in justice and fairness in religious matters, a sense of reciprocity in the workings of the universe (e.g. doing good will result in a good result, doing bad will cause a bad thing to happen) and an anthropomorphic image of God (e.g. a man with a long white beard who lives in the clouds). Religious metaphors are often taken literally, thus leading to misunderstandings. If God’s rewards or punishments don’t apply in proper retribution, in the believer’s mind, their faith in God’s system becomes fragile.

Théodore Géricault, Raft of the Medusa, 1818–19, oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris.

“The Conventional Faith” stage (12-adult) arises when individuals join a religious institution, belief system, or authority, and begin the growth of a personal religious or spiritual identity. Conflicts occur when one’s beliefs are challenged are often ignored because they represent too much of a threat to one’s faith-based identity.

Théodore Géricault’s “Raft of the Medusa,”painted in 1818–19, is nearly 17 by 23 feet large. It commands its space as any proper historic painting of the past ever did. Rather than present a moral lesson from the past, the artist instead chose to paint an event from his present time: the rescue of the abandoned sailors and slaves from a wrecked ship. The French nation had sent the new governor of the Senegal colony, his family, and some other government officials and others on the Medusa. The government officials went to secure French possession of the colony and to assure the continuation of the covert slave trade, even though France had officially abolished the practice. Another group aboard the Medusa was composed of reformers and abolitionists who hoped to eliminate the practice of slavery in Senegal by engaging the local Senegalese and the French colonists in the development of an agricultural cooperative that would make the colony self-sustaining.

On the way, the ship ran aground and broke up. The officials and their families were put in lifeboats, but the 150 others on board got a makeshift raft, which was tied to the lifeboats. When the raft impeded the lifeboats, the officials cut the raft loose and all the lives with it. Only 15 were rescued after days at sea, and only ten lived to tell their tales. It was a scandal of the times. Géricault read all the newspapers, interviewed survivors, and made studies from ancient sculptures to inform his design. When younger artists saw his inspirational work in the Paris Salon, they knew a sea change had happened. Conservative critics and writers were appalled and accused Géricault of creating a disgusting, repulsive mistake. They were not yet ready to leave the past behind.

William Faulkner once said, “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore” (The Mansion , 1959). When we meet that initial storm, our first thought is to bring our fragile bark into port. In life, we batten down the hatches and book it for a safe harbor. In art class, we want to fall back on what we’ve always done before, what we know we can do, and what we’ve been successful with in the past. This is our “safe harbor.”

“Individuative-Reflective Faith” (Mid-Twenties to Late Thirties). The individual takes personal responsibility for her beliefs or feelings, often by angst and struggle. Religious or spiritual beliefs can take on greater complexity and shades of nuance, and a greater sense of open-mindedness. These can also open up the individual to potential conflicts as the different beliefs or traditions collide.

To progress and grow in our art skills, or to move through the “dark night of the soul” when we question our formerly held spiritual truths, is a crucial time. Crucial is a word sharing the same root as crucifix. The crux of both of these situations results in a life and death situation. Not that the person quits breathing or their heart stops beating, but will their old life die and their faith be reborn anew? Also, will they trust a power greater than themselves to bring them back from the depths? Many of us aren’t willing to give up control to anyone, and certainly not to a God we can’t see. We’re two year olds in our spiritual lives too often, for “I can do it myself!” Is our answer to everything and everyone. (Test it out—how many of you read the directions after you start putting a project together?)

The Cross that Spoke to St. Francis, San Damiano Chapel, Italy, 1205 CE

“Conjunctive” Faith (Mid-Life Crisis). A person at this stage acknowledges paradoxes and the mysteries attendant on transcendent values. This causes the person to move beyond the conventional religious traditions or beliefs he may have inherited from previous stages of development. A resolution of the conflicts of this stage occurs when the person is able to hold a multi-dimensional perspective that acknowledges ”truth’ as something that cannot be articulated through any particular statement of faith. This is where the Holy Awe begins to fill all the nooks and crannies from which it was once forbidden.

Face of Christ (All People of the World), photo montage

“Universalizing” Faith (or ”Enlightenment”). (Later Adulthood). This stage is only rarely achieved by individuals. A person at this stage is not hemmed in by differences in religious or spiritual beliefs among people in the world, but regards all beings as worthy of compassion and deep understanding. Here, individuals ”walk the talk” of the great religious traditions (e.g. ”the kingdom of God is within you”).

“Jesus of the People” by Janet McKenzie.

In 1999 Janet McKenzie’s painting “Jesus of the People” was selected winner of the National Catholic Reporter’s competition for a new image of Jesus by judge Sister Wendy Beckett, host of the PBS show “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting.” In the words of Sister Wendy, “This is a haunting image of a peasant Jesus—dark, thick-lipped, looking out on us with ineffable dignity, with sadness but with confidence. Over His white robe He draws the darkness of our lack of love, holding it to Himself, prepared to transform all sorrows if we will let Him.” The model was an African-American woman and the painting includes a yin-yang symbol of Eastern traditions and feather of Native American traditions. (Photo courtesy of Paul Smith)

Next week, we’ll still be working on order and chaos. We got started on this at our first meeting, and the concept is a challenge. I’ll write about our class work then. We’re always open to anyone joining us, for you come as you are and begin where you are. Our art group is a “one room schoolhouse” with all levels of students mixed together. We may all be doing the “same project,” but everyone does it at their own skill level. I give you special attention according to your needs.

Remember, “The only way you can be behind is if you never start.”

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

Life Imitates Life | Lapham’s Quarterly
https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/swindle-fraud/life-imitates-life

The Stages of Faith According to James W. Fowler | Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D.
https://www.institute4learning.com/2020/06/12/the-stages-of-faith-according-to-james-w-fowler/

Théodore Géricault, Raft of the Medusa – Smarthistory
https://smarthistory.org/theodore-gericault-raft-of-the-medusa/

Video and photo slideshow: The many faces of Jesus
https://religionnews.com/2014/01/28/video-photo-slideshow-many-faces-jesus/

Winter Solstice 2022

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This shortest day of the year is the Winter Solstice, which is on Wednesday, December 21, at 4:48 P.M. EST, in the Northern Hemisphere. Some think of this as the Longest Night, but I’m a person of the light, not the darkness. I always prefer to look to the light, no matter how dim or feeble it may seem.

Be the Light

Yet darkness is a necessary experience in our lives. We do not yet live in the land of the “unclouded sky” or the heavenly realm:

“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” —Revelation 21:23

Kindness is a warm fire

In the darkness, growth often happens: germination and rooting are two types of unseen activity that help produce the plant we see above ground. Without adequate light, the visible plant won’t thrive. So both darkness and light are at work to produce fruit in our lives.

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” —Romans 8:28

Rejoice! The days will get brighter soon!

The Winter Solstice in Hot Springs is at 3:48 pm CST on Wednesday, December 21, 2022. In terms of daylight, this day is 4 hours, 37 minutes shorter than the June solstice. In most locations north of the equator, the shortest day of the year is around this date. The good news about the Winter Solstice is the days will begin to lengthen, although imperceptibly at first: one minute, four minutes, seven minutes, ten minutes, thirteen minutes, sixteen minutes, and so on.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the sun’s return, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. Today we recognize the source of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song in this festival. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year. Prosperity for all in the New Year!

In this present darkness, a small light still shines brightly

In this time of stress and strain, grief and gripes, let’s look to the in-breaking light, and the renewal of life and love. Here’s a “Winter Solstice Chant” by Annie Finch, for your pleasure:

Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing, now you are uncurled and cover our eyes with the edge of winter sky leaning over us in icy stars Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing, come with your seasons, your fullness, your end.

Rice Krispy Stonehenge

Of course, if you can’t get your travel plans together at the last minute to visit Stonehenge, England for the winter solstice celebration, you can always make Rice Krispies Bars in the shape of the ancient monument. The recipe link is at the bottom of the page. Hint: don’t turn the heat up high or your treats will be hard. Due to high carbohydrate count, one “pillar” of Stonehenge Krispies is actually two servings.

Modern Yule Log

Joy and peace and a Good Yule log,

CORNELIA

Annie Finch, “Winter Solstice Chant” from Calendars, published by Tupelo Press. Copyright © 2003 by Annie Finch. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Sunrise and sunset times in Hot Springs https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/@4115412

The Original Rice Krispies Treats™ Recipe https://www.ricekrispies.com/en_US/recipes/the-original-treats-recipe.html

Year End Art Class Notes

adult learning, Arches National Park, arkansas, art, Christmas, color Wheel, Creativity, Faith, holidays, Imagination, inspiration, Ministry, nature, Painting, photography, shadows

While some are counting the days until Christmas, some of us are are counting the remaining days left in the old year of 2022. Somehow I always get a cleaning burst of energy around the end of the year. Maybe I hear my mother’s voice urging me, “Let’s get the house straightened up, so Santa will find it neat and clean. There’s no way the jolly old man can find the tree when the house is in this much mess!”

My mother’s idea of a mess was a line not perpendicular to its base, or a fragment of paper left on the table. She mostly cleaned to the grooves while my grandmother was alive, for she slacked off after Nannie passed on. The Christmas tree was ensconced in the NONO ROOM, also known as the living room. It acquired the NONO nickname because our parents never let us into it, for we weren’t allowed to touch anything inside it. We lived in the den, like the pack of wild animals we were. We weren’t raised by wolves, but our parents were never able to wring the wolf out of their brood.

I confess I still organize my large spices by size on one shelf and the smaller ones alphabetically on another shelf. I can’t understand anyone who sets their spices on the shelf willy nilly, so they have to search for them every time. Then again, I sort my paints by color and temperature. Organization is one thing I did learn from my folks, even if I didn’t inherit an obsession for daily cleaning.

However, with less than two weeks before Santa comes to visit and Christmas Eve services will bring the birth of Christ to mind once more., my inner mother began to notice strange flecks of dust on the high cabinet doors, as well as dust bunnies rolling out from behind the sofa. Some people have visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past. My mother comes to visit me. At least I can still climb ladders.

While I’m cleaning up the house, I should catch up on some art works our Oakland UMC art class has been doing. I took off for a month to visit California, came down with a couch bug that made me so congested I couldn’t think, paint, or do doodly. For some reason, Mike moved faster than I could get my camera out, so I don’t have all his photos. Also, sometimes he was tied up in court doing good for others. I promise to do better in the New Year.

Delaunay: View of Paris, Eiffel Tower

The following three paintings began with the idea of circles and lines. As usual, I showed a few different examples from well known artists whose work hangs in museums. This quality inspiration helps students come up with better ideas.

Gail’s Circles

Gail combined her lines with her change of colors. Those boundary lines set up a line which carried through the subtle colors of the background. Limiting her color scheme helps to define these lines. She likes to plan her ideas out in her head first, imagine how they will look, and then paint.

