Friday, August 20, 2010

Heaven and Hell

Recently, Bravo had a show on their schedule called "Work of Art," which was a reality show for artists. I took interest in this show because, being an artist, I find it challenging to illustrate emotions and ideas that are hard to convey in words. One of the tasks the contestants had to illustrate was "Heaven and Hell" in an episode about contrast. After watching the episode, I found it interesting that the artists who had this particular challenge had received the critique that their work was "cliche". Many times we artists fall into a trap of trying to make a work of art that is recognizable to the point where we unintentionally make things that don't provoke thought, but meet the viewers expectations, leaving the viewer with nothing to think about.

I thought hard about that particular episode. How could I illustrate "Heaven and Hell" without creating a work that was just "light and darkness", "joy and pain", "fire and ice". To add to this desire, a few months ago, Tia and I went to a religious conference in North Carolina where one of the points of emphasis was "the arts in the church". They stressed the importance of art and music as an influence in the church. I found it funny that in history, theology influences art and vise versa. How many times when we think about a topic or subject have an image of that thing in mind? This encouraged me to use my art in ways I usually don't.

Here is the product of my brainstorming on the subject of "Heaven and Hell". I wanted to do a traditional piece, since recently I've been spending a lot of time doing photo manipulation via a computer. I thought about, not so much, how to paint the "places" of Heaven and Hell but what is the mindset or direction of those destinies. Jesus' parable of the "sheep and the goats" has taken on a new life to me in the last few years. He makes the distinction between those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and so forth and those who neglect the needs of others. He makes the point that the sheep are gathered into his father's house and the goats are cast out (through similar parables). I wanted to convey the idea that it was the actions of a man in this regard that set him on the path to one place or the other. Also, I found it important to make this have it's anchor in the physical world. Many times in life I've heard people say that this parable was spiritual and not physical. I'd have to argue with that because Jesus himself fed the hungry even before he spoke one word of truth. In this way people were more receptive to his message because if their physical need was met by him, so perhaps he could fill their spiritual need as well.

Also, the light and the darkness coming from the doors had the same intensity as it reached the man showing how both Heaven and Hell were not far off but met the man where he was and it was up to him to walk toward one of those doors. There is a thin sliver of red above his head between the light and darkness illustrating that what separates the two is the blood of Jesus. As you look at the hand on the left coming out of the ground, it is holding an apple and has a venomous snake wrapped around it's wrist harking back to the "Garden of Eden" marking the start of human history and the vanishing point of the painting (the doors) is the end of the man's life. The hand on the right is rejected by the man. The wrist of the neglected hand is pierced, illustrating what Jesus said, "if you have not done it to the least of my brethren you have not done it unto me". The chain represents the hold the mentality of the world has on the man as he clenches his hand for his own self sustainment.

I hope you enjoy this painting. Feedback appreciated!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Preserving the Mystery

So many times in life we are faced with information or a situation or a question in which we meet a wall that keeps us from seeing beyond what lies in front of us. At that wall we make a decision to either find a door that takes us to the other side of the wall or just stop and admire the beauty of the wall and the art that decorates it.

This wall represents "mystery." We can be satisfied with what the mystery presents itself as or press on to understand the mystery. What I've come to find out many times is that once the mystery is solved the "art on the wall" is no longer appreciated. Did you ever hear a song you like where you couldn't make out some of the lyrics? The song remains interesting to you because it's always a mystery as to what those particular words are. A few times I've searched out the lyrics in some of these types of songs and soon lose interest in the song.

I sort of wonder why small children enjoy the packaging to a toy more than the toy that's inside. Is it that the box represents all the wonder of what could be inside and then we are disappointed with the answer because it was never able to satisfy us in the first place?

What I'm trying to point out here is that there is beauty in mystery. Sometimes things should be left uncovered. I think this is why God only reveals some truths to us yet masks many others. Perhaps it is a mechanism to draw us to him. Isn't a relationship much more exciting when there are still things to learn about the other person? Once you've revealed all there is to know about them it kills the mystery. Yes, you can still love someone once you've gotten to know everything about them but the relationship becomes a cruise as opposed to a climb. Also, if you've ever watched one of those shows where they reveal magician's secrets you lose interest in those tricks and illusions.

