Christmas is Coming! Will you have a tree?

In a recent forum conversation for my Church History class at Gordon-Conwell (Theological Seminar), I came upon a discussion about what the correct response should be to modern day criticism of Christian symbols.  Primarily those which non-Christians rightly point out as previously belonging to pagan religions.  To respond to this I jumped backwards in history to an earlier period where art and symbols in the Christian church came under heavy attack from the religion of Islam.  Dr. Donald Fairbairn (GCTS faculty and long time missionary in the Ukraine) gave a brief history of icons during our start of the year integrative seminar on the Beauty of Holiness, wherein he briefly discussed the history of the iconoclast controversy.  The reason icons became contentious amongst Christian communities was because of the criticism of Muslims who saw, not only that Christian’s had many icons, but that they claimed to worship a trinity, 3-in-1.  To the Muslim mind there cannot be a 3-in-1, and any depictions of Christ or the saints are idols as well, and so they conclude that Christians are holding severely idolatrous beliefs.  To what end?

The criticism and judgement led to a series of councils in the Christian community where icons were discussed.  Interestingly, those bodies which condemned icons were comprised primarily of political figures, whereas those councils which continued to uphold them as beautiful pieces of art and essential components of Christian worship were comprised of the leading religious figures, (Dr. Fairbairn, Iconoclast Controversy).  In our western atmosphere of political correctness it is all to easy to respond to the criticism of our symbols by setting aside the Christmas trees, our crosses and the Ikthus.  But I don’t think that is the correct response.  One of my favorite uses of pagan symbols for the defense and promulgation of the gospel is by St. Patrick when he ministered in northern Europe.  The  winters in this region are cold and dead, and as a sign of hope that the death and illness would pass the tribal people cut down an evergreen and brought it into their homes.  St. Patrick capitalized on this action in order to demonstrate to them the redemption of God from the pain and death of sin!  Thus, the Christmas tree has become far far more in our traditions than a mere decoration.  Its presence at the celebration of the birth of Christ reminds us that death will pass and that, like the evergreens, we have eternal life in Jesus Christ.  What if we refused to give in to false ideal of political correctness and simply explained what it is that art, which is truly what we are discussing, means to us and to the world?

I’ll share this remarkable quote from Clement of Alexandria, cited by William Tennent in his book Theology in the context of World Christianity, “[Clement of Alexandria] said that the pagans were given the stars to worship so they might not fall into atheism: ‘It was the road given to them, that in worshipping the stars they might look up to God.'” (Tennent, 44).  So what if non-Christians around us criticize our symbols and icons?  Every symbol we have demonstrates the redemption of God, and the more we have from the religions of the world the greater the testimony.  We could perhaps rephrase Clement and say, “These are the objects we have set before them, and that they have welcomed into their homes, so that we might also be welcome with the story of the Savior.”

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Play Time – a part of my art journey

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While we were at the park today I got inspired to try to do some real photography with my phone and try something new. The swing is taken with a daylight setting and was a single shot, as was this playground.

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Then I tried using a multi shot setting to capture the kids in motion. Here’s a few of my favorites.

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I really like how they turned out overall and am looking forward to being more purposeful about photos. Especially since I need photography for my blogs quite often and will need a TON for my dance pieces.

Enjoy!

Inspiration – what feeds the soul

Well, my computer crashed AGAIN a few days ago. Second time in a week. And it’s tricky to do a meaningful blog post entirely from your phone but NOT impossible. I’ll just copy 🙂

WHAT?!!! That’s sacrilegious isn’t it? To copy someone else. To not be different?  Well, I’ve heard it said that a good artist imitates, a great artist copies. I’ll let you think on that while you’re watching this amazing collaboration on one of my favorite sites for inspiration TED.

Bill T. Jones and Improvisational Beauty

This video has inspired me so much in fact it has gathered the wandering points of my aesthetic journey and pulled their dissonant waves into a single, coherent idea. An idea for creation (as a process) that seems to resonate my soul whispers alongside the divine.  You see each of us is made by God, the Creator in whom we have our purpose. Being in his image we are driven to create just add He does, a fact which children express freely but which culture and yes, even the church, teach us to suppress or contain as we get older.  I was taught to contain it, PUSHED to hide the creativity which tended to be squished out of me anyway there was so much of it. And in that sense, for many years, I have not felt that my creations truly came alongside the fantastic creativity and beauty of my precious Savior. But no more.