Mike’s circles and lines in the image below reflect his more exuberant personality. Using both the compass and the ruler, he came up with a variety of circles and lines. Mike paints as the spirit moves him. Whatever feels good, that’s where he goes next. He’ll adjust as he goes.

Mike’s Circles

Either of these methods are fine. If one doesn’t get you down the road to the place you want to go, then maybe it’s time try a different route. I never force anyone down a particular fork in the road. I let them explore in one direction until they learn all they can or hit a dead end. Then they can follow the “road not taken.” Everyone gets to try both roads eventually, and learn the ancient wisdom, “All roads lead to Rome.”

This Road May Lead To Rome Eventually

In the art world, “Rome is the fullest experience of both order and emotion.” Some of us prefer one over the other, just as I prefer order in my spice rack, but I’m willing to throw the spices into the soup by sight and not by measuring spoons. We can get too organized or too exuberant, as the Greeks were fond of saying, “The middle path is safest and best.”

Klee: In the Beginning

During this time, the Russian attack on the largest nuclear power plant in Europe was ongoing. Not only was the electricity at the plant cut, an act which blacked out Ukraine and much of Eastern Europe, but it also threatened the stability of the nuclear reactors there. The Ukrainian engineers at the plant were prisoners of foreign soldiers, who knew nothing about the dangers of their stronghold. The world held its breath as fighting broke out around this sensitive target.

Cornelia’s Ukrainian Power-plant Under Attack

Thanks to satellite imagery, today we can see via the internet, what we waited to see in newsreels at the theater, the last time we fought on European soil. We had to wait until the evening news to see film from Vietnam. Now cable news breaks every half hour with the same old news and we might get an update if we’re lucky. Not all can afford to send reporters to distant lands anymore.

By the grace of God, that power plant still stands. However, Europe and Ukraine will have a cold and costly winter. We should not complain if our prices rise, for it’s a small price to pay for democracy and freedom. There are still nations who would oppress smaller countries, just as the Roman Empire did back in the time of Christ’s birth. As we remember in Matthew’s story of The Visit of the Wise Men (2:1-2):

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

This information led Herod to kill all the innocents, the children under two years old in and around the town of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18). Brutality and mass executions aren’t a recent invention of despots desperate to retain power at any cost. The ethical term is utilitarianism, where one uses others as means to gain their own ends. The test question for this type of ethics is “Does the end justify the means?” At what point can you excuse bad or corrupt behavior to get good results?” A moral person answers, “I prefer good means for good ends and will use those unless I’m in a life or death situation.”

I returned, no worse for wear, from my vacation and texted the group to bring a vacation landscape photo to work from. Of course, Gail brought her latest vacation dream destination and Mike brought several island maps to combine into one image. It was the same island where he and his wife had vacationed, but one had tourist attractions, another was history, and the other natural beauty. He has a flair for combining things. Unfortunately, his busy life gets in the way of keeping all his art supplies in one place, so between his work chaos and organizing chaos, plus my slow phone draw, I failed to get his interesting map. It was a good idea.

Gail’s Mars Elevation

The new Mars rover has been sending back some awesome images. The folks at NASA must be over the moon, without a rocket. Gail worked on this elevation image for two weeks, with colors representing different heights in the landscape. It’s a good copy of the image. In the new year we need to go back to three dimensional work again, but we have had fun with color mixing and texture.

Cornelia’s Western Landscape

While out west, I visited as many national parks as I could manage. I did see many volcanoes and convened in a cave, plus I visited Roswell, NM, but wasn’t abducted by aliens. I was impressed with Arches National Park, and hiked about it most of a day. It’s a stark place, with strong rock formations jutting into a brilliant blue sky. The bright sunshine makes strong patterns of light and dark across the landscape. Most of what grows out in the desert is short grasses or a scrub brush, but on occasion, I would find a gnarled tree in dark shade.

Gail’s Christmas Tree

At Mike’s request, we made Christmas cards, but he had to work that day. Probably helping someone with legal matters, because that’s his calling. Gail and I had fun working on the cut paper cards. I was thankful she brought me a coffee. Whatever bug I had took a while to clear my system. Caffeine helped. She rearranged these triangles several different ways on a horizontal plane and never felt satisfied with the way they looked. Because she was wise enough not to glue them down first, she could see her ideas weren’t hitting her happy place.

Then she turned everything straight up, and organized the design on a perpendicular. Now her tree has its happy red birds, a sequin star, and little trees in the background.

Cornelia’s Card

I brought one of my many boxes of colored paper from my scrapbook stash. I know the Christmas colors are red and green, but I made an Advent Tree. This is why it’s violet and pink and blue. Anyway, we don’t have to follow the rules for Christmas trees. If we want a pale purple tree, we can have one. It’s our tree. Santa will still put a present under it, and the color of our tree doesn’t impair our salvation. A nativity set looks just fine under any color tree.

I know we have at least one more class in December on the 16th. Depending on if my plumber is coming over on the 23rd, we might not meet that day. He said he’s behind, so I don’t know. I’ll be on vacation on the 30th, so we’ll see each other in the New Year of 2023!

I always say, “if I ever get totally organized, the world is coming to an end.” Maybe it’s the providence of God that I always bite off more than I can chew, because I’m never totally organized! But I am going on to organization.

Joy, peace, and a better filing system,

Cornelia

Change and Tradition

arkansas, art, at risk kids, butterflies, change, disaffiliation, Faith, holidays, Holy Spirit, Homosexuality, inspiration, john wesley, Love, Ministry, Prayer, renewal, Spirituality, United Methodist Church, vision

WABAC Machine

One of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons was Rocky and Bullwinkle. I loved Mr. Peabody and Sherman, who would climb into the WABAC machine after setting the controls to a time and place of historical importance. That a bow tie wearing dog had adopted a human boy never crossed my mind as being strange. It was a cartoon, after all. In the 1960’s we didn’t take cartoons as real life. We knew they were fantasy.

Votive relief. Pentelic marble. Found in the sanctuary of Eleusis.

In times of change we always want to hold on to traditions: our rituals, our places of worship, our routines. I think the newly minted Christians in the first century, who had friendships and business relationships tied up in the pagan temple sacrificial banquets, most likely had this problem too. The temples were where they ate food sacrificed to the pagan gods, drank to celebrate new deals or cement old relationships, and soon one thing would lead to another. It was the “another” that Paul had words about, for In sharing these meals, Christians were also indulging in the sexual activities that resulted from the feast. (1 Corinthians 8)

Monarch Metamorphosis

If Christians were to live a new life and their lifestyles were to reflect this newness, they needed to make an outward change to reflect the inward transformation of their hearts. We don’t keep the old but take on a newness of heart that transforms our outer life. Consider the caterpillar. It only knows how to be a caterpillar, but it has an inner drive to spin a cocoon. Once inside, it rests, reflects, and directs its energy to becoming a new creation. Then it breaks free to become what its new and true self is meant to be. If it remains bound in a cocoon, it won’t fulfill the wonderful design of God’s best hopes and dreams for its life.

We too have to reimagine and revision our spiritual lives. I’ve always based my vision for ministry on John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian Perfection: “A heart so full of love for God and neighbor that nothing else can exist.” Like the lawyer in the parable, many of us ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus and Wesley say “Everybody is our neighbor.” I’d add, even those we’re most upset with, even if they’ve part of our family and we have disagreements with them.

Most of us have a Bible, but we don’t all read the same translation and we also have major disagreements on how to interpret this holy book. A particularly fraught scripture is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (NRSV)

Wesley wrote in his Notes on the New Testament on 1 Corinthians 6:9—

“Idolatry is here placed between fornication and adultery, because they generally accompanied it. Nor the effeminate—Who live in an easy, indolent way; taking up no cross, enduring no hardship. But how is this? These good-natured, harmless people are ranked with idolaters and sodomites! We may learn hence, that we are never secure from the greatest sins, till we guard against those which are thought the least; nor, indeed, till we think no sin is little, since every one is a step toward hell.”

In Wesley’s Notes on The Entire Bible, of which his Notes on the New Testament is part of our United Methodist Doctrinal standards, he also reminds us, “ Fornication—The original word implies criminal conversation of any kind whatever.” (1 Corinthians 6:9)

That was Wesley in 1754, or the mid 18th century, but most modern Wesleyans today would be shocked at that interpretation of this text. Interestingly, Wesley departed from the KJV in over 12,000 instances in his Notes on the NT. Wesley valued the Authorised Version of the Bible (KJV), but he always preferred to study the Scriptures in their original languages over any and all translations. If we’re traditionalists, we need to remember Wesley was a radical in his time. As Albert Outler was always keen to remind Methodists, Wesley looked better without his halo.

A later day hero was my dear friend and mentor, Dr. Billy Abraham. As his research assistant at Perkins, I had the wonderful opportunity to learn from his thought and appreciate the early church fathers and mothers. Through him I was privileged to meet and learn from Dr. Roberta Bondi, a noted expert on early church history. I learned from Billy about differing views of scriptural authority and from Roberta how a heart of love and mercy helps us live in community.

I decided I’d go with Wesley’s view: “The Bible contains everything necessary for salvation.” This meant I didn’t have to get into creationist arguments because that’s not going to interfere with anyone’s salvation. Of course, that was the big issue a quarter century ago. Even our disagreements change over time. I learned to pray from Dr. Bondi, “Help us to love one another as God loves us.”

When we read scripture in translation, we read from the vantage point of our times and our context. We don’t have a 1960’s Rocky and Bullwinkle WABAC machine to visit the historical people who wrote the Bible. (If only we could time travel!) Only by studying the life and times of that era can we read with a clearer mind what the original authors meant. Even then, we’re caught up in the translation, for we don’t have many full copies of the holy books from the earliest times. Our earliest complete New Testament dates from the 4th century, long after Christ and the first apostles walked these rocks and clods we call earth.

Sundial at Mt. Sequoyah

Then too, we have concepts today which ancient people hadn’t yet conceived. In Roman times, which is the time of the earliest New Testament writings, the day was divided into watches or hours. We think of those hours as having 60 minutes each, but they had no mechanical clocks for precision time keeping. The sundial kept the hour count, so a summer day had long watch hours, while a winter day had shorter ones. Since everyone was on the same system, everyone was on time, or they were late if they were my ancestors.

We all read the same Bible, but we have different translations in our hands. I choose the NRSV because it’s a modern translation that’s as literal as possible and as free as necessary, unlike the NIV, which is a dynamic translation or one that seeks to make the best readable sense of the text. Those translators have to make decisions on how to render rare words in the text. For instance, the word “arsenokoitai,” which shows up in two different verses in the bible, wasn’t translated to mean “homosexual” until 1946. It appears in the RSV, whereas in the KJV, the word gets translated as “nor abusers of themselves with mankind” (or to put it less delicately—trigger warning—masturbation).

