More Power: Thoughts on the Spiritually of A Found Object Icon

Creativity, Fear, generosity, Healing, Health, Holy Spirit, home, Icons, Imagination, Love, Mental Illness, Ministry, ministry, mystery, poverty, Prayer, purpose, renewal, salvation, Spirituality, Strength, Travel, Uncategorized, vision, Work

I should never begin working with power tools without caffeine. Having said this, I’m glad to report that I still have all the fingers on each hand and no body parts remain glued to a flat surface, unlike Tim “The Tool Man” Allen. My only error was to put my battery pack backwards into the charging unit. This meant I needed an extra hand to help me pull it loose. God provides, for my young neighbor was handy to pull the charger away while I held the battery’s release mechanism. Two minds are better than one, and two efforts double the power.

My friends at the Canvas Community Church in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, work with the homeless folks there. Street people are made in the image of God, just as you and I are. They have broken lives, just as you and I do. Their brokenness is out on view for all to see, whereas ours is often hidden behind elegant facades or ordinary tract homes. Canvas will host a Good Friday Stations of the Cross worship service for their community. Their art outreach program with the homeless produces some of the art, but other artists offer their works for exhibition and sale also. A portion of the proceeds befits the church’s outreach ministry.

Icons are such sacred objects that they have acquired a sense of holiness all their own. This attribution of holiness to the icon itself, rather than to the person or subject represented, led to the Iconoclast Controversy. Some destroyed many precious works of art because they thought the image was being worshiped, rather than God or Jesus. We do this today, of course, when we worship our “litmus test issues,” such as which Bible translation is the only sacred cow, what age the earth is (a cover for the Creation science or evidential science debate), or picking a Christian candidate to support (by virtue of the proof texting quotes with which we agree, of course).

My thought is that we still worship the image, but fail to worship God or Jesus. If we were to go beyond the icon/image, we might see more of us meeting the Christ who lives on the streets, in the prisons, and in the sickbeds of our nation:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)

In the ten hours I was in my studio assembling this icon, I had time to remember where I found all these items that make up this altarpiece. The two red supporting decorative brackets are from a home decorating project that never got off the ground because I decided to tear out the old counter space rather than to make a mosaic there. I hauled the wood shelf back from a walk. It was once a scrap piece of a fence that kept someone out or in. I pick up sticks that feel right, and scraps of wood or crushed soda cans that call out my name. The debris of this world has a beauty of its own kind, just as the acknowledged fine materials of our convention have value. If one day we found a way to manufacture gold, the metal would become base in a heartbeat.

That Chrysler hubcap was a real find! I may have found that on vacation when I stopped along a quiet roadside to snap a photo. The old crosses are from my days of living in large homes, rather than a small condo. The green glass cross broke in a move, but I couldn’t give it up. Most of us can’t give up our brokenness to the Christ who said, “This is my body, broken for you.” This is why we share our broken lives with all who are broken by sorrow, illness, pain, or hurts. We may wind up rusted on the side of the road, like the windshield wiper or we may end up painted over and stashed away in a garage like the board on which this icon exists. I also used beads and old pieces of jewelry that needed to be recycled and repurposed, in the great icon making tradition.

The power of the icon isn’t in the materials. I’ve made icons of macaroni and plastic jewels that read “holiness” as much as any ancient icon. I’ve had people make icons from their grandmother’s jewelry boxes. These too read as holy icons, even if they are nonrepresentational. The power comes through the Holy Spirit into the artist and then into the work. When I make a work such as this, my hands are steady, my pace is slow, and I lose all track of time. I enter into another realm, so to speak, that of the icon itself. The ancients believed that the icons were a window into heaven. I believe this is true, for the power of such an object is to take us out of our ordinary experiences and into a world where there is no more hunger, pain, or grief.

The icon’s great mystery and power is to remind us that ordinary materials can open us up to the truth and beauty of the holy. When our eyes are jaded by the ugliness of the world about us: wars, beheadings, poverty, injustice, economic destabilization, and human insensitivity, look upon the icons and enter into the power of the one who makes all things holy:

“He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Philippians 3:21)

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MY ACCIDENTAL VACATION

Creativity, Fear, Food, generosity, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Ministry, poverty, purpose, renewal, Retirement, Spirituality, Strength, Stress, Travel, Uncategorized, vision, Work

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Everyone should take at least one accidental vacation, at least once in their life. This event will throw you off your game plan, sweep away your plan B, and leave you up a creek without a paddle. This is your Kobayashi Maru, your Waterloo, and your Little Big Horn all rolled up into one. Most of us think we trust God, but we really trust our own strengths, capabilities, support systems, and friendship ties. We aren’t prepared to “go to a land God will show us” or to go as the 12 were sent, taking “nothing for our journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, not even an extra tunic.” (Luke 9:3) I planned to be gone to visit my nephew’s organic farm for 2 weeks; I was gone a whole month. I got bit by an attack telephone pole on my way out of the gas station. It’s my story, I’m sticking to it. Once I got the big red Ram rental truck, I headed out of Dodge in my Dodge. By the next day, I was on the beach in North Carolina.

