Junky Art

We love a God of beauty.
Beauty
Beauty
We worship a God of art, of music, of literature.
Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo’s Pieta
We serve a God of perfection.
Perfection
Perfection
We adore a God Who gives us only His best.
Samantha
God’s best
Why, oh why, then do we consistently offer Him art that is, to put it bluntly, junk?
Why do we think that music that is dull and overly simple is what is best for inspiring our hearts to worship?  Why do we think that literature that is bland and is bad storytelling will turn our minds toward thoughts of God?  Why do we think that art that is commercialized and overly sentimental will cause our imaginations to soar to the heavens?
Perhaps this is harsh.  I will fully admit that there are artists (in the full sense of the word) out there who inspire awe in the hearts of all those who come across it.  But this is not the norm.  Not anymore, that is.
It used to be that Christians artists were at the top of their craft.  They were respected and admired throughout the world.  Think Bach.  Think Correggio.  Think Milton and Tolstoy.
Correggio
Correggio
It is not this way anymore.  The secular world no longer looks up to Christian art to lead the way.  Instead it sneers at Christian art and views it as subpar, something to be shunned rather than something to inspire.
To paraphrase James: my brothers, this should not be!  The lack of excellence in our art indicates to the world that we serve a God who is less than excellent.
Much so-called religious art is in fact bad art, and therefore bad religion. ~ Madeleine L’Engle
Oh, we could do so much better.  We could open ourselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit rather than to the power of the market.
Fellow artists, let God inspire you.  Open yourself to that which you cannot control.  Ignore the sale; ignore what you think people want.  Listen instead to the Spirit.  Listen to what God is showing you through your work: “my proper place is as a servant struggling to be faithful to the work, the work which slowly and gently tries to teach me some of what it knows.” (L’Engle)
Let your art sing.  Let it soar.
Those who are not artists, be discerning.  If it is good art, if it inspires you and sets your imagination soaring toward God, then support it.  If it is bad art, don’t support and sustain it simply because it involved the name or image of Christ.
I know that my words do not reach many, but I dream of a day when those who claim to follow a God of beauty and excellence are once again those who  produce that art which leads the entire world in soaring to the heights, are once again those who produce the art which therefore points the way to God.

God In the Personal

Cancer.
Such an ugly word.  A word that is filled with fear and pain, hopelessness and loss.  A word in which the treatment is as bad as the disease, a word that contains no promise of a cure.
We’ve lived through cancer twice now in my close family.  Once in one who had lived a long and good life and who chose not to fight.  Once in one who had just begun her life as wife and mother and who fought with every bit of strength she had.  Both times, our cancer word contained death and loss.

Papa

Kristina

Perhaps this is why when someone I know learns firsthand of the horrors of this word, it stirs up something inside of me.   We all have causes and issues that make our hearts feel more weighty, that bring us to tears.  Causes alone, though, don’t have the power to stir us up the way an individual can.  I give money to causes, but a cause will not change me in the way that a person can.  God works through the personal to deepen our hearts in a way that a faceless cause never can.
Perhaps if I see pictures on the news or in the papers of victims of earthquake, flood, drought, I will write a small check for the cause of world hunger, and I may even refrain from meat on Wednesdays; but as long as I am responding to a cause it will not affect my entire life, my very breathing.  It is only when I see discrimination and injustice in all its horrendous particularity as I walk along Broadway, that my very life can be changed.  If it was necessary for God to come to us as one of us, then it is only in such particularity that I can understand incarnation…But a response to a cause will never change my life, nor open my heart to the promptings of the Spirit. ~ Madeleine L’Engle  in The Irrational Season
The differences in the pieces of life we each have lived allows different causes to stir each one of us to action.  Cancer, especially when this word contains a parent with children living at home, has become one of those for me.  One reason is that this word doesn’t have to end in death, you see.  Sometimes there is hope.  That hope, however, can be expensive.
May I introduce you to my friend, Mark?

Mark

Mark and I worship together and I know him best from making music together in the arts ministry at our church.  He is a musician by trade, performing and teaching in order to support his family.
Mark is a husband to Jana and a father of five beautiful children, three of whom still live at home.  His wife, Jana, is a self-employed speech pathologist who contracts with several different school systems.

