Time and Art March Along

adult learning, art, Creativity, Faith, Health, Ministry, Painting, purpose, renewal, Spirituality, vision

Time and the tide waits for no one, we’re certain of this, for we can no more wrestle the waters of the sea to keep the waves from their constant flowing in and out than we can stop the minutes and seconds from slipping into the past, where they’ll be only a memory for a while.

As a mother, I endured the pains of childbirth for excruciating moments, but when I held my beloved daughter in my arms, I immediately began to replace those difficult memories with the present joys of her new life and my new hopes for our life to come. I learned how quickly a newborn child could grow, for she hardly had a chance to wear those cute 3 month old clothes before she outgrew them. When she was six, I bought her lace Sox and white patent leather shoes two weeks before her baptism, but she out grew them and walked to the font barefooted to receive the sacramental water.

Apple

I was appalled, but children’s feet don’t pay attention to parent’s pocketbooks or church calendars. Besides, God called her to holy ground, so her feet needed to be bared. The rest of us were just doing church. Time and tide, as well as the Holy Spirit, can’t be controlled by any human means. We have to ask, what does this have to do with art?

Fruit

Samuel Johnson, the English author said, “The true art of memory is the art of attention.” To what do we pay attention?

1. To the various lists of chores we need to do before we can do something for our own joy or spiritual health?

2. To our list of fears and anxieties about what others will think of our choice to do an activity?

3. To our feelings of inadequacy if we don’t achieve instant success?

I could name others, but in truth, the true art of memory, which is the art of attention, is being present to oneself and to the present moment. We aren’t asked to be in the future or the past, but in the now. This isn’t as easy as it seems, but it’s extremely rewarding. When an artist “gets into this zone of the present moment,” all cares fall away, thinking about pains and problems ceases, and only the creative process and the creation becomes important. In a sense, the artist enters into the life of the creating God. How is this so? God is I AM, or the one who is I AM BECOMING. God is also I WILL BE, for God’s name is all of the “being and becoming” verbs at once.

Autumn Leaves

I began formal art lessons at age 8 years old, but not everyone has that opportunity. Grandma Moses began painting at 78 years of age. Some people paint for fame or to try to earn a living. That was my goal before God called me to the ministry. Now I see my art as the opportunity for others to grow closer to God as a form of meditation. It’s also a good way to challenge the brain, since learning new things helps to keep the mind sharp. Adults need this, along with exercise, a healthy lifestyle, and companionship.

Over the last year, two students have persisted. Both have improved their drawing skills, they are better able to make self directed choices, they are better problem solvers, they see better, and their painting skills are improving. Moreover, while they say “I really don’t have time for this, but if I don’t do it, I get overwhelmed by too many other things. Art class helps me clear out a space for myself.”

Autumn Leaves

In a sense, painting is like prayer. If we don’t have time for prayer, we can find our lives cycling out of control. We are ships on tides we can’t control and live from day to day, watching the leaves of our calendars fly past us, never to return again. Some of us may like living in chaos, since it gives us the feeling of being alive. Others choose to live in chaos because then they don’t have to deal with their feelings, but can spend their time putting out the fires. If we stop for prayer, or stop to paint, these feelings will come to the surface. At least in prayer or in art class, we’re in a place where God is close at hand. As the scriptures promise,

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalms 145:18)

Keep It Simple

adult learning, art, Attitudes, beauty, Creativity, failure, Forgiveness, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Love, nature, Painting, Philosophy, photography, renewal, Spirituality, Strength, trees, Uncategorized, vision

I awoke Sunday morning to a fog enveloped world. My brain was much the same until I made my morning cup of coffee. Unfortunately, this took longer than I expected, for I had only one tablespoon of grounds and a full bag of beans. I’m glad the electric coffee grinder was standing silent beside the coffee pot, waiting only for its moment to be of service. On any ordinary day, I ignore it completely, just as many of us fail to observe the subtle changing of colors from day to day or how the sunlight of the seasons has a different temperature and feel.

Seeing is a learned skill, but like the ancient, secret, gnostic wisdom known only to a few and passed by word of mouth, seeing is best learned in an art class with one who is an eye already. Cézanne characterized Monet as “only an eye—yet what an eye.” Monet taught students not to think of the tree, the building, or the flowers they painted, but of the colors and shapes they were putting on their canvases. This is a conceptual leap, as if we were translating English into Spanish or Martian (we may need this when we go to Mars).

Mike’s Trees

When faced with all the many impressions daily flooding into our consciousness, most of us have learned to block all these distractions out. We do this to “get our chores done in record time” and “come home to escape from this rat race.” “Out of sight and out of mind” is a phrase I often heard growing up. We are often “unconscious people,” walking about in a fog. My dad grew a mustache and my mother kissed him every night before bed without realizing he’d changed his facial appearance. I came home for a visit and said, “When did you grow the Col. Saunders’s look?” My mother was shocked she hadn’t noticed it.

Our first lessons in art class are drawing the geometric figures, since we can simplify or translate most things in nature to these forms. Bushes are balls, houses are cubes, trees are cones, and so on. Some are multiplications of the forms, such as some tree’s foliage is made up of several ball shapes. You get the idea. This way of looking helps to simplify the details so people don’t get stuck on every single leaf.

Another way to simplify is to leave out some of what you see and focus only on what you think is important. If you were a camera in front of a landscape, your eye would take in everything in front of it. We aren’t cameras, however. We can paint as much or as little of what we see before us as we want. I remember in seminary study groups, we prepared for final exams together. The exam would be 3 hours long and cover a semester’s work, which included all the class notes and 15,000 pages of reading. Some of my pals would write a book length answer to one study question. “Fine, but there’s going to be a dozen other questions, so can you hone this down to an essay?” Keeping it simple is a good motto in art class.

Gail’s Trees

Friday in art class I brought in angel hair spaghetti. If the kids eat it, I’m not worried. Fortunately, my “kids” are grownups, but we like to get our inner child out to play every once in a while. We put paint on the sticks and tossed them down on our canvases wherever luck would have them land. In biblical terms, this is “casting lots.” I had given them some ideas for landscape images or they could do some squares in the style of Paul Klee. They went with trees. Mr. Energy and Exuberance, aka Mike, finished his up with jewel tones. Gail, Thoughtful and Precise, did a hard edge tree with a lightning bolt in the background. I worked on a Klee square piece, but I only got the first layer down. It needs more subtle overpainting.

Paul Klee Color Study
(Not my work)

Learning how to see is a lifetime process. The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance, and this, and not the external manner and detail, is true reality, said Aristotle. Art opens us up not only to the outer world, but also to our inner world. As we see more in the world about us, we find more compassion for its brokenness as well as more love for its beauty. Likewise, we realize we too are both broken and beautiful, so we find we can be more compassionate and loving towards our own selves. As forgiven and reconciled people, we can pour God’s love out into the world and into our art as well.

We discover art isn’t just about decorating a surface with pretty colors and shapes, but art is more about the spiritual process of growing in grace, accepting our lack of strength, and learning to depend on the power of the Spirit moving our hands and hearts. The more we try to impose our power upon the work, the less life it has, but the more we “get out of ourselves,” and let our inner witness work, the more life our creation embodies.

So the artist within each of us is always creating a new thing, just as God is creating:        

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;

the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

~~ Isaiah 65:17

All You Need is Love

Altars, arkansas, art, Faith, Forgiveness, Healing, john wesley, Love, Ministry, purpose, Reflection, renewal, righteousness, salvation, Spirituality, United Methodist Church

Our annual conference began today here in Arkansas. We United Methodists have a rich tradition from our founder John Wesley, who was a brand plucked from a burning parsonage back in 18th century England. While the Church of England thought him something of a firebrand and an upstart, he only wanted to rekindle the flame of the Spirit of God and renew the church of his time.

Love, Joy, Peace, and Hope

Wesley understood people could go through the motions of an outward show of religion, but lack an inward conviction of any true faith and trust in God’s saving grace. As we say today, just going to Burger King won’t make you a burger any more than going to a KFC will make you a chicken. If showing up in church doesn’t make one a Christian, what does give the evidence of the fully formed Christian person?

