Rule of Life

art, Creativity, generosity, Habits, Health, Imagination, New Year, Painting, Philosophy, purpose, purpose, Retirement, Strength, United Methodist Church, vision, vision

First painting of the New Year: 
Sometimes you have to remember who you are and whose you are. Starting the year off right by setting my theme. Everyone needs a rule of life, even the nonbeliever, for we need a measure to test our lives against. 

Are we living up to our expectations for a moral life, such as “are we doing all the good we can, to all we can, by every means we can, as long as we can?” While this was John Wesley’s admonition to the people called Methodists, the same principle applies to all people of good nature. Or do we live for the good of numero uno only? 

Self care is an important part of my rule of life, but this doesn’t make me a selfish person. It gives me the strength and stamina to be generous with my time and energy for others. While I no longer am actively engaged in person to person ministry, my facebook pages regularly reach over 800 people each week and my WordPress blogs reach about another 200. 

People on other continents are reading my posts, so the word is spreading. This is a power and a privilege I do not treat lightly. I’m thankful for a simple lifestyle which allows me the time to pursue my creative endeavors in my studio. For those of you who do buy my art, remember I donate 40% of the purchase price to the following causes: 

  • First UMC Hot Springs tithe
  • First UMC Hot Springs Community Outreach fund
  • REV. Paul Atkins, urban missionary @canvascommunity
  • UMC Missionary Elizabeth Soward, Tanzania 

Happy New Year, Cornelia  

Check my work on Facebook at Artandicon 

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What’s a measure of worth?

art, Creativity, Love, Painting, photography, purpose, purpose, Strength, Uncategorized, vision, vision

 If an artwork doesn’t sell, it could mean any number of reasons.   
1. It’s not any good, but good is a relative term. Fauve was a pejorative term applied to the bright colors and bold forms of Matisse and Rouault, among others. 
2. It’s actually bad. Here bad means unskilled. Of course, naive painters like Grandma Moses can always break through with intuitive color and design sense. It’s the artists who aspire to realism or abstraction, but go through the motions by rote and never put enough practice into their art to rise beyond the mundane who fall into this category. 

3. The artist’s vision is beyond this world. Van Gogh sold only a few paintings in his lifetime, but museums and collectors vie for his works today. 

  
4. It could be overpriced. Sometimes we artists value our years of training, struggle, and history with our art product more than the art market values it. Either learn to let go and move on to greater art, and sell these for what you can, or paint over them, melt them down, or learn to love paying storage fees. 

5. Forget pricing your work at a “living wage.” Art is what gives you life. Most artists either have another job or have someone supporting them. Or they are privileged to have personal wealth. The average wage of all artists (including musicians, dancers, actors, photographers, and writers) is around $36,100 for art school grads and $30,000 for non grads. 

6. Nearly 50% of artists will sell under $5,000 of art yearly. Only 1% will sell $500,000 or more yearly. That’s the bottom and top. Most of us will be in the bottom. We may be the next Van Gogh. 

7. When I look at these sales numbers, I realize the costs of studio, materials, and commissions haven’t been deducted. The net result for the artist is less, maybe at a third for their profit. 

8. Should you get a degree in computer programming instead? Nursing? Only if your heart is truly there. If you have the artist’s soul, you’ll never be happy just making a living. You will need an outlet for the deep feelings of your heart and the thoughts percolating up from the deep places of the mind. 

Keep working, my friend. So what if the road seems long? The journey is always better than the destination. 

We Journey By Stages

Creativity, mystery, purpose, renewal, Spirituality, Uncategorized

Canvasari interior, Sultani. Turkey. Along the Silk Road

Caravansary interior, Sultanhani. Turkey. Along the Silk Road

“And Abram journeyed on by stages towards  the Negeb.”

~~ Genesis 12:9

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor” (Deut 26:5) is likely the first affirmation of faith in the Bible. It speaks to a people who began their lives with a call from God to journey in faith: “Go to the land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1). I spent two weeks in Turkey and Greece along the Silk Road making a journey of faith with others who were out to visit the sites of the Seven Churches of the Revelation.  We were not just on a journey of faith during this brief time, but this pilgrimage was a microcosm of the experiences of our lifetime faith journeys.

