Spring Flowers

adult learning, art, Creativity, Easter, Faith, flowers, garden, Garden of Gethsemane, Good Friday, Holy Spirit, Imagination, incarnation, Israel, Ministry, nature, Painting, picasso, Prayer, purpose, salvation, Spirituality, Stations of the Cross, Travel

How many colors exist in creation? Many more than we can buy in a tube at the art supply store and even more than the number of paint chips at our local building supply store. Recently I gave my adult art class an assignment to use their primary colors and white only to mix new colors, since I noticed they were not getting middle values in their paintings. I too enjoy the brightness of the primary colors, so this was also a challenge for me.

Power of the Cross

The following week I needed to do less geometry and more nature, but I came back to the cross theme once again, for these flowers are from a photo of the Easter “Living Cross” at my church. While we can’t see the arms of the cross, anymore than we can see Jesus today, we know the cross is there, just as we know Jesus is present for us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This makes Christ alive, not only in our hearts, but also in the lives of all who suffer: the poor, the immigrant or stranger in our land, and the oppressed. Even the land itself, which suffers from human caused climate change, can be a place where we meet the living Christ.

Spring Flowers

The Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem is a powerful place, for it was where Christ was handed over to his captors by a former friend. From there he went to death on the cross and resurrection for our salvation. This garden retains this energy of struggle: Jesus prayed to get his will in line with God’s will.

If the story ended here, we’d have no living crosses full of beautiful flowers on Easter Sunday. Out of pain and struggle comes great beauty. Most of us will avoid any challenge in our lives, thinking the easy way is the best way. Intentionally causing others to suffer pain isn’t acceptable for moral reasons: “do no harm” is a good adage, as is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Setting achievable goals and challenges are different. These cause us to grow. They may also cause us discomfort, but this isn’t pain.

On this canvas, Spring Flowers, I had to overpaint and scumble to create the textured grays of the background. I even had to repaint the wispy border flowers several times to get their petals colored and straight, plus to get the ground varied enough to make them stand out.

One of the artists I most admire is Picasso, for he was always reinventing his style. Today artists pick a style and stick with it. Perhaps this is lucrative and makes economic sense. Still, I wonder what happens to the creative spirit when it’s not nurtured, challenged, and expressed. Of course, this may be the difference between a great artist and a good artist, and only the centuries will tell which among us now will be great.

Hope and Suffering

art, butterflies, Easter, Faith, Forgiveness, Good Friday, Icons, incarnation, Lent, Ministry, Prayer, salvation, Spirituality

“You totally (should) become his nature, deny his being apart from you; you should be he himself, not Christians, but Christ, otherwise you will be no use to the coming god.”
—C. G. Jung, The Red Book, p. 137.

“No one can be spared the way of Christ, since this way leads to what is to come. You should all become Christs, says C. G. Jung, in his Answer to Job. He goes on to explain in the divine indwelling of the Holy Spirit in humanity, “a christification of the many arises.” One of the great and simple prayers is “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them in them the fire of your love.” When we ask for the indwelling third person of the Trinity, we also ask for the rest of the “family,” for the three are fellow travelers. The Father and the Son aren’t separate entities, even when the Spirit proceeds from the two, just as the Father and the Spirit aren’t off somewhere distant when the Son is suffering on the cross.

In the season of Lent, many people begin with ashes on their forehead as a sign of repentance and fasting for the forty days before Easter. Some give up bacon, others give up alcohol, and some give up social media. Perhaps this is our idea of suffering today, since most of us have our needs for shelter, food, and security met. Modern people tend to suffer emotionally instead, so this may be why we fast from social media. Unfortunately, we don’t have much deep Christian teaching around suffering, mostly because it’s not a happy subject. Nobody likes a downer sermon. Bible studies on Job and the prophets are unpopular too. We don’t like seeing our faces in a BCE Mirror.