Wesley’s answer is to contrast the religion of the world, or what we might call civic religion today, with the soul so thirsty for God, only the love of God and love of neighbor can satisfy that desire. Wesley says in his “Sermon on the Mount, 2, (Standard Sermon #22), “And it is as impossible to satisfy such a soul, a soul that is athirst for God, the living God, with what the world accounts religion, as with what they account happiness. The religion of the world implies three things:
1. The doing no harm, the abstaining from outward sin; at least from such as is scandalous, as robbery, theft, common swearing, drunkenness.
2. The doing good, the relieving the poor; the being charitable, as it is called.
3. The using the means of grace; at least the going to church and to the Lord’s Supper. He in whom these three marks are found is termed by the world a religious man.”

Then Wesley asks, “But will this satisfy him who hungers after God? No: It is not food for his soul. He wants a religion of a nobler kind, a religion higher and deeper than this. He can no more feed on this poor, shallow, formal thing, than he can “fill his belly with the east wind.”

True, he is careful to abstain from the very appearance of evil; he is zealous of good works; he attends all the ordinances of God: But all this is not what he longs for. This is only the outside of that religion, which he insatiably hungers after. The knowledge of God in Christ Jesus; “the life which is hid with Christ in God;” the being “joined unto the Lord in one Spirit;” the having “fellowship with the Father and the Son;” the “walking in the light as God is in the light;” the being “purified even as He is pure;” — this is the religion, the righteousness, he thirsts after: Nor can he rest, till he thus rests in God.

For John Wesley and all who claim his mantle in the ages following, the words Love of God and Love of Neighbor still echo across the years. If ever there were a watchword from Wesley’s life, from his conversion through his many years of preaching, it is the word Love. Once he trusted Christ for his salvation, the next day his diary entry was, “My song shall be always of the loving-kindness of the Lord: with my mouth will I ever be showing forth thy truth from one generation to another.”

This great Standard Sermon ends with the words:
“But my full soul shall still require
A whole eternity of love.”

The whole sermon is below, for your blessing and spiritual formation. May all your exercises be done in love today and always.

Joy and Peace, Cornelia


“Blessed are the meek: For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: For they shall obtain mercy.”
~~ Matthew 5:5-7

I. Who are the meek who shall inherit the earth?
II. The hunger and thirst for righteousness are the strongest of our spiritual appetites.
III. The merciful are they who love their neigbors as themselves.

I.
1. When “the winter is past,” when “the time of singing is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land;” when He that comforts the mourners is now returned, “that he may abide with them for ever;” when, at the brightness of his presence, the clouds disperse, the dark clouds of doubt and uncertainty, the storms of fear flee away, the waves of sorrow subside, and their spirit again rejoiceth in God their Saviour; then is it that this word is eminently fulfilled; then those whom he hath comforted can bear witness, “Blessed,” or happy, “are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.”

2. But who are “the meek?” Not those who grieve at nothing, because they know nothing; who are not discomposed at the evils that occur, because they discern not evil from good. Not those who are sheltered from the shocks of life by a stupid insensibility; who have, either by nature or art, the virtue of stocks and stones, and resent nothing, because they feel nothing. Brute philosophers are wholly unconcerned in this matter. Apathy is as far from meekness as from humanity. So that one would not easily conceive how any Christians of the purer ages, especially any of the Fathers of the Church, could confound these, and mistake one of the foulest errors of Heathenism for a branch of true Christianity.

3. Nor does Christian meekness imply, the being without zeal for God, any more than it does ignorance or insensibility. No; it keeps clear of every extreme, whether in excess or defect. It does not destroy but balance the affections, which the God of nature never designed should be rooted out by grace, but only brought and kept under due regulations. It poises the mind aright. It holds an even scale, with regard to anger, and sorrow, and fear; preserving the mean in every circumstance of life, and not declining either to the right hand or the left.

4. Meekness, therefore, seems properly to relate to ourselves[.] But it may be referred either to God or our neighbour. When this due composure of mind has reference to God, it is usually termed resignation; a calm acquiescence in whatsoever is his will concerning us, even though it may not be pleasing to nature; saying continually, “It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good.” When we consider it more strictly with regard to ourselves, we style it patience or contentedness. When it is exerted toward other men, then it is mildness to the good, and gentleness to the evil.

5. They who are truly meek, can clearly discern what is evil; and they can also suffer it. They are sensible of everything of this kind, but still meekness holds the reins. They are exceeding “zealous for the Lord of hosts;” but their zeal is always guided by knowledge, and tempered, in every thought, and word, and work, with the love of man, as well as the love of God. They do not desire to extinguish any of the passions which God has for wise ends implanted in their nature; but they have the mastery of all: They hold them all in subjection, and employ them only in subservience to those ends. And thus even the harsher and more unpleasing passions are applicable to the noblest purposes; even hatred, and anger, and fear, when engaged against sin, and regulated by faith and love, are as walls and bulwarks to the soul, so that the wicked one cannot approach to hurt it.

6. It is evident, this divine temper is not only to abide but to increase in us day by day. Occasions of exercising, and thereby increasing it, will never be wanting while we remain upon earth. “We have need of patience, that after we have done” and suffered “the will of God, we may receive the promise.” We have need of resignation, that we may in all circumstances say, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” And we have need of “gentleness toward all men;” but especially toward the evil and unthankful: Otherwise we shall be overcome of evil, instead of overcoming evil with good.

7. Nor does meekness restrain only the outward act, as the Scribes and Pharisees taught of old, and the miserable Teachers who are not taught of God will not fail to do in all ages. Our Lord guards against this, and shows the true extent of it, in the following words: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment:” (Matt. 5:21, &c.) “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment: And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: But whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.”

8. Our Lord here ranks under the head of murder, even that anger which goes no farther than the heart; which does not show itself by an outward unkindness, no, not so much as a passionate word. “Whosoever is angry with his brother,” with any man living, seeing we are all brethren; whosoever feels any unkindness in his heart, any temper contrary to love; whosoever is angry without a cause, without a sufficient cause, or farther than that cause requires, “shall be in danger of the judgment;” enochos estai, shall, in that moment, be obnoxious to the righteous judgment of God.
But would not one be inclined to prefer the reading of those copies which omit the word eikE, without a cause? Is it not entirely superfluous? For if anger at persons be a temper contrary to love, how can there be a cause, a sufficient cause for it, — any that will justify it in the sight of God?
Anger at sin we allow. In this sense we may be angry, and yet we sin not. In this sense our Lord himself is once recorded to have been angry: “He looked round about upon them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” He was grieved at the sinners, and angry at the sin. And this is undoubtedly right before God.

9. “And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca;” — whosoever shall give way to anger, so as to utter any contemptuous word. It is observed by commentators, that Raca is a Syriac word, which properly signifies, empty, vain, foolish; so that it is as inoffensive an expression as can well be used, toward one at whom we are displeased. And yet, whosoever shall use this, as our Lord assures us, “shall be in danger of the council;” rather, shall be obnoxious thereto: He shall be liable to a severer sentence from the Judge of all the earth.

“But whosoever shall say, Thou fool;” — whosoever shall so give place to the devil, as to break out into reviling, into designedly reproachful and contumelious language, “shall be obnoxious to hell-fire;” shall, in that instant, be liable to the highest condemnation. It should be observed, that our Lord describes all these as obnoxious to capital punishment. The first, to strangling, usually inflicted on those who were condemned in one of the inferior courts; the second, to stoning, which was frequently inflicted on those who were condemned by the great Council at Jerusalem; the third, to burning alive, inflicted only on the highest offenders, in the “valley of the sons of Hinnom;” GE Hennon, from which that word is evidently taken which we translate “hell.”

10. And whereas men naturally imagine, that God will excuse their defect in some duties, for their exactness in others; our Lord next takes care to cut off that vain, though common imagination. He shows, that it is impossible for any sinner to commute with God; who will not accept one duty for another, nor take a part of obedience for the whole. He warns us, that the performing our duty to God will not excuse us from our duty to our neighbour; that works of piety, as they are called, will be so far from commending us to God, if we are wanting in charity, that, on the contrary, that want of charity will make all those works an abomination to the Lord.

“Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee,” — on account of thy unkind behaviour toward him, of thy calling him “Raca,” or, “Thou fool;” think not that thy gift will atone for thy anger; or that it will find any acceptance with God, so long as thy conscience is defiled with the guilt of unrepented sin. “Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother,” (at least do all that in thee lies toward being reconciled,) “and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matt. 5:23, 24)

11. And let there be no delay in what so nearly concerneth thy soul. “Agree with thine adversary quickly;” — now; upon the spot; “whiles thou art in the way with him;” if it be possible, before he go out of thy sight; “lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge;” lest he appeal to God, the Judge of all; “and the judge deliver thee to the officer;” to Satan, the executioner of the wrath of God; “and thou be cast into prison;” into hell, there to be reserved to the judgment of the great day: “Verily, I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” But this it is impossible for thee ever to do; seeing thou hast nothing to pay. Therefore, if thou art once in that prison, the smoke of thy torment must “ascend up for ever and ever.”

12. Meantime “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Such is the foolishness of worldly wisdom! The wise of the world had warned them again and again, — that if they did not resent such treatment, if they would tamely suffer themselves to be thus abused, there would be no living for them upon earth; that they would never be able to procure the common necessaries of life, nor to keep even what they had; that they could expect no peace, no quiet possession, no enjoyment of anything. Most true, — suppose there were no God in the world; or, suppose he did not concern himself with the children of men: But, “when God ariseth to judgment, and to help all the meek upon earth,” how doth he laugh all this heathen wisdom to scorn, and turn the “fierceness of man to his praise!” He takes a peculiar care to provide them with all things needful for life and godliness; he secures to them the provision he hath made, in spite of the force, fraud, or malice of men; and what he secures he gives them richly to enjoy. It is sweet to them, be it little or much. As in patience they possess their souls, so they truly possess whatever God hath given them. They are always content, always pleased with what they have: It pleases them because it pleases God: So that while their heart, their desire, their joy is in heaven, they may truly be said to “inherit the earth.”

13. But there seems to be a yet farther meaning in these words, even that they shall have a more eminent part in “the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness;” in that inheritance, a general description of which (and the particulars we shall know hereafter) St. John has given in the twentieth chapter of the Revelation: “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, — and he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, — and bound him a thousand years. — And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and of them which had not worshipped the Beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again, until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: On such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” [Rev. 20:1-6]

II.
1. Our Lord has hitherto been more immediately employed in removing the hindrances of true religion: Such is pride, the first, grand hindrance of all religion, which is taken away by poverty of spirit; levity and thoughtlessness, which prevent any religion from taking root in the soul, till they are removed by holy mourning; such are anger, impatience, discontent, which are all healed by Christian meekness. And when once these hindrances are removed, these evil diseases of the soul, which were continually raising false cravings therein, and filling it with sickly appetites, the native appetite of a heaven-born spirit returns; it hungers and thirsts after righteousness: And “blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.”

2. Righteousness, as was observed before, is the image of God, the mind which was in Christ Jesus. It is every holy and heavenly temper in one; springing from, as well as terminating in, the love of God, as our Father and Redeemer, and the love of all men for his sake.

3. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after” this: In order fully to understand which expression, we should observe, First, that hunger and thirst are the strongest of all our bodily appetites. In like manner this hunger in the soul, this thirst after the image of God, is the strongest of all our spiritual appetites, when it is once awakened in the heart: Yea, it swallows up all the rest in that one great desire, — to be renewed after the likeness of Him that created us.

We should, Secondly, observe, that from the time we begin to hunger and thirst, those appetites do not cease, but are more and more craving and importunate, till we either eat and drink, or die. And even so, from the time that we begin to hunger and thirst after the whole mind which was in Christ, these spiritual appetites do not cease, but cry after their food with more and more importunity; nor can they possibly cease, before they are satisfied, while there is any spiritual life remaining.

We may, Thirdly, observe, that hunger and thirst are satisfied with nothing but meat and drink. If you would give to him that is hungry all the world beside, all the elegance of apparel, all the trappings of state, all the treasure upon earth, yea thousands of gold and silver; if you would pay him ever so much honour; — he regards it not: All these things are then of no account with him. He would still say, “These are not the things I want; give me food, or else I die.” The very same is the case with every soul that truly hungers and thirsts after righteousness. He can find no comfort in anything but this: He can be satisfied with nothing else. Whatever you offer besides, it is lightly esteemed: Whether it be riches, or honour, or pleasure, he still says, “This is not the thing which I want! Give me love, or else I die!”

4. And it is as impossible to satisfy such a soul, a soul that is athirst for God, the living God, with what the world accounts religion, as with what they account happiness. The religion of the world implies three things: (1.) The doing no harm, the abstaining from outward sin; at least from such as is scandalous, as robbery, theft, common swearing, drunkenness: (2.) The doing good, the relieving the poor; the being charitable, as it is called: (3.) The using the means of grace; at least the going to church and to the Lord’s Supper. He in whom these three marks are found is termed by the world a religious man. But will this satisfy him who hungers after God? No: It is not food for his soul. He wants a religion of a nobler kind, a religion higher and deeper than this. He can no more feed on this poor, shallow, formal thing, than he can “fill his belly with the east wind.”

True, he is careful to abstain from the very appearance of evil; he is zealous of good works; he attends all the ordinances of God: But all this is not what he longs for. This is only the outside of that religion, which he insatiably hungers after. The knowledge of God in Christ Jesus; “the life which is hid with Christ in God;” the being “joined unto the Lord in one Spirit;” the having “fellowship with the Father and the Son;” the “walking in the light as God is in the light;” the being “purified even as He is pure;” — this is the religion, the righteousness, he thirsts after: Nor can he rest, till he thus rests in God.

5. “Blessed are they who” thus “hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.” They shall be filled with the things which they long for; even with righteousness and true holiness. God shall satisfy them with the blessings of his goodness, with the felicity of his chosen. He shall feed them with the bread of heaven, with the manna of his love. He shall give them to drink of his pleasures as out of the river, which he that drinketh of shall never thirst, only for more and more of the water of life. This thirst shall endure for ever.

The painful thirst, the fond desire,
Thy joyous presence shall remove;
But my full soul shall still require
A whole eternity of love.

6. Whosoever then thou art, to whom God hath given to “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” cry unto him that thou mayest never lose that inestimable gift, — that this divine appetite may never cease. If many rebuke thee, and bid thee hold thy peace, regard them not; yea, cry so much the more, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on me!” ” Let me not live, but to be holy as thou art holy!” No more “spend thy money for that which is not bread, nor thy labour for that which satisfieth not.”

Canst thou hope to dig happiness out of the earth, — to find it in the things of the world? O trample under foot all its pleasures, despise its honours, count its riches as dung and dross, — yea, and all the things which are beneath the sun, –“for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus,” for the entire renewal of thy soul in that image of God wherein it was originally created. Beware of quenching that blessed hunger and thirst, by what the world calls religion; a religion of form, of outward show, which leaves the heart as earthly and sensual as ever. Let nothing satisfy thee but the power of godliness, but a religion that is spirit and life; thy dwelling in God and God in thee, — the being an inhabitant of eternity; the entering in by the blood of sprinkling “within the veil,” and sitting “in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.”

III.
1. And the more they are filled with the life of God, the more tenderly will they be concerned for those who are still without God in the world, still dead in trespasses and sins. Nor shall this concern for others lose its reward. “Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.”

The word used by our Lord more immediately implies the compassionate, the tender-hearted; those who, far from despising, earnestly grieve for, those that do not hunger after God.
This eminent part of brotherly love is here, by a common figure, put for the whole; so that “the merciful,” in the full sense of the term, are they who love their neighbours as themselves.”

2. Because of the vast importance of this love, — without which, “though we spake with the tongues of men and angels, though we had the gift of prophecy, and understood all mysteries, and all knowledge; though we had all faith, so as to remove mountains; yea, though we gave all our goods to feed the poor, and our very bodies to be burned, it would profit us nothing,” — the wisdom of God has given us, by the Apostle Paul, a full and particular account of it; by considering which we shall most clearly discern who are the merciful that shall obtain mercy.