Deciding to set out is the first step of a faith journey! For many of us, counting the cost is too expensive. We say we could save so much money by setting out alone, buying a cheap fare on line, and so on. However, we never do this because we are afraid to go alone. Travel in a foreign country, even one as safe and hospitable to Americans as Turkey, is not as safe as being in the USA for those without connections or knowledge of the language.

I missed the tour bus and had to negotiate my own way out to the suburban location of our hotel in Istanbul.  First I tried the bus, but the driver wouldn’t take me there, so I went to the taxi stand. The driver didn’t speak English, but I had the hotel address and phone.  He called them and got me there before the Tour Bus arrived. If my mother were still alive, she would be in the hospital with a heart attack! But I travel by faith, and believed that God takes care of those who journey with him.

In ancient times folks travelled in groups also. These are the caravans of antiquity: traders travelled together to protect their goods and families journeyed together to protect their herds of animals.  The average daily distance herds or camels could cover was 15 or 20 miles. Along the Silk Road we saw many Caravansaries/Hotels, some of which have been converted into destination resort/hotel accommodations rather like our bed and breakfast lodgings.

The Sultanhani Caravansaray pictured is more like a fortress than a hotel.  Inside are rooms for the people and their goods. These have high and small windows and heavy doors for easy defense.  The open courtyard has water and cooking areas for the common use.  Across the way are covered open porticos for the animals and their handlers.  There are also “accounting rooms” for any trade that was contracted there.

We all need a resting spot on our faith journey. Sometimes we just get tired of “going onto perfection.” We think that we are good enough, or at least better than our neighbor, and that ought to suffice.  But is that our true calling as a people of faith on a journey? In the work place, we always strive to do better. On the athletic field, we always want to leap higher or run faster. In our creative endeavors, we are unsatisfied unless we are constantly improving!

So why is it that people of faith who have set out on the long journey of Christian Perfection come to the decision that “good enough” is their Caravansary or Resting Place, when they have “an ancestor who was a wandering Aramean?”  If we are ever to obtain the image of Christ by faith, continuing the dangerous journey is our calling.

Along the way we’ll not know the language, the bathrooms will be hard to find, and the food won’t be familiar.  If we look only for what “feeds my needs,” we probably aren’t leaving familiar territory. We aren’t going to the Land God is going to show us.  We aren’t journeying by stages to the Negeb, to the desert lands. The heart of the matter is we don’t want to go to the desert as part of our journey, for in the desert everything is stripped clean down to the bare essentials.  The excess of the fat lands, the lush growth of flowers, the sweet smell of success, and the power of regeneration that happens with ease all have a siren call. The arid and dry lands have a still small voice that can only be heard by a heart that is in tune to silence and simplicity.

This is a different journey from the world’s journey. Not everyone will hear it. Not everyone will take it. Some of us will use the Caravansary as a place in which to hide from the world, others will use it as a temporary resting place.  The Silk Road beckons us to continue on our pilgrimage.

Our spiritual and artistic reflection project: Journey Image.  Consider your own journey and your own call (spiritual, vocational, missional, etc.).  Pick a line or image or both that represents the story of that journey to date. You can use a “timeline” format, a collage, layers, a clock face, or a self-portrait with multiple images to represent this journey you are on.  If you want to include your hopes and dreams for the future that is also good!

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

 

The Fairy Nativity: A Simple Christmas

Creativity, home, Imagination, photography, purpose, renewal, Uncategorized, vision

“There are winds created for vengeance and in their anger they can dislodge mountains. On the day of reckoning they will pour out their strength and calm the anger of their Maker.” ~~ Ecclesiasticus 39: 28 

Seventeen days and counting to Christmas: Grey Thursday, Black Friday holy family and the Great Christmas Sales are upon us. Wal-Mart is covered up with people like the great ski slopes in the mountains should be covered with snow at this time of year. The Salvation Army bell ringers are out, but their friendly jingles and smiles aren’t making much of a dent into the general mood with Fiscal Cliffadedron, Egyptian Meltdown, Iranian Idiots, or Syrian Chemical Weapon threats weighing heavy in the air.