Douris: Drinking cup (kylix) depicting an erotic scene of Eros and a youth

How was the word translated previously? It referred to the common Greek practice of pederasty: adult male love for younger boys, which everyone today would be opposed to and disgusted by this cultural practice once common in Greek society. Abuse of youths by adults is something all of us can dislike because that experience isn’t a relationship of equals. One has too much power, authority, and dominance over the other. For the same reason we object to other unequal sexual relationships: clergy and laity, counselors and campers, teachers and students, bosses and employees, and so on.

Circle of Euthymides: Two-handled storage jar (pelike) depicting young athletes jumping

This particular word shows up exactly two times in the whole Bible. It’s now translated as “sodomites.” This too is an unfortunate translation, since the sin of Sodom wasn’t homosexuality, but the townspeople’s failure to respect the laws of hospitality. When the visitors came under Lot’s protection in his home, the townies gathered outside his door and begged to have their sport with his guests. We’re horrified Lot would offer up his own daughters, but in that day and time, protecting the honor of the patriarch’s offer of hospitality to strangers was more important than anything that happened to the women of the household. We don’t have to like the culture as it was back then to get the lesson of “entertaining angels unawares.” This is an instance we’re glad fathers today have respect both for their guests and their daughters. Cultures change and we’re very glad for that.

The word “μαλακός” or Malakos refers to something soft and effeminate. It could refer to silk clothing or to an adult man who shaved his beard or grew long hair. In the Ancient Greek society, once a boy grew a beard, he was no longer subjected to pederastic abuse. Instead, he passed “the gift on” to the next generation. We’re well aware today how child abuse is generational. This is what Paul railed about in this text.

When the holidays crank up, the greedy, drunkards, and maybe a few adulterers and fornicators will go to town. The angry criticizers will probably be driving the bus and the swindlers (robbers: ἅρπαγες) will be grifting the unsuspecting flock as they barrel along. We don’t have any temples with male prostitutes as the ancient Greek cities once had. There were also women prostitutes serving at these temples, so everyone had their pick when visiting with a celebrant for an intercession with the gods. I’m really glad our current clergy orders don’t include this ritual as part of “pastoral care.” Culture changes. Maybe today’s clergy body is glad this duty isn’t added to their holiday activities.

It’s good the culture has changed from that of Rome and Athens of the first century. In fact, culture keeps on changing all the time. This is why Jesus spoke of “new wine in new wine skins.” We’re no longer a first century church, but some principles still apply. We can’t pour the new wine into an old skin, or the fermentation will burst open the weak old skin. This is why we are a new and changing church, for just as butterflies break out of their cocoons, we too have to break free from what has bound us in a past time. The Holy Spirit keeps refreshing and invigorating a living community, whether it worships in a tent, a rented room, or in a set place.

Now we look forward, to a new land, a new existence, and new possibilities. If we hear the voice of God, we hear the calling: “Go to the land I will show you.” God has always led God’s people in every place and in every time. God has brought God’s people through good times and bad, through war and peace, and in exile to the promised land. We can trust God to be faithful once again.

Joy, peace, and hope,

Cornelia

Drinking cup (kylix) depicting an erotic scene of Eros and a youth
Signed by: Douris: clay, Greek, made in Attica, Athens, Late Archaic Period, about 490–485 B.C., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.

Two-handled storage jar (pelike) depicting young athletes jumping
Circle of Euthymides (Greek), Archaic Period, about 520–515 B.C., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.

Drinking cup (kylix) depicting pentathletes
Onesimos: Greek, Late Archaic Period, about 500–490 B.C., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.

NOTES:
(PDF) Canon, criterion and circularity: An analysis of the epistemology of canonical theism of Billy Abraham
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328641188_Canon_criterion_and_circularity_An_analysis_of_the_epistemology_of_canonical_theism

Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation: Abraham, William J.
Here Abraham argues for divine revelation as another leg of understanding and interpretation of church traditions and scripture.

Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism
by William J. Abraham
This is a seminary textbook and historical overview.

“John Wesley’s Notes On The Entire Bible” by John Wesley (1754)
Start reading it for free: https://a.co/3UKifSG

Has ‘Homosexual’ Always Been in the Bible? – United Methodist Insight
https://um-insight.net/perspectives/has-“homosexual”-always-been-in-the-bible/

The Use and Misuse of John Wesley on the Authority of Scripture |
Glen O’Brien – Academia.edu
https://www.academia.edu/5946863/The_Use_and_Misuse_of_John_Wesley_on_the_Authority_of_Scripture

Michael Roberts: Connected in Christ—great discussion on this topic
https://connectedinchrist.net/2022/07/14/wesley-on-human-sexuality-and-his-commentary-on-often-cited-verses/

Strong’s NT 3120: https://biblehub.com/greek/3120.htm

Strong’s 733: https://biblehub.com/greek/733.htm

Strong’s 727: https://biblehub.com/greek/727.htm

NOTES ON μοιχοὶ οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται—

STRONGS NT 3120: μαλακός
μαλακός, μαλακή, μαλακον, soft; soft to the touch: ἱμάτια, Matthew 11:8 R G L brackets; Luke 7:25 (ἱματίων πολυτελῶν καί μαλακων, Artemidorus Daldianus, oneir. 1, 78; ἐσθής, Homer, Odyssey 23, 290; Artemidorus Daldianus, oneir. 2, 3; χιτών, Homer, Iliad 2, 42); and simply τά μαλακά, soft raiment (see λευκός, 1): Matthew 11:8 T Tr WH.

Like the Latin mollis, metaphorically, and in a bad sense: effeminate, of a catamite, a male who submits his body to unnatural lewdness, 1 Corinthians 6:9 (Dionysius Halicarnassus, Antiquities 7, 2 under the end; ((Diogenes Laërtius 7, 173 at the end)).

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: effeminate, soft. Of uncertain affinity; soft, i.e. Fine (clothing); figuratively, a catamite — effeminate, soft.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, STRONGS NT 733: ἀρσενοκοίτης
733 arsenokoítēs (from 730 /árrhēn, “a male” and 2845 /koítē, “a mat, bed”) – properly, a man in bed with another man; a homosexual.
ἀρσενοκοίτης, ἀρσενοκοιτου, ὁ (ἄρσην a male; κοίτη a bed), one who lies with a male as with a female, a sodomite: 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10. (Anthol. 9, 686, 5; ecclesiastical writings.)

Seeds of Dissent and a Harvest of Distrust

Ancestry, arkansas, art, Faith, Family, Forgiveness, greek myths, Holy Spirit, hope, incarnation, inspiration, john wesley, Love, Ministry, Painting, perfection, poverty, purpose, Ravenna Italy, renewal, Retirement, stewardship, Stress, United Methodist Church, vision

Christ Enthroned with the Angels
6th century Mosaic
Church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

Nothing springs full grown to life in an instant. Everything begins in a seed, which is planted, watered, and nourished into full growth. Only in myths or fantasies can an idea come into being instantly. Zeus had a very bad headache, a “splitting headache,” that birthed his daughter Athena, the goddess of wisdom. She leapt out in fully grown from his brow. We don’t take this myth to be scientifically true, but as a metaphor for the difficulty and struggles we undergo to obtain wisdom. As my daddy used to tell me after I’d learned some hard life lesson, “The school of experience is a rough master, and we all earn a costly degree in gaining its wisdom.”

Little Master Lip Painter Attributed to the Phrynos Painter: Birth of Athena, Attic Black Figure Ware, Kylix, Date ca. 555 – 550 B.C., Early Archaic Period,

Some of us will repeat the same lessons over and over, as if we expect to get a different result. The purpose of an education isn’t to regurgitate a right answer to pass a test, but to understand why the answer is right. That’s why math classes require showing the steps to the solution, rather than the “full blown adult answer” only. In matters of faith or ethics, many of us haven’t had the training to “set out the proof” for our final answer or deed. In fact, in one situation we may think or act one way, and quite differently in another.

The name for this behavior is “situational ethics.” Less kindly, it’s also known as spinelessness, shiftiness, being two faced, or dishonesty. Mostly it means people don’t have a true center or a plumb line by which they measure themselves. If we’re measuring our lives against other people, we’re measuring against other fallible human beings. Even our heroes have feet of clay, for none of us are gods. When I used to call my parents out on this character trait, they always told me, “Do as I say, not as I do.” This sets up a moral conflict for most people, even those raised in the church or in religious homes.

We need to have a moral center based on a higher authority than our individual or cultural conventions, one that includes or exceeds the ethics of the group to which we belong, and not just our individual beliefs and actions. Professional groups—physicians, lawyers, clergy, educators, and others—all have ethical standards for caring for those they serve, even if they morally disagree with the behaviors that bring them into their care. Who decides the ethics of the group? At the risk of making my favorite seminary professor, Billy Abraham, roll about in his still fresh grave, we United Methodists do have the so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience to guide us. Often we assign our personal life experience to this latter quadrilateral edge, but Wesley meant our Experience of the Assurance of God’s All Embracing and Adopting Love. As Wesley once said, “God is able to save all to the uttermost.”

The Good Samaritan by English School, (19th century)

Ethics and morals are often used as synonyms, but ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, e.g., codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions. Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong. Ethics is a a late 17th century word derived from the Greek ēthos (disposition, character), in contrast to pathos (suffering). In Latin it means ‘character, depiction of character’, or (plural) ‘customs’.

Then we have the words moral and morals. The first is concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior. The goodness or badness of human character is another concern. From these, people decide what behavior is considered right or acceptable in a particular society. We often say a person has morals if they conform to standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do. We can speak of “the corruption of public morals, “ or you can hear people talking as if “they believe addicts have no morals and can’t be trusted,” rather than understanding the disease and abuse bases which often underlie addictions.

These distinctions don’t change the negative consequences of the addict’s behaviors, yet the addicted person still has the same image of God and the same potential for wholeness each of us have, but perhaps with more suffering, or pathos. If we judge the morality of a person’s choices, and then refer that moral state to the individual’s worthiness, we can end up losing compassion for the person as well as losing the will to help them better their lives. This leads to hard heartedness and a lack of love. We reject our neighbors and make them strangers, unwelcome to our world. We forget our spiritual ancestors were once strangers in a strange land, wanderers without a home. How easily we forget our savior, who had no place to be born even in his ancestral home, and whose family fled religious persecution and certain death to live in Egypt, far from home. Strange how some Christians have no sympathy for others in the same fix today.

