Honor

Following on the tail of the most tumultuous United States campaign and election season endured in my lifetime, Journey Church launched a series focused on the concept of honor. Delving into our understanding of what honor looks like, who deserves to be honored and the actual nuts and bolts of honoring another, these are the images born from our discussion.

Installment one stripped our understanding of honor down to it’s basic foundation; what is honor to begin with? Honor is respect, honor is admiration, honor is an active choice.

Our ability to honor the life, feelings and basic humanity of another person is capped by a dark ceiling of our own pride and ability to honor ourselves. One cannot treat another with a spirit of honor without first approaching the other with an attitude of respect. The most basic place to practice respect is within oneself. Honor requires humility, humility opens the gateway for service. To visualize this concept, I drew a dark ceiling. A figure who escaped this prison has opened a trap door, allowing light to explode into the darkness and reaching back through to show others the way out.

The figures still trapped inside are attracted to the light, but the ceiling is too high to be conquered alone. Each one must work together, building platforms to raise each other higher and build a structure each of them can climb together to freedom.

This is honor.

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In the second installment, we tackled the question of who? Is it something we wait for another to earn, or something we spread liberally across everyone we encounter? Is there someone or something which should NOT be honored?

Who do we honor? Everyone and everything formed by our creator.

Honor is a gift we each hold in abundance, but must actively give. Honor does not give itself away. In this drawing, the hands of the Creator spread openly to support all of creation. From left to right, you see a politician at their desk (representing all leaders in our lives), a homeless beggar making their plea for help (representing anyone we could choose to help), a doctor (anyone who takes care of us physically, emotionally or spiritually), a family with small children (we are all one family on this planet), a soldier (representing anyone who fights for us; military, law enforcement, EMS), a disabled veteran (to represent all who sacrifice for us), a stoic tree to represent all of nature and the planet we inhabit. At the far right, peeking from behind the thumb, a figure in a Burka carefully leads a child to move beyond the tree and join the other figures while carrying a stuffed animal. I chose this image to represent refugees; those who don’t necessarily make us feel safe or comfortable reaching to, but need our help as desperately as any other. I skipped one figure, the one in the middle straddling the hands of God. This is you. The figure points back at you with one hand while holding an umbrella in the other. The open umbrella (decorated with HONOR) not only covers every person and human characteristic the figures represent, but also the one who holds it and the hands who hold them. Honor yourself, honor creation, honor others. In doing so, we honor God.

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Finally, in entry three, we studied how to honor. How does a person honor anything? Is there a formula; a specific procedure?

The action of honor is a paradox. It is a very simple action, but also one of the hardest thing a human can do. Humble service. Humility is a hot word in the circles of churchianity. It is printed on t-shirts, waved on banners and advertised as the bare minimum expectation for acceptance into even the outer circles of organized religion. But humility is not just philanthropy or an altruistic attitude. Humility is loving another human being on a level higher than yourself, the willingness to let go of your own life for theirs and following through with your actions. Humility is authenticity.

When we honor another person, we place value on their life. This value is not just a feeling, it is expressed in a way that allows it to be transferred into the other, acknowledging and increasing their self-worth. We will only honor that which we value.

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In thinking about how God wove honor into the fabric of life, I asked myself what service looks like. Visions of soup kitchens, volunteer firefighters and Habitat for Humanity building projects came to mind. Simplifying these all into a single icon, I envisioned a figure kneeling in a near-fetal position. The head is bowed and arms outstretched with their palms up. Another figure mirrors the first, kneeling and reaching in the same position. As the two reach for each other, their arms create an interlocking pattern. I lined these figures along a rolling patchwork landscape. Like the teeth of a zipper, this array of figures serving each other are united as the glue which holds their world together.

In the background, a pair of hands reaches through the sky to the flowing land. Holding cross-hatched fabric of life as we know it, these hands pull the figures together. As the arms connect, the land is binding together to form a mountain peak. The summit of this peak will point directly back to the one who is forming it, praising its Creator.

By honoring each other, we honor God.

Life is War. To Pray is to Fight.

Life is War. To Pray is to Fight.

After a long drought brought on by life, I have finally let myself open up and create spontaneously again. We kicked off a new summer series yesterday morning. For the next few weeks, we’ll be focusing on prayer, how to pray, the importance of prayer and what our focus should be.