Like a pirate, I stayed as long as I had a room, and then I moved on. Some accommodations were great, but some I bought cleaning products for my personal safety. I found a welcome everywhere. I ate mostly from the grocery and the icebox in the rooms. Fresh fruit, cheese, cottage cheese, spinach, carrots, mushrooms, avocado, and bread made up my living off the land menu. One night I did get fresh cooked shrimp from the deli for a great salad. My last night on the beach I treated myself to a fake pirate’s ship venu restaurant, but it was a fine meal. I ate the appetizer sampler platter and a salad, so that was more than enough rich food for me!

When I came back to the tiny town where my busted baby sat, I stopped in the arts coffee shop to ask the barista if she knew a nicer place than the motel on the highway. They called Yvonne at the bed and breakfast, and talked her into giving me a discount since I would be an extended stay and was here as a “victim of circumstances.” I was glad, for the highway motel looked suspect and I was ready to be treated as a princess for a change. I guess all my pirate swagger had “swigged” out on the trip back. I was ready for lace curtains and 48 acres of piney woods quiet, not to mention three course breakfasts in the morning. Those breakfasts were to die for! My spirits were being revived daily.

While I’m not much of a drama queen, I do tend to worry. This is one trip that I did not worry, for I realized that I was getting a beach vacation out of this, due to my prime of life coverage, as well as the rental car. I might as well enjoy it to the fullest of my ability, within the limits of the finances available to me. The beach provided long walks for the morning and evening. Then of course, I did have to climb America’s tallest lighthouse, just to say I had done it.

The second week at the B&B would be on me, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that, so I could be thankful that I got a great price from the locals who showed hospitality to me. I vacationed in town, ate there, took photos, wrote, drank coffee in the cafe, and hung out. I was relaxed. I did pay some bills and wire some money to the bank, just to be safe. I washed clothes. An ordinary life.

What isn’t ordinary is leaning on others and receiving from them more than I gave in return. As a giver, I am always on the pouring out side. This time I was on the receiving end, and I have never been so filled in my whole life! From the day I hiked up the Rainbow Falls Trail, I discovered that while I might be able to almost get there by myself, I sure couldn’t get down without help. Thank God Trevor, Angie & that unnamed angel turned up with the hiking stick to help me down! The clerk at the hotel upgraded my room to the jacoozi when he heard my story, and I was again thankful.

Most of us don’t receive well, because it puts us in the weak position. We would rather be in the giving or strong position. That’s why we like that verse “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (acts 20:36) it claims to quote Christ, but no gospel contains that quote. Someone always has to receive, however, for the giver to get the blessing. If we aren’t on the receiving end, we rob the giver of the blessing of generosity. If we aren’t in the receiving end, we rob ourselves of the blessings of humility and poverty. These are blessings because in them we can share he nature of Christ. It was for our sakes, that though he was rich, he became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).

So I commend to you the idea of an “accidental vacation.” Perhaps you won’t need to bash in the front end of your vehicle to get the message, but some of us are like ornery mules: God needs to get our attention in a big way. Even the worst events God can use for good, for those who love God and are called according to God’s purposes. I discovered that each person I met on this trip was at a crux in their life, just as I was. They were at a decision point, a transition point, or a new calling was taking hold in their lives, just as it was in my own. Perhaps what seemed to be only an accident to some, God was able to make into a greater design for good: not just for me, but for the people who shared their stories and lives with me on my accidental vacation. I’m looking forward to retirement, but for me that just means redefining my calling to “word, sacrament, & order.” My word will be my creative endeavors, both painting and writing, serving the sacraments in the congregations and communities in which I fellowship, and being faithful to my brothers and sisters in our order of the elders.

A ROAD IN THE WILDERNESS

Creativity, Fear, Forgiveness, home, Imagination, Meditation, photography, purpose, renewal, salvation, Stress, Travel, Uncategorized, vision

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As I am entering the outskirts of my city, I leave the local highway and climb onto the bypass that loops around the south side of town. I wouldn’t dare climb this route in a winter storm, but on one of our interim false spring days, I can negotiate the incline and curves without fear. On one of my journeys home, I arrived as usual near sunset, so I was driving into the setting sun. The light was falling between the low mountains with a flooding glow that didn’t seem to come from the sun, but from a holy presence.

Since I was driving sixty miles an hour on a two lane, one way elevated road, I did not whip out an Instagram memory. Instead, I committed this to my mind’s memory and sketched it out when I got home on the first piece of paper I found, which happened to be a magazine page I had ripped out and put into my purse. Then I unloaded the car and went inside to my home.

