I’m finishing up my grandchildren’s family history scrapbooks. I got to thinking about our family tree. The high holy days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and the year end festivities bring families together. This often results in a few fireworks or flamethrowers at some of these gatherings. I suspect alcohol may be involved in some of this, but old grudges and scores, which haven’t been settled in decades, won’t get settled on this holiday either.
My mother’s sister claimed our family goes back to the Baronial Order of the Magna Charter. These are a distinct group of the descendants of the signers of the 1215 document, in which King John of England granted the principles of constitutional law. The most important was each person, even the king, was subject to the law.
For my family, the real importance was our Anglo Saxon ancestry was ancient and noble, as well as white. Our linage also qualifies us for membership in the DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution, and DOC, Daughters of the Confederacy, two more all white groups. Both of these are institutions of a bye gone age and a bifurcated society. I have folks in my family tree who liked to put on “airs,” as folks in the country like to say. All the old ones in my family tree went to their graves holding these beliefs firmly. I loved them anyway.
Trees are meant to live by breathing fresh air and growing new leaves and branches. Even if trees only propagate by pollinating with their own kind, each tree is part of a giant forest of many species of trees. If a forest were a monoculture, a single disease or pest could wipe out the entire growth. If the forest consists of many different plants and trees, the destructive organism has to work very hard to destroy the whole, for the different and unlike species provide protection for one another. The variety of a diverse culture is its strength.
If we human creatures took note of our surroundings more, we would not fear the Others, but would embrace them. We would make them our friends, and we’d defend one another from harm.
The next generation of my family tree, I hope, is learning to love the other families of this diverse and wonderful world. I hope the branches of your family tree are open, growing, and renewing. Perhaps your branches can provide a shelter and make America friends again.
Some folks say Merica, like they can’t stand to say the whole of our country’s name or bear the taste of it in their mouth. Others bleed red, white and blue, but they only see the America they know and love. Once they have their piece of the pie, they are afraid to let others come to the table.
First we maligned the Irish, then we found other newcomers to scapegoat. We kept a whole race enslaved, and then found ways to keep them second class citizens. Women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920! Yet none of these oppressed groups ever gave up their dream of the America we can become if we all work together for the best of the lofty goals our forefathers desired.
The providence of God is a faith belief and a trust that the pie is always large enough for all to share. God will provide for us our needs every day. Our human need to control our own destiny and define our own life is marked by our fear of God not being there for us. While humans may abandon us in our hour of need, God’s steadfast love endures forever. This is a promise repeated over and over again in scripture.
Human love tends to be conditional, or a quid pro quo type of love. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” is how we explain this. God’s love is unconditional because God loves God’s creation and provides for what he created. The pie for people of faith is limitless, for God keeps increasing it. How does this happen? God opens our hearts to the needs of others and we share God’s blessings with them.
This is why Americans are the most generous people of the whole world. We know the source of our strength and our power is magnified when we share it with others who are weak and under attack. If Christianity is going to be co-opted by our culture, let it be the best parts of our faith! The care for the poor, the weak, the hungry, the sick, the ones who need a miracle in their lives. Let’s not have Christ be used as a one armed bandit to deliver riches, health and wealth to individuals for the rice of prayers or deeds.
Look at the photo again: a true patriot…
“This woman explained to me that the flagpole over her door was broken but ‘on such a day as this, one keeps one’s flag on one’s heart.'” I felt in her a touch of the strength and robustness of the early American pioneers’.
Photo by the great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson USA. Massachusetts. Cape Cod. July 4th, 1947. Independence Day.
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
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.
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)
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.
I went walking Thursday night with the Spa City Pacers in our downtown area. The humidity was high and the evening breezes of a few weeks ago were’t stirring any longer. My ice melted in my carry cup before we left the old train depot.
I’ve signed up for the HOT SPRINGS 5K FUN WALK. It’s held in conjunction with the SPA 5K/10K RUN, both of which are timed qualifying events for larger races. As a walker with some health challenges, I sometimes think I need an Instant Gratification Fun Run–I sign up, show up and get my tshirt .
Then again, how would I become healthier or stronger? If I don’t challenge my body bit by bit, I won’t take it to a new level. I’m realistic enough to accept that my progress won’t be quick or great. If I’m able to walk a hill today when last year I had difficulty making a level mile, I can say I’ve improved. The more years I can stay in my own home, the better off I will be. For any of us as we grow older, the challenges of using our body “as we used to” begin to come closer together. Just changing a light bulb is a challenge if your balance isn’t just right. Use it or lose it is a slogan the silver haired need to repeat often!
It doesn’t matter what level you are at now. This is your baseline. You aren’t running the race against anyone else or against a certain standard. All you need to do is to persevere and not be discouraged. Some days the heat and humidity sap my strength. I do less but I do something. I’ve had three emotionally trying weeks. Early this morning I had a visual seizure while I was still in bed. I went back to sleep for four more hours. Even this can’t stop me from making my appointed workout, but I did make it lighter.
There are folks at my local YMCA that are in far worse shape than me. They are my heroes: they give their all with great passion even though some have twisted bodies, disabled bodies, artificial limbs, disease or venerable years. We also have some pretty bodies who also work out there, but most of us are just ordinary people who want to make the most extraordinary use of this vessel the good Lord has given us so that we can do all the good we are able, as long as we can, to all we can, by any means we can.
When I go back Tuesday night, I’ll walk with a renewed delight that I’m out in the midst of a beautiful city, that I have companion walkers who desire a healthier life just as I do, and we can share that camaraderie of meeting the challenge of one more day on the journey. I can see the reflection of the old buildings in the new mirrored glass building. I can see the same sky in the mirror and above me. I can breathe in the molecules of air the ancient citizens who walked these steps once breathed, as well as the molecules breathed by the quicker runners and faster walkers who breezed through here this evening.
I may not be in the same group, but I am on the same streets and I am alive.
Greetings! You haven’t heard much from me lately because I’ve been writing a spiritual journey sci fi novel that I’m posting by chapters as a weekly serial on http://www.souljournieswordpress.wordpress.com. I invite you to visit me there. It isn’t a blog, however, it is a work of fiction: think DR. Who and The Way of a The Pilgrim.
This photo is my latest work. I’m in full spring mode doing a butterfly series! This is Stage 4: Blue Morpho– my most recent work on the easel. The outer wings have to become darker, that right wing with the white splotches is only in its first stage of paint and the background has been laid in, but not articulated.
As an artist I have to live with a work on my easel that is in various stages of completion. I make a sketch on the canvas, then I begin to paint. Even here I often realize that I’ve not drawn my subject well, so I change the form as I paint. Just because I drew it off kilter doesn’t mean I’m locked into coloring inside those lines. If I drew the lines, I can draw others. These lines aren’t “fixed!”
Just so, our lives aren’t fixed by the decisions we have made earlier in our lives. Others will try to tell us this. It’s true if you burn your bridges behind you, it’s hard to cross those bridges again.
However, creative people will find a way to swim the river or hire a boat to cross to the other side. The lack of a bridge doesn’t stop them from going back and making amends so they can start over again.
God is the great creator who is making all things new. God can give us a new heart, a new hope, and a new spirit. We can be in the process of being recreated like the Blue Morpho–from a crawling caterpillar to a quiet chrysalis and finally to a beautiful butterfly.
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.