3. “Charity,” or love, (as it were to be wished it had been rendered throughout, being a far plainer and less ambiguous word,) the love of our neighbour as Christ hath loved us, “suffereth long;” is patient toward all men: It suffers all the weakness, ignorance, errors, infirmities, all the frowardness and littleness of faith, of the children of God; all the malice and wickedness of the children of the world. And it suffers all this, not only for a time, for a short season, but to the end; still feeding our enemy when he hungers; if he thirst, still giving him drink; thus continually “heaping coals of fire,” of melting love, “upon his head.”

4. And in every step toward this desirable end, the “overcoming evil with good,” “love is kind:” (chrEsteuetai, a word not easily translated:) It is soft, mild, benign. It stands at the utmost distance from moroseness, from all harshness or sourness of spirit; and inspires the sufferer at once with the most amiable sweetness, and the most fervent and tender affection.

5. Consequently, “love envieth not:” It is impossible it should; it is directly opposite to that baneful temper. It cannot be, that he who has this tender affection to all, who earnestly wishes all temporal and spiritual blessings, all good things in this world and the world to come, to every soul that God hath made, should be pained at his bestowing any good gift on any child of man. If he has himself received the same, he does not grieve, but rejoice, that another partakes of the common benefit. If he has not, he blesses God that his brother at least has, and is herein happier than himself. And the greater his love, the more does he rejoice in the blessings of all mankind; the farther is he removed from every kind and degree of envy toward any creature.

6. Love ou perpereuetai, — not “vaunteth not itself;” which coincides with the very next words; but rather, (as the word likewise properly imports,) is not rash or hasty in judging; it will not hastily condemn any one. It does not pass a severe sentence, on a slight or sudden view of things: It first weighs all the evidence, particularly that which is brought in favour of the accused. A true lover of his neighbour is not like the generality of men, who, even in cases of the nicest nature, “see a little, presume a great deal, and so jump to the conclusion.”

No: He proceeds with wariness and circumspection, taking heed to every step; willingly subscribing to that rule of the ancient Heathen, (O where will the modern Christian appear!) “I am so far from lightly believing what one man says against another, that I will not easily believe what a man says against himself. I will always allow him second thoughts, and many times counsel too.”

7. It follows, love “is not puffed up:” It does not incline or suffer any man “to think more highly of himself than he ought to think;” but rather to think soberly: Yea, it humbles the soul unto the dust. It destroys all high conceits, engendering pride; and makes us rejoice to be as nothing, to be little and vile, the lowest of all, the servant of all. They who are “kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love,” cannot but “in honour prefer one another.” Those who, having the same love, are of one accord, do in lowliness of mind “each esteem other better than themselves.”

8. “It doth not behave itself unseemly:” It is not rude, or willingly offensive to any. It “renders to all their due; fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour;” courtesy, civility, humanity to all the world; in their several degrees “honouring all men.” A late writer defines good breeding, nay, the highest degree of it, politeness, “A continual desire to please, appearing in all the behaviour.” But if so, there is none so well-bred as a Christian, a lover of all mankind. For he cannot but desire to “please all men for their good to edification:”

And this desire cannot be hid; it will necessarily appear in all his intercourse with men. For his “love is without dissimulation:” It will appear in all his actions and conversation; yea, and will constrain him, though without guile, “to become all things to all men, if by any means he may save some.”

9. And in becoming all things to all men, “love seeketh not her own.” In striving to please all men, the lover of mankind has no eye at all to his own temporal advantage. He covets no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel: He desires nothing but the salvation of their souls: Yea, in some sense, he may be said, not to seek his own spiritual, any more than temporal, advantage; for while he is on the full stretch to save their souls from death, he, as it were, forgets himself. He does not think of himself, so long as that zeal for the glory of God swallows him up.

Nay, at some times he may almost seem, through an excess of love, to give up himself, both his soul and his body; while he cries out, with Moses, “O, this people have sinned a great sin; yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin — ; and if not, blot me out of the book which thou hast written;” (Exod. 32:31, 32) — or, with St. Paul, “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh!” (Rom. 9:3)

10. No marvel that such “love is not provoked:” ou paroxynetai. Let it be observed, the word easily, strangely inserted in the translation, is not in the original: St. Paul’s words are absolute. “Love is not provoked:” It is not provoked to unkindness toward any one. Occasions indeed will frequently occur; outward provocations of various kinds; but love does not yield to provocation; it triumphs over all. In all trials it looketh unto Jesus, and is more than conqueror in his love.

It is not improbable that our translators inserted that word, as it were, to excuse the Apostle; who, as they supposed, might otherwise appear to be wanting in the very love which he so beautifully describes. They seem to have supposed this from a phrase in the Acts of the Apostles; which is likewise very inaccurately translated. When Paul and Barnabas disagreed concerning John, the translation runs thus, “And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder.” (Acts 15:39) This naturally induces the reader to suppose, that they were equally sharp therein; that St. Paul, who was undoubtedly right, with regard to the point in question, (it being quite improper to take John with them again, who had deserted them before,) was as much provoked as Barnabas, who gave such a proof of his anger, as to leave the work for which he had been set apart by the Holy Ghost. But the original imports no such thing; nor does it affirm that St. Paul was provoked at all. It simply says, egeneto oun paroxysmos, — “And there was a sharpness,” a paroxysm of anger; in consequence of which Barnabas left St. Paul, took John, and went his own way. Paul then “chose Silas and departed, being recommended by the brethren to the grace of God;” (which is not said concerning Barnabas;) “and he went through Syria and Cilicia,” as he had proposed, “confirming the churches.” [Acts 15:39-41] But to return.

11. Love prevents a thousand provocations which would otherwise arise, because it “thinketh no evil.” Indeed the merciful man cannot avoid knowing many things that are evil, he cannot but see them with his own eyes, and hear them with his own ears. For love does not put out his eyes, so that it is impossible for him not to see that such things are done; neither does it take away his understanding, any more than his senses, so that he cannot but know that they are evil.

For instance: When he sees a man strike his neighbour, or hears him blaspheme God, he cannot either question the thing done, or the words spoken, or doubt of their being evil. Yet, ou logizetai to kakon. The word logizetai, “thinketh,” does not refer either to our seeing and hearing, or to the first and involuntary acts of our understanding; but to our willingly thinking what we need not; our inferring evil, where it does not appear; to our reasoning concerning things which we do not see; our supposing what we have neither seen nor heard. This is what true love absolutely destroys. It tears up, root and branch, all imagining what we have not known. It casts out all jealousies, all evil surmisings, all readiness to believe evil. It is frank, open, unsuspicious; and, as it cannot design, so neither does it fear, evil.

12. It “rejoiceth not in iniquity;” common as this is, even among those who bear the name of Christ, who scruple not to rejoice over their enemy, when he falleth either into affliction, or error, or sin. Indeed, how hardly can they avoid this, who are zealously attached to any party! How difficult is it for them not to be pleased with any fault which they discover in those of the opposite party, — with any real or supposed blemish, either in their principles or practice! What warm defender of any cause is clear of these?

Yea, who is so calm as to be altogether free? Who does not rejoice when his adversary makes a false step, which he thinks will advantage his own cause? Only a man of love. He alone weeps over either the sin or folly of his enemy, takes no pleasure in hearing or in repeating it, but rather desires that it may be forgotten for ever.

13. But he “rejoiceth in the truth,” wheresoever it is found; in “the truth which is after godliness;” bringing forth its proper fruit, holiness of heart, and holiness of conversation. He rejoices to find that even those who oppose him, whether with regard to opinions, or some points of practice, are nevertheless lovers of God, and in other respects unreprovable. He is glad to hear good of them, and to speak all he can consistently with truth and justice. Indeed, good in general is his glory and joy, wherever diffused throughout the race of mankind. As a citizen of the world, he claims a share in the happiness of all the inhabitants of it. Because he is a man, he is not unconcerned in the welfare of any man; but enjoys whatsoever brings glory to God, and promotes peace and good-will among men.