People aren’t much in the mood for Christmas this year, perhaps because our expectations are too high. We wanted a “Good Thanksgiving” with a happy family all gathered around the table, but the drunk uncle made his appearance once again and the kids all wanted to text the entire meal, while Dad wanted the food served in the “media room” so he wouldn’t miss any of the game.  This didn’t make any of the lady folks happy after baking and cooking for two days for the thirty-minute meal. So the gals took the credit cards and maxed them out on the early deals Thursday afternoon.

Now we have the incessant commercials of increasing expectations berating us on the TV: moving up to a bigger car, a bigger diamond, or giving your stepchild a diamond just like the one you gave her Mom (this is outrageous, children shouldn’t get diamonds until they are grownups! They need to have something to look forward to!). But most of our lives today aren’t like this, for we are more like the 99% and less like the 1%.

I was recently in Turkey in the region of Cappadocia. There is an area called the Fairy Mountains that has unusual stone pillars and shapes that have been worn away by the wind, rain, and blowing sand.  One such

fairy mountains cappadocia

fairy mountains Cappadocia

shape is a camel, and another grouping of three is known as the “holy family.” This Nativity Scene makes me think of all the precious sculptures I’ve seen. Most of them are highly sophisticated, brightly colored, and “clean” for that is truly how we view holiness.  This isn’t the world the Christ Child was brought into by his parents, however.

Mary was a young teenager when the angel came to tell her she would bring the Christ into the world without benefit of a husband, that is, it would be a virgin birth. Folks in the village soon began to talk, and Joseph was going to break off their engagement, but an angel told him in a dream it would all work out ok.  When Mary began to show, however, she needed to leave town, so she went to see her older cousin Elizabeth who was also with child.  These two were alike in that they were “outsiders:” Elizabeth was alone because her husband wasn’t able to speak because he doubted the Lord was at work in his wife’s pregnancy and Mary was alone because her family and town doubted her story.

When the census time came, everyone had to go to their ancestral hometown. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, the city of David, but no one would let them stay in their inn. The text says there was no room for them in the inn, but Joseph wasn’t a stupid or slow man.  He didn’t wait until the last minute to take his very pregnant wife on this trip, so that all the hotels and motels were already full. People back then are just like people now: they talk, they make judgments, and folks decide that out of wedlock babies are unwelcome in their nice establishments.  One innkeeper did take pity upon them and gave the family a place in the stable among the animals. The baby was born there; the king of the world had a manger for his throne, and the animals for his court.  Angels proclaimed the Savior’s birth to shepherds, outcast persons on the margins of society because they were not clean. They were the first to honor him. Strangers from the east came to worship him and give him gifts, aliens and nonbelievers rather than the Jews themselves.  His mother  “…treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

The King and the priests heard the strangers from the east ask: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Matthew 2:2).  They conspired among themselves to murder all the newborn baby boys when they didn’t find out the one name. Joseph took Mary and Jesus in the middle of the night out into Egypt, for he was warned in a dream that the child was in danger.

This Christ Child knows the pains of the world from the very beginning of conception, for he knows the loneliness of the poor and the isolated, the rejected and the misunderstood. He knows that if the king of the world will be rejected and despised, so will all we lesser human beings. If we are persecuted in this world, we are in good company, since he was singled out from birth and many innocents died on his behalf (Matt 2:13-33). His family fled with the clothes on their backs, but they carried the gold, frankincense and myrrh gifts he received as gifts for his ministry and burial.

Most people don’t read the Nativity Story this way, but when I look at the way the wind wears away the stone, I have to think that these figures are the strength that is left after the winds have torn away the soft parts. The hard parts, that core that remains, is the true part that is the inner strength that comes from the inner spirit of a person.  The winds may move mountains and reveal a new shape, but that is just God’s recreating power at work.

The biblical word for wind and spirit are the same, so the Holy Spirit can be the rushing wind that changes our hearts and minds into the new shape God has in mind for us.  The American Bible Society says that each American home has 4.3 bibles in it in 2012. However, most people aren’t reading it, for 46% couldn’t tell the difference between the Koran, the Bible, or the Book of Mormon.  What’s worse, 50% of Americans, including Christians, couldn’t name ANY of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John). The Bible’s oral traditions have been around for 6,000 years, and it’s been written down for 4,000 years.  Surely that is a testimony to its robustness: the winds of other ideas may blow against it, but its inner strength stands firm against all the storms.

