In the Church – a part of my art journey

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Why the Church Needs Artists

A good friend of mine shared this brief article with me and it is worth a read. I have contemplating the words all week, and not just his words but the voice of the writer! There is such heart and longing that resonates with something I’ve struggled to articulate for YEARS.

Most people think I’m a great manager. I get lots of complements on my administrative “gifting” and have ended up in leadership positions since I was a child. I’m not saying I did everything right or was the best person, heavens no. Anyone in a spot light knows or learns how easy it is to make a mess instead of organize. This is just a fact about myself, and I even like it!  But there is another side to me that I know has been missed.  It feel it when I put out new ideas in church groups or business teams. I fight it when I’m told things like “that’s not how we do it” or when someone thinks I’m wrong and doesn’t say it, they just don’t support the new project.  It cuts to my heart when I get the “look” from a
Pastor or authority figure that says, “what am I going to do with you you just won’t fit in”.  It’s there but I’ve never been able to put it into words.

I’m an artist.

These quotes stood out to me-

Artists honor the past without being bound by it. They propel us into the future by helping us see it. Even if we’re not ready for it yet.”

“Artists don’t give us what we want. They show us something we didn’t even know we needed.”

“Artists don’t debate what style of music (or teaching, preaching and lighting) is best. They give us new ways of doing it.”

Yes yes yes! These are the words!  I can instantly give half a dozen stories where I these quotes articulate exactly what I was feeling and fighting with. They have stayed with me because I have never yet been able to say WHY it bothered me so much. Why, when I’d get some kind of honor for administration I’d want to scream, This Isn’t Me!!!! And why I feel hurt and misunderstood.

Am I alone? I don’t think so. I’m a teacher! I’ve met dozens of people, old and young, who have had their creativity ignored, crushed or buried and only need someone to come say “We want you! We want how you think. We think that idea is crazy but we’ll give it everything we’ve got because we love you!” What we’ll be difficult now is that so many beautiful artists have buried themselves, like me, and may not even know why they just aren’t content. (Don’t get all philosophical here, God saying we should be content in every season in life does NOT include the ones we wrongly force upon ourselves or the ones in which others silence us and keep us restrained. Missionaries don’t stop preaching in prison do they?)

I’m one of the fortunate few who also can be administrative and so I’ve managed to painstakingly carve out an almost me-shaped relief where I can still be in community with churches and ministries, but it’s so hard. And most do not try. Oh, how the church would grow, especially in this country, if we learned to create space for these crazy artistic people, and every day in this new world I’m learning the words we need to help teach the church how to do that. But this post is really about me. I’ve got to break free and live this God given part of who I am again or I will suffocate and abandon the church body completely.  God put this in my hands today so I could change, the healing and rest that still needs to come I’m sure will be here shortly.

Shall we commemorate this revelation with a song?

I HOPE you dance!!!

In the Rain

It’s late. But I’m sitting up and listening to the rain because it’s beautiful and because God is here.

The movies of old always made rain the sign of sadness and sorrow. The storm in Its a Wonderful Life, the drama of Casablanca, it rains when hope is gone.  But for those of us who have lived on farms or been to countries where everyone goes out to dance when it rains because it’s the only time it rained that year, we see rain as life giving.  When it rains there is hope for renewal and a glimpse of the passing things of the world.

I don’t know what God has for our family in the next years, or for me. But I sense his awe and joy in us, and his excitement for the revealing that is to come. In the last few weeks I’ve seen and experienced the movement of God’s Spirit in my heart and Nathan’s heart that I’ve been waiting for for a long time.

Lord may you reign.

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A rainy day Prague with my good South African friend Janine

(I can’t wait to take my family to Prague for some goulash! Someday)

Daily Devotion – Listening

A view of our lake on the JAARS campus in NC.

A view of our lake on the JAARS campus in NC.

“Spiritual listening is a contemplative undertaking and not a problem solving task.  It is essentially prayer…

“Spiritual listening as a contemplative discipline pushes us…to a level of listening beyond our own powers of analysis to the grace and the gift of divine life itself.

“To listen this way is to listen with heart and mind opened wide.  It invites us to be changed along with those to whom we listen.”

-Wendy Wright, Desert Listening

I’ve been meditating on this a lot this week. Motherhood is busy to say the least, not to mention family, work, etc. It is easy to feel that prayer is more of a hurried conversation than a refreshing experience of deep intimacy with our Creator.  But when we go out with friends or have a romantic evening with our spouse the last think we want be thinking about is time, and that is an essential part of true listening and prayer with God as well.  Let go of time, make time to leave the phone and the clocks and the schedules and find a place to listen to God.  There is a reason many people chose the desert, there is beauty but there is also emptiness.  No distractions, no time, just God.

Perfection – at Jesus feet

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I see these all the times and on weekends like this it’s a great time to share some thoughts.