Where are the people? Where are the distinctive landscape markings? I didn’t make these on purpose so that this road can be everywhere for everyone. We each have our own personal wilderness in which we wander before we can come home. We can’t come home as long as we are just in this world, but we can come home when we realize that we are walking with God in God’s world. The problems that keep us from having good relationships with our family, our friends, our neighbors, and our god will be healed when we realize that God has already prepared the highway for us on which we are to travel homeward:

“A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” –Isaiah 35:8-10

One day we will climb up the entry to this bypass, the light will strike us as truly different from all other days we have been in this place, and if we are aware of God’s speaking to us in his world, we will hear his voice calling us home. The burdens will lift from our shoulders and the tears will dry from our eyes. Songs of joy will burst unbound from our hearts and our feet will leap and dance with gladness.

TO LIVE IN A WATERED GARDEN!

Creativity, epilepsy, Fear, garden, generosity, Health, Imagination, Ministry, poverty, purpose, Spirituality, Strength, Stress, Uncategorized, vision, Work

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The various named storms of this winter season are piling up like the laundry in my baskets, but the cold weather and the bad roads are keeping me inside and away from the commercial laundromat that I frequent. Since when did we start naming winter storms like summer hurricanes anyway? I must have been asleep, but until this winter in Arkansas, I’ve not paid much attention to the weather channel, for our best predictions here are “wait five minutes and it will be something else” and “nobody ever gets it right.”

“Cold and dark” are the two best Arkansas winter predictions, followed by “unusually sunny and warm.” These will follow each other as sure as day follows the night, for I remember the weekend a decade ago when most of my people skipped church to go to the lake because it was 70 degrees in NW Arkansas. However, the very next Sunday we were inundated with 3 feet of snow at Mount Sequoyah Retreat Center and everyone who was on the mountain stayed there. The workers couldn’t leave, so Mount Sequoyah gave them rooms to winter over the storm. Some of the extreme cold shut down the heating systems in the old buildings and the repair crew couldn’t drive up the iced mountain incline, so the staff gave us newer accommodations at no extra charge. A sudden virus began to work its way through our retreat group, but we had a doctor among us who was taking a week’s retreat before she began work at a new clinic for the uninsured. She made morning and afternoon rounds of the incapacitated in their cabins and dosed them with a preparation she had made at the local pharmacy.

This must be what life is like in a tended garden. We are cared for while strong and when we are weak. We are fed, kept safe from invaders, covered when it’s too cold, and nursed when we seem to weaken. Our gardener not only loves us, but cares for us and provides what we need. We may want gilding for our lilies, but our gardener knows the difference between needs and superfluous wants. We will have “enough,” of that we need not fear.

More money will not make us happier. We would give all the money we have in this world to have our child returned to life from a too early death, our spouse brought back from the living death that is Alzheimer’s Disease, or to save a loved one from the ravages of some addictive substance. Money will not buy these things. Money cannot buy peace of mind itself, for if we focus on money, then we will get anxious. The value of money goes up and down with every sneeze of the president, the arguments of congress, and the ebbs and flows of our economy. Yet we who are people of faith “live in a watered garden,” tended and cared for by a gracious and good God and we “shall never languish again.”

“…their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.” Jeremiah 31:12

THE NO ROOM INN

at risk kids, Children, Evangelism, Fear, Holy Spirit, home, Icons, Imagination, Ministry, poverty, purpose, renewal, salvation, vision, Work

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Context is everything. In the real world of my daily hikes, the objects in this artwork are pieces of trash that I’ve found lying near the path that I walk. Put together with a fresh eye to shape and color, they become instead a nativity scene. I live in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a place known for its healing waters to the native peoples who once roamed these lands and now known as our nation’s first National Park. We have two large hospitals, a rarity for a town of only 35,500 people, but we also serve outlying rural counties. If you want healing, this is the place to come, for we have spas, bathhouses, great food, a beautiful lake and mountains.

The local YMCA is just down the road from the Mercy Hospital campus. If I leave the Y, I can get a 1.5 mile hike with varying grades and enough level spots to recover my wind and get the whole done in about 30 minutes. I’ve about trained the courtesy cart lady to wave at me and pass me by. At first I think I struggled enough that she would stop to offer me a lift.

When we speak about context in a work of art or context in a biblical verse, we mean that we need to look at the surroundings. The surroundings in an art work include the artist’s life experiences, as well as the image they were viewing. We artists pour the sum of who we are into the whole of the world as we see it.

Likewise with the biblical context, we ask: what was the writer’s intent, what do we know of his life experience, what seems to be his goal in writing as he does, what does his choice of words or images suggest, why are some stories unique and not repeated by other writers, and to what do the stories before and immediately after point?

In the New Testament, Luke is the only writer to mention that the birth of Jesus took place outside of an established lodging place. He uses the Greek word Kataluma, which means “lodging, inn, or guest room,” depending on the context. He is also the only one to mention the parable of the Good Samaritan. Healing takes place for the victim of bandits at the inn and for the whole world at the no room inn.