As a spiritual art project, make your own nativity from found objects, the more humble the better.  If you go on a nature walk, find rocks or pine cones and paint them with minimal decoration so that they are recognizable as “figure” or “animal”. If you make them from toilet paper rolls, use construction paper and simplify the figure drapery.  These should be fun because you need to quit thinking “perfect” and allow yourself to “enjoy Christmas for a change!”  Have yourself a Merry Simple Christmas!

People, Politics, and Mute Buttons

Creativity, Family, Health, home, Imagination, Meditation, Mental Illness, ministry, poverty, purpose, salvation, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized, vision, Work

“Indeed, there have to be factions among you,  for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.” ~~ 1 Cor 11:19

 Red State, Blue State. Latest polling numbers. Romney chooses Ryan—Breaking news! Pick Bump, Attack Dog, Spin Doctors, and Campaign Ads.

I’m already warming up my remote and I long ago quit watching cable news of any type or stripe. If there are factions in the American public concerning our politics, why are we surprised when we discover that divisions prevail inside the hallowed walls of our places of worship?

First, we have a misguided idea that the church is a warehouse for saints. This metaphor is the farthest from reality, for the church is more like a factory that takes raw materials (sinners) and re-processes them over a period of time into a more useful product, “the saints.” Even though we are “saved by our faith in Christ,” our old sin habits remain, and that is the long term work of the factory as the imperfect saints who carry the image of the holy God within them yearn and work to be conformed to the truth of God’s holiness in the entirety of their lives: heart, soul, mind and body. In as sense, we remain in the finishing room of this factory/church until we die. Then God takes us for our final “touch up” into his heaven and we are put into his eternal service there.

The earthly factory that is the church is an odd enterprise, for it’s the body of Christ. It serves the body that lives within the walls of its meeting place, but it also serves the body that hungers, thirsts, is naked, imprisoned, lonely, and oppressed outside of its walls. These saints in process sometimes fall out into factions over the best way to do these things, who should lead them, or what teaching to follow. Sometimes they don’t want to do the work at all. This bloc is the most difficult, for they want to let others work, cast blame on why it isn’t being done better, or done as it was in their day (when things were glorious in the factory and everyone prospered). Of course, they aren’t going to come off Mount Critical to advise or mentor a new generation because that would take time and energy out of their well-earned retirements.

I think of this last crowd as the “surplus saints” who are last year’s model. It’s best if we just ignore their carping, pet them on the head and tell them how wonderful they are and send them off on yet another trip to the local gardens or the museum. Keep them active and busy, but keep them off the working floor if possible, unless they share the vision that God means for us to work for good in his world as long as we live just as he is working for good in all things (Rom 8:28, Eph 2:10).

Paul says that factions show up in a church so that the “genuine will be sorted out.” The ancient farmer separated wheat from the chaff by throwing all of it up into the air. The wind blew away the lighter chaff and the heavier seeds fell to the ground. So also the storms of life come to us as individuals and as a church. If we think of these times of sifting wheat from chaff, separating the true from the false, then we will endure with equanimity the struggle before us. The factions without and within our sacred walls won’t disturb our inner peace.

I have a friend who is stressed over the Muslims attacking the Christians in Africa. She believes that will happen in America and attaches this belief to our current president’s work in opening a dialogue with Muslim countries. I think she is projecting outward her stress that she deals with at home with her bipolar adult son and his wife who are awaiting a long delayed Social Security disability claim. This is her way of diffusing the stress she has to deal with by worrying about something that she can’t do anything about.  If she were to step back from her situation, she would realize that she can’t cure his illness, she can’t make the claim come quicker, and if it does come through with a lump sum back payment, her son will not be able to manage the money and will be just as homeless in a year as he was when she and her husband brought them home to live here in Arkansas. He is forty something years old and needs professional help. They can’t see it yet, and so she blames Obama for her lack of inner peace.  I don’t think he is the “great Satan” she thinks he is, nor is he the savior of the universe or even a lesser angel. Man or woman alone will not solve the unsolvable problems of this world, whether they be political, religious or social.