14. This “love covereth all things:” (So, without all doubt, panta stegei should be translated; for otherwise it would be the very same with panta hypomenei, “endureth all things:”) Because the merciful man rejoiceth not in iniquity, neither does he willingly make mention of it. Whatever evil he sees, hears, or knows, he nevertheless conceals, so far as he can without making himself “partaker of other men’s sins.” Wheresoever or with whomsoever he is, if he sees anything which he approves not, it goes not out of his lips, unless to the person concerned, if haply he may gain his brother. So far is he from making the faults or failures of others the matter of his conversation, that of the absent he never does speak at all, unless he can speak well. A tale-bearer, a backbiter, a whisperer, an evil-speaker, is to him all one as a murderer. He would just as soon cut his neighbour’s throat, as thus murder his reputation. Just as soon would he think of diverting himself by setting fire to his neighbour’s house, as of thus “scattering abroad arrows, fire-brands, and death,” and saying, “Am I not in sport?”

He makes one only exception. Sometimes he is convinced that it is for the glory of God, or (which comes to the same) the good of his neighbour, that an evil should not be covered. In this case, for the benefit of the innocent, he is constrained to declare the guilty.
But even here, (1.) He will not speak at all, till love, superior love, constrains him. (2.) He cannot do it from a general confused view of doing good, or promoting the glory of God, but from a clear sight of some particular end, some determinate good which he pursues. (3.) Still he cannot speak, unless he be fully convinced that this very means is necessary to that end; that the end cannot be answered, at least not so effectually, by any other way. (4.) He then doeth it with the utmost sorrow and reluctance; using it as the last and worst medicine, a desperate remedy in a desperate case, a kind of poison never to be used but to expel poison. Consequently, (5.) He uses it as sparingly as possible. And this he does with fear and trembling, lest he should transgress the law of love by speaking too much, more than he would have done by not speaking at all.

15. Love “believeth all things.” It is always willing to think the best; to put the most favourable construction on everything. It is ever ready to believe whatever may tend to the advantage of any one’s character. It is easily convinced of (what it earnestly desires) the innocence or integrity of any man; or, at least, of the sincerity of his repentance, if he had once erred from the way. It is glad to excuse whatever is amiss; to condemn the offender as little as possible; and to make all the allowance for human weakness which can be done without betraying the truth of God.

16. And when it can no longer believe, then love “hopeth all things.” Is any evil related of any man? Love hopes that the relation is not true, that the thing related was never done. Is it certain it was? — “But perhaps it was not done with such circumstances as are related; so that, allowing the fact, there is room to hope it was not so ill as it is represented.” Was the action apparently undeniably evil? Love hopes the intention was not so. Is it clear, the design was evil too? — “Yet might it not spring from the settled temper of the heart, but from a start of passion, or from some vehement temptation, which hurried the man beyond himself.” And even when it cannot be doubted, but all the actions, designs, and tempers are equally evil; still love hopes that God will at last make bare his arm, and get himself the victory; and that there shall be “joy in heaven over” this “one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance.”

17. Lastly. It “endureth all things.” This completes the character of him that is truly merciful. He endureth not some, not many, things only; not most, but absolutely all things. Whatever the injustice, the malice, the cruelty of men can inflict, he is able to suffer. He calls nothing intolerable; he never says of anything, “This is not to be borne.” No; he can not only do, but suffer, all things through Christ which strengtheneth him. And all he suffers does not destroy his love, nor impair it in the least. It is proof against all. It is a flame that burns even in the midst of the great deep. “Many waters cannot quench” his “love, neither can the floods drown it.” It triumphs over all. It “never faileth,” either in time or in eternity.

In obedience to what heaven decrees,
Knowledge shall fail, and prophecy shall cease;
But lasting charity’s more ample sway,
Nor bound by time, nor subject to decay,
In happy triumph shall for ever live,
And endless good diffuse, and endless praise receive.

So shall “the merciful obtain mercy;” not only by the blessing of God upon all their ways, by his now repaying the love they bear to their brethren a thousand fold into their own bosom; but likewise by “an exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” in the “kingdom prepared for them from the beginning of the world.”

18. For a little while you may say, “Woe is me, that I” am constrained to “dwell with Mesech, and to have my habitation among the tents of Kedar!” You may pour out your soul, and bemoan the loss of true, genuine love in the earth: Lost indeed! You may well say, (but not in the ancient sense,) “See how these Christians love one another!” These Christian kingdoms, that are tearing out each other’s bowels, desolating one another with fire and sword!

These Christian armies, that are sending each by thousands, by ten thousands, quick into hell! These Christian nations, that are all on fire with intestine broils, party against party, faction against faction! These Christian cities, where deceit and fraud, oppression and wrong, yea, robbery and murder, go not out of their streets! These Christian families, torn asunder with envy, jealousy, anger, domestic jars, without number, without end! Yea, what is most dreadful, most to be lamented of all, these Christian Churches!
–Churches (“tell it not in Gath,” — but, alas! how can we hide it, either from Jews, Turks, or Pagans?) that bear the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace, and wage continual war with each other! That convert sinners by burning them alive! That are “drunk with the blood of the saints!” — Does this praise belong only to “Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth?”

Nay, verily; but Reformed Churches (so called) have fairly learned to tread in her steps. Protestant Churches too know to persecute, when they have power in their hands, even unto blood. And, meanwhile, how do they also anathematize each other! Devote each other to the nethermost hell! What wrath, what contention, what malice, what bitterness, is everywhere found among them, even where they agree in essentials, and only differ in opinions, or in the circumstantials of religion!

Who follows after only the “things that make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another?” O God! how long? Shall thy promise fail? Fear it not, ye little flock! Against hope, believe in hope! It is your Father’s good pleasure yet to renew the face of the earth. Surely all these things shall come to an end, and the inhabitants of the earth shall learn righteousness. “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they know war any more.” “The mountains of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains;” and “all the kingdoms of the earth shall become the kingdoms of our God.” “They shall not” then “hurt or destroy in all his holy mountain;” but they shall call their “walls salvation, and their gates praise.”

They shall all be without spot or blemish, loving one another, even as Christ hath loved us. — Be thou part of the first-fruits, if the harvest is not yet. Do thou love thy neighbor as thyself. The Lord God fill thy heart with such a love to every soul, that thou mayest be ready to lay down thy life for his sake! May thy soul continually overflow with love, swallowing up every unkind and unholy temper, till he calleth thee up into the region of love, there to reign with him for ever and ever!

Acknowledgements
[Edited by William A. Buckholdt III, student at Northwest Nazarene College (Nampa, ID), with corrections by George Lyons for the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.]
This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library server.
http://www.wbbm.org/john-wesley-sermons/serm-022.htm

The Struggle is Real

adult learning, art, beauty, Creativity, Faith, righteousness, risk, Spirituality, United Methodist Church, Van Gogh

One of the most difficult struggles in art, sports, faith, or anything else in life is knowing what you want to achieve, but finding yourself lacking the skills to accomplish it. Some people give up right away, since they can’t master it well. Art takes a lifetime to master, so even the best of us will be struggling to get better until our last breath. Perfection is highly overrated! All artists are their own worst critics! At least in faith we have God as our coworker.

In art a beginner can set aside this quandary and say, “Well, I just need more practice and I’ll get there soon enough.” The intermediate practitioner contends with a little more skill, and could push his or her technique over the edge attempting to discover the heart and soul of their expressions as they seek their own way to speak of the beautiful and the true in color and forms.

Sometimes a seasoned artist comes to a growth point. Even one who, perhaps from their past work in a certain style, has some following and financial success, when they come to the daily search for truth and beauty, will discover the old beauty no longer attracts them. So while they may have all the technical ability to continue creating their old works, they find this no longer is their truth and they can’t in good conscience continue to produce in the same vein.

Our Still Life

The search for truth and beauty is like the search for God and our inner truth as artists and people of faith. If we’re only working for fame and gain, maybe we should have listened to those who said, “Don’t quit your day job.” Or thought of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, who found both success and poverty, but at different times. Our inner search for truth and beauty is just as fraught.

Will we take the risk and try something new? This week l brought the class a shade of my former self, no inspirational paintings of old masters, and only a variation on last week’s still life. Afterwards I was traveling up to the doctor‘s poffice for “the cure to end my misery.” After a few days on sinus medications, I can hold two thoughts together again.

To really look at life and look inside oneself is the best way to discover truth and beauty. Some folks don’t want to look inside for fear they’ll see ugly things, long buried secrets, pains, and memories best forgotten. We need to see these, recognize them, and let Jesus take them into his already redeemed life. If we can let these painful parts be transformed by his graceful healing mercy, then we can use his renewing power in our own lives to bring truth and beauty to the life of others.