Life is war. Spiritually, emotionally, physically; we are constantly battling something. Some days we battle ourselves.

I chose the image of a boxer to embody the idea of prayer being our fight. The boxer is exhausted, resting in his corner, his sagging head only held off the mat by his arm. His towel lay crumpled beside him. The boxer is ready to fire the towel into the ring, giving up on all that he has worked for, but he lacks the arm strength to throw. Burying his face in his glove, all he has left is to pray. Prayer is all the fighter has left in his arsenal.

Often times, we get to this point where crying to God is all we have. Through our fatigue, we feel inadequate to pray and lack the confidence to even know what to say. Prayer is not about your words, it is about your heart. Learn more about how to pray here. God doesn’t need your words, he needs your heart. He needs your mind to open.

Choosing the image of the boxer is a personal reference for me as well. I have been travelling through an expanse of parched land in my life. The ground burned by neglect and the consequences of good intentions. Physical exertion has been my release. As I drew this image, I was reminded of my own fight by the dull crimson scars on my knuckles. Fresh wounds beginning to heal. Memories of another round violent encounter with the heavy bag.

Life is war. We must remember we are all in this together. All of us.

Know Your Place

 

So God Made a Farmer, God at Work 1, Genesis 2

Think about ‘work’ for a moment…..who gets excited? If you do, either something is very wrong or the majority of the working public envies you. Where did this whole idea of working for a living start? Many Christians would say with the fall of man. Creation’s fall from grace made life hard; before sin the earth served human kind hand and foot. They are wrong.

Before Adam and Eve decided to test a different path, God placed them in the garden. Not placed like a stop on a destination cruise, placed like an assignment; and assign them He did. Genesis 2:15 specifically states, God placed them in the garden to work it and keep it. This assignment came before experimenting with the tree of knowledge. God designed our work before day one.

Why would a loving God design an exhausting, time-consuming, monotonous institution? He didn’t design it that way, we did. God blesses us and He uses us to do it. Our work is a service to others. Some vocations are more obviously “people blessing” than others. It is an undeniable fact that every job serves someone in some form. The word ‘vocation’ is derived from the root word ‘vocatio’ which means a call or summons. To perform a task as your vocation is to perform it as your call, as if you were summoned to complete that task. The flip side of that is if you do not perform your task properly, then you are not complying with your summons. An offense which temporarily revokes your freedom in the United States. I also find it interesting that, as a noun, the word ‘summons’ is to be called for a purpose. As a verb, ‘summons’ is to serve. Our work is serving others. Your vocation is your calling, but your calling is not always your career. We are each individual pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. The absence of a single piece renders a puzzle broken. With proper restraint from idolizing our work or being idol in our work, we own our piece of the puzzle to bring the image to completion.

A few Super Bowls ago, the advertising department at Chrysler designed a commercial which focused on the dirty nails, thankless labor, and relentless work of the farmer. The marketing angle was emphasizing the stage their product filled. The catch phrase that grabbed our emotions was “So God made a farmer.” The assembled jigsaw puzzle of today’s drawing contains that phrase, with minor but important details.

First, the word farmer is crossed out. Not because a farmer’s job is unimportant, but because it is not just someone else’s job. God placed you here, in the garden, to work the land. You may not be the one turning the dirt and planting the seeds, but you are working the land of your vocation.

Second, there is a hole in the image. One piece is removed from its place, not yet responded to its summons. That puzzle piece shapes the word ‘YOU’. You are the missing piece. Acknowledge your place, however mundane or insignificant it may feel. Fill your place and fill it well. God didn’t just make a farmer, God made you.

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” – Frederick Buechner

Now I’m going to go fill one of my roles; off to play ball with my boys.

Freed to Give – a prophetic art experience

 

Today, I experienced an emotion to which only artists can empathize; ‘creative exhaustion’. Simultaneously high from creating something that did not previously exist and emptied from having left part of your soul within that creation. This is the story of that creation.

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Humans are designed as interdependent beings. Beginning with our introduction to a carbon-based environment, we depend on other people for our basic survival. Though our needs evolve over time, our fundamental design to live in harmonious dependency on one another remains constant. This is God’s intricate design.