In theses storms, we seek a quiet place. Every four years, I have a mute button that works very well. My general rule is the first campaign that throws the first mudball is the one I vote against. It’s already happened, so when the early voting opens, I can get my ballot down and counted. There is a spiritual quiet place that is better than any mute button: it is the place of “being” and “resting in God.” We are such active people; we have goals, to do lists, five-year plans, bucket lists, and planners to organize our lives. We often forget to plan “rest” and “downtime” as if it were a negative quality in our lives. Sometimes we even come to work sick because we are saving our sick days for our kids or because corporate frowns on “illness as weakness.”

If we were to take our calendars and day timers and post regular times for “quiet time with God,” then when someone wanted to schedule that time with us, we could say, “I have a prior commitment. Would the hour before or after be better for you?” The same would hold for exercise, or time with our spouse or loved one or child.  What? You don’t keep a calendar? You don’t have a schedule, a routine to your life? No wonder you feel fragmented, “factioned” and fractioned! This is our spiritual practice this week, to set a disciplined schedule for waking and bedtime, for meals, for daily quiet time with God (20 minutes) and for exercise (30 minutes daily). Journal about your experience.  Was it difficult to begin, or did you benefit by the end of the week?

As an art project, use the three primary colors, plus black and white. I chose scrapbook paper because I had it handy. I used a large ruler to cut the rectangles and squares with a matt knife. Once I laid out my design, I used scrapbook sticky tape to attach the papers, but you could use glue.  Keeping the design in rectangles and squares makes us focus and pay attention to the lines, colors, lights and darks. An hour or two will pass and you will not think of much else but the work in front of you. This is how resting in God feels. Your breathing will be steadier, your blood pressure will be lower as you will feel calmer. (Unless you are that Type A personality that just had to make this a race to the finish in RECORD TIME!! HIGH FIVE!!)  The good news is that “God is at work in all of us, both to will and to work for his good purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Hunger Games and Religious Famine

at risk kids, Children, Creativity, Family, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Love, Ministry, ministry, photography, poverty, purpose, Spirituality, Uncategorized, vision, Work

two trees “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”             ~~ 1 Corinthians 2:12 

I spent two days last week listening to my favorite seminary professor, friend, bog Irishman and mentor, Dr. Billy Abraham from Perkins School of Theology. I was his research assistant one year, which is actually a glorified title for travel/booking agent, secretary, and general flunky.  Since I also was his alter ego for his correspondence, I learned to “channel my inner Abraham.” Fifteen years later, I can still easily pierce through his Irish dialect, which for others is as heavy as a stout pair of brogues handed down from their granddaddy’s closet.  “Faith” for Billy has three syllables, just as the Holy Trinity has three persons.

Billy is a resident alien in these parts, since he is an Irish citizen, but even if he were a naturalized American citizen, my guess is he wouldn’t consider himself a citizen of this world, for as a Christian “our citizenship is from heaven, and it is from there we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

In this world we have many nations, both rich and poor. In these, there are rich who live in the poorest nations and very poor people who live in the rich nations such as our own. I speak here only of economics, for some of those who are financially poor are richer spiritually than those who have great wealth, for they understand their lives depend upon God’s providence and mercy, and not on their own strength and position for gain.

Those who are caught up in the spirit of this world are beset by the cares of this world and focus on these problems. They see no hope for change, no way out of the status quo. They are “hopeless” people, for the spirit of the world can’t offer hope, but only more of the same. This is why “the Hunger Games” and its dystopian view of the future has captured the attention of our youth. They see it as a possible future, for they live without hope. Their generation’s symbol is the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11/01.

As I was chatting with my Walgreen’s photo clerk the other day, she said, “Your parents fought to make the world safe for democracy, and people your age put a man on the moon. Our generation hadn’t seen anything grand or positive happen. We’ve been at war most of our lives, mostly “against something”, but never “for anything.” It’s like we have lost our will to do any great deeds as a country. We can’t even be “for peace, for ecological sanity or for whatever!” The spirit of this world is negativity in all its aspects.

Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own” (John 15:19). Those who walk on another path don’t belong to the spirit of this world, even though they live in this world, for they have received the Spirit of God. This isn’t some special gift, reserved only for a few extraordinary persons, but it’s the gift of God to each and every believer! How are we to know God if we aren’t joined to him in a spiritual manner? We aren’t able to use our minds alone, for “no human mind can grasp this, and who can comprehend his ways?” Our mind is part of this world, but not part of the spiritual world (Ecclesiastes 16:20).

Once we have our own experiences with God, we can test them against the experiences of the saints of the church (tradition), the witness of Scripture, and the reason of our minds. We will never understand God with our minds only, but we will also never understand God only by our human experience or by the tradition of others either, or just by reading about God from the Bible.  Because God is a personal God, whom we know as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we need to experience God in relationship, for our spirit communicates with God’s Holy Spirit. When we experience God, we experience hope, life, and love.

We aren’t able to hear the sounds of hopelessness in the world unless we too have also known no hope. When I met this worker at the photo counter, we got into this discussion because another customer was admiring my iPhone 4S photos and compared them to my  35mm Minolta black body camera photos. Because there’s nothing automatic on my 40 year old camera, I have to think and compose my photo before I shoot.  She particularly admires the two trees winter stark against a blue sky. This photo was one of a series I took of trees that stood naked, ready to bloom once spring began, I was reading Brian D. McLauren’s Naked Spirituality at the time. It reminded her of the Twin Towers in New York City, the symbol of her generation’s loss and communal grief. She is my daughter’s age, part of Gen Y or the “Millenniums.” They are the first Internet generation, so technology is a necessity in their life. They may be wired into the world, but they have no intelligible vocabulary or theological framework from which to make a coherent and positive sense of the world.

They are “Saturday’s children, but they aren’t in Sunday School,” for as a group, these young people are deeply suspicious of tradition.  I suspect that even if they were in a church they would find that the gospel there has been watered down to what Billy Abraham calls a “civil religion” or “God, the flag, private enterprise, and the fourth of July.” Upon finding this worldly gospel within the church, they would turn and leave, and rightly so, for why get out of bed early on Sunday if they aren’t going to hear a different message from the world they are in the other six days of the week? They are hungry, but they aren’t finding nourishment in our “fast food churches” these days.

To make coherent sense of this world, we have to have a worldview that is focused on God, for only then will we understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. Our primary gift is “prophecy, in proportion to faith” (Romans 12:6). This isn’t some two bit foretelling of the future, but a vigorous listening to God’s word, an active calling of God’s people back to God’s love, and the announcing of God’s judgment if we fail to return or God’s mercy if we repent and return.

Too often we have made the gospel a cheap one-armed bandit, putting our quarters in and hoping for the three cherries to hit the jackpot of prosperity. Other times we have made the good news a shackle to bind people by laws and restrictions instead of freeing tem to become fully human and fully holy in the grace of God. We who claim the name of Christ have failed to articulate the good news so that our children and grandchildren can hear us! Why is that? Could it be that we actually practice a less robust religion, the civil religion in which we nod to the flag, to the country, to the rule of law, and to a creator God, but we do not give our whole lives over to the one Lord who can transform all that we are into more than we can ever imagine!  Our children deserve the Bread of Life!

“I Can Only Imagine” is a wonderful song—you can download it from iTunes if you don’t already have it. Although it’s about “heaven,” it could be about the new creation. Imagine your vision of a better world: describe it in positive terms rather than negative ones (we are at peace, rather than there is no war). If your idea is that all will have enough to eat, find a food pantry or soup kitchen and volunteer for a day to put a face on hunger in this present world. Make a difference in the part of the world in which you live. This is hands on spirituality or the spirituality of praxis.

As a creative project, write a poem or story, photograph, or place colors on a canvas about your experience. If you are photoing people, ask permission first, for not everyone wants their image used. Colors tell the story of your experience. You don’t have to make a realistic image, but your colors and shapes/lines should reflect your inner emotions. This may be harder than it sounds.

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

Twinkie Dust & The New Creation

Creativity, Holy Spirity, Icons, Imagination, Love, Prayer, purpose, purpose, renewal, salvation, Spirituality, Uncategorized, vision, vision

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?” 

~~ Isaiah 43:18-19

My favorite time in Vacation Bible School was the plaster handprint. When I was a child in the 1950’s, we were given our choice of one color to paint “our hand to serve Jesus.” When my daughter went to VBS in the early 80’s, her little hand had a rainbow of colors exploding all over it!

Those ladies are the unsung heroes in every generation, for they mixed and poured plaster into recycled pie pans and let all of us children put our hands into that goop so we could bring our “helping hands” home to our parents. They also cleaned us up afterward.

One summer Art in the Park teacher brought some real turquoise and real silver wire to a bunch of hot and sweaty kids sitting at a picnic table. My 10-year old hands make a piece of “jewelry,” which I still sometimes wear.  My Saturday art teacher took me under her wing as soon as I was able to write my name in cursive. I also have to thank my Mom for driving me all over town so I could do what I love the most.

Each one of those teachers stretched me as a child, but none stretched me more than two of my teachers at Georgia State University: Mr. Sitton and Mr. Perrin.  One week the head of the department would stop by and ask, “Are you working for me or Mr. Sitton?” Each time I would only reply, “I’m working.” Not letting that noncommittal answer go by, Mr. Perrin would keep asking until I had had enough of being interrupted and I burst out, “Neither of you! I’m working for myself!” It was the answer he was waiting to hear.

I do remember how these two pushed me to strive beyond myself and to grow as an artist. They encouraged me to find my own voice, my own style, and to not be an imitator of others. I could learn from others and study them, but to become an artist, I had to discover my own true vision.  So I had to press on to the new thing as yet unseen, and let the old fall pieces away behind me.

This is easier said than done. It’s much more comfortable to repeat a form than to move onward to the next one. The old one feels safe because it is known; the new one has risks because it is as yet unbirthed and unseen. It may arrive still born, and the work will seem as if for nothing. However the effort expended isn’t wasted, since the artist now knows that this path is a dead end and can try another with more confidence.

So, why is it we spiritual people have a hard time living this new and different life once we make our profession of faith in Christ? The world calls us “hypocrites” because we seem to live the same old lives as we once did before we knew Christ. There seems to be no outward transformation to match our inward change of heart and relationship. We do not become magically and radically different, but instead progress slowly into a newer and more perfect life in love. No wonder we have a hard time attracting the unsaved into our new way of life or into our congregations.  They don’t see a visible witness that our faith in Christ has made a difference in the person we are or in what we do.  We might “steal a church member from another congregation,” because they already know the drill: show up, go through the motions, and maybe one day, I’ll change into a better person. People of faith are afflicted with chronic optimism, for we “walk by faith, not sight” (2 Cor 5:7).

Now if “going onto perfection in love” really operated in this manner, I could just go to the gym and laze around, anticipating that one day my body would magically become buff and lean.  Having spent the better part of two years on a mandatory lifestyle change that has included giving up junk food, processed foods, lattes, double dip ice cream cones, large pizzas, and learning how to cook from scratch, I can say that there is no magic Twinkie Dust for weight loss.  Going to the gym means sweating, not standing around posing and looking nice.  I’m not very pretty when I leave, but I now understand the meaning of “working out your own salvation” (Phil 2:12).

Our bodies do not magically transform themselves anymore than we become perfect Christians by a mere profession of faith. We need spiritual guides, just as I have a trainer and a physician who help me through the rough spots of my remaking of my health and my life.  If I want to lose more than the 50 pounds and the 6 dress sizes I’ve already lost, my dietitian friend says I have to cut my calories to 1500 per day because of my age and medical needs.  This will require discipline, persistence, courage, faith, and suffering. It is a biblical model:  “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:3-5).

This might be a fun week to try out a new craft or a new theme in your art. You could try praying with the holy icons. I have an ICONS photo album on my Facebook page ARTANDICON that you can view on the computer or smart phone (they are for sale also). Spring is the time for renewing the Spirit!