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” –Luke 2:7

“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him” –Luke 10:34

The No Room Inn Nativity has the standard imagery of the Holy Family: Joseph is the tall, blue, flattened paint can with the radiator head; Mary is is the crushed coca-cola can with the tin can head and screws for eyes; the angel on the left is a rain washed McDonald’s French fry container with a tin can lid for a head; and the baby Jesus is an orange plastic cross/halo resting in a VIP parking ticket from a NASCAR race I attended in November. Alone, these are just pieces of trash, but together on a gold background, this collage becomes an icon worthy of reminding us that the King of this world began his life in a No Room Inn.

This Jesus who came to heal the rift between God and humanity, began his human life on the outside. Those of us who feel like we aren’t meant for the inside need to realize that Jesus spent his whole life on the margins, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and casting out demons, while at the same time afflicting the comfortable insiders who came for the show. Context is everything. Take your ministry out into the streets, find the broken bits of “trash” that have the potential to become new. Begin a healing ministry, not for those inside your comfortable inn, but for those who are told, “No room!”

The Last Tower

9/1/11, Family, Fear, generosity, Health, home, knitting, quilting, Strength, Work

Today is the first day of September: my how time flies when you’re having fun! Twelve years have passed since Mom died, and nearly fifty since she made me that cheerful zigzag afghan to take off to my freshman year in college. That flag pillow was our last project together. “I want to make everyone patriotic pillows for Christmas,” she said the year after the twin towers came down. I didn’t know at the time that the last tower in our family was going to fall.

When my Mother said “I want to make,” she really meant “and you must help me do this, of course.”
Patchwork means that many small pieces are sewed together to make a larger whole. The secret to a good outcome is to cut your shapes all true to the pattern: same size, angles, lengths, widths, and heights. If your stripes are all rectangles, when they are sewn together they will make a larger rectangle. If however, you have cut trapezoidal shapes, your finished product doesn’t look like an American flag.

“What’s taking so long?” She says to me, “You ought to have several sewn up by now.” Yes, Mother, I explain, but I’m having to select strips for size, flip them so the big end is next to a little end, adjust the seam sizes along the run, and then sew. You DO want this to be a rectangle when we are done?

I won’t even begin to tell you the discussion we had on how much fabric to purchase. Mom always wanted to purchase just enough, whereas I have Dad’s cautious streak and say, What if we mess up a portion or we decide to make a pillow for someone else? They may not have this fabric in stock again. She was a child of the Great Depression, and not wasting anything was a lesson learned in hard times. We never finished the pillows that year, for she died of pancreatic cancer before that September had run its course.

When I need a bit of comforting after a hard day, I can wrap up in this old hand knit afghan and sit on my couch with a soothing cup of tea and feel the presence of my Mom and Dad. I can see her knitting this afghan while sitting in the den at night watching television with Daddy. They had matching chairs with a table and lamp between them. They would talk about their day, talk about the world, talk about us kids, and talk about their hopes and dreams for us and for themselves.

I have tried replacing this screaming yellow, orange, gold and brown memory from the 60’s with a more decorative or color coordinated throw, but all I do is waste money: these new ones may look better, but they don’t comfort or warm me. Perhaps the accumulated memories of this ancient afghan have their own energy, their own power source, or their own spiritual connection to the last tower of my family. It has become a holy place where I can seek solace and peace, communion with the saints, and the presence of the God who creates all things and brings the off kilter into harmony with the whole.

For me, God doesn’t dwell only in a “high and holy place,” but “also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).

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Instagram in The Garden of Dreams

Fear, Food, Health, Holy Spirit, home, Imagination, photography, purpose, salvation, Strength, vision, Work

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I am never too busy to heed the prompting of that inner voice that calls me to stop and smell the roses. In my case, the voice says, “Stop and Instagram this moment!” I’ll be driving down the road, just going from point A to point B, singing my favorite Bon Jovi tune, when I feel that pull on the steering wheel from my Higher Power. Sometimes I have seen the extraordinary play of light shimmering through the trees beside a rural road and other times one magnificent tree stands out from the crowd of its kin. Sometimes I snap several photos around an area before I “see the real image” that was calling out to me.

This prompting of the Spirit ought not to be denied, for we will miss our most inspired works if we are just fixed on getting to our planned destination. In art, as in the spiritual life, the journey is as important as the destination. We can miss some important opportunities for growth if we think that our journey needs to be easy, direct, quick and according to plan.