Moral is a word from the late Middle English by way of the Latin moralis, from mos, mor- ‘custom’, with the plural mores or ‘morals’. It refers to one having the property of being right or wrong, good or evil, or voluntary or deliberate, and therefore open to ethical appraisal. When we apply moral attributes to a person, it means “capable of moral action; able to choose between right and wrong, or good and evil.” Not until 1803 did moral come to mean “virtuous with regard to sexual conduct,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

As a noun, we meet the word in the Latin Moralia, the title of St Gregory the Great’s moral exposition of the Book of Job. Later it was applied to the works of various classical writers. All Methodists and the holiness denominations birthed from the seed of the great Methodist revival recognize the genius of John Wesley. We all quote him, but we also apply his wisdom through our own individual preconceived notions of what is “good, true, and noble.”

When John Wesley was asked, “What is that faith whereby we are sanctified?” he answered:

“First believe that God has promised to save you from all sin, and to fill you with all holiness; secondly, believe that He is able thus to save to the uttermost all that come unto God through him; thirdly, believe that He is willing, as well as able, to save you to the uttermost; to purify you from all sin, and fill up all your heart with love. Believe fourthly, that He is not only able, but willing to do it now! Not when you come to die; not at any distant time; not tomorrow, but today. He will then enable you to believe, it is done, according to His Word.”

In the old days, we said we were “going on to perfection,” not that we were so bold as to claim that we’d already arrived there or been perfected. Oh no, we allowed God could complete this for us and had the power to do it, as well as the will, but our human nature was still fallible. If a word comes up more than once in a text, writers go to the thesaurus for an alternative, but in reading scripture, we learned repetition was a sign of importance, a marker especially meant for those of us who are slow learners in the school of life.

Oliver O’Donovan in “Scripture and Christian Ethics” writes, “Moral theologians have a secret knowledge, apparently concealed from other kinds of theologians, especially those devoted to hermeneutics. They know that the most mysterious and most difficult question we ever have to answer is not, what does Scripture mean?, but, what does the situation we are facing mean?, where do we find ourselves existentially?”

We tend to speak as if our selves and our situations were known quantities, so that it only remains to choose out of Scripture whatever seems to fit our circumstances as we conceive them. Scripture has an uncanny way of shedding light on our self and our situation, to overcome our preconceptions about them. We don’t read about our situation directly in the Scriptures, yet it’s from the Scriptures we gain categories of understanding, which re-frame our view of our situation and ourselves. We can’t look for individual texts to guide our actions, but need to consider the whole of the revealed Scripture and God’s nature as we discern our path forward.

Carl Bloch: Monk Looking in a Mirror, 1875, oil on canvas, Nivaagaard Museum, Denmark.

In this sense, the Bible is a mirror which reflects our inner nature to us, convicting us of our failings and giving us grace and comfort in our times of need. We can learn much about ourselves from the verses we lean on, just as much as we can by the verses we ignore. There’s a reason we interpret texts by the whole of scripture, and not piecemeal. This is one way we understand the authority of scripture.

As an interesting aside, SWTX, my original conference, which approved my candidacy for the ministry, didn’t think I should attend seminary because I scored so low on the abstract reasoning tests I took. They didn’t think I would make 65, seminary’s passing grade, in my class work. It’s true I learn and process differently, but knowing this, I crammed a three year program into four years. If I’m slow to grasp the whole until I first understand the parts, this doesn’t reflect on my fitness for ministry or my intellectual ability. It merely reflects a different way of processing information. There’s more way to skin a cat, and many ways people learn.

When I taught art classes, I had to make sure I covered all the learning methods for all my students to have success. I talked about the project, I demonstrated the techniques, I had the steps written out, and for some few children, I had to place their hands in the optimum position to get them started. This covered ear and eye learning, visual reminders, and haptic or touch learning. Some students needed multiple types of learning throughout their working time on a project. Some needed reteaching every class period. Some just needed encouragement when they got stuck at a rough patch. Most all had to learn to talk in positive terms about themselves and their work, as well as about others and their creative process also.

I talk about this teaching method, for this is how we consciously or unconsciously teach those around us ethics and morals. As one youth asked me at a church I once served, “Why are you wearing your cross today? It’s not Sunday.”

“Because Jesus is important to me every day, not just on the day I lead church services.”

I realized even though her family was very active and faithful in our congregation, when they were out in the world of day to day folks, they didn’t stand out from the crowd. Maybe one day day this child will come to a time when wearing a cross becomes bearing a cross. Then again, how many people willingly choose suffering for the sake of the body of Christ? This suffering is often difficult for those of us who’ve committed our lives to Christ’s call, but we realize most laity won’t voluntarily submit to that kind of stress. Yet experience is a great teacher. We learn from others, even those who have differing opinions and choose different actions.

Wesley’s Sermon, “The Nature of Enthusiasm,” has some advice for us: “Beware you are not a fiery, persecuting enthusiast. Do not imagine that God has called you (just contrary to the spirit of Him you style your Master) to destroy men’s lives, and not to save them. Never dream of forcing men into the ways of God. Think yourself, and let think. Use no constraint in matters of religion. Even those who are farthest out of the way never compel to come in by any other means than reason, truth, and love.”

Jean Bondel: The fall of man—Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, 1372, illustrated manuscript, National Library of the Netherlands.

As a further reminder from his all time classic Sermon, On Working Out Our Own Salvation, 1785: “By justification we are saved from the guilt of sin…by sanctification we are saved from the power and root of sin…”In modern terms, when we profess our faith, Christ saves us from the guilt of that first sin. Some say Adam and Eve were disobedient. They then emphasize rule keeping as their moral choice. There’s always a reason behind every behavior, however. Why were they disobedient? We hear the answer in the parable of the Tree of Wisdom:

“But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

The man and the woman both heard the half truth, saw the shiny fruit, believed the promises of a creature rather than their creator, and ate the fruit they hoped would make them like gods. Instead they only gained knowledge of their nakedness and vulnerability. This first lesson of the school of life came with cost: fig leaves ooze irritating sap. They won’t choose this solution again. God’s providence replaced their poor choice with animal skin clothing even as God sent them out into the world. We might say the attitude of pride or greed drove their bad behavior and was the cause of their negative consequences.

As we grow in holiness and love of God and neighbor, the Holy Spirit destroys any remaining root of sin. One of the important sins, Wesley noted, was pride. Pride is that feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction we get from our own achievements, or those of our family, tribe, nation, or other associated group. In matters of faith, we always have to remember Paul’s admonition to the Romans (10:9-13):

“because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Paul reminds us of the unity of the Jews and the Gentiles, the clean and the unclean, the former masters and slaves, with the gulf now bridged between the former God worshippers and the idol worshiping strangers. Now there’s “no Jew nor Greek, no slave or free, no male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

When we joined together into one annual conference in 2003, almost twenty years ago, we had good reasons to make one combined administrative body for our faith community. We had underfunded pension obligations, we were over heavy with administrators, and clergy didn’t have equity in retirement accumulation. Likewise, the conferences weren’t equally treated, since one didn’t fully fund pension needs, an act which caused clergy to seek appointments in the other conference, thus robbing the first of talents and gifts. These were the logical consequences of attitudes and behaviors, however.

Historic Souvenir—Can you drink this cup?

The logical person thought, “Let’s make Arkansas One Faith, One Focus, One Fellowship,” and this will solve all our problems. It may have looked good on paper, but our congregations had been used to a personal touch to remind them at least once a year they belonged to a greater whole. Their pride in showing off their home church and being a good host for the Superintendent was taken from them if they were just attendees at another group meeting. The moral choice of what’s better for me, a relaxing Sunday afternoon with my family or a meeting elsewhere, gets weighed and measured.

So now here we are, nearly twenty years into this optimistic marriage of the two annual conferences. The seeds for dissent and discontent were planted long ago, even before this joining. When I inventoried the historic memorabilia of the dead bishops at the SMU Bridwell Library, I saw how the chaos of the Vietnam War era and the sea changes our society were experiencing then affected our church in many ways. Some wanted to hold onto tradition more tightly, while others were ready to experiment with new wine in fresh wine skins. These were just “outer trappings,” however, for the message of “saved by faith, sanctified by faith, and made perfect in love by faith” never changes. This is Christ’s work, enabled by the Holy Spirit.

The past sixty years, as the last two decades, haven’t always been smooth sailing. We often have had trials, storms, and tribulations on our shared journeys. Sometimes we’re so far out to sea, we don’t see the land, and the skies are occluded, so we can’t take a bearing off the stars. Yet God’s spirit will blow us along, for even detours are within God’s providence. As James reminds us:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (1:2-4)

Van Gogh: The Good Samaritan, after Delaquoix, 1890, oil on canvas, Kroller-Muller Museum, Netherlands

Today we also have powerful economic and political forces that are like wolves in sheep’s clothing. They purport to work for religion and democracy, but actually work against the stewardship of our earth ‘s resources and environment, fail to care for the poor and dispossessed, and support military interventions around the world. Moreover, some of them actively work to destabilize religious denominations with social justice callings, such as the UMC, the Presbyterian Church USA, and others. Some today think “things fall apart; the center will not hold.”

Two final words in summary: one is from the ancient wisdom tradition and the other from Paul’s paean of joy in the midst of suffering. Proverbs 22:1 reminds us, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” My dying grandfather spoke these words to me in his last hours. Ive always considered them a plumb line for my life.

Byzantine Mosaic, Ravenna, Italy

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” — Philippians 4:8-9

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

Oliver O’Donovan: Scripture and Christian Ethics
(This is a great read!)
https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/anvil/24-1_021.pdf

John Wesley: Repentance in Believers (Sermon 14), “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Mark 1:15. The Complete Works of John Wesley, vol. 1 of 3, Kindle ereader. Read on line here:
http://www.godonthe.net/wesley/jws_014.html

John Wesley’s Quotes – Seedbed
https://seedbed.com/on-john-wesley-quotes/

InterChurch Holiness Convention: a community project of various Wesleyan holiness denominations, with all male leadership
https://ihconvention.com/devotional/may-9-2/

On Patience: James 1:4–But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
https://biblehub.com/sermons/auth/collyer/patience.htm

The Grammarphobia Blog: Ethics vs. morals
https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2012/02/ethics-vs-morals.html

The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats | Poetry Foundation https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43290/the-second-coming

Eternal Youth and the Aged Superman

Alexander the Great, arkansas, art, change, Faith, Family, Healing, Health, inspiration, Meditation, Ministry, purpose, renewal, Retirement, Spirituality, Strength, Superman

DeLee, Memories of a Certain Springtime, mixed Media, 2021

Springtime is the season of youth, growth, and promise. It’s full of hope and anticipation for the future. It’s the season of our youth, for we identify with the vigor of nature’s growing and fertile surroundings. Winter isn’t the season for most of us, for it’s cold, dark, and the world is buried under ice, snow, or an interminable rain. It reminds us of our own mortality, our own aging and weakness, and our lack of power over our circumstances. No wonder people have searched for the fountain of eternal youth in many cultures across the ages.