Let's preserve mystery where we can so that life and God and all things can remain interesting.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Faith Over Fear

A few days ago I was driving along the highway in Northeast Georgia and took notice of the brightly colored flowers that were growing in the median. As I only had a few seconds to just glance over to see them I noticed that there were at least 3 or more different species of flower that was growing of all different colors and structures. I thought about how seeds and cells of animals all know exactly what to become: what there shape is, texture, color, scent or in an animals case, how many legs it will have, fur or hair, skin or scales. Needless to say, I was amazed at how these little seed or cells are barely anything yet they have all they need to become something specific.

As I pondered these things, I indirectly asked God how that's even possible. Just then, as I inhaled, I felt as though a small amount of air in addition to what I was taking in was blown into my lungs through my nose. It was slight but noticeable. So noticeable that I was freaked out a little by it.

I continued driving and stopped for a bite to eat a few minutes later. As I sat in the parking lot I was still left with the impression as to what had just happened a few minutes earlier. Then in that little voice you "hear" when you know God is speaking to you, (some of you know what I mean) God said, "they know what to do because I breathe my life into them."

The whole experience felt very real. It felt as though I had met God on a plane or dimension that we normally never(or rarely) see or experience. A confirmation of what Paul says in Romans 1:20 "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." It was clear to me that God's breath is in all living things and I was thankful that He showed me in such a powerfully subtle way, but I missed that experience I had which seemed like a live encounter with God and wondered if I would ever have that again.

So, last night I spoke to an old friend about it on Facebook. He shared a similar experience with me. He said that he felt this heat wash over his body and what he believed to be God, just as I did, say to relax and let it happen. He said he felt like he got healed of something but didn't know what. I found that very fascinating.

I told him that it upset me how I freaked out and the experience went away. Another example of this that I gave was when I think about eternity or infinity or space and my mind seems to leave the walls of time and space and drifts into places that seem so far from the natural world I am accustomed to. Then I stop because I can not comprehend those things so easily. But I want to go there. I want to know if you can stay in that experience longer and see or know something on a deeper level.

My friend had reminded me of the story of Peter when Jesus asks him to come out of the boat to him as Jesus is standing on the water. Peter steps out and for a brief time is standing on the water. Then he "freaks out" like I did and starts to sink. My question was, "what if we don't freak out but let it happen?" Is not allowing it to rush over us because of fear cause the feeling to go away? I pray that next time it happens I am ready for it because I really want to see where God will take me.

Does this mean that as a Christian I only pursue these kind of experiences? Absolutely not! They serve to make my faith stronger and deeper but I must chose to do what's right each day and continue to learn to love like God does. On the other hand, without these kinds of experiences it makes one's journey with God a little less lively.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Multiplicity is Sideways

So, like I've said before, one of the reasons for this blog is to post art that I enjoy, either viewing or doing. Currently, I am working of two projects. One project is a collection of black and white (or gray scale) paintings of people who inspire me who are agents of change or who I feel are doing the work of God (which I will post shortly). At this point I have completed three paintings and am working on a fourth....slowly, I might add. The other project, or rather inspiration, is the use of color in a rather blatant way. I tend to like earthy colors so I will try to get a little more vivid with the next ones. I've got a few ideas on this but have so far only completed my first. Here is one that I did that I had a lot of fun with. The idea was to take 4 photos of myself and then manipulate them into one. Yeah, I know, nothing new but I was inspired by color and this is one idea that came from it. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Feasting On Carrots

As of late, my wife, Tia has urged me to go walking with her anywhere from 2 to 5 miles pretty much every day. I like exercise but primarily that of a competitive nature. I'm not a huge fan of walking in my neighborhood which has a killer hill that Tia insists we walk up and down at least twice per session. Usually, these sessions begin with 10 to 15 minutes of constant complaining by me about my aching back or sharp headache or why I just want to sit on the computer to type blogs like this. However, a bi-product of these walks is that it stirs my mind to think, usually about theological type things which generally consists of me spewing out words and thoughts and opinions on all kinds of subjects as I chew Tia's ear off with my external processing. Afterward, I am always blessed by those walks as it brings to light a lot of things that normally have a hard time making their way from my brain to my tongue. This is one of the subjects that came to verbalization:

Over the last few years Tia and I have been doing a lot of soul searching, contemplating, wrestling, utterly failing and celebrating victory in our search for truth and where our journey as people who want to follow Christ will take us. As we've tested many of the "truths" we've encountered in life, throwing away that which didn't seem to line up with the Spirit of God and clinging to the "truths" that bring to life the name of Jesus we have found that the truths that once seemed as readily available as the air we breath had become more like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

According to Merriam-Webster, truth is defined as "the state of being the case" or "being in accord with fact or reality." By definition, every day, every situation we are in, every being, every thing we can observe or that exists is the truth. Even a lie! The fact that there is any lie is the truth. But is that where the truth ends? Is everything around us true? Maybe, but it's not until we dig deeper into those things do we find what the greater truth is. Truth is not relative(what is true for you may not be true for me), but it is found only to those who seek it.