Mark's Family

A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist don’t get very good health insurance.
Mark was diagnosed with cancer in 2007; his cancer word will not have within it a cure without also containing a bone marrow transplant.  He has not yet found a suitable donor.  Mark participated in a clinical trial that held the cancer at bay for several years.
Until this past December.  The cancer returned.  Mark still does not have a bone marrow donor.
He found another clinical trial, but this one requires that he live in Houston while receiving the treatments from MD Anderson.
A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist also don’t make crazy amounts of money.
He moved from hotel to hotel for awhile, living wherever they could find the cheapest price each week on Priceline.  He was finally able to find an apartment, but it is in a crime-ridden area of town.  He has been hassled several times when returning from his cancer treatments, and he can’t leave his windows open at night.  In Houston.  In the summertime.  He is trying to find work, but it is difficult to find teaching gigs in a new place when you are in the middle of cancer treatments.
So here they are.  Mark, living in a dangerous part of Houston all alone without his family to support him as he gambles for his life.  Jana, caring for their kids on her own while traveling hours everyday to and from work.  Both of them living 900 miles apart and trying to hold the fraying pieces of their lives together while living with the fear that their time together is slipping through their grasping fingers.
We can’t do much.  We can’t take away the cancer.  We can’t take away the fear.  We can’t take away the loneliness or the desperation of being a single parent or a distant parent.
We can do a little, though.  We can take away the one piece of their pain that has to do with their finances.  They are not big spenders.  They are frugal and they know how to stretch their paychecks.  And they will need a bit more while Mark is living in Houston.
I have never done this before on this blog.  I may never do it again.  But I know these people.  I have served with them.  And God is working through these individual people to change hearts and lives.  Will you join me in helping them?  You can give online at GiveForward.  (If the link does not work, copy and paste this address: https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/4th4/mark-cornell-benefit-fund)
I know that we can’t do it all, that we can’t eliminate all hunger, thirst, suffering, pain.  This often frustrates me, but I am struck by the thought that Jesus didn’t do it all either.  He didn’t heal all of the blind while here on earth.  He didn’t heal all of the lepers or all of the lame, he didn’t feed all of the hungry.
I don’t know why He didn’t make all of the sad things come untrue immediately, but knowing this helps me to be content with not being able to help everyone but to, as Jesus did, help one beautiful person at a time.

Good Work

We were made to do meaningful work well.
Gardening
What, then, do we do with a category of work that has no significance or importance beyond providing employment?
Assembly Line
I would love to hear what you think about this topic as I write about it over at Embracing Grace (http://embracinggrace.net/2013/10/good-work/).  Will you join me?

Sacred Eating

This is an essay that was featured on (in)courage’s Bloom Book Club Facebook page a few weeks ago.  Those who were featured were asked to also post these essays on our blogs this week and link up with everyone else on the Bloom website.  For those who have already read this essay once, I’ve added some pictures and a few links if you would like to read again.  For those who have not read this essay yet, welcome!
My girls love to eat.
Messy Eaters
By “love to eat”, I mean that they are mildly obsessed with eating. It is, in fact, difficult to get them to stop at times.
A eating corn
N eating corn
When I was in the hospital, having just given birth to my second girl, my dad called me around lunchtime. “Analise has had two sandwiches, some yogurt, a bunch of grapes, a banana, and some applesauce and she says she’s still hungry.” “Cut her off! Cut. Her. Off.” was my gracious response.
I am grateful that I do not have to deal with picky eaters, and at the same time I wonder how to get my girls to slow down, to enjoy the act of eating more rather than simply inhaling as much food as possible.
Glorious Food
It is so easy to fragment my life between sacred and secular, and eating would seem to fall into the latter category. Eating is, after all, a physical necessity, a way to sustain our bodily functions.
Yet God wants to knit the secular places of my life back into the sacred.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence, the dishwashing monk says:
The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.
So how do I make eating into a deliberately sacred event rather than a piece of my day that has no connection with God?
I am learning that eating is linked over and over again to fellowship with and enjoyment of God.
Christmas Dinner
In the story of the Prodigal Son, the Father celebrates the son’s return with a feast.
Jesus shares His last supper with his closest friends and then tells them that He will not drink again until He does it with us in heaven.
The image of a banquet, especially a wedding feast, is used several times to illustrate our enjoyment of God when we are finally with Him in body.
When we eat, we often are doing more than simply nourishing our bodies. We are sharing of ourselves with our family and our friends. This is sacred.
Thanksgiving dinner
Perhaps eating is one of the last things that our culture hasn’t been able to take the sacred out of.
Our world tries hard to take God out of all that we do, to make everything a matter of utility. Yet when we share a meal with our family or with our friends, there is a sacredness there that is felt even by those who do not claim to follow God.
God created food. He created eating. When all is created, when all is love, then nothing is ordinary. Everything is sacred.
I cannot separate my life into ordinary parts and miraculous parts, into secular parts and sacred parts, into praising God parts and eating parts.
Without Christ, nothing was made that has been made. In Christ, all things hold together.
Chinese New Year Meal
When we share a meal together, it is not ordinary, it is not solely of this world.
No matter how tempted I am to name something as mundane, as secular, it is not so.
Nothing that God has created is ordinary.
All is miracle. All is sacred.
There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the incarnation. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water

Art credit: Brother Lawrence in the Kitchen from a book published by Fleming Revell Co. in 1900.