As a pastor, I know people die in every season of the year, but somehow the deaths in winter seemed to strike me as more difficult to deal with than those of summer. In recent years, U.S. death rates in winter months have been 8 to 12 percent higher than in non-winter months. Much of this increase relates to seasonal changes in behavior and the human body, as well as our increased exposure to seasonal respiratory diseases. Cold temperatures exacerbate preexisting diseases, plus this weather brings on strenuous activities we don’t do at any other time of the year. Some people work outside all year round, so they’re always subjected to extreme weather conditions. I’m not sure which is worse: extreme heat or extreme cold. I’ve always used the premise, “We can always put on more clothes; taking them off is risky business.”

Drinking from the Water Hose

Of course, summer heat now is more extreme than it used to be. The dinosaurs among us keep saying, “When I was a kid, we played outside all day long and drank from the garden hose. We came inside for lunch, rested during the hottest part of the afternoon, and went back outside to play until it was almost sunset. Then we had a late, light supper, took our baths, and we were in bed by the time the stars came out.”

Weather records back from 1954 tell a different story. It was actually so hot, the extreme heat caused a Kansas City weather beacon to malfunction and forecast snow (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 12 July 1954). The Dinosaurs’ memories of their childhoods aren’t fossilized in stone. They remember what they want to remember. Most of us forget the difficult times and remember the times of joy instead. I remember this era as so hot and humid, my daddy would stand in the back yard with the water hose on full blast as he cooled down the west facing brick wall of our house. The overflow water nurtured the orange day lilies in the flowerbeds below.

I think some of our Dinosaur generation’s memories might have moderated over the years, just as the extremes of any pain—childbirth, war, or cultural changes—have been moderated by the joys of survival and bringing a new generation to adulthood. Also, we tend to remember the better parts of our lives if we have an optimistic outlook.

I wasn’t around for the “The Great Heat Wave of 1936,” which affected around 15 states during its three-week run that brought temperatures above 100 degrees. During the summer of 1936, The United States endured its worst heat wave on record. Ozark, Arkansas exceeded 100F every day from August 3 – 23 and reached a chart topping record 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Also known as the “1936 North American Heat Wave,” it exacerbated the levels of human suffering during the ongoing Great Depression. During this time, the all-time highest temperature in Arkansas was 120° F (Ozark on Aug.10, 1936). For comparison, in 2010 Little Rock, Arkansas had to endure its hottest summer between June and August when the temperature went above 90 degrees for two months. The Western states, currently under a mega drought that’s the worst the area has seen since 800 AD, hope to see rain and cooler temperatures soon.

Once upon a springtime

It’s not just the weather I connect with the cycles of life, but also the changes in my body. Gone are the days when I could stay up all night talking or frolicking and then go to work without missing a beat. Of course, I was once an energizer bunny, or maybe I didn’t get all that much done when I was “working.” It was a mark of hubris for me that I could still work, no matter how foolish I was the night before. My friends and I thought of ourselves as heroic.

Arthur C. Clarke speaks of youthful infatuation with heroes, who in their minds should benefit from the eternal bloom of everlasting youth. Age and decrepitude shouldn’t affect heroes, for they’re either blessed by god or nature has given them have supernatural bodies. As Clarke describes the movie star walking on the low gravity space dock in his science fiction novel Islands in the Sky,

“Tex Duncan followed close behind. He was trying to manage without an escort and not succeeding very well. He was a good deal older than I’d guessed from his films, probably at least thirty-five. And you could see through his hair in any direction you cared to look. I glanced at Norman, wondering how he’d reacted to the appearance of his hero. He looked just a shade disappointed.”

George Blanda, the oldest football player and record holder

Young folks think 35 is ancient. They never met George Blanda, the oldest NFL quarterback. Blanda played for 26 NFL seasons, the most seasons played by a single player in NFL history. During that time, he broke numerous other records as well. He held the record of most pass attempts in a single game, 68, until Drew Bledsoe broke his record in 1994 with 70 attempts. Blanda also was the first player to score more than 2,000 points, and he’s one of only two players to play in four different decades before he retired at age 48, one month shy of his 49th birthday.

Tom Brady, age 45, is the oldest quarterback to ever start an NFL game, but to break George Blanda’s age record for playing, Brady would have to play for four more seasons to break the age record and play until age 50 to break Blanda’s record of 26 seasons. Brady also has yet to throw seven touchdown passes in one game, a record Blanda and seven other NFL quarterbacks hold.

My old daddy often watched in agony while many young quarterback desperately tried to move a team downfield until the coach sent in Blanda, who somehow snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

“Finally!” he’d shout at the tv. “How ‘bout that old man?” he’d exclaim to the rest of us. Agonizing over a football game was a family affair.

Tired Superman

We humored my daddy, who was just past his mid century mark. As young and vigorous twenty something’s, we kids knew mortality’s chill breath was on his neck, while we were still able to outrun any shade creeping up on us in the night. As young people, we were still at the age when we began to see our parents less as heroes, and more as the flesh and blood realities of their true selves.

Not everyone survives this transition gracefully. Some need to see their parents as “forever heroes,” and are disappointed when the folks don’t measure up to this lofty standard. Likewise, we can transfer these same “forever hero” desires to God, and want God to be our superhero to rescue us from dangers and keep us from harm. We don’t take responsibility for our own lives, but wait for the external power to fix our lives in a dramatic way. We’re forever dependent on the superpower for every thing good.

Johann Baptist Hagenauer: Christ at the Column, ca. 1754–56 , Alabaster, polychromed and gilded

There came a time in my daddy’s life when Parkinson’s disease and dementia weakened both his body and his mind. This wasn’t all at once, but a slow progression. He once had a strong handwriting, firm and legible. As his fine motor skill diminished, this beautiful signature became cramped and small, but it had the same stroke pattern as his original. My mom would fuss when he could no longer open jar lids for her, but I reminded her, “He wants to do this for you, but his hands can’t manage it. It’s a case of the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak.”

She wasn’t used to hearing this verse quoted in this context. I did get her piercing look, like I’d stabbed her to the heart, but she stopped fussing at him for what he couldn’t do and began to enjoy what he could still do. She too had always thought of him as a Superman type because he’d always been there for her. She now understood she would have to be there for him as he began to lose his powers.

“Kryptonite“

We all have our own personal kryptonite, the mineral from our home planet that can drain our super powers the way it does for Superman. For some of us, it’s toxic substances, toxic environments, or toxic people. Some of us make poor choices about the people or places we hang about in, some of us think we need to please everyone, and some of us work too much to avoid emotional involvement.

The heart of Superman is forever young

At an advanced age, after multiple attacks from criminal types, and the burden of saving the planet over the years, even Superman gets tired. We Christians take the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” as a Superman quote, forgetting all the other verses which reflect the humanity of Jesus: he was tired and hungry, so he rested at a well in Samaria; he was moved by the death of a friend, and wept at the news. We might need to recover the superhuman courage of the disabled and the aged instead. These find their strength in their weakness, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1:25—

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

The older people I know all believe, “If I get out of bed, I’m going to have a good day. It’s my choice and I’m going to make it a good one. At my age, I don’t have time to waste on bad days!”

If I roll out of bed singing and wondering where my coffee cup is, I know it’s a good day. Then again, I always have a daily plan to do something creative: paint, write, quilt, cook, and if I must, make the condo more beautiful by cleaning it. I share my spiritual thoughts over several media platforms. It’s good to do ministry this way, since I have to keep a low profile due to my seizure disorder.

When we get to a certain age, people begin to ask, “Can he or she still do the job?” We make several assumptions when we ask this question:

  1. The way we imagine the work of ministry requires lots of energy.
  2. We prefer a young person to do this work because of our preconceived ideas about the nature of the work.
  3. We want a fresh face to represent us in the community because a young person reflects well on us.
  4. We think like attracts like, so a young pastor will attract young families.
Alexander the Great, a model of the ever youthful hero

However, we sometimes get more than we bargained for when our Wonder Woman or Superman “young hero” pastor prayers are answered:

  1. We don’t want to move as fast as the energetic young leader.
  2. Young leaders have novel ideas, but we’ve never done it that way.
  3. Young leaders often believe everyone should be in ministry.
  4. Young leaders remind us the congregation is the best representative in the community because they continue, while clergy come and go.
  5. The leader doesn’t change us, for we can only change ourselves.
  6. While a leader may attract new people, those who are part of the ongoing system will keep them by integrating them into the faith community.
Michelangelo: David, the youth as hero

One of the interesting aspects of working with the differently abled is an employer’s willingness to restructure the workplace setting or requirements to mesh with the employee’s abilities. We still have a notion of ministry that hasn’t been seriously reimagined since the 1950’s, when married clergy men were the norm and non working clergy wives were taking care of the children, house, and volunteering in the church and community.

One thing never changes, however: clergy bear the existential burdens of ministry—they carry the weight of others’ emotional and spiritual burdens, they’re overwhelmed by others’ needs and the importance of ministerial issues, and they’re expected to solve unsolvable mysteries of life in relationships.

Wonder Woman, still a hero

This would age any Superman or Wonder Woman, but they persist in their callings to love and serve others. As Paul would say of his own people, “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). We are all called to serve by virtue of our baptism into the life, death, resurrection, and ministry of Jesus Chris. Therefore we each have gifts, and these we must use for God’s glory as long as we have breath and strength.

Maybe we won’t be the starting quarterback anymore, but we’ll wait our turn on the bench to take on the last ditch two minute drill, or comfort the grieving when they come off the field in whatever loss they suffer. God will use us as long as we have breath, and God will put us in the right place, at the right time, to be the hands and heart of Christ for those who need us at that opportune moment.

Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual writer, wrote about aging in this way, basing his commentary on Job 12:12 (NIV), “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?“ He said,

“Much violence in our society is based on the illusion of immortality, which is the illusion that life is a property to be defended and not a gift to be shared. When the elderly no longer can bring us in contact with our own aging, we quickly start playing dangerous power games to uphold the illusion of being ageless and immortal. Then, not only will the wisdom of the elderly remain hidden from us, but the elderly themselves will lose their own deepest understanding of life. For who can remain a teacher when there are no students willing to learn?”

Joy, peace, and May you find your inner superhero,

Cornelia

Unknown Artist: Alexander the Great, from Alexandria, Egypt, 3rd cent. BCE, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen (5), CC BY 2.0,

Michelangelo: David, 1501-1504, marble, Academia Galleries, Florence, Italy.