Is the truth laid before us like a dinner feast fully prepared that makes our mouths water and appeals to all of our senses with servants ready to feed us until we are content? Or is it a carrot on a string held before us that swings toward and away from us as we trudge forward eagerly wanting to get ever closer but only getting a quick nibble, always before us but requiring much labor(searching) just to get whatever nourishment we can.

My opinion has changed from the former to the later for a few reasons. One, is that in the pursuit of truth, truth can be found. Is it really at the other end of the tunnel or is it the trek through the tunnel that helps us find it? Peter Rollins, a man who's perspective I've recently come to enjoy, states "God is not the patch of meaning on the wound...God is the wound we put our patch of meaning upon." To paraphrase, God doesn't quench our thirst for truth but is the thirst which makes us need water(or His truth). Truth is not bought at the market but is labored for in the fields. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one can go to the Father except through me." Just for a moment those words spoke differently to me, "I am the way to truth in this life, no one knows the truth found in my Father except if he becomes like me." Yeah, I know he didn't say it quite like that but as I chewed on what it is to know the truth or rather find the truth, these words took on a new meaning. How can we find truth in this life? It is found in not doing things FOR Jesus but BEING LIKE Jesus.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Three of the most important questions one can ask. The trinity of knowledge. I know, I know, you're saying what about who? and where? and when? Well, these too are important but they pertain to time, space, and the being. Why, what, and how pertain mainly to motivation, substance and accomplishment. These questions really make who, where and when have purpose.

So you say "what is the point"? Actually, WHAT is A point! What is a circumstance, a scenario, an idea, a theology, a statement, an agreement, really anything that sparks thought. What is substance!

Why is the motivation behind all thoughts or ideas, or situations and the like. Why gives meaning to what. Without why, what has no point. Just watch the news, it's full of whats. We never get the motivation behind all the whats from the news or if we do it is rare. Why tries to answer the motivation of what therefore giving what a reason to exist. In essence, what gives birth to why.

How is they way in which what is accomplished or propelled. How gives life and motion to what. How is a moving picture as what is a still frame. How also creates in us a why. "Why did you do it that way"? What and How are sort of like Why's parents whereas Why gives purpose and meaning to What and How. Why will take care of How and What when they are old and in a nursing home :)

So, what is the point? Exactly my point!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What Does "God Love's a Cheerful Giver" Mean?

You must give some time to your fellow men. Even if it's a little thing, do something for others - something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.
Albert Schweitzer

I've often thought about what a cheerful giver is and have many times thought I knew what it meant, "God wants me to be happy about giving, so I shouldn't give if I'm not willing to." The familiar verse in 2 Corinthians 9 verse 7 reads as this, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." I've always heard it meant you shouldn't give away anything if you don't want to or someone is pressuring you to. Seems fair enough but I looked into it a little further. The passage refers to an offering promised by the Corinthian church to a group of Macedonians who were in need. Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to keep their promise. The problem many of us have sometimes when reading the Bible is we fail to connect the entire passage for the sake of learning a few verses.

Later in the passage Paul writes, "11You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God." He is saying that God makes us rich "SO WE CAN BE GENEROUS." God provides wealth for believers almost as (and I say this cautiously) a resource so that we can freely practice the Spiritual gift of giving. Paul is not saying, "God only wants you to give if you are willing to give" he is saying "God loves that you like to give freely." This seemed to be more in line with the nature of Jesus to me. Paul isn't giving us a free pass to not give but he is praising those who do it because they love giving and therefore are loved by God.

This reminded me of the passage in Matthew 6:19-24 where Jesus says to store up treasures in Heaven. It reads like this: "19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Jesus tells us that there is no value in collecting things for ourselves because sooner or later they will lose their value or be destroyed or lost. Also, he says if we treasure our possessions here on Earth then our hearts will be Earthly.