Some people look out and only see ugliness, decay, and despair. I imagine if they look inside, they also see the same things. They need to remember the nature of all things is not in itself beautiful or ugly, just as they themselves aren’t ugly or beautiful. Beauty is a standard, like a Virtue, which is an ideal characteristic, and it’s beyond anything here on this world. We’ll probably understand Truth and Beauty in the eternal world, when we have the opportunity to participate with God in the fullness of time.

Gail—Day of the Dead image in process

If beauty were only to exist in the eye of each and every beholder, and each one of us could determine our own standards of beauty according to our own experience and criteria, then all the plains would be level and no mountains would exist. Yet, we know this isn’t so, for my icebox door may be decorated with my grandchildren’s crayon drawings, but they wouldn’t be hanging in an art gallery in any creative district anywhere.

Mike—Basket of Veggies against a Yellow Wall

If art isn’t a challenge, if life isn’t a pursuit of excellence, and if we are content to rest at the foot of the mountains, then I really wonder why God created the heights, if not for us to aspire to them? If there’s mountains in this world, why are so many content to climb just the hills, but call them mountains? Most of the struggles we have in life are actually molehills, but we blow them out of proportion and call them mountains! The biggest successes come from the accumulation of many small failures. We’re just training until we hone our muscle memory to a fine edge. This is why we say works can’t save you in faith, but art is all about the work ethic.

DeLee—Work in Progress

Our biggest challenge this week in class was the woven basket. Some of us had never woven anything in youth groups, so experiences I took for granted as a child growing up (weaving situpons and potholders) weren’t in some people’s backgrounds. Learning to look, follow the weave, see the play of light along the wave of the reeds, and the shadows as they dip under the warp bands took a bit of doing. We’re also beginning some Day of the Dead related works. We’ll work in these in October. I was so sick, I failed to photo everyone’s work. I should be in better shape next week!

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

For now we remember, as the apostle Paul sighed,
“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”
~~ Romans 7:19

And he leaves us with these words of hope,
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
~~ Romans 8:28

The Spa Life and Righteousness

#MeToo movement, arkansas, art, Attitudes, Faith, Forgiveness, Habits, Healing, Icons, john wesley, Ministry, Painting, Philosophy, Reflection, renewal, righteousness, salvation, Spirituality, Strength, Supreme Court, United Methodist Church

As a gal who loves her spa days, few and far between though they are, I enjoy the pampering these small forays into indulgence involve. The friendly staff, the luxurious soft robes, the warm scented tubs, the cold needled showers, and even the brief stints in the steam box. Most of all, I live for the white terrycloth towels soaked in the hot spring waters, but cooled enough to put onto tender human flesh. The attendant who wraps my knees and back also puts an ice cold towel on my face before she leaves me alone to the quiet. Then I succumb to the ecstasy of this melting experience for about fifteen minutes.

Afterward, she wraps me back into my white robe to walk me over to the massage therapy room. She walks, but I sort of flow, for my feet don’t really feel connected to my legs or knees or hips. The heat can make a person feel giddy for a time, or perhaps the lack of pain is such a relief, I feel euphoric.

DeLee—Christ Blessing the World

I notice the other women waiting for their massages have similar beatific smiles on their faces. The magic of the spa day outing is at work. After our massages, we seem to glow from the inside out. This effect lasts for a few hours at best, until the experience wears off, and we return to normal. I understand now why my grandparents would come to Hot Springs for “the waters” on their vacations. They did the baths daily, for their supposedly medicinal cure, even if it served to merely relax then and distress them. “Take as needed” is a medical prescription we can all understand.

This brings me to my real subject: Faith and Righteousness. Of late in the public realm we’ve been treated to curious definitions of faith and righteousness by groups in powerful places and those who want to ascend to positions of power. “I go to church” is their definition of faith and “I got into the best college and law school “ has been their definition of righteousness. Evidently attendance in these places didn’t include a passing acquaintance with the dictionary or intensive study, much less convincing evidence.

Imputed righteousness and the Faith of Acceptance

Righteousness and faith for the average church going person is like the robe I wear at the spa for a while. I don’t own it, but I use it. It belongs to Christ, who imputes his right relationship with God to me while I wear it. I accept this idea by faith—the faith Christ had in God’s love for humankind as well as Christ’s faith God would raise him from the dead. I don’t own this faith with any depth of conviction, so my outward life isn’t changed in any way from a nonbeliever ‘s life.

As the writer of Ephesians says in 5:12-14–

For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Imparted righteousness and the Faith of Assurance

One day we wake from our sleep and come to the conviction our surface appearances have failed us. We see our outward professions of faith and righteousness are a mere mask for the carefully constructed False Self we’ve been presenting to the world. We see our own righteousness is weak beside the true righteousness of Christ. We no longer see our Self, but Christ. We depend only on Christ, and not on any strength of our own Self.

When we cast aside this False Self, we can finally “buy the robe of Christ,” which he purchased with his own life, death, and resurrection. We buy into the whole life of Christ when we let our False Self die, and let our New/True Self rise with Christ. We can wear this robe of righteousness everywhere we go, for it changes us from within. The evidence shows on the outside by our words, deeds, and temperament. Our attitude changes our behavior and the consequences follow suit. The inner person shows through in the outer person, for better or worse, depending on whether we merely borrow or buy the robe of Christ.

The question for all of us remains: Do we trust our goodness to our ethnicity, our deeds, our social status, our religious heritage, our political group, our wealth, our zip code, our strength, our beauty, or any other transient thing? Or do we trust the unchanging and eternal love of God in Christ Jesus, who gave his son so all of creation could be redeemed to its original perfection?

DeLee—Christ, The Good Shepherd Saves All the Lost

John Wesley has a famous sermon called “The Almost Christian.” He suggests we need to go farther and become an “Altogether Christian.”

You can read his sermon preached at St. Mary’s, Oxford, before the University, on July 25, 1741 at the link below:

https://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-2-The-Almost-Christian

Now For Something Completely Different

adult learning, art, Creativity, Faith, Imagination, Love, Ministry, Painting, renewal, Spirituality, trees, vision

If we do the same thing over and over again, we’ll get the same results. Most of us will take the same road to our favorite restaurant, choose the same menu items, and call it a night at about the same hour. We are that predictable. A certain structure in our lives is necessary to keep us on an even keel. Mass marketing depends on people like us, since we have reliable and time tested tastes. Great art is different from the decorative arts, however, and it’s unlike the mass produced pieces which are good for covering a section of a wall in an office or residence.

Likewise, if we want to break through from the ordinary to the better, or if we want to improve upon our former work, we have to break our old habits and train ourselves in new habits. Why do world champion golfers reconstruct their swings in the middle of their careers? Their bodies are aging and changing. They can no longer swing with the abandon of younger and more limber persons. To continue playing at a high level, they must learn anew. This learning, forgetting and learning again is related to John 12:24–“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

DIANA—Painting with a Bell Pepper

In art classes, we’re always unlearning our yesterdays and starting over with fresh eyes and a renewed spirit in the morning. The day we start repeating ourselves, we’ve decided we’re good enough. We’ve settled, rather than continuing to push on to see how far we can go. Some of us will do this because we’re finally making a living. No one can fault this. Taking care of our families is important.

GAIL—Painting wit an Okra Pod

Yet if we fail to care for the artist within us, if we aren’t reaching deep within to wrestle with the challenge to risk trembling on the edges of beauty and chaos, we won’t be happy coloring canvases to satisfy the needs of those who see our art as an appendage to their furnishings rather than an object in its own right.

MIKE—Trees Painted with a Sweet Potato

The art class was somewhat nonplussed when I suggested we use sweet potato slices to print or paint with, as well as the big pretzel rods. Gail brought some large okra from her garden too, so we added this to the equation. If we always draw with the pencil and fill in with the paint brush, we get paintings which resemble coloring books. Then they came up with some original solutions. I knew they had it in them!