Climate Change Indicators: Cold-Related Deaths | US EPA
https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-cold-related-deaths

The Prolonged 1954 Midwestern U.S. Heat Wave: Impacts and Responses in: Weather, Climate, and Society Volume 3 Issue 3 (2011)
https://journals.ametsoc.org/view/journals/wcas/3/3/wcas-d-10-05002_1.xml

See the most extreme temperatures in Louisiana history
https://www.ksla.com/2022/04/11/see-most-extreme-temperatures-louisiana-history/

Arkansas annual temperatures and records
https://coolweather.net/statetemperature/arkansas_temperature.htm

Arthur C. Clarke: Islands in the Sky, 1952. An early novel of space travel, as seen through the eyes of a young contest winner.

Is George Blanda the Oldest NFL Player of All Time? | Stadium Talk
https://www.stadiumtalk.com/s/george-blanda-oldest-nfl-player-789d32390d914687

Nouwen Meditation: The Illusion of Immortality
September 7, 2022 at 4:02:09 AM CDT
Henri Nouwen Society email_lists@henrinouwen.org

Tom Brady Continues Chasing George Blanda’s Records – The Virginian Review
https://wvdn.mynews360.com/news/17796/tom-brady-continues-chasing-george-blandas-records/

Faith is a Gift from God

arkansas, art, beauty, change, Evangelism, Faith, Fear, generosity, Healing, Holy Spirit, hope, Icons, inspiration, john wesley, Love, Mandylion, Ministry, Painting, perfection, purpose, renewal, Spirituality, United Methodist Church, Van Gogh, vision

In the “late unpleasantness” which has some of our Methodist congregations in turmoil, many have their reasons for going or staying. As one born into the Methodist Church, who spent a portion of my life looking for a “better god” before God called me back home, I have some experience with faith. I’ve had it, lost it, and received it once again. My privilege in seminary to work along side the Wesley librarian allowed me to touch authentic Wesley letters. I also had the blessing of being the late Dr. Billy Abraham’s assistant for the Evangelism Chair. When I think of faith, Romans 12:3 comes to mind:

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Here Paul’s word for faith is the Greek word pistis, which is always a gift from God, never something that can be produced by people. In short, faith for the believer is always “God’s divine persuasion” and therefore distinct from confidence or human belief. The Spirit continuously births faith in the yielded believer so they can know God’s will (1 Jn 5:4).

The former UMC Bishop Mike Lowery wrote in his notice of withdrawal from the Council of Bishops as he surrendered his elder’s orders: “I believe “We are in a fight for the faith delivered once for all.” (Jude 3, CEB).

Resurrection Christ

I’m not picking on the former bishop. I knew him from my Emmaus community days in Southwest Texas. But his posted letter, which can be read at the link below, charges the United Methodist Church has lost her Wesleyan understanding of Christianity. This piqued my interest, so I decided to focus my own thoughts, as well as to inform others, on this matter of faith.

Faith as Doctrine of Assent vs Doctrine of Assurance:

Today we often think of faith as a set of beliefs, or the Doctrine of Assent. In Wesley’s time, he understood faith as the Doctrine of Assurance, a unique gift to the Christian church, whereby believers can know with certainty they are truly beloved of God with a steadfast love which endures forever.

This love is unconditional and saves us from the tragic consequences of the law of sin and death by bringing us into the law of life and love through Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. That descriptive mouthful is John Wesley’s heartwarming experience he had at Aldersgate in 1738 on the fateful evening when he attended a meeting very unwillingly, yet had the heart changing event that set his life on a different path.

Christ Surrounded by Angels

Historic Wesleyan Faith is a Gift of Grace

We need to ask, “What is the historic Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith, anchored in the Holy Trinity and welded to Christ as Lord and Savior?” Is it located in regeneration, aka the new birth, or is it located in human morality as proof of righteousness in Jesus Christ? This probably means nothing to people in the pews, but if we’re going to claim the mantle of John Wesley, or the argument from tradition, we must get Wesley’s understanding of faith down pat. We find Wesley’s thoughts in his Notes on the New Testament and in his Standard Sermons, both of which are part of our Methodist teaching.

In the sermon OF EVIL ANGELS, Wesley reminds us faith is “our evidence of things unseen.”

“Faith is the life of the soul; and if ye have this life abiding in you, ye want no marks to evidence it to yourself: but [elencos pneumatos/Spirit control] that divine consciousness, that witness of God, which is more and greater than ten thousand human witnesses,” is Wesley’s explanation of faith in AWAKE, O SLEEPER.

Faith as the Spirit of Adoption

Another way of saying this is Romans 8:15-17,

“When we cry Abba! Father! It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”

For Wesley, faith is a gift of salvation, our trust in the saving work of Christ. As he says in the sermon AWAKE OH SLEEPER:

“Awake, and cry out with the trembling jailer, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ And never rest till thou believest on the Lord Jesus, with a faith which is His gift, by the operation of His Spirit.”

Then Wesley gives his altar call:
“In what state is thy soul? Was God, while I am yet speaking to require it of thee, art thou ready to meet death and judgement? Canst thou stand in His sight, who is of ‘purer eyes than to behold iniquity’? Art thou ‘meet to be partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light’? Hast thou ‘fought a good fight, and kept the faith’? Hast thou secured the one thing needful? Hast thou recovered the image of God, even righteousness and true holiness? Hast thou put off the old man, and put on the new? Art thou clothed upon with Christ?”

“Hast thou oil in thy lamp? grace in thy heart? Dost thou ‘love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength’? Is that mind in thee, which was also in Christ Jesus? Art thou a Christian indeed that is, a new creature? Are old things passed away, and all things become new?”

Mandylion: Image Not Made by Human Hands

Faith comes as a Gift. Our good works respond to Christ’s work.

Most of us are in agreement Wesley’s initial understanding of FAITH having to do with accepting Christ’s work for us as the only precondition for our salvation. There is no good deed or accumulation of good deeds needed to earn our salvation from God. What many of us have difficulty is accepting we also don’t earn our perfection in holiness by our own power.

Our Christian perfection is always a cooperative work of the Holy Spirit and our own spirit. As the Spirit works in us, we respond to work toward the complete renewal into the original image of God in which we were created. While it’s possible we might attain this perfect state in this lifetime, most Christians will attain completion in the purity of love of God and neighbor at the moment of death by God’s work, not by our own accomplishments.

Do the Born Again Christians Sin?

In Wesley’s sermon, “The Great Privilege of Those That Are Born of God,” he quotes 1 John 3:9—

“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.”

The Golden Bridge—Ba Na Hills, Vietnam

Wesley admits people who are born again can err or make mistakes, but they don’t sin. That’s a bridge too far for many to accept today, for many of us are prone to judging others. We have a dysfunctional understanding of “perfection.” We think it’s like a Martha Stewart design, forgetting she has a whole staff of helpers to carry out her ideas. As one of my professors once explained it, “Once you’ve been to Waxahachie, you’ve always been to Waxahachie.”

If you don’t know Waxahachie, it’s a midsized Texas town about the size of Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was known for cotton in its hey day, and now hosts a crepe myrtle festival. Once you’ve been there, you can’t lose that experience. In the same way, you can’t lose your status of new birth. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit, given by faith through Christ.

But some of us will try to throw it away anyhow. Wesley wrote in that same sermon, The Great Privilege, “Some sin of omission, at least, must necessarily precede the loss of faith; some inward sin: But the loss of faith must precede the committing outward sin.”

The Outward Appearance vs. The Inward Attributes

So, one who has faith doesn’t sin, since we have to lose faith in God to sin. In other words, we have to reject the gift freely given to us without price. As he also says in his great sermon on Christian Perfection, “Every one of these can say, with St. Paul, “I am crucified with Christ: Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me:” [Gal 2:20]— Words that manifestly describe a deliverance from inward as well as from outward sin.”

Van Gogh: The Good Samaritan

Christian Perfection

For Wesley, the goal of Christian perfection, or the recovery of the image of God, was to love God and neighbor with one’s whole heart until nothing else could exist inside. No favoritism for a group, no exclusion for a group, no yearning to be better than others, no desiring a better place at the table, no hoarding of resources for selfish purposes, no fear of tomorrow, nor any other anxiety that strikes the human heart.

We give our resources away so we can have room for new blessings. God always provides for those who give with generous hearts. We open our doors to the least, the last, the lost, and the unloved, because Jesus and Wesley went out into the fields and met the people where they were. Those are our people out there, and they aren’t “living moral lives,” any more than the imperfect people within our churches are. But we all can and do live lives of faith. We all can learn to trust a savior who loves every sinew of our wounded and broken bodies. We can love a God who never gives up on us even if we’ve given up on ourselves.

Homeless Jesus Statue, Timothy Schmaltz

We United Methodists might be messy, but we surely can love God and neighbor. Moreover, we’re all going on to perfection, even if some of us are moving more slowly than others. We’re still a community of faith, a people who trust God’s grace and one another to get through this thing called life together. We’ll bring each other along, for we’re not leaving anyone behind. We include in the great worldwide Body of Christ the body of Christ whom we meet outside our doors. After all, the race isn’t to the swift, but to the ones who help their brothers and sisters to the finish line, where we have a finishing medal for everyone, along with a big potluck dinner with enough food for folks to take home leftovers. That’s the never ending banquet table to which we invite all who hunger and thirst for community—both spiritual and personal.

The Word of God holds the Scripture of Salvation

Trusting Faith for a Risky Love in Unsettled Times

All we have to do is ask ourselves in this unsettled time: “Do I have Wesley’s trusting faith to live this risky love? Are these the people with whom I want to experience God’s steadfast love and share the grace of Christ? This is our heritage in the United Methodist Church, for we’re a people of faithfulness, who believe the “Bible has everything sufficient for salvation.”

I can only hope for those who leave, whether they become global Methodists, independents, or community congregations, that they will provide a large enough tent for our big God and big Christ, for the Spirit always is seeking people and places to fill completely with the gift of God’s extraordinary love and power.

Why not become all aflame with the fire of God’s redeeming love?

My prayer is our United Methodist churches will receive a fresh rush of the Spirit to become even more of what we are today, for

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?“

Joy, peace, and faith,

Cornelia

Strong’s Greek: 4102. πίστις (pistis) — faith, faithfulness
https://biblehub.com/greek/4102.htm

Crossing the Rubicon: A Bishop Says Goodbye to the United Methodist Church
https://firebrandmag.com/articles/crossing-the-rubicon-a-bishop-says-goodbye-to-the-united-methodist-church

Of Evil Angels, sermon by John Wesley
http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-72-of-evil-angels/

Awake, Thou that Sleepest, sermon by John Wesley
http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-3-awake-thou-that-sleepest/

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God, sermon by John Wesley
http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-19-the-great-privilege-of-those-that-are-born-of-god/

“Our standards affirm the Bible as the source of all that is “necessary” and “sufficient” unto salvation (Articles of Religion) and “is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice” (Confession of Faith).”
Theological Guidelines: Scripture
https://www.umc.org/en/content/theological-guidelines-scripture

On Christian Perfection, sermon by John Wesley
http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-40-christian-perfection/

NOTE: For a longer discussion on “Love thy neighbor,” see—
Kierkegaard, D. Anthony Storm’s Commentary on—Works Of Love
http://sorenkierkegaard.org/works-of-love.html

John Wesley’s Notes on the Old and New Testaments. http://bible.christiansunite.com/wesindex.shtml

Sermons of John Wesley, 1872 edition
http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/

The Heart of the City

arkansas, art, change, city, cognitive maps, Creativity, Historic neighborhood, hope, Imagination, mystery, Painting, trees

Cities are growing organisms, each having their central growth from their place of origin. Some begin on a waterfront, as a place of trade. Other communities began along a creek, where people would meet to connect, trade, and settle differences in peace. These were safe spaces, welcoming places, but they existed only so long as everyone acknowledged them.