I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE

Who wants to suffer today? No one! Most of the Christian teaching around the cross concerns a variation on the substitution theory, or Jesus takes on our suffering so we no longer have to endure the agony ourselves. Of course, when we meet trouble in our daily life, we then call into question either the effectiveness of this work on the cross or our faith in his work on our behalf. Did Christ die for everyone else, but not for me? Are there other works besides my faith in Christ necessary for my salvation? Do I need to be a better person to earn my freedom from suffering?

If we understood the nature of the earthbound Christ life, rather than the resurrected Christ life, we’d grasp the essential nature of suffering bound up into this life of flesh and spirit. Christ knew hunger, thirst, loneliness, temptation, disappointments, weariness, rejection, and pain. Worst of all, he tasted the emptiness of death before he knew the fullness of the resurrection.

Should we protect our children from suffering? If we mean, should we do our best to feed, clothe, and shelter them, the answer is yes, of course! If we mean, do we protect them from the logical consequences of their acts, I’d say, most likely no. If a child won’t do their own homework, they should get the logical results for their refusal. Physical punishment isn’t a logical result. Poor grades, limits on sports or activities, or staying after school are consequences in line with the poor behavior. Small sufferings now will avoid larger sufferings later. (If they want to jump out of a third story window, that’s another matter. Put some locks on that, parents!)

Of course, to even call these “suffering” shows how far our modern world has moved from the ancient world. Sufferings once were the lot of slaves, who had no authority over their own lives, and could be bought and sold like cattle. They had no agency or control over their fortunes or lots in life. We modern folk are different, unless we buy into the idea we’re rudderless ships upon a stormy ocean. Then we’re merely chaff tossed about by external forces, so we might as well be slaves to our environment.

If we held the whole nature of Christ within us, we’d know both the Christ of suffering and the resurrected Christ of glory. While we ourselves have not yet ascended, we do hold fast to his promise,

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)

If we live with hope, we can rejoice, and be patient in suffering, while we persevere in prayer.
~~ Romans 12:12

ICONS: A Moment of Mystery

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Making Found Object Icons is an art project that evolved out of the Great Macaroni Multimedia Traveling Artandicon Show. In seminary during Art Week our fellow students were horrified we were making sacred images out of edible products, such as macaroni, lentils, peas, and beans.

Jesus is the Bread of Life

“That’s sacrilegious!”

“Jesus is the bread of life, and macaroni is just another form of wheat,” we replied.

“But it’s so ordinary!”

“Clay is ordinary, and so is stone. Can an object only be worthy of God if it’s made of expensive materials?”

“Well….”

“The value of all the chemicals in a human body is about $5.18, but we’re worth far more than that in the eyes of God. Some say God doesn’t make junk, yet too many people of faith despise and debase the body. I’ve always wondered why this was so, since the Son of God came to earth in human form, and as the great hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 (NRSV) says—

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

Jeweled Cross

When we meet Christ at Christmas, we can get all warm and fuzzy because who doesn’t like a warm, cuddly baby? Maybe I have a soft spot for babies, but I really don’t trust people who don’t get a little ga-ga when the little ones coo and smile. I can understand folks getting squeamish at Good Friday and the cross. Most of us avoid as much pain as possible. Humility and obedience to God are not high priorities these days for many people. 