DUSTIN—Bowling Pins shaped like Sweet Potatoes

Mike used the actual potato as a paint tool, while Diana used the cut okras as textures and patterns. Dustin took the shape for bowling pins, and Gail doubled up sweet potatoes for mountains. I discovered the woven surface I was using wasn’t really conducive to the printing process, whereas the flat papers the class used worked fine. I got enough paint on it to get started and finished it at home.

CORNELIA—(Sweet Potato) Cloud on the Horizon

In Richard Rhor’s book, Immortal Diamond, he says, “Your True Self is that part of you that knows who you are and whose you are, although largely unconsciously. Your False Self is just who you think you are—but thinking doesn’t make it so.”

In art, we practice over and over again, until we can drop all the artifices of the False Self (the constructs which the world rewards) and work freely for the rewards which are pleasing to God. To do this, we need to allow ourselves to be freely loved by God and let ourselves freely love God’s entire creation. If nothing is outside God’s love and providence, then we too are called to love and care for God’s creation. This attitude will show in our art and heart.

In faith and art, we’re always dying to our old self and rising to our new self. Therefore we won’t be imitators of others, but we’ll be conformed instead to the image of God.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

~~ Colossians 3:9-10

The Art of Seeing

adult learning, art, Creativity, Faith, Holy Spirit, Imagination, nature, Painting, Philosophy, seashells, shadows, Spirituality, Uncategorized, United Methodist Church

Leonardo da Vinci said, “There are three classes of people: Those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.” The task of the teacher is to help the student to see more clearly, not just in art, but also in life.

When I was in seminary, I realized the search for beauty was similar to the search for truth, and each generation had its own notions of what was beautiful and true. When I made this connection, a light came on in my mind and I could see what my professors were showing me. Before this, I was stumbling about in a dark room, banging my toes against unseen couches and table legs. I had the sense of the objects, but not the full understanding of them. Once the light came on, I could see these pieces of furniture for what they were–the color, design, embellishments, and placement in the space were easy to define. They were no longer obstacles, but resting points on the way to the next room on an historic journey.

PAINTING FASTER ALL THE TIME

Some of my compatriots struggled because one philosopher would define truth a certain way and his famous student then would describe it differently. These modern day students didn’t have art backgrounds, but thought of truth as what we know only as true today. Perhaps they also didn’t have much of an historic worldview either.

When Leonardo speaks of those categories of people who see, I think first of children, who seem naturally to see. If we give a child some art tools and a jumping off idea, they’ll run with it. Children love the experience of the materials and get excited when they can use their imagination. They feel empowered when they bring an image to life with their own hands.

SUN, MOON, AND SEASHELL

Older teens and adults are more concerned about what other people think of their work, so they often won’t even begin. Other times they start and can’t deal with the disconcert between their conception and execution. Every artist who aspires to do quality work is always unsatisfied with either the concept or execution! As Leonardo once remarked, “I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.”

I brought seashells to class for our painting experience, but before we began our work, I had the students experience a guided meditation. The seashells were hidden underneath a cloth. This is an opportunity to know the shell personally, rather than to see it as a mere form. This “seeing” involves the inner emotions, which affect the energy and spirit with which we create our art. As the master says, “Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.”

SHADOWS IN THE DARK AND LIGHT

PROCEDURE:

1. Study all the surfaces under the cloth before you begin to put marks on your canvas.

2. Are the edges round, rough, sharp, jagged?

3. Do you recognize this object from experience?.

4. What memories or emotions does it evoke in you?

5. What colors do these experiences bring to mind?

6. Is there a person or place connected with this object?

7. What age were you? Would you want to visit this place again at your present age?

8. Remove the cover and look at the object.

9. Does it look different now from an ordinary object?

10. Does entering into an emotional give and take open your eyes to more of the possibilities of the object?

11. Choose a “pose” for your subject and compose a portrait of its personality.

The creative life and the faith life are not just about following a set of rules, although rules exist in both worlds. These two lives are more about what is good, beautiful, and true, and how we artists as people of faith can be a blessing in the world in which we live. As in art and philosophy, the good, beautiful, and the true may be different in different times and ages, but “one can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.”

“I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” ~~ Job 42:3-4

Perfection in Life and Art

adult learning, art, Attitudes, Creativity, Faith, Habits, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Love, ministry, mystery, Painting, purpose, renewal, Spirituality, Stress, vision

The life of one who pursues Art and Faith has many overlapping points. One of these is the search for perfection. The French artist Marcel Duchamp quit painting to play chess, saying he couldn’t create a greater work. However, he was still working on one last piece in secret in his studio. Artists are driven toward this ultimate prize, just as people of faith are called to grow towards perfection in faith and love.

The difference between perfectionism and Christian perfection is huge! The first seeks flawlessness in self, others, and in all things. I know people who get up in the middle of the night to rearrange the shoes in their closets. Shoes must not dance! While I do alphabetize my spice rack, I can leave my closet’s contents to party at will while I sleep all night. I learned from experience early on not to concentrate in any one area of my artwork, since all my many teachers drilled this lesson into my head. Overworked areas of wet paint also get muddy, for the colors blend together into a sad grey. Experience is a good teacher.

DELEE, negative image & Modern Sculpture

Christian perfection is a heart so full of love of God and neighbor nothing else exists. By definition, our hearts would be also full of love for our own selves, since we are made in God’s image. This is why in art class we use ABC: attitude, behavior, and consequences. Positive ABC gets praise, and negative ABC gets redirected to a better place. If we can reframe our attitudes, we can change our behaviors, and then we’ll have different consequences. Sometimes we need an attitude adjustment.

Art classes aren’t easy, but neither is the Christian life. We need to face our limitations, and this is humbling. We aren’t strong or powerful, nor have we achieved anything close to perfection in any part of our own life. This doesn’t make us bad people, but it does make us drop the false mask we’ve been wearing in the world. The best art will come from an open heart, or from transparency to God and others. We’re so used to hiding our true self from others, we think we can hide it from God also. Art will reveal our true self, however.

In Philippians 3:12-16, Paul talks about Christian perfection, so I’ll add some notes about the search for artistic perfection. In class we drew the negative or empty spaces of a wooden dowel construction I rigged up for the center of the table. I tossed in an extension cord for good measure.

DIANA, negative image & abstract sculpture

Drawing the negative space is a new concept. Most of the time we’re outlining the object itself, but not focusing on the empty space. Then we wonder why our object looks cattywumpus. By drawing the emptiness, we end up with the positive figure. This is a backwards thought process. We’re so trained to look at the object, we forget the empty spaces are a design element also. Drawing the negative space helps us to find the true object in its actual location in three dimensions and translate this into a two dimensional space. This is a complex form of thinking, which is why age 9 or the ability to write in cursive has been the usual cutoff age for formal art training.

MIKE, negative image & DUFY, GATE

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal—by this Paul means Christian perfection, or having the full love of God and neighbor within our hearts. We artists will work all our lifetimes to achieve perfection. If we’re truly growing as artists, rather than just repeating variations on a theme, our style will change. Monet once destroyed multiple Waterlily canvases right before an exhibition, having deemed them inadequate for the show. We artists are our greatest critic. The day we’re satisfied is the day we begin to repeat ourselves.

GAIL, negative image & DUFY, Room with Window

but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own—of course, the Holy Spirit empowers this spiritual quest for complete love, or we’d never achieve this goal alone. I believe all persons have a creative spirit within them. If we’re made in the image of God, who is the creator and is creating all things new again, we must share this attribute in part. Moreover, I think of it as a spiritual gift, for we enter into the mystery of God when we let go of our ego’s organizational skills and allow a greater hand to move our own as we create.

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own—the mark of a spiritually mature person is recognizing how far from the perfection of God all of creation will always be. Yet God can refine and renew any imperfection in our spiritual and physical lives. The consequences of our acts will stay with us, however.

At the end of a studio session, I sometimes tell myself, “I’ve learned all I can from this one. It’s time to go onto the next piece and do better.” I don’t expect a masterpiece every time. I do expect to learn from my mistakes. I own my mistakes! I’ll keep the work around for several months. If it doesn’t fall apart, I let it out to show. If it doesn’t sell in three years, I destroy it and move on. I can’t stay attached to it, although I once did. Now I see my work as an opportunity to share the beauty and joy of God’s inspiration with others. I’d be selfish to hoard it all to myself.

but this one thing I do—Paul stays focused on the ultimate prize, not just on the easy gains. “We have stress enough in our daily world, so why can’t we just come and be comfortable in our sanctuary or in our art class?”

