Christmas 2016 – Journey Through the Movies

The ability to connect words to images to emotions as an intricately woven tapestry was engineered into the hardware of the human mind to guide our physical survival as well as inspire spiritual hunger and growth. Professional memory competitors (there really is such a thing) will explain strategies of connecting a name to a face using a unique object and attaching a story to that object, much like Micheal Scott’s mnemonic device to remember names in The Office. Culture has understood this from the earliest days of humanity, which is the reason folklore, oral tradition, poetry and simple parables are so critically important to the framework of culture. In the modern world, media holds the reigns of this driving force, for better or worse. Musicians, authors and directors reflect life which then mirrors the stories being told. Our minds assign meaning to the images, so the dance of fiction versus reality is very much a cooperative partnership.

This Christmas season, Journey participated in this dance, taking a look at three popular stories told during the holidays in the United States, extracting the theology and inspiring messages told through each. The Grinch, Elf and The Polar Express. Each entry is summarized with their corresponding drawing below. I hope you enjoy and celebrate a joy-filled Christmas season this week!

New Christmas series started today, Journey Through the Movies. Today’s movie? The Grinch.

Life and people hurt us, our hearts wear the scars. We build fences around our hearts to protect us from these wounds, but God’s love tears down these walls.
We have a choice after we are hurt. Get bitter or get better. Choose to let your heart grow and plow down the fences around it.

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The larger our hearts grow, our capacity to experience joy within the world around us grows larger and burns brighter. Joy was our focus this second week of the Christmas season. Buddy the Elf teaches us the true nature of joy. Loud, obnoxious, boisterous joy as only Will Ferrell can fully embody on the big screen. What Buddy shows us with pristine clarity, is joy is contagious. When we are happy, people notice. When we are joyful, they want to join us (even if they don’t want to admit it)

The world around us is cold and hard. We are surrounded by negativity; depressing news, disappointing turns of events, unmet expectations. We are candles in a cavern of ice. Joy is our flame. When we step out in the open and take hold of incomprehensible joy, the frigid walls around us cannot avoid taking notice and reflecting our dancing flame. Slowly, the warmth of being present makes the hardened walls begin to melt.

In the words of a wise mentor of mine, don’t go out and try to set the world on fire. Set yourself on fire, then see if it catches.

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Our final movie for this season is The Polar Express. This movie presents us with a child who is jaded and skeptical of anything he cannot physically see or touch. He observes the faith of his friends and family, but refuses to risk taking the same step into the unknown himself. In this story, belief (the evidence of faith) is represented by a cherished bell. Only those who believe could hear the crisp ring of the bell as it is shaken. Those whose faith is being withheld in wait of adequate proof shake their bell but hear only silence.

Faith is such a huge concept, I struggled with a single image which could be completed in the twenty-minute time-frame I limit myself to finish my drawing each week. I struggled until Michael made this statement;  “Faith is taking the next step without seeing the whole staircase.” The instant he mentioned the staircase, the Penrose stairs came to my mind. The Penrose staircase is an optical illusion, an impossibility in architecture of a four-tier staircase which endlessly climbs upward. At each pass around the staircase, the figure passes the bell, suspended within arms reach to be rung with every lap.

Belief is confidence.Confidence keeps moving, without knowing the next part of the story, what lies at the top of the stairs, or even if your foot will find the next step to support you.

Keep walking, keep climbing. One step at a time, keep moving forward.
Believe.

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Merry Christmas and may your 2017 be filled with joy and new hope for you and your families.

New Heart, New Life – Week 3 of Advent

New Heart, New Life

Take hold of your courage; preferring to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord. 2 Cor. 5

In this week of Advent, we focus on our responsibility in changing our own lives. Our heart is the singular director of our motives, our decisions, our lives. In order to change your life, you must first address your heart. These words slide easily off the tongue or over a keyboard, but enforcing them within yourself is exponentially more difficult.

We are colorful creations, broken under the weight of our own obstinacy and insecurity. We enter this world as pristine glass sculptures. Physically imperfect, but entirely transparent and pure creatures. Every interaction, from encounters with other frail creations to inanimate obstacles either polish our sheen or leave cracks in our carapace. As life progresses, the spider-like feelers continue to fracture from the epicenter of every crack. Before long, our cracks become breaks and we lose shards of our innocent encasement. Society teaches us to concentrate the core of our energy on piecing these shards back together in a pristine cloak, a never-ending endeavor that leaves us frustrated and filled with regret. God has a different plan.

Today’s piece is designed to be read from background to foreground the recess into a mid-ground layer. The background is dark and chaotic, a seeming explosion of blacks and blues. The torso stretches itself from bottom to top, gaining every bit of height its muscles can maintain. The base of this torso is orange, the opposite color of the blue background. The soul of this torso rejects the dark influences around them.