We think that being perfect is an unattainable ideal, and when we define our perfection the way that society does it is more than true. But perfection itself, while being an ideal, is not one that I believe is unreachable or even bad!  I know you’re all shaking your heads, but stay with me.  Perfection developed out of an ideal of completeness. The Greeks thought that to be complete you had to shed your physical existence by attaining knowledge. The Egyptians thought that to be complete you had to do enough right so your ka (soul) could find heaven.  I’m a Christian, and being complete in Christ is like nothing the world has ever seen. Being perfect in Christ is not only a beautiful desire but a promise! And one that I long for. It drives me to grow, to learn about myself and who God wants me to be. It might not be popular to say but my children don’t complete me, my husband either. Only Christ can do that.

How to be perfect/complete in Christ is a long lesson and one that is ultimately finished by him, but it starts with understanding what it is that defines us. Take this illustration from Dr. Hollinger, the GCTS president, who spoke at our chapel this weekend.  Same old story we all know about  Mary and Martha, but he made a distinct point that Martha was NOT doing something bad. She was serving, like Christ serves, like we serve our children and our families day in and day out. And yet there is a strong difference between the choices of each woman that Jesus does not miss.  Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, which is a position of learning and a distinct phrase denoting discipleship. She was listening and learning, defining herself by her presence at his feet.  Jesus tells Martha that Mary’s choice is one that will last, that it will help her persevere in times if hardship and struggle and darkness. It is the better choice, because it will sustain her. Martha is defining herself by her service, and when she attempts to make Mary do the same he rebukes her. The lesson is this.

Perfection/completeness comes FIRST from being at Jesus’ feet, not doing the dishes, cooking, teaching, going to women’s Bible study or any of the many many things we do. Think of mother Theresa or Corrie Ten Boom. They faced unspeakable hardship founded not on their work but by their discipleship at the feet of Christ, in prayer and in study and listening. Their service was an outpouring of that devotion, a by product that was blessed by their good choice. I think we CAN reach toward being perfect, I think we can live a life devoted to becoming complete in Christ and have no shame in wanting or pursuing that.  For us who love God and want our children to fall love with him as well, we MUST do that. And we have to start at Jesus’ feet.

Last thought, Jesus’ feet never stayed still for long. Are we ready and willing to follow when he gets up and starts walking?

Recovery – a part of my art journey

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No fantastic new photo here today, but
one that is very meaningful.  These are my feet.  For the first time since I was 14 years old I can turnout easily with no pain to almost 90 degrees.  I was in a number of car wrecks growing up, one of which put me in the hospital.  By the time I fell in love with dance I was already destined for back pain and issues but fought it every day causing more issues in my ignorance of how to deal with the ones I had.  My back got weaker and weaker and my hips tighter.  Muscle strains and pulls were too common and I had a new ankle injury almost every month and even broke my foot.  Eventually I could hardly dance. It took 45 minutes before my body would loosen up to really move in class and performance lacked endurance and quality.  The more I struggled the more I pulled back from the dance world, taking fewer and fewer classes, turning down offers from schools and socializing less.  I turned to academics and began to teach, eventually pursuing undergrad studies both Bible and Elementary Education, and it was in school that I met and married my wonderful husband who had a lot of work ahead of him.

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It was while I continued to try to teach our first year of marriage that my back problems became acute.  He had to carry me up and down the stairs of our second floor apartment. Sometimes I couldn’t get in or out of the car without help, or even get dressed.  My muscles were frozen through my back and legs and massage relieving pain but not fixing the problem.  A physical therapist diagnosed me with myofascial pain syndrome.  He was partially right, and I wish now that I had been living in a place that had more experience treating dance injuries.  The reason the fascia in my legs was aggravated and inflamed was because I had almost blown a disc in my lower back.  We didn’t find that out for almost two more years.

God is so gracious.  I was so close to breaking my back completely and with the help of a good friend a team of support, which my husband spearheaded, I began to recover!  I could bend again, pick up my children. I even started cooking again!  Dancing took longer but I held on 🙂  I was last year that I really started to move again and to gradually rebuild my body, but my technique had suffered terribly and the weak muscles which had begun my problems as a teenager were still underdeveloped or inactive.  I kept on dancing but I’ve been depressed and thinking I would never really be able to perform at peak level again. And then, just two weeks ago I started reading and studying work by a dance physiotherapist in Australia who helped me understand what I’ve been doing wrong, which muscles NOT to use, which muscles needed my help! and today I had my first breakthrough 🙂  image

Easy, pain free turnout!!!

For the first time in years I really feel like someday soon I’ll be able to create and perform all of the pieces I’ve created in my journals, to see those God given stories come to life.  And I feel like that feeling isn’t going to go away this time.

Homeschooling at three

This has got to be one of the funniest and most fun parts of my day. My son is only three but gosh what a perfect time to fill his little world. It’s slow and gradual, he has a schedule but HE doesn’t know it. To him it’s just a bit of work that’s sometimes frustrating but most of the time GREAT! Here’s what we do for writing every other day which are reading/writing/art/music days!