In my studio as in my life, I like to be on a schedule and have a plan/goals. The unknown is frightening, full of dragons, and has many places where I could “lose it all” by falling off an unseen cliff face or down into a sudden crevasse. Yet, meeting these challenges is what strengthens us. A child making a mess of his drawing has merely taken the media too far. We adults want to stop him before he makes a mess of it, but he has to learn the limits of the medium before he can truly take his creativity out to the maximum, but no farther. If we are pushing ourselves creatively, we will “lose it early and often.” (Ask Tiger Woods or any pro golfer who has changed his/her swing: the transformation is daunting, so only the passionate will give it a try.)

I’ve been eating healthier and exercising more, so my blood pressure medicines were working too well. My blood pressures were in the zombie zone, so I wasn’t perky enough to do much work in the studio. Once my doctor adjusted my medications, I discovered my housekeeping skills also hadn’t been tested for some time there. Many of the photographs that I’ve taken as inspiration were stuck together from a water spill. I microwaved them (with a bowl of water), peeled them apart, cut up the interesting fragments, and glued them together as a collage: “Garden of Dreams.”

I decided to use the collage as the sketch for a new painting, an idea which freed me from grieving the loss of the good things or the original plan I had in mind for these photos. I could concentrate instead on the better hope for the future that this new opportunity presented. My best laid plans may have come to naught, but “we know that all things work together for good for those that love God, who are called according to his purposes” (Romans 8:28).

The Butter Queen

at risk kids, Children, Creativity, Fear, Food, Forgiveness, Health, Imagination, Love, Ministry, Paula Deen, purpose, purpose, renewal, salvation, Secrets, shame, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized, vision, Work

“If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness,  we lie, and do not the truth…” ~~ 1 John 1:6

 Oh, Paula Dean, the Butter Queen! Once you were everywhere seen, 998661_10200934855966494_49237487_nbut now you just seem awfully mean. Or were you just good at hiding your true self until you got so big that you thought you were untouchable? Worse, did you lose your good self in the chase for fame and fortune as you left your humble startup beginnings behind you?

The famous Peter Principle may be at work here: we will all rise to the level of our incompetency. As befits our food metaphor, “The cream that rises to the top always sours.” The further up the food chain we go, the more we are surrounded by “yes-sayers.” These are folks who approve our every whim and never tell us “no.” Like politicians, movie stars, athletes, and anyone else in a position of power, those who surround them say, “yes” so that they too may stay in the shadow of power also. Sometimes these folks need someone to tell them NO: “No, Justin Bieber, having a monkey isn’t a good idea if you’re traveling to Europe.” “No, Tiger Woods, having affairs with umpteen hot honeys isn’t smart if you want to keep your wife and baby and sponsors happy.” “No, Lance Armstrong, blood doping is wrong, even if everyone else is doing it.” We really wonder why no one said, “NO, Paula Dean, allowing racist or sexist comments and pornography at your restaurants isn’t a good idea.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/dining/paula-deens-words-ripple-among-southern-chefs.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2)

Our first knee jerk response is to support Paula Deen because she is a southern gal who made her way up to the big time on her own. She is a real rags to riches story and this resonates with us, for if she can do it, any of us can have a shot at the American Dream.  Along the way she became a caricature of her former self, or an actor playing a part. When Ms. Deen was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, she kept this illness a secret and continued to produce recipes that were toxic to persons with her disease (http://www.businessinsider.com/paula-deens-10-most-unhealthy-recipes-2013-6?op=1).

Only much later did she reveal her disease, and then as a paid spokes person for an anti-diabetic pill. Some would say this is crass, and not sass. The proof is always in the pudding, as my Nannie used to say. Her cooking show on the Food Network lost audience share over this issue of untruth. When her show was up for renewal, the Food Network cut her expensive show to concentrate on their reality/competition food shows that appeal to a younger demographic. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323998604578567832751771860.html)

The floodgates opened: her tears flowed as fast as her partner companies dropped her. Why was she not forgiven? She said, “I’m sorry? I said something wrong years ago, but that’s not me!” It seems that it may not be so. She may not be able to tell the difference between the sweet gal she used to be and who she is now. (http://www.businessinsider.com/paula-deens-controversial-career-2013-6

When King David was confronted with his sins of adultery and murder, he repented before the LORD and asked God to “create in (him) a clean heart, and put a new and right spirit in (him)” (Psalm 51:10) When we recognize the wrongness of our former ways, we ask God to help us change so that we can become a different person and leave our old ways behind us.  When the doctor tells you that you are now a Type 2 Diabetic, this is usually a wake-up call for most people. This diagnosis changes your whole life from the food you can eat, to the exercise you must have, and the constant monitoring of your blood sugar. You learn to read the nutrition labels on packaging, discover that processed food is off limits for you because it’s mostly carbohydrates, and you discover how to cook from scratch. You throw away your Paula Deen Cook Books because they are the “pellets with the poison” and learn to cook from scratch using whole foods from the perimeter of the grocery store.