It is through the jaggedness of our fragile and shattered selves that the light of Gospel endeavors to shine. Each crack, every pointed shard, refracts the light further and breaks the love we show the world into a full spectrum of the Gospel like a prism. Open your heart to loving the world and all the shattered sculptures moving around us. Let them see your courage to live boldly open in spite of your imperfections.

With a strenuous, sustained pull in both directions, the torso opens itself to bear its soul to the world in all its imperfections. This act of complete exposure leaves this individual vulnerable to conjecture from the rest of us while simultaneously raising itself above all others. The heart-shaped hole being ripped through this chest exposes a beautiful mosaic of color as a single light illuminates every plane of shattered glass once moulded in this unified body.  The irony being, exposing this shrapnel of wrong turns reunites every scrap like a jigsaw puzzle, reassembling itself into a being more beautiful than the original. An act that refuses to go unnoticed and inspires others to open themselves in a beautiful butterfly effect of self discovery.

If you will change your heart, demoting yourself to a servant of all, you will change your life to become the hero for many.

The Rescue – on the Second Sunday of Advent

To free or deliver from confinement, violence, danger, or evil.

To liberate or take by forcible or illegal means from lawful custody.

On this second Sunday of Advent 2014, we celebrate Jesus’s arrival as the spiritual medevac for creation. Our captor is stripped of power, the walls that cage us compromised. Today we celebrate our rescue.

The Rescue

Today’s piece is a modern adaptation of an ancient Christian symbol, designed to pronounce Jesus as savior.

Ancient Savior SymbolDesigned by Greek artists, the center of this icon references the cross used to slaughter Jesus the man in an effort to eradicate the Roman culture of the spirit of love and social justice he lathered over his community.

The sets of letters each carry significant meaning.

IC are the first and last letters of Jesus’s name, written in Greek. Ἰησοῦς, transliterated as Iésous (ee-ay-sooce) are the names we know as ‘Jesus’ or ‘Joshua’.

IC XC NIKA

XC are the first and last letters of the title, Christ.  Χριστός, transliterated Christos (khris-tos) literally means, anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ.

NI KA are meant to be read as one word, NIKA. Nika is a Greek verb which translates into our language as ‘to conquer, win, be victorious’.

The final statement of the Christogram, ICXCNIKA, is this phrase:

“Jesus Christ is victorious.”

I have modernized the Christogram to reflect our theme for this second Sunday of Advent, “The Rescue”. Using an old, beaten and tattered work table from a furniture manufacturing plant, I cut a panel to feel like war-torn debris. The panel is cut to 33″ x 33″, representing the 33 years Jesus walked on the planet.

Using a textured, Army green spray paint, I covered the wood panel and scraped over the tacky coat to create even more textural nuances and make the panel appear camouflaged.

My central cross is the Red Cross logo. Nearly every human being from even the least industrialized nation automatically associates this logo with a rescue team, emergency relief and disaster recovery. This is the universal symbol for being rescued.

The goal at this point was to make the panel feel like it is a piece of a military emergency medical vehicle recovered from ground zero along the front lines of battle. This panel, damaged, beaten and riddled with imperfections is humanity. Our natural tendency is to focus all of out intensity on camouflaging every flaw in a sheer mask of perfection. Despite our best efforts, the truth will always shine brighter than the fabricated reality we project.

The red cross covers our facade with blatant disregard for our weak attempts to reconcile ourselves. The red is bright, it saturates every flaw and jumps off the board to suddenly draw you into itself in a sweep of fierce protection.

The letters, sprayed on like a graffiti artist’s tag in a blood red paint surround the cross that holds you secure. ICXCNIKA, Jesus Christ is victorious.

The rescue is upon us.

From Dark to Light – Advent Begins

Literally defined, the word advent is a noun which announces the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. The Christian tradition accurately applies this word as the introduction of the Creator to his creation. Our maker, our king, the explanation of our affection, our God has arrived. A critical precursor to understanding the weight of Advent is understanding ourselves and our place in the story.

The moral, ethical and spiritual struggles so many experience today are not products of social evolution, nor are they problems which cultures 2000 years our senior would find unfamiliar. The details have changed, but the root of our problem remains the same, altruism does not come naturally and the narcissistic beast which leeches itself on each of us from birth is not easily detached. Tantamount to our DNA, the common thread we share with all of our ancestors is the instinctual drive to serve ourselves, suppressing the needs of all others in order to feed our internal monster. All too late, the curtain is drawn and the true nature of the dreams we selfishly chase is exposed – to be the object of your own affection is to be alone.

History documents an endless cycle of nobility leading to egocentricity and civilized captains mutating into maniacal oppressors. All of these inflations being subsequent to the inevitable collision with ourselves which travels down every human connection in an explosive outbreak of anguish and leaves us empty. God arriving in the human form of Jesus was not the equivalent of our parent walking into our bedroom to throw down a lecture, this was your closest friend stepping into every crevice of your life and saying “I know you’ve tried and I know your mistakes. What’s past is gone, let’s do this together.” Jesus’s life was not a regulatory, administrative mission. It was the ultimate expression of love to us which set the ultimate example for us. His life was, and still is, the flame that illuminates our darkness.