If we were hot house tomatoes being prepared for the salsa factory, this might be an acceptable choice, but we’re human beings who’ll be tested and tried in the world beyond the security of our sacred spaces and quiet studios. We need controlled challenges, just beyond our reach, to strengthen us for the days ahead. Even the most famous artists will struggle with success, so having a goal beyond this world is important. The rest of us will struggle with failure and rejection, so we need to learn resilience and fortitude, and the strength of power available to us from on high.

forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead—most of us carry baggage from our earlier days when we made poor choices and did dumb stuff. If we don’t have several suitcases, we at least have a closet full of T-shirts from Been There Done That Land. In art, we eventually will make enough work to break out of our old patterns, or we can enter into a studio teaching environment and accelerate the process. The trained teacher gives positive criticism and guidance, just as we can give the keys to a novice driver with a licensed driver in the car. We could let the novice driver out on their own, but a cow pasture would be a safer choice for this unsupervised driving experience than a city street.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the “heavenly” call of God in Christ Jesus.—the Greek word is “upward” call, or “higher” call. This call is more important than any other in our lives. If our only goal is to be a good person, but not loving person, we need a higher goal! Why are we satisfied with less when God is so much more of everything?

Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind;—just as our challenge in faith is to always grow in grace and love, so our goal in life is to always grow and learn. What we fail to use will atrophy and die. If we don’t love from the depths of God’s inpouring and abundant love, our own ability to love will wither and die. Burnout is a spiritual condition first, then it becomes a physical problem. The ancient icon painters prayed as they “wrote” the images of Christ. If we offer up our time in the studio as a prayer to God, we will better connect to God’s deep well of hope and compassion, which can recreate our lives and the world.

and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you.—I happen to be a slow learner, but better a slow learner than one who never learns at all. Some of us need repeated lessons before the scales drop from our eyes, but once we see clearly, we’re zealous to convert the rest of the world. Once the flame of love burns brightly, it wants to spread and replicate itself. One light wants to set the other coals aflame. Still not everyone wants to set themselves on fire! They’re perfectly willing to watch someone else burn brightly and bask in their glow.

Price’s Law is a good example in real life. Price’s law describes unequal distribution of productivity in most domains of creativity. The square root of the number of people in a domain do 50% of the work. In a group of 100, 10 do 50% of the work and 90 do the other 50%. This seems to hold true in business and in volunteer groups. Some Elijahs love to work, but don’t know how to replicate their Elishas. They rob the future Elishas of the blessings of service.

In art everyone has to do their own work, and some have difficulty if the work doesn’t look as good as their neighbor’s efforts. Since everyone begins at a different point, each person improves from that beginning. Each has to be considered as an individual. No one is compared to anyone else, even in a graded system. Art is the best class of all, for if you work the whole class, turn in all your work on time, and meet the criteria of the project, you get an A. There is a “works righteousness” in the studio, even if we’re saved by grace in faith.

Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.—I find many folks want to quote this verse only, but not the whole of the Philippians text. They use it as an excuse to stand still without reflecting on their faith, which they inherited from their ancestors. Worse, they don’t read the Bible with a heart or mind open to the fresh winds of the Holy Spirit. Then they wonder why joy and peace are merely limited gifts in their lives. We prosper, not by material wealth, but in our relationships with one another and with God.

In art, we’d rather copy our teacher’s example and match it to the best of our ability, instead of coming up with solutions unique and personal to our own spirit. Thinking uses energy, but it also builds resourcefulness and new cognitive pathways, as well as increasing confidence.

The former is the standard teaching technique in most departments of education, but it has nothing to do with engaging creativity. Instead it assumes a single right answer, but the history of art is replete with multitudes of many answers and solutions to the questions of the moment. When we ask, “What is beauty, truth, and good in art,” we answer, “Across the years and with different artists in different cultures, it varies.”

With this in mind, as artists and people of faith, we can hold certain truths across all the years, artists, and cultures, but other truths may be variable. Certainly overworking the person and the painting hold true everywhere. Many of us hunger for approval from human sources, and work ourselves sick trying to please too many masters.

In art school I had several master teachers. One day I was drawing in an empty classroom. The department head came by and asked, “Who are you working for, me or Mr. Sitton?”

“I’m drawing,” was my noncommittal answer.

He returned a short while later to ask the same question and I gave the same answer. Not long after that, he popped his head into the door, pointed his pipe at me, and asked again, “Who are you working for, me or Mr. Sitton?”

By this time I was irritated to no end. I’d been polite twice, but this third time was too much! I snapped around on the stool and snarled, “ I’m working for myself, thank you! Now quit bothering me so I can draw in peace!”

He laughed as if I’d finally passed some rite of passage. “That’s what I wanted to hear you say the first time!” Some art lessons aren’t given in a class, and they aren’t about design and color, but about your calling and your purpose.

Who are you working for in this world: the praises of ordinary people, or the eternal voice of the master, who paints the dawn and sunset from a palette of glorious colors?

WORK IN PROGRESS: Landscape 

art, Creativity, Faith, Holy Spirit, Imagination, instagram, mystery, Painting, photography, Reflection, renewal, Spirituality, Uncategorized, vision

stage 3, unfinished acrylic painting, artandicon


This is on my easel right now. Last autumn on a warm and sunny day, I took an Instagram photo below of the woods near my home.  Maybe we’ll have one ofthose days   again, with no rain!

The photo above is  my most recent painting. I’m letting it set overnight, to see if I need to work it some more. A fresh eye will see better tomorrow. I’ve spent 4 hours on it today. 

Notice I didn’t paint all the trees in the foreground. Photographic truth is different from artistic truth. We know this is the same place by the line of the hill, the placement of the bushes in the background and the staggered line of trees in the foreground. If details are omitted, we don’t worry. If the colors are varied, we understand the artist is responding to the emotions of the landscape, rather than to the facts of the site. 

photo edited in instagram

In the same way, biblical truths may be operating in the parables and stories Jesus told us. For some people, the miracles themselves are mere “truth stories” which serve to open up the mysteries of God. For these people, science is how they understand their world, but God’s word is the way they understand how to relate to God and God’s creation. 
If they can hold this creative tension in their minds, it isn’t any different than seeing this painting as a true image of the place it represents. 

After all, as Jacob said when he woke from his sleep, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 
And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” — Genesis 28:16-17

The gates of heaven are all about us, if only we have the eyes to see them. We are always within the house of God. I find this awesome, life changing, and spirit filling. Recognizing God’s presence everywhere should change how we pursue our lives, our work and our relationships also. 

ILLUSION AND REALITY: The Uysal Clothespin Sculpture

art, Faith, Imagination, Philosophy, Stress, Uncategorized

Built for the Festival of the Five Seasons in Chaudfontaine Park, which lies on the outskirts of Liege, Belgium, a giant clothespin sculpture appears to be holding on to a mound of dirt and grass.
Designed by Turkish artist Mehmet Ali Uysal, a professor of art at the Middle East Technical University, the giant sculpture is just one piece in a string of Uysal works that rely on flawless illusion.

One of the most difficult tasks in seminary was learning words can posses more than one meaning according to their use in certain eras and contexts. 

Socrates believed the senses don’t grasp reality in any way, but the soul was the true receptacle of truth. The physical body was an obstacle to the search for truth. What we see in this world is imperfect, while the real, spiritual world of the Forms is perfect. Aristotle saw ultimate reality in physical objects, which could be known through experience. 

These are the gyrations which an art mind encounters on the way toward a theological education. My Rosetta Stone moment arrived when I realized we artists have defined beauty in various ways across the centuries. When I connected beauty and reality, the lights came on in my mind!

In our world today even the word truth had a fluid meaning. For some, truth means it represents a concrete and unchanging reality. For others, truth is a matter how they feel at the moment, whether the facts are true or not. 

Can we make our art with emotion and also use our reason at the same time? Can we hold ideal truths and live with imperfect reality? These are questions for life, art, and faith. 

Image: http://unusualplaces.org/clothespin-sculpture/