We can’t live in the darkness about Diabetes or its precursor (reactive hypoglycemia), but must share our condition. I personally have found that no one makes meals on retreats that are suitable for my health needs, so I usually pack in extra foods and have them for my own meals or snacks. Otherwise I will be fed a high dose of carbs, which will make my blood sugar crash and I will be irritable. I don’t consider this to be my “true personality,” but if I eat the wrong food, I’m not a kind person.

When Paula Deen failed to have her heart changed, or her “come to Jesus moment,” she failed to realize that what she did in the past is still continuing in the present.  She became more like Lance Armstrong who came to the first stage of the Tour de France this weekend and said, “winning wouldn’t have been possible in (his) era without doping.” They both act as if the worst thing they did was to get caught, but they don’t have real remorse for their act itself.  This is what we call “walking in darkness…and do not the truth.”  Paula had Diabetes 2 and continued to build a $16 million dollar empire with recipes that bring on the condition.  Tiger Woods and Martha Stewart got rehabilitated because they took time off (Tiger in sex rehab and Martha in jail) and had the opportunity to strip away all the circus of fame and power to get down to the person, to the human being that puts on her blue jeans one leg at a time, that ties his sneakers one shoelace at a time. They discovered their true selves again, found their roots, reconnected with their faith, and met others that had made a mess of their lives. Sometimes we have to break down, take our consequences and take our losses before we can appreciate forgiveness and redemption.

She was on the buttered slippery slope months ago, but this “fall from grace” may be just what Our Butter Queen needs. Ms. Paula will have a “time out” from the excitement of power to enjoy the humility of her own life again, and to remember who she is, where she comes from, and to whom she owes her success. When she recovers her true self, she may find that God will call her to a new mission, a hopeful, and a healing mission. After all, nearly 155 million Americans adults are overweight or obese, including our very own Butter Queen. Add to this number 24 million children and the number of butterballs rolled in sugar is amazing. I include myself in this number, for my BMI is 34.2 (above 30 is obese) (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bmi-calculator/NU00597).

Perhaps Paula will recognize that her recipes contribute to her disease and to America’s obesity epidemic. If she uses this to remake herself into something new and better, more humble and more honest, and if her recipes reflect this, she has an opportunity for redemption.  However, if she brings back the same old package back with the high calorie, high fat contents, I think the shelf life of her product has hit its expiration point, for people today want honesty and authenticity in their food and in their relationships.

How can we have an authentic relationship with God and with other people? God is willing to forgive our sins, even if we think they are unforgivable. The world may hold a grudge against us for a long time, for this is the way of the world. God is not of this world, for when the world will not forgive, God will.  When the world remembers, God remembers our sin no more (Isa 43:25).  All we can do is to love as God loves, forgive others as God forgives us, and live a new life in love as God enables us.

To help clean your heart, take press on letters or stencils, or use a large font on your computer. Write out your negative aspects/sins/imperfections/brokenness. We all have them. If you need a kick start, google “7 deadly sins.” That should get you started!  Once you have those printed out on your paper, then write in large open letters (stencil font) the word “LOVE” or “PEACE”.  Color it as you feel led.  Use this as a prayer focus this week.

SURVIVAL SKILLS

Family, Fear, home, Imagination, Meditation, Prayer, purpose, sleep, Strength, Stress, Uncategorized, Work

“in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.”
~~ Psalm 57:1

Drop me behind enemy lines with my machete and I’ll make my own way out. I was born for challenges: I am a first child. My parents had to learn on me and I always had to test the boundaries as I was growing up. Not that I was a particularly wild child, but when I discovered my other friends in the seventh grade had bedtimes ranging from eight PM to midnight, I was able to convince my folks I didn’t need to be put to bed at seven PM with my younger brothers. I was always the first to do anything new, since I was the oldest.

When it came time to pick a college, my parents wanted me to live at home and attend their alma mater, Centenary College. I wanted to go far away to Wellesley College, but my dear southern Daddy said, “No daughter of mine is going north of the Mason Dixon Line!” So I said I wanted to go to the notorious state party school LSU, and was told that was not an option. We compromised on Agnes Scott College, a small Presbyterian woman’s college that sends 90% of its graduates on to postgraduate work.

In the midst of my junior year, my art teacher was killed in a freak accident. We had a very modern art building that had all the floors cantilevered over the ones below so that it was open and airy. Sounds also carried very well. Those of us that were in the building heard the last screams before the sheer silence. The death of my mentor in the midst of an ordinary art activity had a profound effect on me. She was remixing clay by adding it into a grinder, but her sleeve got caught and that pulled her into the machine. There is nothing like the death of someone you love to focus your mind and to focus your actions.

When the storms of life come, and come they will, taking shelter is sometimes the better part of courage. The storm chasers who photo extreme weather events have special, modified vehicles in which they chase these powerful natural events. “Professional driver, closed course, do not attempt” ought to scroll under their videos. We need to remember that the best way to ride out a tornado is in the bathroom or closet (the most interior room without a window), and never to ride out a tornado in our car (think matchbox toy blown to kingdom come).