Flight into Egypt

Many tend to ignore this wonderful call to the Christ-like life, preferring instead the cop out of “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” (Mark 14:38, NRSV). “Forgive us,” we say, but we hold others up to high standards. 
We make a distinction between our dual natures of the flesh and the spirit, a concept inherited from the Greco-Roman culture. It’s notable that the often quoted verse, “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit,” is found in Galatians 6:8 (NRSV), for this was a Roman province. 
The ancient Mediterranean area had a knowledge/mystery tradition. The Greeks had their cult of Bacchus, the Egyptians the cult of Isis, and the Jewish had their mystical Kabbalah. The Romans had their dying and rising god cult of Mithras, the bull. Entry into all of these groups was by word of mouth only, given to a special few, and all had secret rites known to the members only.  Most promised salvation through secret knowledge, and the true world for them was spiritual rather than the physical world in which we live today. Ecstatic worship separated the believer from the body and the ordinary world. 
You might recognize these traits in your own church or worship community today, except for the ecstatic and enthusiastic worship brought about by mood altering substances. That’s not my church anyway! How do we come close to God? Across the centuries, the tradition has discovered contemplative prayer, singing, searching the scriptures, serving the poor, attending the sacraments, and creating art for God or the Holy Icons.
Making an object for the glory of God, to enhance the worship experience, and to honor God is a gift of the artist’s time and talent. No artist is ever paid what their training and talent is worth, for it’s a treasure from God to begin with—it can’t be valued. Artists have learned over the centuries to live simply, accept fame if it comes, and put a fair price on their work. 

Gail’s Cross

They get value in the spiritual real from the work they do, for the icon opens a window into heaven. As they arrange the jewels and found objects, and move them to a better position, the icon comes alive under their hands and begins to breathe. Only the person, who will be still long enough to hear the silence from beyond the open window, can hear the voice of God in this world. For this person, the icon is a treasure, and a place of holy focus, no matter how small or how simple the materials. 
This is the reason the artist makes an icon—to have a moment of mystery, a time of intersection, and a communion with the holy. In today’s hurried world, each of us wants a place in which we can experience for a moment the timelessness of heaven. 
When we return in the New Year, we’ll begin painting our own holy icons. The process is a spiritual journey, more than a destination or the attempt to reach perfection. We only need to “go toward perfection” each day!

Ripples in the Water

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After all is said and done, the taste of victory will not be sweet for the winning side. They will be eating a roast beast cooked to ashes. It will feed them, but it won’t nourish them for the long haul.

The agony of this latest defeat for the survivors, who came out of hiding to share their stories of pain in solidarity with others, is just a minor setback, for their bravery has been honed by years of struggle. One skirmish doesn’t make a battle, anymore than one person can make or break our spirits. We know our worth and identify is located in our being loved by God and loved into the image of God.

Yet, if we listen to the news feed of any political persuasion, either “the kingdom has come according to God’s will,” or “the apocalypse is upon us now!” I admit to being one of the latter, but even I can put on my drama queen crown for a day. Television, social media, and our instant society push us in this direction. We are seduced into overconsumption of media during times of high drama, especially when an unusual event occurs, such as a natural disaster or a Supreme Court appointment.

Why would we even care, as people of faith, about a political appointee? While this government position is technically separate from the church, the people who rule make decisions affecting God’s people and God’s world–especially the poor, the marginalized, and the dispossessed. We want to know that all 114 of the justices since 1789 not only are well qualified in matters of the law, but have the “temperament suitable for the highest court of the land.”

This is like the classic “sorting hat” of Harry Potter fame—or the Southerner’s expression “couth”—you either have it or you don’t. If you have to ask what it is, you don’t have it. Mostly down South, we easily recognize “uncouth.” That is plain as the nose on you face or people screaming at you to listen when your mind is already made up.

So the vote to confirm the 114th was close, but affirmative, and we now have a new Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. People think Justice Kavanaugh will tilt the Court to the right, since there’s no swing vote currently among the nine. Since I’m afflicted by the dread disease of chronic optimism, and infected by family systems thinking, I don’t believe in static systems. After all, every place I’ve ever been and every job ever had, both secular and sacred, all had the same people and conditions, but when you replace one key person (or change the way the key person relates to the others), change happens.

I observed an interesting effect of Family Systems behavior patterns when an extroverted clergy pal, who led youth groups, and I were part of a leadership training seminar. Our normally reserved group leader began to toss the dinner rolls across our restaurant table as he called out our names. The more he “acted out,” the straighter and quieter my friend became! I was dying laughing inside, but I couldn’t laugh out loud at her expense.