In our cities today, safe spaces are rare. Some reasons are we don’t know everyone anymore, since our populations are so large. We don’t know who to trust, so we trust no one. If we’re anonymous, we think can do what we want, since no one knows who we are and we don’t know whom we harm. Of course, this is absurd, for if we do harm to another, we aren’t living out our best life, not to mention we’re not living out the wisdom of “Do unto others what you want done unto yourself.”

“Who knows what lurks in the heart of man?” the old radio program asked. “The Shadow knows,” was the answer. Most of what we know as the city is hidden behind the layers of paint, wallpaper, and various accretions of dust in our historic district. In Hot Springs, we can eat hamburgers in buildings where mobsters would hang out, walk the streets where old time baseball players strolled, and take hot baths where our ancestors took the “cure” for every disease known to humankind. They got clean, but the cure didn’t take.

Autumn Facade, Downtown Hot Springs

We have a civic interest in renewing our old buildings, for they attract tourists and provide incomes for owners and workers in our restaurants, shops, and hotels of all sizes and qualities. We have dive bars and first-class accommodations within a mile of each other. This is a sure sign of a community in transition. I won’t name either, but if Hot Springs were to be the setting of an old-time radio show, it wouldn’t lack for interesting characters or venues.

During this pandemic era, for it’s stretched long enough now to be called such a lengthy time, I’ve been working on a group of cognitive maps. A cognitive map is any visual representation of a person’s (or a group’s) mental model for a given process or concept. Cognitive maps have no visual rules they need to obey. There’s also no restriction on how the concepts and the relationships between them are visually represented. If we were to take a number of people to the same place, we’d most likely end up with the same number of maps. Some parts might overlap, but everyone would notice different aspects of the landscape.

My own cognitive maps start with a screen shot of a google map of a place I’ve been prepandemic, and work in process through sketches, then several layers of paint, and finally, the end product. This last stopping point sometimes comes only after I think I’ve finished the painting, but I leave it sitting out where I can look at it some more. In the looking, I discover, I’m not ready to release this image out to the world. It lacks unity, power, focus, or some other defining quality I can’t put words to. I only know I am unhappy with it the longer I look at it.

When I cook a recipe, I have a certainty if I follow the directions, I measure correctly, and my oven is true to temperature, I’ll come out with a good approximation of the original recipe. Afterall, I’m recreating someone else’s process and instructions. Making something new, from the imagination is part of the creative process. Sometimes the end product arrives easily, but other times, its birth is a struggle, and the child arrives crying to beat the band.

Creekside Landscape, Hot Springs, 2021 springtime

Most of us are used to seeing the landscape from our upright view, for we walk through our world with our head up every day as we reconnoiter along our daily paths. Some of us keep our heads buried in our phones, so we depend on the good nature of others to keep us from bumping into them, or these people must have particularly good side vision to avoid collisions with other walkers. We don’t have the bird’s eye view of the city, so we don’t see how the streets connect or how they follow the elevation changes. We also don’t get to see the patterns of tree growth, or the hidden waterways. Mostly we have a patchwork vision of just the immediate areas we inhabit, but not a vision of the whole.

Greenway Park Map: Apple Pencil Drawing on Google Map

I saved a screenshot to my iPad so I could draw on it. Color for me has emotional energy, so as I drew, I over laid the first colors with others. The changes the drawing went through prepared me for the changes through which the painting would transition. This pandemic has certainly been a time of change, but life has always been changing. One of my old friends always said, “Human beings are meant to change. We’re brand-new people every 27 days! That’s how often we get a whole new skin.”

I spent many years in the church, an organization not noted for changing. It’s not the organization that doesn’t want to change, but the people. We find those same people resistant to change in NASCAR fans, football fans, and any other group you want to name. As one wag said, “It was the 56th Super Bowl and they finally had rap music in Los Angeles, and NASCAR had Pit Bull at the LA Coliseum for the Clash for the first time in 43 years. If you have a point, it’s time to make it.” If we don’t like change, we should quit washing our bodies, since we’re just hurrying those dead skin cells off to their final demise.

First Stage of Greenway Park Map Painting

Artists must embrace change, however, for the moment we put a mark on a canvas or tap a stone with a chisel and hammer, we’ve changed the surface before us. We can’t be afraid to go into the emptiness or the unknown, for there we’ll find the beauty of the unspoken or the hope of the silence in which we work.

This stage of the painting adheres closely to the drawn image. The blue streets define the city blocks and a few building shapes are notated. It’s a complicated street map from one of our older sections of town.

Second Stage of Greenway Park Map Painting

On this repainting, I balanced the colors better, but kept the greens and oranges. I signed it, for I thought I was “finished.” I set it down in my living room to observe it for a while. I often do this with my work, for if it still looks good after six months, I think it’ll survive for a year. If it lasts a year, I think it’ll last longer. If I look at it three years later and it doesn’t survive, I’ll destroy it. This was painted during the winter, with the worst low light of the season. No wonder it looked grim under the brightening light of the returning sun.

Final Stage Greenway Map

Some sunshine has come into my life here in the middle of February. I’m very sensitive to the transition of light across the seasons, so when it begins to leave in October, I start shutting down. When the light begins to return again, I awake, as if from a hibernation. Perhaps this is the reason I took all my yellows and reds and overpainted the other colors on the canvas. Now my canvas is almost monochromatic, except for small streaks and blobs of color in places. You can still see the city blocks and streets, but now the over all feeling is less of a map and more of an energy record of the city area.

This is the city as it grows, as it lives, and as it changes. The dynamics and life blood of the city move and pulse as it transforms. Hot Springs is unique in that we keep as much of our old as possible and build new when we must. I’m thankful for this city, for its love of the arts, and its honor of its history, as well as its embrace of the future.

After all, that’s all any of us can do, is remember who we are, whose we are, and give thanks to the one whose steadfast love remains forever.

Joy and Peace,

Cornelia

How Often Does the Epidermis Renew?
https://www.webmd.com/beauty/cosmetic-procedures-overview-skin

Dreams of Trees and Butterflies

arkansas, art, butterflies, coronavirus, Creativity, Faith, Forgiveness, grief, Healing, Historic neighborhood, holidays, hope, Imagination, inspiration, nature, pandemic, renewal, vision

The saying is true: “If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.” Yet how hard do we humans hold to the past, even if we need to move on into the future? As an artist, I’ve always been caught between my desire to honor the traditions of the past, but also to move into the the unknown realms of the future. Artists already have a vocabulary and boundaries to describe the works of the past, so we can tell if our current works “meet the criteria for excellence.”

Found Object Butterfly: roadside debris, wire, scrap cloth, and metallic beads

When we go beyond this known world into the uncharted territories, we’re like Columbus, who landed in the Caribbean islands, but thought he was on the continent of North America. I wonder if the monarch butterfly, just emerging from the cocoon, has any idea it soon will begin a 3,000 mile migration to its ancestral winter home in Mexico. The butterfly has the innate ability to navigate this path, whereas we humans are like Abram, for we’re going to a land our God will show us. We have no idea where we’ll end up, but we do know we’ll travel by stages and God’s guiding inspiration will always be with us.

During this current protracted COVID pandemic, with cases beginning in mid December 2019, we’ve now lost over 766,206 persons in the US alone and over 47,390,239 individuals have had COVID. Worldwide, the numbers are far greater: over 5 million have died and nearly 255 million have contracted COVID, mostly because vaccines and health care services aren’t available to the extent they are in America and the European Community. Not only has our world as a whole suffered a great grief, but each of us individually have lost friends, neighbors, or loved ones. This adds to our collective grief.

Airport Road at MLK Hwy Intersection, empty lots

When we see the rest of our world changing around us, we feel another loss, and this becomes the grief leading to the death of a thousand tiny cuts. Just as in our workplaces, when the ideas of the young, the female, and the ethnic individuals aren’t valued, their dismissal leads to devaluation of their perspectives as well as their personhood. When we devalue nature and treat creation as an arena for humanity to restructure for our purposes alone, we can fall into the trap of thinking only for our immediate future, but not for the generations to follow. This is why building lots inside the city get cleaned off and offered as a blank slate, since this makes them valuable to the greatest number of buyers.

Death by a thousand cuts was supposedly a form of torture in ancient China. It was reserved for the most heinous crimes, such as matricide, patricide, treason, and the like. From all the tiny slices, the accused finally bled to death. It was a cruel and unusual punishment, rather like flogging the back of a law breaker until the flesh was raw, but this punishment was intended to cause death because the executioner kept at it until he succeeded.

Most of us are blissfully unaware of the loss of a few trees here and there in our neighborhoods. Sometimes we even want to cut down the trees on our own property because we’re tired of raking leaves every fall, or if we have a magnolia tree, we’re tired of our year round duty of leap reaping. Of course, if you want a high strung, classy tree to show off in your front yard, you also need to sign onto the high maintenance these trees require. “Those that wears the fancy pants has to take care of those fancy pants,” my mother always reminded me.

Yard work is a type of infrastructure most of us can understand. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, those of us hosting the feast are also getting the house and yard ready for family and friends to visit. Infrastructure has been in the news lately also, with politicians debating whether soft or hard infrastructure deserves the most funding.

In Hot Springs, we have “Green Infrastructure,” which includes all the natural assets that make the city livable and healthy: trees, parks, streams, springs, lakes and other open spaces. These assets are ‘infrastructure’ because they support peoples’ existence. For example, tree canopy keeps the city cooler while also absorbing air pollutants and mitigating flooding. The Hot Springs National Park forest area is also an important resource for a variety of reasons. The mountain area is in the recharge zone for the hot springs and the forest provides other important ecosystem services.