I can sleep through anything, but one morning when I was on the Blevins Charge, I awoke to this horrid sound roaring right over the roof of the parsonage. I looked at the clock, thought it was way too dark thirty to wake up, and went back to sleep. When I woke for good, my coffee pot wouldn’t work because the electricity was out. I went to the Gas and GO, three houses away (Blevins has more chickens than people), but they were in the same shape. I am a woman who needs my coffee (it is my machete). When I inquired, the clerk said “Are you not aware that a tornado came through here this morning!? No one has electricity! You might find coffee in Hope.” Oh, so that horrible loud sound early this morning was a tornado? And I just opened my eyes and went back to bed.

That tornado didn’t even lift a shingle off the parsonage, but that is the vagaries of the animal. The recent OKLAHOMA tornados were much larger and more devastating. Half of a city blown away, but thankfully not many lives lost considering the amount of physical destruction. The recent thunderstorms that brought flooding to Arkansas also caused several deaths. Some may ask, where is God in all this? People lose loved ones, their homes, and their business. Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Couldn’t a good God keep this from happening?

God is with us at all times, whether we acknowledge this fact or not. God’s steadfast love is a gift to us, for when our love fails and we turn away from God, God still remembers God’s pledge to love us. “You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.” ~~ Job 10:12 there was a time in my life that I decided there was no God, but God still remembered me even when I had forgotten God.

When we ask, why does God let bad things happen to good people, sometimes we re asking “does God cause bad things to happen?” This is a broken and fallen world in which we live. The world itself isn’t in harmony with God’s good purposes, but one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth. We too are part of the broken and fallen world, and as much as it pains us to hear this word, we are not yet “good” in biblical terms, for good is a term belonging to God alone (Mark 10:18–
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”)

Could a good God keep these disasters from befalling his loved ones? I think if we humans thought we were immune to disasters, we would throw caution to the winds and go bat crazy. I also think we would soon forget the source of our protection and begin to worship ourselves. Oh wait, that sounds like us right now!

The question we ought to answer is “How do folks endure tragedy?” For some it is a challenge: they thrive when they have a machete in hand and are behind enemy lines. When you come out of your safe place and see your whole neighborhood blown away, you are behind enemy lines. When you find out your kid is on drugs, you are behind enemy lines. When your job gets downsized, you are behind enemy lines. The doctor tells you it’s cancer: grab the machete, honey. It’s time to meet the challenge standing up.

Even behind enemy lines, we need to rest. We have to find a hiding place, a quiet place in which we can restore ourselves and be ready for the next day. We need to be “in the shadow of your wings” and “take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.” (Psalm 57:1)Those can be the storms of doubt, fear, hopelessness, weakness, anger, grief or inadequacy. When others depend on us to be strong, we need to take time to care or ourselves. A quiet time to meditate, to pray, to read scripture, or to hold hands with your family and to speak aloud the thanksgivings of your day can be “refuge in the shadow of God’s wings.”

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Doing Battle With The Dragon

Children, Creativity, Fear, Health, Holy Spirit, Icons, Imagination, Mental Illness, mystery, purpose, purpose, renewal, Stress, Travel, Uncategorized, vision, Work

“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, 
but the victory belongs to the Lord.”  ~~ Proverbs 21:31

Mount Erciyes, Cappadocia, Turkey As I journeyed with my group along the Silk Road on the fourth day of our pilgrimage, we saw the twin peaked volcano Mount Erciyes, on which St. George of Cappadocia was said to have slain the dragon. As we made our 400 miles across the sunlit fields with poplar trees into the tufted fairy mountain volcanic formations, I had several conversations about art and artists with my fellow travelers. We had visited the Firca Ceramic Factory in the morning. The artisans there explained their apprentice program and the process of training to become a master potter. Not everyone makes the cut, of course, but they can still be employed at the level of tradesman or tourist ware producer.

For people who have no concept of the time, effort, sensibility or spirit that is necessary to produce a great work of art, this “educational session” went right over their heads. Others had their “consciousness raised,” as we used to say back in the old days. This latter group happily gave a fair price for the extraordinary works of these artists’ hands.  I myself brought home a small plate of colorful fish to remind me that I am always called to “fish and to catch the hearts, souls, minds, and bodies of others for the sake of Christ and his church” (Matt 4:19).

At lunch I visited with one of my new friends. She asked, “Why did it take Michelangelo so long to paint the Sistine Chapel?” Because it was fresco—fresh plaster. He could only work while the plaster was wet. Bodies with clothes and landscapes went quickly, but nudes and faces were painted more slowly. If we could get up close we could tell by the edges and lines how much he did in a sitting. “Oh. Everyone who saw the chapel on our tour was kind of bored with it all. Now I understand why it was so important.”