DELEE—Ripples in Water of Lake Hamilton

When we throw a rock into a lake, it creates a ripple. We may think these waves dissipate after a few feet, but under the water are small fish who felt the water’s expansion, so they moved to another part of the lake. Perhaps the fisherman, whose luck was poor all day long, made one final cast and caught the bigger fish that had moved over to seek the small fish from our tossed pebble area. We may have given him a meal for his family or just made his day glad. We’ll never know the results of the small acts or decisions we make.

Likewise, when a new Justice arrives into the very small pond—there’s only nine of them—it’s bound to make a ripple. If we believe “God is working for good in all things, for those who love God and are called according to God’s purposes,” then by faith we’d trust God will work in this small pond to move the hearts and minds of these justices. In their discussions and interactions, they would affect one another. They don’t make decisions in an ivory tower, for they’re not like a judge in an individual court, but colleagues who come to a consensus opinion, even if one may write a dissent on the side.

As a stone sharpens a blade, we can hope and pray for the light of God’s love to illumine both the mind and heart of all who serve on our high court. They’ll have many important questions to come before them. Our hope is they and we always remember psychologist Ellen Langer’s advice for making tough choices: “Don’t make the right decision. Make the decision right.” Since we never have enough information to make the best choice, all we can do is make the best of the choice we’ve made.

If we remember we’re all children of God and all of God’s children are well loved, then we can go forward without rancor to recreate the world anew. If the current occupants of political office aren’t responding to this transformative calling, we should run, organize, vote, and elect others who will work together for the good of all, not just for a few. This takes vision, planning, and a long term view.

Most of us will only think about as long as it takes our double shot white mocha latte with soy to come over the counter at our favorite cafe spot, if that long. Plan for a major holiday? Five year plan? Plan out the church year in advance? No wonder we don’t even know what we’re doing this weekend. Most of us are just trying to get through the day. No wonder we live moment to moment and crisis to crisis. We don’t ever pull back and reflect on where the ripples go when the stone drops. All we do is keep throwing stones. This isn’t evidence of a life of faith and purpose. Calendars are going on sale now. It might be time to make some prayers and plans.

I haven’t read this book, but the New York Times gives it a rave review.
“Farsighted,” Steven Johnson’s riveting new book on how we make tough long-term decisions, uses compelling stories that reveal surprising insights, and explains how we can most effectively approach the choices that can chart the course of a life, an organization, or a civilization. “Farsighted” will help you imagine your possible futures and appreciate the subtle intelligence of the choices that shaped our broader social history.

THE CURRENT HEAT WAVE HAS ME CRYING

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Cultural ChristActually, that’s my stunt double. Just like Chuck Norris, I’m too brave to cry. Or, the heat dries up any form of moisture that escapes my eyes. The stuff oozing from my pores is a different matter altogether. I think those 3,000,000,000 holes scattered across my body are each an eye leaking the tears our real ducts can’t cry.

The real Chuck Norris never sweats. He breaks any sweat that comes near him. Sweat is afraid of Chuck Norris, for he is the epitome of cool. How cool is Chuck Norris? We could defeat global warming if we unleashed his massive forces of chill. His sustained energy could bring down the ocean’s temperature by 4 degrees. In fact, Chuck Norris has the cooling equivalency of two Antarctic continents plus the Arctic ice cap.

Many things make my stunt double cry. Mostly they are those events, situations, or conditions that I cannot fix or make better for someone else. I spent years helping my daughter try to overcome the effects of her abuse. Others also gave their best efforts also. Her mental illnesses haves always impaired her ability to trust others or to stay on a treatment plan. Once she became an adult, she could choose, even if she didn’t make good choices, or have the ability to choose well.

I could cry about this forever, or let my stunt double have this role. I chose to grieve about this loss, shed enough tears, and find a way to live my own life by meeting the hopeless, the suffering, the despairing, the lost, the victims, and the ones “who’ve been down so long , it looks like up” to them. After all, this is where Christ met me. I knew if he could reach into my dark pit and pull me up into the light, if I offered Christ to others, he would the same for them.
When I get to the point of dragging out my Chuck Norris stunt double, I know it’s because good old Chuck is a cultural Christ figure. When I want a power for good to make a difference in my world, I call on this Texas Ranger. Instead, I should call on the spiritual power that flows through me:
“My soul clings to you; your right hand supports me.” (Psalm 63:8)

I may not be able to relieve the suffering of any one person, but I know God in his mercy understands and has compassion on all who suffer. God didn’t withhold God’s own son, but gave him up to suffer for all of us (Romans 8:32). Through this suffering we are united with those everywhere who experience wretchedness of any sort. Too often we hear that the winners of this world are our heroes, but faith tells us that those who lose their lives will gain their lives.

If we are to best grow into the Christ life, we cannot forget those who suffer while we are being healed, nor those who hunger or thirst while our stomachs are full. The real Chuck Norris would not send his stunt double to do good in this world.

MEDITATION ON RAIN AND REST

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Good morning! I’m back in my studio today. It’s a beautiful rainy day, just perfect for writing, but not for painting. Thanks to all who stopped by my booth at annual conference. We had our means of grace times! This gray day caused me to reflect that others might not have shared this experience:

Rain grows more flowers than thunder. While each of us might want to get back to work right away and catch up on our “missed opportunities” for ministry back home, a time of rest and contemplation might serve us better. First, we could process the events of the last few days during our time together. Did we find times to share means of grace with each other? Were we open to the call of the Spirit to stop and turn aside, or did we lurch from one agenda item to another to get things done? 
Did we take time to listen to one another or did we stand on the balls of our feet, poised to flee as soon as possible? Were our minds on the business of the meeting or on the person before us?

Second, we could ask ourselves, why do we not spend more time in Christian conversation with one another outside of annual conference? If sharing our lives together is a means of grace, why aren’t we offering that grace to one another more often? Perhaps we’re too busy working, or collecting our works righteousness points, for either the Lord or the Bishop, to enter into this self care and self love for one another. All we have to do is put this on our calendars as an appointment: prayer time, accountability time, study time, covenant group time, or support group time. 
  After all, Jesus had the disciples to go away with into the wilderness. Surely we could go to a parlor, parsonage or coffee shop somewhere with our preacher pals. Or are we afraid of risking intimacy? Do we fear that our human weaknesses will be rejected by those that are called to offer grace to all? Or is it because we have lost the Wesleyan understanding of “all can be saved by a God who is able to save all?”

Finally, we should sit and be quiet for a while, I believe, for with the rain comes either a nurturing and refreshing cleansing or a great flood with thunder and torrents that can’t be controlled. If we are to be the “non anxious presence” at the center, we need peace and quiet to hear God’s voice in our own heart and mind. 
Subjects for discussion starters: 
1. All are broken and fallen in this world. If Christ came to save the sick, that’s all of us. 

2. Historically scripture was used to advocate for slavery. We can’t imagine this now. We fought the “War of Northern Aggression” or the Civil War over this issue. 

3. If we are going to use one sin to get excited about, we should also pick up on those sins the Lord himself condemned. To name a few: divorce, adultery, greed, stinginess, swearing, judging others, and faithlessness. (Matthew’s gospel) 
We extend grace and forgiveness to constant practitioners of these activities, so we have a precedent for either deciding to include other “sinners” or excluding/purifying our pews of these additional sinners. We might all have to take up that “vile field preaching,” however. 
4. God gave each of us two eyes and two ears, but had the good sense to give us only one mouth. Maybe God means we should do more listening to others and looking at the world from their side of the street, and spend very little time speaking until we truly hear the heart of the other as our own heart. 
Then we can say with John Wesley ” If your heart be as my heart, then give me your hand.”

YOU CAN’T DO THIS WITHOUT PRAYER

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  You haven’t got a prayer. Not a chance. No way, Jose. At my age, I should know better. At least, that’s what the gray hairs on my head  remind me. “With age comes wisdom, or at least, experience. Leave these great deeds for the young and strong who yearn to make their mark on the world!”

Why would I listen to such sage advice from my sensible self? Creative artists appreciate a good challenge, a technical problem to solve, or a medium to master. If you tell us it can’t be done, we say, “Why not? It’s a boundary to be pushed, a line to be crossed, or a limit to be stretched.”  For us, the rule is made to be broken. Traditions are useful only to guide us into new arenas of unexplored territory. 

This scenario usually means Plan Alpha doesn’t pan out. At least I didn’t make it into Plan Zebra, but only because the good Lord hears the prayers of those in need.

 “Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!” ~~ Psalms 30:10

I had a written plan, a sketch, which is more than most folks have when they head to Lowes. I also had a materials’ list, as well as a to do list. I thought I could execute these four 48″ x 72″ pegboard panels with three hinges on each side to make a four sided standing display stand in one cool morning. 

First I underestimated the length of time to wait for the cuts on these four boards at Lowes. Only one young man was doing his harried best to cut every piece of wood for all the customers lined up to take advantage of the $1 per cut fee. Asking for help never brought another worker, for that would have cost the company more in benefits and wages than it brought in sales. Checking facebook passed the time. Then another customer let me go first. His lot was bigger and more complex than mine. Besides, down South, most older gentleman will let a lady go first. Not the younger men, however; just the older ones. It’s a passing tradition. 

Getting these pegboards into my SUV are a trick. I can put a 48” wide canvas inside easily because it’s on stretcher strips. Pegboard is flexible and doesn’t stay in one place. It also gets caught on the seat belt straps. To carry these one by one is a trick itself, so I can always count on the helpers appearing out of nowhere to give me a hand. God has been known to provide mana in the wilderness and willing backs in the loading zones. I lacked an inch of space to close the back door, so I pulled my two front seats granny close. That and a push did it for us. Another fellow made sure I didn’t hit the cars behind me. I’m always thankful for help, even when I think I can handle it myself. 

Arriving at my condo, I pulled the pegboards out onto the carport floor. Gravity is a great help. We can thank God for this too, as well as for curious neighbors who can’t resist getting involved. Bill helped me drill, place and screw the door hinges onto the first two boards before another errand called him away. When I stood this pair upright, I realized my afternoon would be devoted to Plan B. 

All the designs and lists are for naught if one forgets that steel trumps composite wood. Yes, the hinges were stronger than the boards. Back to Lowes for more materials. Cedar fence shakes for $2.55 each were a better choice than finely finished pine for $3.25 each, plus I wouldn’t have another interminable wait at the cutting line. The cedar was already six feet long, but the pine was eight feet in length. Carrying Plan B to my vehicle was a piece of cake, maybe even a muffin top, for I needed no miraculous mana of help to materialize upon that asphalt. 

At home again, Bill brought Sue ought to check on my progress, along with a tall glass of iced lemonade. I’m not sure what I appreciated more, the cool drink, the encouragement, or the extra hands to get Plan B underway. I was fading quickly with each passing hour of the late afternoon. Together we slammed that structure into a whole. As we say, many hands make the work light. As long as it’s predrilled, I can put it back together again. I even labeled the sections by number to get then in order the next day. 

“How will you get it inside? How will you put it together?” My neighbors asked me. “Oh, there’s always someone who will help. It’s the way we are!” Stepping out in faith is what we do for a living. It’s our way of life. Asking for help isn’t necessary. We need only get out over our head and others will help us. God sends these folks to us. I’ve been the one sent to those in need, and I’ve been on the receiving end also. 

When I drove up to our local convention center, the arena staff saw my laboring over the dolly and these boards, looked at each other, and picked up the four pieces to hand tote them to my display site. Friends helped bring in the paintings and the college students from the Wesley Foundation at the University of Arkansas at Monticello helped me build the display. I was up and ready by noon!  

I may have begun this project by myself, but I had help the whole way. I had the tradition of the old masters who drew plans for grand buildings in their sketchbooks to guide me. Experts at Lowes gave me tips on hanging my works and  my condo neighbors stopped by to encourage me as I worked. (They also checked on the unusual activity over at my carport, I’m sure.) I brought some young people into the trade of carpenter’s apprentice for a short term. I imagine it was different from their school books and computers. I so appreciated their energy and willingness to serve. 

I met the face of God in each of my helpers, for they were each one an answer to prayer. We don’t have to speak this prayer out loud, for God can hear the silent cries from our hearts. God can answer the unspoken prayers, the deep sighs of our spirits. For our companion’s sakes, the sooner we’re in touch with our deep emotional needs so that we can voice our pain and needs, the better our intimacy and personal lives will be. Try this simple prayer: 

 “Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!” ~~ Psalms 30:10

THOUGHTS ON ACEDIA

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I’m in this mode or mood today. I have a form of malaise, the kind that comes after pouring out all you have until you are drained. Now my listless is my form of recovery. I have hit the wall and I’m not going on. Did I mention that my community has received 25 inches of rain since the first of the year? Our annual average is a whopping 56 inches! We can get rain in any month, so I have a giant umbrella in case I decide to get off the couch. Other cities thirst for our gift, I know, as the good Lord only spits some 37 annual inches their way. Y’all do get more than our paltry 3 inches of snow, however. Please don’t offer to share it. 

 I’ve been chunking away at my various projects, some of which are pure tedium (bookkeeping) and others which are fulfilling (the creative writing & painting). Then I thought about possibly listing my 1 bedroom condo and moving up to a 2 bedroom unit.  The sympathetic illness of moving day is pretty well Ingrained after all these years of itinerant ministry. This disease was quickly cured when I remembered my vow of voluntary simplicity. 
Living under one’s means frees us to give to the poor as well as lessening our need to worry about how our needs are going to be met. Living under our means gives us the opportunity to explore the world, rather than be house bound. We can eat better food and share our time with others rather than being on call for someone’s else’s time and having to eat some fast meal on the fly. 

If we are fortunate, our lives in “retirement” will be more like those of the Benedictine sisters and brothers. We will have an ordered life of work, worship, prayer, quiet, community, and study. We can enjoy a foretaste of that life to come in brief doses, either in 5 day or 2 year commitments at the Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation.

This mood, like all feelings, will no doubt pass in a day or two. Rest is good for the body. Taking the time to care for our precious selves is a gift we can give to God and to those who need us most. We will be better able to fulfill God’s call on our lives if we serve from a full heart, rather than an empty spirit. 

http://academy.upperroom.org/

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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Pantocrator icon: Progress Report

Creativity, Holy Spirit, Icons, Imagination, Love, Meditation, Ministry, mystery, Prayer, purpose, Secrets, Spirituality, Uncategorized, vision, Work

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Progress: the 13th hour on the Pantocrator Icon.
Acrylic on gold primed canvas. 18″ x 24″.

Good things come to those who persevere.

Painting an icon is one of the ancient spiritual disciplines. The artist isn’t just copying by rote or filling in a design, as in a paint by numbers craft piece.

Instead, the artist is rendering a true copy of a window into heaven. As I focus on the image, the image is also focusing on me. As I seek to be faithful to the forms I see, in a mysterious manner unknown and unseen, the icon’s presence allows the Spirit of God to work within my heart and mind to transform me and bring me closer to God’s original image.

There are days in my life when I think I should paint more icons. There are days in this world when I wish all people honored and venerated the holy icons, or at least honored the call for peace within their own religious traditions. Perhaps that day will come in my lifetime, but if not, I can live in peace and not contribute to the warring nature of this world.