So does God want to us to be rich or not? Yes, but not only for ourselves. Wealth is given to us so that we can have opportunities to be generous. In that way God will bless others through you and in this way you will be storing treasures in Heaven.

Curiously, the next two verses seem to be completely disconnected from the prior verses: 22"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" Seems like something is lost in translation....I mean seriously, who talks like that because the next verse is: 24"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." Why would Jesus talk about storing treasures in Heaven then talk about someone needing an eye exam and then say we can't serve God and Money? Get your message straight Jesus :) Then I can across this interesting article about that very question.

Here is a section of the article by John Piper:

The key is found in Matthew 20:15. Jesus had just told the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Some of them had agreed to work from 6 am to 6 pm for a denarius. Some the master hired at 9 am. Others at noon. Finally some he hired at 5 pm. When the day was done at 6 pm he paid all the workers the same thing—a denarius. In other words, he was lavishly generous to those who worked only one hour, and he paid the agreed amount to those who worked twelve hours.

Those who worked all day “grumbled at the master of the house” (Matthew 20:11). They were angry that those who worked so little were paid so much. Then the master used a phrase about “the bad eye” which is just like the one back in Matthew 6:23. He said, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:15).

Unfortunately that last clause is a total paraphrase, not a translation. “Or do you begrudge my generosity” is a very loose paraphrase of “Or is your eye bad because I am good (ë ho ophthalmos sou ponëros estin hoti egö agathos eimi?)” The “bad eye” here parallels the “bad eye” in Matthew 6:23.

What does the bad eye refer to in Matthew 20:15? It refers to an eye that cannot see the beauty of grace. It cannot see the brightness of generosity. It cannot see unexpected blessing to others as a precious treasure. It is an eye that is blind to what is truly beautiful and bright and precious and God-like. It is a worldly eye. It sees money and material reward as more to be desired than a beautiful display of free, gracious, God-like generosity.

That is exactly what the bad eye means in chapter six of the Sermon on the Mount. And that meaning gives verses 22-23 a perfect fitness between a saying on true treasure (vv. 19-21) and the necessity of choosing between the mastery of God and the mastery of money (vv. 24). End quote.

So, now it makes a little more sense. I hope that you come to the same conclusion about what giving cheerfully means as I did. Store up treasures in Heaven by giving freely and cheerfully the gift of riches God has bestowed upon you however large or small that is whether it be money or talent or gifting. In that you will bless others, yourself and mostly be loved by God.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why the Title?

In a culture that is torn between Right and Left, Black or White, Conservative or Liberal, Rich or Poor and many other polar opposites I always felt that I had to choose sides on so many issues.

Although, I do have a stance on many things, I've found that often times, choosing sides has not merely made views and counter views but literal enemies of people on both ends of the spectrum. Insults, denigration and at times, violence is the product of theses polarizations. Not that they have to create such results but all too often when we are at odds with each other we can follow those patterns that lead to such tactics. Even in the name of God violence has erupted just because of disagreements or the failure to convert to another point of view. Those types of responses are the antithesis of the love that God requires by His law for us to live by.

Some say that if you can live at peace with another person's stance and accept it then you eventually will be forced to live their stance by means of coagulation. Others believe that you have to assimilate a portion of an opposing view into your own as to make a merger of opposing thoughts into a new "gray" idea. In some cases we may just have to do that but what I propose is that we don't have to give up our ideals but allow others to have their own and coexist peacefully with them. I know I'm not the first to say that but, being the artist that I am, I felt the need to create an image of what that looks like. As black and white tend to pull us to the left or right and make us either stagnant or forced apart from true fellowship with one another why not let us move forward in color. That is, accepting the person with the opposing view as a brother and trying to live life in peace and act in love toward each other. No, I'm not a hippie and I'm not suggesting all roads lead to God but all things need to be done in accordance with love which is revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. Funny, that Jesus claims to be the "Light of the World". When light is dispersed through a glass prism it reveals that it is comprised of all the colors of the rainbow. Light can not be pulled into a different direction but it is always moving straight as a beam(note: light can be redirected by reflection as with a mirror for all you nerds out there).

Life does not have to always be about what team you are on but it can be about finding beauty in differences and choosing to see with eyes wide open. I'd like to remind us all of the passage in 1 Corinthians 13 about love: 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8Love never fails.

Let us move forward in love despite our differences.