Hot Springs is Very Green

In urban areas, we can evaluate the landscape on a smaller scale, so even small patches of green space become important, since together they can make a greater large cumulative impact. Smaller urban spaces, such as linear stream valleys, or even pocket parks, can add up to a connected green landscape. When evaluating the ecological health of an urban area, urban tree canopy is a key green asset. For instance, Hot Springs has 57% tree canopy coverage and an additional 12% green space coverage. This adds to our quality of life, for this isn’t only pleasing to the eye, but the trees and grass convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, thus improving the air we breathe.

Cities are beginning to recognize the importance of their urban trees because they provide tremendous dividends. For example, city trees are a strategic way to reduce excess stormwater runoff and flooding. Even one tree can play an important role in stormwater management. For example, estimates for the amount of water a typical street tree can intercept in its crown range from 760 gallons to 4000 gallons per tree per year, depending on the species and age. Taken city-wide, the trees within the city provide an annual stormwater interception of 1.2 to 1.5 million gallons which equates to 7 to 9 million dollars in benefits. The loss of one tree is worth so much money, replanting our tree cover is an investment in our future wellbeing.

I often heard an old proverbial poem growing up, which may not be repeated much today:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

My nanny would remind me of the same principle in other words, “A stitch in time saves nine.” My daddy was from the school of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While those two schools of thought still persist today, I think making a small, inexpensive repair, rather than a costly replacement, is a better choice, but too many of us live in a throwaway society.

Wisterias among the Trees

When we lose one small thing, we brush it off as no matter, but after a thousand small losses, we just can’t take it any longer. We look around and wonder what happened to our world, why didn’t we take action sooner, and now we might be in a hole so deep we can’t see the top. When I first painted the trees on this vacant lot, the little coffee kiosk had closed shop and moved on. It was springtime and the violet wisteria vines were bright against a sunlit cerulean sky.

As I was taking a few photos with my iPhone last spring, the local policeman pulled into the circular drive to check on me. We chatted a bit, but he wanted to make sure I was OK. I’m at that age when silver alerts go out for others, but I’m not there yet. I guess “old gal taking photographs of trees” still looks suspicious in my small town. I’m thankful my town is this quiet.

When I told the officer, “These trees called to me,” he might have had second thoughts about my state of mind. Then he realized he was talking to an artist. I was rescued when his radio called him off to take care of some real trouble. I find I do my best work when I feel called to a subject, for I have a spiritual connection with it.

That was this past April, and here at year’s end, this lot is up for auction, with a commercial use zoning. It has easy access to the bypass and would be good for a food place or a fuel stop. Things change and we can’t hold back progress. I know people who buy a vacation home to visit while they still work, but as soon as they retire to this same place, they grouse about all the weekenders who come and spoil their solitude. They put up with it a year or so, griping daily, and then sell and move on. Life changed for them and they didn’t adjust to their new normal. I wonder why they never realized Hot Springs was a vacation destination. We think we need an infrastructure just for the 38,500 people who live here year round, but we actually need an infrastructure to support the over two million visitors to whom we offer the hospitality of our hot springs, our hotels, our fine dining, our attractions, and our natural beauty.

When I saw the trees were gone and the lots had been plowed level, I wondered if the trees had a swift death, or if they had brief dreams and fantasies while the saws pierced their outer skins. I thought of the butterflies encased in their cocoons, and the deep sleep of their transformation. Do butterflies dream in this stage, or do they even dream like we do? I wondered if next April I would see wisteria growing near the ground, for as a weed, it’s hard to kill. I always hope, for I’ve learned over time, if I’m a prisoner of hope, this is better than seeing only the loss.

Stage One

After traveling and recovering from an autumn sinus infection, I decided to destroy an old mobile sculpture of a butterfly made from found materials and attach it to a canvas. I took some scraps of cloth from some mask projects, and glued the whole to the canvas. Maybe I crammed more than I should have onto the small surface, but I was going with it. This work might be more catharsis than art, or more process and possibility than success. It doesn’t matter, for sometimes art is more therapeutic than anything else.

The first layer held all the colors and shapes of the original Google map. The second layer began to make sense of the shapes and textures, for I started to pull together the small areas into larger spaces. By the third layer, I’d lost most of the color areas and turned them instead into linear shapes. The primary colors of the background I subdued beneath an overall gold tone. The lines now are like an automatic writing or glyphic writing, which might be the language spoken either by the trees or the butterflies, or by all natural living beings.

Stage Two

When we confront suffering in nature, in our lives, or in the world, we often ask, “Where is God in all of this?” In the days past when I suffered, I held on to the words of the Apostle Paul to the Romans:

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (8:18-21)

Dreams of Trees and Butterflies

Often we suffer because we can’t change our past, or we think we can’t affect our future. At some point in our lives, we come to accept our suffering. We don’t have to continue to suffer, of course, but we need to accept that what happened to us is over. We can forgive ourselves for not leaving a bad relationship earlier, or being too young to know we were being harmed. Some of us may have survivor guilt from our nation’s wars, and suffer moral injuries from acts of war. Only good and decent human beings would feel this guilt, and they can heal with Christ’s forgiveness. We can be changed and then begin to change the world, even if we begin only with our own selves.

After all, the Psalms promise us God is faithful both to us and to the creation also: “When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.” (104:30)

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

Vegetation Community Monitoring at Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, 2007–2014
Natural Resource Data Series NPS/HTLN/NRDS—2017/1104
https://www.nps.gov/articles/upload/HOSP_VegCommunity2007_2014r-508.pdf

GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE LANDSCAPE STUDY AND PLAN
City of Hot Springs, AR
Green Infrastructure Committee
https://www.cityhs.net/DocumentCenter/View/6245/Hot-Springs-AR-GI-Study-and-Plan-Final?bidId=

Hot Springs General Information: Hot Springs National Park Arkansas
https://www.hotsprings.org/pages/general-information/

The Autumn Colors

adult learning, apples, arkansas, art, autumn leaves, change, Creativity, Faith, inspiration, nature, Painting, perfection, photography, shadows, trees, vision

Robert Frost, in his poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” speaks to the transitory nature of fall colors:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

When I was in North Carolina recently, I was a tad early for the best colors of autumn, but I didn’t miss the Apple Festival in Waynesville, where I bought a half peck of apples fresh from a local orchard. Every time I encounter the word peck, it it brings back memories of my dad and his older brother schooling us children on the tongue twisters they learned in school. Back in the Stone Age, proper elocution was emphasized, along with cursive writing. To this day, l still hear their dulcet duet:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;

A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,

Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

Don’t get me started on sister Suzy’s seaside seashells or the amount of wood a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. I’d much rather talk about autumn leaves!

Here in Arkansas, our colors up north are about spent, but near and south of the I-40 corridor, peak leaf change generally takes place in early November. The colors usually don’t last long because as soon as the leaves change, strong cold fronts tend to knock off the leaves quickly as we head toward Thanksgiving.

Of course, with climate change, our first frosts are occurring later in the season. In fact, some climate scientists think we could be on the path to two main seasons—winter and summer—with transitional short shoulders of temperate weather we once knew as fall and spring. This will affect not only agriculture’s growing seasons, but also insect populations, flower blooms, and the wildlife dependent upon them, not to mention our utility bills.

Waynesville, NC Trees

After a three week hiatus from art class, I was excited to return. While I was gone, Gail has had many sleepless nights helping with the new grand babies and Mike has been extra busy, as is his normal usual. I was glad to see Erma and catch up with her to give condolences in the passing of her dear husband. COVID has kept us apart and out of touch, so I was late to know this. Others were sick or out of town, so Mike, Gail, and I looked over some art works for inspiration.

Georgia O’Keefe: Leaves, 1925

The Georgia O’Keefe Leaf painting treated these single shapes as unique objects, a radical idea in its day. This allowed her to limit her color palette and focus her design on the positive and negative spaces. A somewhat similar painting is Norman Black’s surrealist Autumn Leaves. It differs in feeling because the individual leaves are isolated, floating in space, rather than being layered one upon the other like cozy coverlets.

Norman Black: Autumn Leaves

One of the aspects in painting we often overlook is the source of light. Light is what gives our work sparkle, just as the light makes the world visible. As we wake to darkness now, we’ll appreciate the light more and more when we come home in the dark, for the days gradually grow shorter. Most artists pick one direction as the source for their light in the painting. This allows them to control the shadows of the objects in their canvases. They prefer the afternoon or morning light, not just because the sun is lower in the sky, but also because these times have distinctive temperatures. The morning has cooler colors, while the afternoon has warmer colors.

Paige Smith-Wyatt: Autumn Sunset

We looked in our cell phones for images of autumn leaves. This is when we discovered our phone search systems aren’t all created equal. While my phone will turn up every single yellow, red, or orange tree or leaf photo, plus a few pumpkins thrown in for good measure, other peoples’ phones list photos by month and date. Technology frustrated us right off the bat. Rather than waste half our class time looking for an image, Gail and I decided on one.

Sometimes the perfect is sacrificed in favor of the good when the time is short. Perfection is a goal, not the necessity to begin the journey. This is why we Methodists say we’re “going onto perfection,” rather than we’ve already arrived.

Gail’s Red Leaves

Mike chose the first one that popped up in his phone. He went straight to work. Gail likes to find the best before she starts. Sometimes we need to accept what is before us and make the best of what we have. The perfect isn’t always available. Also, she was working on too little sleep. Newborn babies will do that to grandmas. We can take a halfway good image from our phone and use it as an inspiration or jumping off point. We don’t have to recreate the image.

Beacon Manor Landscape Photoshopped

When working from a photo, it’s good to crop the image to the same scale as the canvas. This helps you get the proportions of the subject true to form. I also photoshop the colors, sharpness, and contrast. This preparatory work helps the mind sort out the important shapes. Once these decisions are made, drawing the basic shapes on the canvas starts and colors start happening.

Cornelia’s Autumn Landscape

Mike got out of the class to get back to the office before I could set a photo of his tree, but I recall it was an overall image with multicolored leaves. I worked from an old autumn photo from the grounds of my condo. I’d pushed the colors past realism in my computer software program, so it was already bold. I eliminated much of the extraneous details and painted just the simplest elements of the landscape. This is called “artistic license.” We don’t have to paint every leaf, but we can paint the shape of all the leaves in the mass together.

Artists and poets both seek to strike a chord in the hearts of their audience: one uses colors, light, shape, and form, while the other creates their images and emotions through word and metaphors.

Song for Autumn by Mary Oliver

If we remember nothing about this glorious autumn, let’s remember John 8:12, in which we hear Jesus proclaimed as the Light of the World:

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Fall Foliage Dates

https://www.5newsonline.com/article/weather/when-is-peak-fall-color-across-the-usa-state-by-state-foliage/527-c4986dff-ffb9-4b27-9335-65ead54a1c10

History of Tongue Twisters

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/513952/history-behind-famous-tongue-twisters

USGCRP, 2018: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 1515 pp. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.

https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/chapter/19/