My work, the results of my minds imaginative adventures which will become observable again in the movements I create with this body God has given me, is coming out of a place so truly transformed by His grace.  I found the wellspring of my artistic life in Him and what I make will show His truth somehow, for it can’t do anything less. But how? Well, that’s where Bill T. Jones came in in this incredible video. He takes words and music and becomes animated by their character, but then he ADDS to it and returns a new personality to the musicians as if it is a gift. The result is beautiful originality.

To create one must find inspiration and surround yourself with it, like a warm blanket. Fill yourself with it like a cup of tea in the autumn breeze. It penetrates you. And…out comes ART.  An artists journey, I am learning, enters a season where it is not as much about ones ability as it is about ones perspective and ones own sense of self worth. I still struggle with insecurity, but I pray that as I pursue the worship of my God with God given abilities, my perceptions of life, truth and beauty will grow with me.

Go. Be inspired. It feeds the soul.

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Worship Moves

2015-05-01 10.00.53Webster defines adoration as paying honors to a divine being; worshiping God; or addressing one as God – demonstrated by external means. This is followed by a description of how people have expressed adoration and worship through the centuries and EVERY expression involved MOVEMENT! Bowing, prostration, turning, covering or uncovering, dancing, the bringing of gifts. Ways we have shown “profound reverence” to gods, kings, queens and others.

2015-08-30 11.38.49This really struck me because I’m such a mover and children are movers by nature 🙂 That our worship is not meant to be passive and stagnant. It is not just a though process of focusing our minds on God, it is meant to be that which causes us to physically respond to our reverence to God, like Miriam, David and so many more. I don’t think I’ll ever worship God again just sitting and singing words, there is so much more to give to really honor Him as the King of the Universe!!!

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A Sunday Home

Combined forces of the physical and the divine intervened today and kept us home for church this Sunday.  God has truly been challenging our perceptions and expectations of fellowship since our move to the East Coast and it is both rejuvenating and exciting. But theology aside, we succeeded in Church. In BEing together the kingdom of God.  We worshiped with some dance and some reading, Nathanael and I both taking turns in helping the children to learn and focus on WHAT we were doing so we could later teach them the WHY. 🙂  Samuel decided he wanted to read his Bible for most of the worship time and Gloria followed suit for a few minutes before going back to the rotation between guitar, scarf and piano.

2015-08-30 11.41.55 2015-08-30 11.38.34Isn’t that the face of pure joy and delight?

Inspired by my study and writing from the Word this morning we taught Samuel about the Kingdom of God.  The kingdom is in our midst and is in us (Luke 17:20-21) and therefore we should seek to listen to God and to obey him.  With Samuel, trains and train metaphors make their way into just about everything, and specifically the Polar Express. So in true Samuel fashion we explained the idea of following the Way of God with a train!  God is the conductor and he is the one who asks for our tickets and tells us which way to go. When the train gets off the tracks he tells us how to get back on (see The Polar Express) and we should listen to him. Listening includes obedience. That is the Way.

Prayer. Prayer interrupted by crying baby girl.  Back to prayer and our scripture verse “I am the Way the Truth and the Life.”

AMEN!

Then it was time for lunch and naps. Nap time is when Nathan and I then pick up worship again for the two of us.  It was my turn to lead the worship this morning which took the form of a sermon based upon that bible verse, “I am the WAY” (see previous blog post).  We rejoiced in God through the truth of his Word and then praised him more from the psalms, specifically 33 and the first part of 34!  Please go read them, they are wonderful songs.  A verse in Psalm 34 sparked a discussion on worship and adoration that has continued for most of the afternoon and will most definitely continue in my heart for several days.  I’m sure I will write more about it.

“Where two or more are gathered I am there in their midst.”  We did not have hundreds today or even dozens, but we had the four of us and a true time of adoration of God together.  I would leave with a few questions which God has raised in us this week. What is adoration? What IS worship? Is it conscious? Is it just a thought process or is it something more?

I’m off to worship God with a little creation 😀 Shalom!

