This is a ramble about art. Art is a gift, an offering made by the artist into a great expanse of experience and encounter. Art creates culture and perpetuates beauty. Art changes minds and can change hearts by offering a point of view. Art can provoke and disturb the status quo. But, how is art born? Steve Frost gives us beautiful language describing the gift of art and its birth in the artist by saying:
“Like plants in a city, the artist’s gift is processing the CO2 of unfiltered human experience and offering back the oxygen of context and meaning.”
Like plants in a city.… I love that image for the artist. We artists listen, take in and absorb this experience of humanity. This is a transformative venture because the artist is always changed as a result of creating art. This is good because it means we are growing and learning as artists. This is also good because it is subversive in an empire of un-learning. Sure, we have more information than ever before being transferred from one mind to the next, but information is not learning. Like the Irish poet William Yeats once said; “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” In this sense, artists are pyromaniacs that have the potential to light the world on fire with their work. This means art is on the crest of culture-creating, often leading the dialogue into new territory for ideology, value, and meaning.
Offering back the oxygen of context and meaning… Art is an offering, an expensive and valuable offering of generosity to the world. We artists suffer through our work being led my the muse into saying things. Often artists are not entirely sure of where a project is going or what it will look like. Artists are haunted by an idea stemming from the quesion of “What If…?” The artist is open and led into disorientation in order to be reborn through the process of offering back context and meaning. If you ask any artist, they will tell you that this creative process is what it means to be alive. Many artists can't help but do what makes them feel alive, regardless of pay check or praise.
One more thing about art… When the artist creates, she never really knows the imapct of the gift once its offered to the world. Giving of art to the world is an incredible act of relinquishment on behalf of the artist. This alone, regardless of the art, is a subversive act, for it demonstrates surrender of control in a world grasping for it. The artist lives in a state of unknowing during the creative journey and the giving of art to the world. The artist needs to be content living in this tension. For art to be art, it must make its own way into ears, eyes, hearts, and minds. The artist cannot control this experiential encounter between the art and the beholder, for this would be propaganda. Whether it is one person or one billion that view, buy, or talk about any art they experience, every piece offered to the world is valuable for the reasons expressed above.
Just some thoughts about art on a Saturday night.
Children, I want you to know that there has been a prayer for you running deep within my heart for the longest time. Since you were born I've been fixed on praying three simple things for your lives. Although there is much to intercede on your behalf, these three prayers will serve as a cover to protect and guide you in all things. So, as you read these prayers, my hope is that you will remember the times I prayed them for you and that they will become a deep mantra within your hearts that guide you toward the life you desire to live in the service of God. Nothing would make my heart jump higher than to know this has become reality for you.
“I pray that you would see this world with the eyes of Jesus…”
In this world you will have trouble. Most of it will stem from the conflict in your own hearts about who and whose you are. I want this to be clear; who you are is a result of how you see the world. As you grow up to live as citizens of this world it becomes increasingly important to remember that you are citizens of heaven also. If you choose to see this world with the eyes of Jesus, this distinction will become vivid and clear and help you greatly in your journey toward God. You will have perspective from heaven and be able to discern what is best not only for yourselves, but for the Kingdom of God and how it is breaking in around you. Seeing with Jesus's eyes will help you to value what God values and be willing participants in his work. This is critical for living a valuable and meaningful life.
“I pray that you would feel in this world with the heart of Jesus…”
The God who makes your heart beat longs to have it beat in rhythm with His. When your heart is in tune with God, you not only see what God sees, but feel what he feels as well. You will share with God a deep love for all creation; the world we live in and all the people in it no matter where they are from or how hard they are to love. Your heart will beat with compassion and that compassion as it moves you to act will serve as a challenge to a world that would rather cast out the unloved. Know that when you do this with your life you are singing the same song that God is singing about healing the world. You will find great joy and meaning in your life's calling if you long to feel with the heart of God. I warn you, though, that with joy there is also suffering… but take heart, for God has overcome the world.
“I pray that you would serve with the hands of Jesus…”
Our hands do many things. As you will learn as you grow, they can often be used for ill purposes. Many will use their hands for war and violence, or for hoarding things. They will use their hands to protect themselves and to tie heavy burdens upon others for their own profit. But you… I beg you to use your hands in the service of God. I want you to to claw your way to the front line of suffering and use your hands to feed the hungry, give to the poor, clothe the cold, hug the lonely, and heal the sick. Your hands are precious instruments, for they will be the tangible way for you to respond to seeing this world with Jesus's eyes and feeling with his heart. People will come to know the power of God through the way your hands serve them. Your life will be a blessing to those around you and God will be praised as a result. Use them as an instrument of God's peace that runs through your heart.
Since the news of the Newtown tragedy flooded the airwaves, I've been very moved by the loss of young life and feel deeply for all victims and their families. I wrote this post on Friday to express how I felt about it. It was for me part of the grieving process. Tears were pouring on Friday.
I've read some thoughtful reflections by greater minds than me in the last few days and decided to provide you with links and short overviews of the articles that, in so many ways, provide a good and necessary perspective on the issues. I consider these “serious discourse” on the matter that grapple with the core issues in helpful ways.
First, a friend, Santosh over at Dreams Unlocked wrote a piece called: Christmas Mourning in Connecticut. With a father's heart he contrasts the tragedy on Friday against the context of when Jesus was born. It is helpful because he points to the hope found in the God of suffering that knew it so well himself. Comforting words.