Creative Spirit

I am an artist.
Music and Roses
Writing and Reading
There is a piece inside of me that is most fulfilled when I am creating.
I love watching my girls create. They are so happy when they are creating something with their own hands.
Fingerpainting
All people are creative. Do you believe that? The older I get and the more people I meet, the more I believe it. All people are creative…read the rest here!

Join me over at Embracing Grace (EmbracingGrace.net) today!

Our Miracle

I witnessed a miracle on Easter Sunday.
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A miracle of a cold stony heart melting into a heart of flesh under the ministering of the Spirit.
My brother, once bowed low under the weight of tragedy and grief, now standing tall, glowing full of the peace and love of God.
A face once lined with bitterness and anger now dripping wet with holy water.
Eyes that once saw only darkness now open once again to the light of grace and joy.
Fists once shaken in defiance at the face of God now raised toward heaven in victory.
It has been a long journey. Three and a half years.
Ethan_001.jpg-
Nothing has changed.
Kristina is still gone from this earth. Ethan is still motherless. Mike is still a widower.
Everything has changed.
As we spoke, this strong, ever-seeking brother of mine said that he still had questions, doubts, things that he doesn’t like about how things happened.
So do I. Don’t we all?
And yet.
Underneath all of those questions and doubts, underneath his dislike of the pain and suffering, there is peace.
The peace of knowing that there are answers. The peace that someday he will be reconciled to those years of heartache. The peace of knowing for certain that God is good and God is love and God is working toward the best for all of us.
As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water
The peace of knowing what God is about.
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I got to be there as he chose once again to give himself over to the love and care of God, his Father.
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I watched hard as he went down under the water
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I wept unashamedly as he rose again, his fists raised high in triumph, his face shining with water and tears.
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Those of you who have grieved with us over these past few years, will you also celebrate with us?
My brother has come Home.
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This is my revelation
Christ Jesus crucified
Salvation through repentance
At the cross on which He died
Now hear my absolution
Forgiveness for my sin
And I sink beneath the waters
That Christ was buried in
I will rise, I will rise
As Christ was raised to life
Now in Him, now in Him
I live
I stand a new creation
Baptized in blood and fire
No fear of condemnation
By faith I’m justified
I will rise, I will rise
As Christ was raised to life
Now in Him, now in Him
I live

Deepest Need

I desperately wanted Kristina to be healed.
Kristina
I long for the lost wisdom of my Papa.
Analise, Natalie and Papa
I dream of a normal life for my friend, Stephanie.
steph
There are so many stories that I, in my limited vision, would change if I had my way. What story would you change?
Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Palsied_Man_Let_Down_through_the_Roof_(Le_paralytique_descendu_du_toit)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall
I am forced to look deeply at myself, however, when I read the story of friends who lowered the paralyzed down to Jesus through a hole. I hear Jesus’ first words.
Your sins are forgiven
I imagine myself as a friend.
Yes, yes. Forgiveness is good. But we cut away that barrier to You for healing. We want you to fix this. We want him to walk!
But this is Jesus. He is answering the deepest need first, and the deepest need is not to be able to walk.
Lent Candles
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It sometimes feels as though my deepest need is to be relieved of my burden.
Cancer is a heavy burden.
Rejection is a heavy burden.
Death is a heavy burden.
Yet over and over again, God’s best work happens when I am carrying my heaviest burden.
Paradise_Lost_10
I can see this truth at work in the art that I love.
It is interesting to note how many artists have had physical problems to overcome, deformities, lameness, terrible loneliness. Could Beethoven have written that glorious paean of praise in the Ninth Symphony if he had not had to endure the dark closing in of deafness? As I look through his work chronologically, there’s no denying that it deepens and strengthens along with the deafness. Could Milton have seen all that he sees in Paradise Lost if he had not been blind? It is chastening to realize that those who have no physical flaw, who move through life in step with their peers, who are bright and beautiful, seldom become artists. The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain…Pain is not always creative; received wrongly, it can lead to alcoholism and madness and suicide. Nevertheless, without it we do not grow. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water
In the midst of these hard things, Jesus wants to be certain that I am still able to rest in Him. He wants me to know that He has overcome all of these burdens so that even while I am underneath my burden I can have peace.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
The knowledge that I will have trouble is a hard truth. One that I don’t like most of the time.
A large part of me wants to clutch tightly those I love best and protect them. Yet a tiny part of me knows what is truly important.
Lent Candles 2
God’s way of forgiveness and transformation is more important than relief from my heavy burden. I try to trust and let that smaller part of me grow.
I long to be who God intended for me to be. I want to grow. It seems that transformation requires hard things.
Paul, the one who was beaten and imprisoned and shipwrecked and stoned and rejected by many, calls these hard things “light and momentary troubles“.
I can’t do that yet. I cannot open my arms and embrace these burdens.
I can, however, accept them and choose to voice words of gratitude and praise to God for them, even if I don’t truly feel grateful. I can choose to allow these burdens, this pain, to help me grow rather than to drag me down into depression.
I am tempted to try to avoid not only my own suffering but also that of those around me, the suffering of the world.
Lent Candles 3
Instead, I will continue to allow suffering to inspire my art, to trust that God will make all things beautiful.
Instead, I will allow pain to deepen and strengthen my life rather than to destroy it.
Instead, I will pray this grace for those around me as well.