“How sweet are your words, Oh Lord,” thoughts on the priority of education

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I recently had a conversation in which the topic was life priorities. It was put forth that this order was correct, God first, then family, then work, then school. It was also put forward that school was in conflict with spending time with God, and far from being a unique perspective, this is normal in Christian circles.

I immediately thought of Eric Liddel, the famous missionary who said, “When I run I feel Gods pleasure.”  If you know his story you’ll know that the joy of bringing pleasure to God through his running led Eric to train for, and compete in the Olympics, rather than go back to the mission field with his family. He won, but he also almost lost his chance because in the midst of his competition he refused to dishonor God by competing on the Sabbath.  What an act of worship and self sacrifice!  For the whole story the movie Chariots Of Fire is a MUST watch.

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That is what study is for me. A worshipful adventure of feeling the pleasure of the Lord as I pursue Him. Not everyone one will feel the pleasure of the Lord as they study of course.  For some it is natural, but for most it must be LEARNED. Is learning to worship the Lord in our studies of him, his word and the aspects of his creation in conflict with a relationship with him? I’d go as far as to say that it is necessary! We are commanded by the Lord to KNOW his word and to learn it.  How much better is it if we learn to make our study and meditation an act of worship as well?

But what does the Bible say. “Your word is sweeter than honey”, honey“I meditate on your word day and night.” “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom…fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and understanding.” The entire book of Proverbs is dedicated to teaching us the importance and necessity of receiving instruction, Proverbs 1:1-7. “Fools despise wisdom and teaching.”  Meditating on the word of God is an act of profound worship and adoration!  So why, then, is the formal application of that study thought to be in conflict with ones relationship with God?

WHY?
I think many people think this way about formal education.  Firstly, it is a direct result of the crumbling school systems and the myriad of stories from young people who were mistreated by teachers or by peers, told that they couldn’t learn and given negative  preferential treatment for supposed disabilities. The second problem is our national tendency toward idolatry.  For several generations in recent history, getting  the RIGHT kind of education at the RIGHT places has been worshiped as an idol, even by Christians! Naturally the gut response of the next generation is to avoid it, and that response is followed shortly by the scorning and shunning of formal education altogether.

Today we have a dichotomy church movements where one part is still upholding the necessity of education in the RIGHT place by the RIGHT people, and the other movement really believes that formal education is not necessary at all.

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We need to get back to the basics of what education is in the first place.  Paul says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, ” but even more than that, both Paul and Jesus came from a culture, built by God, where the teachers, the Rabbi’s were the most honored members of society. And to be a student of a Rabbi was another exceptional honor!  You NEVER insulted your teacher or criticized them OR their methods. Children were taught to trust them, and to learn how to learn from the worst as well as the best.  I’d love to personally from a member of the Jewish faith about the treatment of your teachers and your perspective on the value of learning.

The biblical exhortations for formal education and instruction stem from WHERE they came from, and are extended to us where we are today. “Honor your father and mother (the primary teachers) that your days may be long” Exodus 20. “Hear, my son, your fathers instructions and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” Proverbs 1:8.

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When our Christian families reacted to the worship of education and institutions we had the unintentional result of teaching our children that they don’t need to learn, and they don’t need to honor their teachers.  We can change that. 

Let’s do education the way it was meant to be done.  Let’s teach the next generation how to worship THE LORD through our studies no matter what they may be.  Let’s honor The Teacher who gave us the ability to learn by learning how to join a classroom that is basking in the presence of His word! It starts with you.  Will you make time to learn again?

Courtesy of DeviantArt

Courtesy of DeviantArt

(A few additional thoughts about what education looks like practically, to follow.)

You can’t seperate church and state

You can’t separate church and state.

It is IMPOSSIBLE.

Why? Because everybody worships something.

Worship is all consuming, mind, heart and body.

Everybody worships SOMETHING. Therefore…

Anyone in an elected position will worship SOMETHING. And…

WHAT they worship will effect their leadership and their decisions.

If Christians try to keep their worship separate from their leadership in government, SOMEONE ELSE’S WORSHIP will replace theirs.

Again, you CAN’T separate church and state.

Only through a firm foundation in God and a deep understanding of scripture can a government arrive at a principle for religious freedom where church and state can be unified without the establishment of a State Church.