No single image could ever be expected to carry the motivation for celebrating Advent much less the gravity of this man, arriving in the skin of this baby, in this place and at this time. Each week in during this season will produce a unique work of art, individually inspired to relate a specific characteristic of Advent. Beginning this season is our transition from darkness into the illumination of the light which is rising.

Focus intensely on the positive image of the painting, allowing the shapes and colors to burn themselves onto your retina.

From Dark to Light

The barren landscape feels very isolated, very cold, but also light. Loneliness tugs on your soul like the weight of an iron anchor plunging into the depths of the ocean. In simultaneous irony, the snow-covered hills reflect the lightness of the gently dancing clouds draw you closer into this world’s embrace. Peering over the frigid landscape, you almost feel a stiff winter breeze slide its icy fingers beyond the protection of your layered garments and violate every cutaneous detail you’ve worked so hard to conceal. The setting sphere appears sun-like, but its dismal blackness kidnaps all your strength in a violent back draft. What we perceived as our light has suddenly become our darkness.

After 45 seconds or more, look away from the cold landscape and toward a solid, flat surface. The inverted image will be revealed.

I lift my eyes up to the mountains, from where shall my help come from? Psalm 121:1

Dark to Light - inverted

Your eyes reveal an explosion of colors which jolts you into a new awareness. The dark is now light, the cold grows warm, your loneliness chased away by a new presence. The void that raped your soul of its stamina erupts with a brilliance that sheathes you like a lover’s sudden embrace. The thirst of your soul is immediately quenched by a reassurance of security so personal that it reanimates the very confidence your previous affections endeavored so intensely to extinguish. You now feel yourself standing a little taller. Air rushes through your lungs in a dance of freedom as your head raises skyward. The sun is rising, a new day beginning.

The son is rising.

This is the start of Advent.

Advent 2014 – a new series

My, it’s been way too long since I’ve shared an update here. Family, friends, work, and play have all taken precedence over blogging, and rightfully so. We’re half way through the classroom side of Pharmacy school and the kids and I are having a blast being boys. In riding the roller coaster that this chapter of our lives, art has not taken a back seat, but the blog roll has!

I am excited to announce a new series that will roll our next week. I will be creating a painting for each Sunday of the Advent season this year, to be displayed during the vocal message with which the image correlates. I am insanely excited to share with you the first installment, “Dark to Light”; but I must control myself to not let the cat out of the bag too early! This piece will be like none I’ve created before and I know it will blow you away the same way it did me creating it.

Stay close! Next Sunday, ‘Dark to Light’ will be unveiled!

The Mountains Melt

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice,

let the many coastlands be glad.

Clouds and thick darkness are all around Him;

righteousness and justice are the formation of His throne.

Fire goes before Him

and burns up His adversaries all around.

His lightnings light up the world;

the earth sees and trembles.

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,

before the Lord all of the earth.

The heavens proclaim His righteousness

and all the peoples see His glory.

All worshippers of images are put to shame

who make their boasts to worthless idols;

worship Him, all you gods!

Psalm 97: 1-7

The Mountains Melt

Lord – a person who has authority, control or power over others; a master, a chief, a ruler.

Philippians 2:9-11

God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him a name that is above every name.

The word ‘name’ in this passage is referring to more than the one Mary gave him at his birth. Jesus, while being a name that raises hope, strikes fear, and is often surrounded by controversy, it is not above every other name. The name being referred to here is Jesus’s title, his position. Jesus is the Christ, the I am, the Most High. He is Lord.

How frequently have you used ‘lord’ in the last week? “Dear, lord….” “Oh, lord!” “Lordy, lordy!” Too many to count? What do you mean when you say that word? Do you even know? ‘Lord’ is not a convenient term that was coined to add emphasis to a statement of surprise or frustration, it is an authoritative term carrying serious weight. Those who carry the title of “Lord’ own unquestionable authority over people, places or both. Those of nearly every faith assign God, alone the title of Lord. To imply another being, human at that, is ‘Lord’ is blasphemous. To make a statement like that in 3 A.D. Jerusalem is a death wish.

Carry that weight of the position over into this verse. God is making an undeniably clear statement, Jesus is Lord. God. The one who is Lord Himself. He says Jesus is Lord. The game just changed.

I do not fault a person using a “curse word” around me, provided that use the word in context. When you say a word synonymous with feces, make sure what you are referring to is logically associated with fecal matter. Otherwise, you just sound like an idiot. This is applicable to any word. Words that carry supreme authority should be used with extreme caution and respect.

Many people today claim the position of being Christian, not really understanding what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Being Christian is not a matter of paying dues, associating with one group while avoiding others. You cannot claim Jesus as your Savior without also claiming Him as your Lord.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my father. Matthew 7:21

Christ, Kairos, YHWH, the Most High,

Jesus Christ is Lord.

All will acknowledge Him, whether willingly or not.

Who is He to you?