 

Art credits: my thanks to Eddie Lowen, Pastor at West Side Christian Church in Springfield, Illinois, for his thoughts on this subject; The Palsied Man Let Down through the Roof by James Tissot; Illustration for Milton’s Paradise Lost by Gustave Dore

Ordinary

Ordinary.
Shoes
Is there such a thing?
I’m tempted to think so.
In the midst of the dishes and laundry and cleaning toilets, snotty noses and bedtime stories, the routine can seem mundane, dull…
Ordinary.
Until I really look. Until I really stop. Until I really see what is around me.
Nothing is ordinary.
Messy kitchen
Those dishes mean a miracle of earth producing food that can be purchased and eaten at our table.
Laundry
That laundry means a miracle of cotton growing from the ground and being woven into fabric that keeps our bodies warm in this cold winter.
Toilet
This filthy toilet means an act of service, a deliberate dying to myself in a beautiful sacrifice for my family.
Sad baby
Those snotty noses mean a miracle of beautiful, sturdy bodies that are growing so very quickly.
Bedtime story
These bedtime stories mean a miracle of imagination, of minds that eagerly search for and grasp new meanings and ideas every day.
These very things that seem so ordinary are the very fabric of the miracle that is my life.
The Christian faith does not simply, or even mainly, propose a few additional facts about the world.  Rather, belief in the Christian God invites a new way to understand everything. ~ Andrew Davison in Imaginative Apologetics
Because all is created, because all is love, than nothing is ordinary. Everything is sacred.
I cannot separate my life into ordinary parts and miraculous parts, into secular parts and sacred parts.
Without Christ, nothing was made that has been made. In Christ, all things hold together.
No matter what surrounds you, it is not ordinary, it is not solely of this world.
No matter how tempted I am to name something as mundane, as secular, it is not so.
Nothing that God has created is ordinary.
New Family
All is miracle. All is sacred.
There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water

When I Don’t Understand

It has been a beautiful time and a difficult time, this time I have spent away from this space.
Samantha
Breathing in the scent of my newborn, surrounded by the warmth of family and friends, secluding myself from the world while I both soak up and exude the love and joy of my little family.
Gram and Papa 1
Passing my baby on his way out of this world, my Papa said farewell to us and greeted his Father with joy.
Unable to travel long miles that soon after giving birth, I did much of my grieving alone.
Mike, Kristina and Ethan
My heart was reminded too often of our Kristina, of the thoughts and emotions of her loss only a year and a half ago.
Birth and death. Being and dying.
I often think of and long to know the meaning of this cycle of life and death.
in the light of love of the Creator, who brought them all into being, who brought me into being, and you…It is part of the deepest longing of the human psyche, a recurrent ache in the hearts of all of God’s creatures.
I am reminded once again of Love.
Of Love that wants the best for us, regardless of the cost.
Of Love that walked this earth with us and died for us and then showed us how to have everlasting life.
Of Love that promises that this is not the end, these dying breaths, that promises that we have life.
road to emmaus zund
cross
As I open myself up once again to loving another baby, to making myself vulnerable to the possibility of pain that loving brings, I wonder long about meaning and whether any of this is truly worth it.
Yet even as I wonder, I know. I know that love is always worth it. I know, even in the ugly and the pain, that this life is beautiful because we are loved by One who gives Himself with no hesitation, no conditions.
I know because even though I don’t understand our God, even though I don’t understand this life or the next or how any of this works and fits together, I find yet that I know what it is about. I know what HE is about.
As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain.
And there is where the joy and beauty lie.
In knowing what it’s about even when we don’t understand.

Art credits: quotes are by Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water; Road to Emmaus painting by Robert Zund; Cross photograph by Asta Rastauskiene