First, I turned art into writing practice. We started with circles, lots of circles 🙂

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A few days of circles and he started noticing other things which are made of circles! He let me guide his hand while drawing a toy train, starting with the wheels of course.

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The scribble is his little sister’s addition. She sits and reads her books or draws her own scribbles next to us, and when it’s Sammy’s turn to do it all by himself she let’s me teach her to draw.

While we drew the train I told him about lines and squares and other shapes he knows, combining auditory with visual and physical learning. The plan is to lead him to straight and angled lines next. The circles are just becoming second nature. But, to keep it interesting, I added numbers and control. Sounds complicated but take a look!

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I did the first circles in pen (mine need work too haha) he had to draw IN the first circle, ON the second circle, and outside the third circle. This kind of came to me as we worked but it turned out great. He had to led me guide his hand to help the muscle memory but can then go to town with just verbal help! I feel like I’m getting all academic on ya but this was a lot of fun for both of us. You don’t freak out if he does it wrong, he’s three!

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Here’s a veggie tales character he wanted me to draw and then he added the embellishment. See the circles?

The trick is taking advantage of when he is really wanting to learn and have help and then knowing when to back off and let him try. I don’t get it right all the time and we both have our moments. But, this is our second week and he is learning so much.  The alphabet is just circles and lines, so is art! 

The last thing we do, that I don’t have pictures of, is actual letters.  They are big, messy and we do them together and separately. Eventually he’ll have enough interest that I can take him up to the volleyball sand pit to draw and write. Now it’s time to turn on some Beethoven for listening time. Even an hour a day of classical music in the background helps all those little brain juices 🙂

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Schubert is Samuels favorite. (Schubert is technically Romantic for all you music buffs).

Challenging a worldview – holy poverty

Ooo. Powerful thought.

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“A gift to the church can be seen as a form of vanity, but giving alms is pure kindness.” Chrysostom (c. 347-407).

Tithing to the Church developed largely out of need, there were so many Christians it was just easier to give to the bishop and let him decide.  The result was an oligarchical monopoly. Our tithe is to God, it was first meant to care for the priests in the desert, and the first and second century church applied that Old Testament instruction to the provisions for prophets AND teachers!

That’s right. Church tithes were meant to pay the livelihood of the teachers “for they are your priests” writes an early church father in the Didache (the first organized instructions for church government and procedure). The Didache was influenced by men and women at the start of massive growth in the church. It filled in the practical gaps of Paul’s organization based on the needs of the church in its time. I highly value it’s insight into ecclesiastical structure because it was created and used before the church gained political influence and was institutionalized.

This exhortation by Chrysostom spotlights the issue exactly, it is alms, money given to the care of the poor, the widows, the apostles, the monastic communities to aid their service, to prophets (for they are called by God and, if true, should be provided for, Didache), to teachers because of their service, to traveling apostles in need, and to and for children that can not be seen as vanity.  All of these people are in the midst of church work. They live among us, serve us or need our help, and the early church felt so strongly about giving that they wrote it into their laws that these people should be provided for WITHOUT them having to ask.

Do we value our teachers this much? Do we care for the poor? Not vicariously through a distant church program or organization but PERSONALLY in our own communities. I’ve lived a lot of my adult life poor and felt shame and criticism for it. Oh the pagans and street kids didn’t care, they were also pretty broke but they took care of each other.  In churches though, the fact that our family needed help for food or rent was almost a sin. We aren’t told that blatantly but it is felt and observed in people’s attitudes, families like ours who need help are thought less of, not given respect and not listened to on matters of church community. Why are we poor? Well that doesn’t seem to matter, it’s our fault ultimately right?

What a different perspective we have built in recent years from that of the first Christians. Those who had money gave freely and felt burdened if there was anyone in their influence who was suffering or in need if they could help. Those who were poor, servants and others were made to be the equals of the wealthy givers. Slaves were freed and nobles, men and women, sold their fine clothes and learned to bake and weave. They lived alongside their former servants in a blessed community of Christianity.

Now I do not mean to say that the early church ways of life will satisfy all our present, practical issues. We live in a different empire, people are far more solitary here by virtue of cultural anonymity. Our drive to be unique and individual is strong.  But if these qualities were applied to the unity that the Jews and first Gentile Christians understood intuitively, what tremendous growth and revival we might see!  “Go and sell all your treasures and give to the poor,” Jesus said. For those who love the Lord and already have very little, you are ahead of the game. Use that reality to learn what the amma (mother) Syncletica taught about the holy poverty that comes from love.  If no one ever gives to you too help you you can be at least be confident that you have given to God all you have.

“Beloved let us love one another…” serve the Lord in the capacity in which he has brought. Be content. Give. Give. Give. Thank you to those who have given to us. Let’s change the way our churches see poverty.