I realized it’s because not many of us make art anymore, just as most of us don’t can jams or jellies. We also don’t quilt, knit, crochet or embroider. We buy our clothes premade and our foods prepackaged. Cooking from “scratch” is a lost art. We don’t seem to want to dirty our hands any more with the creative process. Instead, we have lost the spirit that calls us to enter into battle with the raw materials. We are a people without faith that God is with us in these fights. It is as if we are afraid to risk losing the battle, so we do not enter the fray.

I have recently been teaching art to prekindergarten children. The first thing I had to teach their classroom teacher was that “failure in art is part of the process of learning how to succeed.” In other words, it’s not the finished product of polished perfection that we seek, but the child’s growth in using the tools correctly and their creative response to the imagination challenge of the day.

The second teaching principle was allowing the child to do his/her own work.  Many of our parents have “taken over” doing for our children so they can have a good outcome. These children will have poor motor skills and will not be self-sufficient when they grow older. They will be less independent and less confident.  However, they can master skills in art class that can give them a sense of self-esteem that comes from accomplishing a task, taking charge of their own work, and creating their own designs from their own fertile imaginations.

The third principle about art is joy, and I usually don’t have to teach this to the children.  They love to play and the colors, materials, textures, and tools are great ways to explore the world in play. For adults, however, art is about the finished product from the get-go, so we worry that our idea will not come across on the canvas or paper.  For the work to come alive, the artist must let go of that original idea and go with the image that begins to come to life on the canvas. Sticking with the old idea is like staying with the old battle plan when the lines of engagement begin to shift. We all know what happened to General Custer at Little Big Horn.  The same death will happen to our creative product if we don’t pay attention to the new information coming t us from the front lines.

Likewise, in our lives, we don’t listen to the battles going on in our hearts, minds and bodies. Some might call this our conscience, or that voice that whispers “this isn’t right for you.” That other voice that whispers so sweetly, “but everyone else is doing it…” is like St. George’s dragon, or the personification of evil. Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine used to say, “The Devil made me do it!”

We can go along with the “demon voice” of “everyone else is doing it” and discover that our moral standards are at the lowest common denominator, and we make decisions not on any ultimate truths or standards, but on conditional and relative criteria. The ground is always shifting under us, like a mountain about to erupt. If we refuse to fight this particular dragon and “go along to get along,” then either our mental health or our physical health will begin to fail us. We may intellectually marshal the arguments of reason for our refusal to do battle against this insidious dragon, but like the fiery beasts of the old tales, they will surely begin to ravish the countryside.  In this case, the country isn’t Cappadocia, but the heart and mind of the one who needs to gird the horse for battle.

Many of our modern illnesses are related to stress, which comes from having to reconcile two discordant tunes in one’s head. Only when we can fine that one tune to hear will we be both well and at peace.  Another image is trying to “spot paint a wall that was painted too many years ago.” Putting fresh paint over dull color will make this one spot stick out like a sore thumb.  One must paint the whole wall, and of course, the other three walls and the ceiling, for the rest will look too sad next to that freshly painted wall. The truth is we can’t just put a new piece of cloth on to an old garment; we must change out the whole thing. This is called a “make over” or a life style change, or the “new life in Christ.”

I myself have had a lifestyle change from the hectic, caring for the lives of others that is the life of a pastor to the new life of caring for myself in these years of being on incapacity leave.  These past four years others from my old life have pushed me to be “more involved and to do more ministry with and for others” in the hope that I will be able to return one day to full or part-time ministerial service.

As I listen to my body, I realize that the stresses of these activities aren’t for me anymore. I can do them on an occasional basis, but not on a weekly basis, and definitely not on a daily basis. I am healthier when I am in the solitude of my studio writing and painting. I need the quiet to stay well and avoid the stress that brings on the seizures. Here I can reflect on the battles between good and evil, the struggles we all have to live the full Christian life.

We all do battle against the dragon.  Some of us want to be at the heart of the action, to receive the affirmations of the people to be there for them and to touch their lives. We think if we can make a difference here, it will atone for our failures to make a difference somewhere else or in some one else. We will be at peace when we understand that while we may gird the horse and swing the sword, “the battle belongs to the LORD.”

As an artwork for spiritual reflection, find an icon of St. George and the Dragon. As you meditate upon it, write out the words of your particular “dragons.” These are the powers and principalities that you struggle against: pride, fear, self-doubt, worry, hopelessness, arrogance, anger, weakness, hate, etc.  You can make the words of any size or shape. Embellish them with wings, give them an elongated tail, scales and an open gaping mouth. Now draw a large sword, gleaming brightly in the light of day. Upon this sword write the words of power that come from scripture: “The battle belongs to the LORD!”

Keep this image near you this week and draw strength from it: God is at your right hand!

For photo & info on the volcano at Mt. Erciyes:  http://volcanocafe.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/cappadocia-upright-volcano-of-turkey/

For Illnesses related to Stress:  http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems