Crossroads and Callings

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Road to Damascus

Nine years ago…how time flies when you’re having fun! I was at a crossroads in my life, however, with a preexisting health condition I’d managed to live with successfully through three high stress careers since 1977. Accumulated stress isn’t good for the body, so my seizure disorder began to make itself visible.

When my neurologist told me I’d never be able to do the work of a full time church pastor again, I had to revision and rehear my calling from God. If we define a role so strictly it’s a one way highway, it can become “my way or the highway.” This extreme dividing drives clergy and laity into producers and consumers, instead of encouraging shared ministry experiences.

If being a “source of all blessings for everyone” is a short term good for a pastor’s ego, it can also lead to a long term harm in health costs or emotional burnout. For the laity, losing the opportunity to live out their shared witness to the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ means they don’t fulfill their roles as the priesthood of all believers.

ARTANDICON in 2009: Bravely Smiling

The basic teaching of “make disciples of all nations” doesn’t have much effectiveness if we first are not disciples ourselves. So the old saw is true, we may be saved by the grace of God, and not by our good works, but if we want to become learners or disciples, our spiritual life takes some work, just as doing good for others is a hands on job.

I count myself fortunate to have a creative and curious mind, for I’ve always been the child who asked, “Why,” or went, ”Oh, I need to look that up and learn more about it!” Learning for the test, only to forget it later, has never been my strong suit.

The system as a whole also interests me more than the individual parts (I confess this is my shortcoming in relationships, since I have a few deep friendships, many good friends, and lots of friendly folks I like, and many people I know. Not enough people to count on one hand to say I totally dislike, although some I’ve set boundaries for their presence in my life because of their addiction issues).

When I set my preconceived notions of my ordination aside, I listened for a new calling from God. If I couldn’t serve IN the church BUILDING , perhaps I could still serve in the church as the BODY OF CHRIST. The body of Christ exists everywhere, both within and without the edifice we call the sanctuary, for we come and go.

In fact, we have people without churches, people who believe in god, or who are merely spiritual, all around us. Most of us are too busy dealing with our own congregations to reach out to these people. They don’t need traditional stories or sermons. I started a science fiction journal on faith.

Why not? Who else is doing it? Will it make money? Who cares? Do I get feedback? Not often. If we’re in this for the affirmation from human beings, we’re worshiping a false god. Idolatry. I can say things like this and not worry about ruffling the big givers. The taste of freedom is sweet.

Of course, I said this type of thing anyhow my entire ministry career, so I moved a lot, but the churches had good stewardship while I was there and repaired all their unmet facility needs. I left it better than I found it because the people came together to make it happen.

In the solitude of your own studio, writing room, or hangout, there’s no people to gather together to make it happen. A person only has the thoughts of what once was, what has been lost, and what will never be again. It’s the first stage of grief, a shock. It can turn into despair or depression, for everything is overwhelming.

Medication, or “better living through chemistry” can help lift the brain fog so a person can get their ducks in a row. This is no easy task, if you’ve ever tried to herd ducks. Worse than herding cats. Ducks will turn around and peck you. Trust me on this. Childhood memory.

Some people think a prescription is a faith cop out, since they should trust God’s grace alone to sustain them in a difficult time. I think God’s providing grace gave us the knowledge to create the medicine to help us heal our bodies. God can heal by ordinary means, such as health providers or medicines; or extraordinary means, such as miracles. More often God’s working in the ordinary, or we wouldn’t use the exclamation point after miracle!

I also returned to my art, for I find painting the holy icons and natural landscapes both bring me closer to God. As I got more used to being on the computer, I taught myself how to set up WordPress blogs and Facebook Pages for my special interests in health, spirituality, and art. Actually all of these get combined together, because of “systems thinking,” since we can’t lop off art from spirituality, or health from cooking, or any other combination thereabouts.

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Antique Aluminum Jello Mold

Now nine years later, I’m in a good place, enjoying my new callings, and in much better health. I will always have my condition, but my condition does not have me. Of course, I have to maintain a disciplined lifestyle, unlike the rest of the world, which runs at pellmell pace until it runs out of gas and crashes. But of course, you wouldn’t do that—you have too much good sense for that, I’m sure.

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

HOT OFF THE EASEL

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The Golden Cloud

 

It’s summer, so what other temperature would it be? I’m in the midst of destroying some of my old works, since I’m tired of looking at them, I’ve grown beyond them, I’ve learned what I needed from the act of doing them, and the best ones from my past series got sold. These “unsold inventory,” or the canvases cluttering up the corners of my condo, need to go elsewhere!

Yet I’m a pack rat from the old school, having been a teacher, the child of a teacher, and the grandchild of a tinfoil hoarder and string collector. Once I could justify my actions as acquiring raw materials for found object sculptures, but now I haven’t much excuse. I no longer teach classes, but my desire to rescue old objects is still in my DNA.

I decided to rescue and destroy these old works at the same time. Just as a forest is made new by the fire which destroys it, I decided to weave together two paintings. For the first one I cut up two same size paintings and rewove them. For this work, I had two different sized works, so I left the original work on the stretcher strips. I cut the other painting into inch wide strips and wove it with a simple basket weave pattern. This allowed the image of the original to shine through.

As painted the silver and golds, I began to enjoy the texture and colors of the surface. Now that I’ve got a fair ground on it, I might live with it and see if I want to push it in another direction. I’m at a stopping place now. I am hungry. Painting on an empty stomach isn’t a good idea! I’ve never made a good decision on an empty stomach. Part of making good art is knowing when to stop. We can always add, but subtraction is more difficult. Our work will look heavy, labored, and overworked. Like a good meal, we should stop before we’re stuffed.

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Resurrection Icon

This is how the old painting looked. I had a heavy hand due to illness–too much blood pressure medicine had me unable to think or feel. I was also struggling with depression. I’m surprised I was even in my studio! Now I have both conditions under control, so I’m turning out a painting a week. If I keep working, I know I’ll improve. If I live long enough, I might even get good! Whatever happens, I’m thankful for the privilege to give this art life the best of my heart and hand.

I hope each of you wake up with joy for each new day!

Joy and Peace, Cornelia.

Autumn Study

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My newest painting is full of energy and colors, for it’s a study of autumn leaves and tree branches, which I saw in the forest surrounding my home. Nature doesn’t plan out how the pine needles fall from the trees, nor how the ornamental pear tree leaves blow up the hill into the shade. Tree branches fall down when they come to the end of their usefulness on the tree. The oaks and sycamores might not be as bright in color, but they too will add their bodies to make the soil richer for the surrounding trees.

This painting is more about my joy of having a brush in my hand and paint on the canvas than it is about any attempt at any realism or representation of my original photo. Layering the colors; changing the background blues; marching the pine straw lines; and even losing the big, bottom sycamore leaf (it became amorphous, overlapping leaf shapes) was a sunny morning’s delight.

It’s been a long time, for I haven’t felt good enough to do anything creative in my studio. What happens to the artist who can no longer feel? Sickness can dull the senses, so the hand can no longer feel the touch of the brush against the canvas or the weight of the paint on the brush. These are minuscule amounts, for sure! One needs to be well to tell the difference and know when to keep going or let go of the stroke. Also one can overwork an area or the whole painting. I have several of these disasters which I’ve decided not to share with you all. (Although I admit I might be my own worst critic. However I do have loads of experience and high expectations!)

Depression, a form of sickness, is worse than feeling sad for a few days. It is a loss of interest in the experiences which once gave you joy, and it’s isolation from the living world because you feel dead inside. When I lost my daughter, I began to crawl in a hole. Then I got physically sick, and my blood pressure medication was working too well. I was one of the walking dead. Once my doctors got the physical problems cleared up, I realized I was also depressed. Now my new “brain chemistry ” is making me feel like “my old self!” I’m thankful I’m able to do creative work again.

A verse which has steadied me through this difficult journey from Isaiah 57:18-19–

I have seen their ways, but I will heal them;

I will lead them and repay them with comfort,

creating for their mourners the fruit of the lips.

Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord;

and I will heal them.

Autumn Study, 12″ x 16″, acrylic on canvas, $100.

ONE OF THOSE DAYS RIDING THE WAVES

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imageThis has been one of those days! A real roller coaster of emotions for my extended family, my own family & for me. Friends suffering the breakup of their marriage and all the emotions of grief surrounding the celebrations of others’ anniversaries. The highs and lows of a lost and found bipolar family member, who is even now being admitted to the psych ward for treatment.
Good old facebook, as much as we deride it, was the instrument of sharing to get the word, her picture, and her need across a broad section of the city. Strangers found her, called for help, and miracles happen. I can only hope one day I hear good news about my own daughter in California.

Richard Rohr wrote about the wave in Buddhist thought. It can strive to be a great wave and be proud of itself until it crashes upon the shore and becomes small, or it can remember its true nature, which is always to be water. If the wave remembers its true Self always, then whatever happens to it doesn’t matter. It is always united with the wave.

imageToday I was repainting one of my old works, working a theme of the Christ wearing the crown of thorns by Fra Angelico with the landscape, or the world.

It reminds me of the verse (John 16:33)– “I have said this to you,       so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution.    But take courage; I have conquered the world!”image

Most of the time the iconographers paint Christ enthroned on a quadrangle, for the four corners of the world. Christ appears as a king in majesty, regal, often with angelic attendants. This Christ suffers with the refugees fleeing from Syria and Iraq, and bleeds with the innocent who die on the streets of our world every day from crimes of violence against humanity.

I may live a more cloistered life today, but the world still presses into my small cell. I try to be one with the wave, and remember that the hand that created the wave can also still the wave.

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.”

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/

WATCHING FROM AFAR

Creativity, Fear, Healing, Health, Imagination, Meditation, Mental Illness, Painting, photography, renewal, salvation, Spirituality, Stations of the Cross, vision

Watching From Afar acrylic on canvas 16" x 20'

Watching From Afar
acrylic on canvas
16″ x 20′

No one wants to be on the train that’s wrecking. Not many want to watch the disaster unfolding, but when you care intensely about a person, sometimes you cannot take your eyes off the pain and trauma. You watch from the cheap seats in the balcony, rather than paying the full price of orchestra pit, where you can get the front row view, up close and personal.

The Gospel accounts of the crucifixion tell us that the Temple leadership and the Roman soldiers had front row seats at this execution, but the crowds and the followers watched from afar.

Those that had an interest only in the spectacle left once it was over. Those who cared about the person hanging on the cross stayed even after he spent his last breath.

“And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (Luke 23:48-49)

This snow scene is the fourth in a series of a single tree representing the various stations of the cross. My personal banker, who’s a member oft church, jogs past this tree all the time. It’s near the Hot Springs Country Club at the corner of Malvern and Bellaire. I took several photos, played in Photoshop in my camera+app and went to work painting on 16″ x 20″ canvases. 

I divided the canvas almost equally into quarters and halves. The heavens and the earth are top and bottom. The Christ tree almost splits in two the right and left halves. 

“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.” (Matthew 27:51)

The quiet stillness of the snow reminds me both of the pause of death and the hope for the resurrection. Both are contained in the cross of Christ, but those who watch from afar at this moment do not yet have this hope. 

The people who live their lives as one train wreck after another want to get off this track, but don’t want to give up control of their lives to a power that can break the chains of death that have held us. “To die to our old selves” is to become a train wreck in the flesh. As we give up these old parts of us, old relationships are rent and have to be reformed in a new manner or we have to part ways with old friends and make new ones instead. 

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The good news is that the cross of Christ unites both heaven and earth, life and death, hope and despair, as well as peace and travail. 

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

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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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THE HUNGER GAMES: Thank You for your consideration.

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For some reason facebook decided that my 7 pages of art, cooking & spiritual formation seemed unconnected. They thought that my Page Manager App perhaps wasn’t really run by one person. How indeed, could one person have so many varied interests? How could they find all the ordinary aspects of this life relating to faith? Oh, I guess, only those who grew up reading that one good book and hearing the stories of everyday life spoken in the ancient parables and metaphors of a distant age and land would understand how to translate this way of speaking into a modern language.

I guess our world today is too one dimensional and too targeted, or perhaps facebook has fallen victim to its own splicing & dicing. We too often only share that part of ourselves that we think others want to see, or we hide that part that we think is not approved by others.

We forget that our weakness is often the key to opening the pain of others so that can begin to heal, or that our struggles are what help others to have the courage to try one more time when the going gets tough. Our world is so sold on the outward appearance of success that the inner self can be falling apart at the seams.

This is why we go through the motions of life, but the fire no longer burns inside. This is why we acquire many things, but have no satisfaction in their holding. This is why we yearn sometimes to have only a small garden, or just a backpack, or to be in a deer stand alone to see the sun come up through the pines. We may make a living, but we may not be making a life.

Once we lived under one umbrella and sought to find one large tent or tree to shelter as many as we could, but now we each seek a tiny pup tent for each person’s own comfort and solace. How many of us have progressively cleaned our facebook friends until we find just those who vote like us, eat like us, think like us, and are like us?

Soon we will no longer feel the fire, no longer want to burn up in the flames of power, and we will be content to watch the Hunger Games on our TV sets. The young will burn and catch on fire and we will be content to pass commentary upon it.

I hope I never get that old. I plan to always be hungry at CORNIE’S KITCHEN, making art at ARTANDICON & CORNELIA DELEE & celebrating faith at ART AND SOUL FUMC HS, ARKANSAS SPIRITUAL FORMATION ACADEMY, & TRIBE OF DAN.

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