David Fitch, a writer and avid blogger points to a couple of helpful articles. One brings a helpful perspective on America's fascination with guns and the other pulls Dostoyevsky's Brothers Kharmazov into the conversation as it relates to wrestling with God amidst the tragedy. A helpful exploration.
David also had some thoughts of his own that he reported about the real dilemma of Nhilism in the midst of consumer capitalist societies. These thoughts originated after the resent mall shooting in Oregon. Some food for thought.
One of my favourite people, Brant Hansen has written two pieces that tackle two very sacred cows within Christian culture in the US. As you may know there has been a picture reposted obsessively with sentiment about God not being allowed in schools. The photo tries to anchor the political conversation about prayer in schools with the Newtown tragedy. Brant punches this one in the nose and sets the record straight about God and his presence in the midst of this tragedy.
The second post by Brant is going to get him in trouble with many, but he doesn't care. The truth is more important as it relates to the idolotrous worship of family and the question of whether God will protect our kids.
Finally, this article is a pure gem. Shared by Ben Meyers at Faith and Theology over twitter, Our Moloch is an exploration by Gary Wills about the worship of guns and the ancient practice of sacrificing children to the god Moloch. There are times when someone transcends cultural veneer to expose idolatry. This is one of those times. Please read it.
If you have any other helpful articles, drop a link in the comments and let me know. Happy reading and I hope thoughtful dialogue prevails as the US confronts the societal pillars that give birth to such grim chapters in their story.
There are few moments in a persons life that can be more transformative than being with the dying. Typically, those that are ready to die and have prepared their hearts, can speak with such clarity and reason to the things that really matter. They can expose the trivial pursuits of life to make room for things that really matter; Moments in time that are filled with love.
I had the privilege of giving the eulogy at Susan Caravan’s funeral. Susan was somewhat of an aunt to me. She was my mother’s best friend and we spent lots of time with their family growing up. I have vivid memories of visiting their family. It was both a blessing and a curse for me. As I was prone to evoke the ire of my mother, when visiting with Auntie Susan it was as if my mother had just multiplied. One could call this multi-directional discipline :)
I was fortunate to spend some time with her in the hospice, reconnecting and hearing her voice again. The conversation was profound. Susan was in a place where she was ready to die, and as a result was able to show great courage for the journey before her. Wondering if she would be able to walk in heaven, I reminded her that dancing would be the norm. She quite liked the gesture. We talked about family, told stories and were mutually blessed. I came away from the encounter changed and encouraged. Changed because she, perhaps unknowingly, reoriented me around my mortality and what really matters… encouraged because we all will eventually face the same journey. We can take comfort from those who model the courage we all need when our time is near.
Susan was a great woman, strong and determined to raise five children, mostly on her own. Not without struggle, Susan worked tirelessly to be there for her entire family that included five children, twelve grand children, and two great grand children. She modelled the persistence that eventually emerged in her children to navigate through life and become good people. She will be missed greatly and remembered well.
There are many things I want to teach you about life. Although I am hardly the expert, some understanding has grabbed me through my experiences that I long to impart to you for your benefit. Today you are still young, but tomorrow, I hope you will see things with clarity and a keen mind nurtured from a trust in God and a desire to understand the truth beneath the surface of things.
Don’t stare at the ads! That’s right, I said don’t stare at the ads. I am talking about the advertisements that constantly bombard you with their visual arrows through television commercials, public billboards, the radio, internet, and junk mail. They are harmful. They seem harmless, but in reality, millions of dollars are spent on constructing them in a way that will tap into your deepest desires in order to shape them. They are designed to make you feel incomplete without the product that they are trying to sell. They will offer you the world if you pledge allegiance to their brands. Popularity, beauty, power, wisdom, satisfaction…I tell you, it’s all rubbish!
When you peel back the surface, you will see that corporations are trying to create a religious experience in you to make you their disciple. They want you to believe that you were made to buy their products. In other words, they want your self-identity to be deeply rooted in consumption, and as long as it is, you will always be longing for more and more without being truly satisfied. This is not who you are.
The constant struggle for us in this life is to remain true to who we are. You know where you come from. We’ve told you the stories about the God who created you in dignity, love, and respect. You know how God rescues you and offers you a fulfilling life as a contributing artist in his restoration masterpiece. Each of you are gifted to be blessings in God’s project to heal this world with a love that puts an end to manipulation and violence. Sharing in the life and love of God….this is where real purpose and fulfillment come from. Not from the consumption of products that leave your souls thirsty and anxious in the end.
If you stare at the ads and let them invade your imagination, they will shape who you are. And let me tell you, if the heart of your identity is found in being a consumer, you will always be in a place of unfulfilled longing. Don’t be a slave to filling an empty void with “things” that can only be filled by God.
One idea I have for the resurrected Toward Hope blog is to use this as a place to write general letters to my children about life. From time to time, I will address them with thoughts they can perhaps read one day and know me better as a result.
These are my sons. My boys are a handful of work and blessing all in the same bundle. They bring me much joy and lead me to the end of myself in good ways. They have led me to conversion points in my life more than any sermon has and when I need forgiveness, they pour it over me like soothing ointment on a wound. My sons are a gift from God that are here to receive their own life and be a constant blessing to everyone they share life with. It’s truly my privilege to care for them in these formative years. I often look for God in their eyes and encounter Him there while in full rapture of wonder and delight.
As a photographer my desire is to reflect the best in people and tell their stories. As a hack theologian, I long to find the link to life on earth as it is in heaven. The camera helps me do that.