Starting with the very inception of the human species, man could not thrive on his own. Recognizing this, God separated one organism into two, making them an interlocking match for each other. I do not believe the separation of humanity into male and female was an afterthought for the Creator, it was critical to his design. Obviously, the male and female designs define the mechanics of procreation, critical to the sustainability of the human species. God also designed our minds to be free and self-assured in this design of life. Men are not stubbornly confident because we are jerks, it’s a critical part of our psyche included since day one. Understand His creation, God put the man in a position where he had to choose the woman. In choosing to join themselves together, God freely gives His creations to each other, joining them together as one being and designing the institution we call marriage. One that was made two is now made one.

Dependency on the abilities and service of another human being is not weakness, it is what makes us human. Refusing to embrace our need for others leaves our souls malnourished. Rejecting opportunities to serve another is abuse.

One Made Two Made One

 

Creating unity by dividing humanity is the basis of today’s work. At the top center of the image is a single, crouched form. The figure then splits like a dividing cell into two individuals. The unique organisms then dance along their paths, becoming their individual selves. At the location where their paths cross, the two reunite into a single body. This is marriage, as God designed.

 

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Recreating this into today’s piece, I combined acrylic paint with fine, sandy rock which exists in the foundation of a gravel road. The rock and paint mixture created a mortar-like paste which made the creation of today’s figures as much a process of sculpture as it was painting.  This process created shapes with three dimensional body and an organic feel that makes your mind expect the figures to morph into dancing with each other on the page.

 

 

 

 

Establishing the existence of marriage as two created individuals choosing to unify themselves as one through their Creator leads us into the next logical question, but often hardest one to ask, how can two individuals successfully operate as one? The answer, though easy to say, is much harder to apply; selfless mutual submission. By each letting go of what they hold most dear for the sake of fulfilling the other’s desires, they both grasp hold of what they will most cherish – unity. This philosophy is true for every relationship from exclusively romantic to complete strangers; asking one simple question will redefine human encounter and construct a legacy, one person at a time. How can I serve you? Before being able to pose this question honestly, one must first choose to lay themselves and their desires down. Your most perfect façade will not conceal your ulterior motives.

Refusing yourself the satisfaction of gaining for yourself is no easy task; it is a choice that must be made constantly. In every moment, making yourself look for opportunities to serve those around you, this is the attitude suggested by 1 Thessalonians  5:17. To pray without ceasing and give thanks in everything is to be aware of what you have been given and constantly be looking for ways to serve others because of it. What’s to stop people from taking advantage of me if I really do this, you may protest? Grace.

Grace is being able to forgive those who abuse you, wisdom is not enabling that abuse.

Forgiven people forgive. Without letting yourself experience grace, you refuse yourself the ability to show grace. Grace is the foundation of every positive relationship because no one can achieve perfection. At some point, on some level, people will let you down. Serve them anyway. Occasionally, the words and actions of people will hurt you. Be kind to them still. A day will come when another maliciously inflicts pain in you. Graciously love them despite it.

Freed to Give, 3rd service

 

The paths followed by the figures in this image trace back to create a heart shape with an open center. God did not design marriage to benefit us. In its proper form, it reflects His nature to the world. The open heart. Two people, remaining individuals but united as one, serving each other and those around them. This is by design.

Parents. Serve your children well. Children, serve your parents.

Know your friends well enough to know their needs. Serve them freely.

Know the needs in your community. Join with others to fill them.

Everyone wants to give to charity, but no one wants to be charity. Until you learn to receive, you will never truly know how to give. Only by experiencing grace are we freed to give it to others.

 

 

You Matter

I’ve created some bad art over the last few years of this art as worship venture, but today’s strikes me as especially terrible. The kind of terrible that is expected to show up in the opening auditions of American Idol, the ones that are aired just for ratings and water cooler conversation. Today’ piece was so bad, I have to share for your entertainment. If you’re familiar with my art, you know how I enjoy irony. The ironic twist in the image you’re about to partake in is that our message focus was on why we matter as individuals. I set out to draw an image depicting individual value and failed miserably. Check it out, please accept my apologies in advance……

You

Kind of a cross between Uncle Sam and former Guns ‘n’ Roses lead guitarist, Slash,  the guy with gnarly hair and the collapsing top hat sternly points back at the viewer with an accusing gesture that toes the line of offensive. Awkwardly, his head is turned away as if he doesn’t want to acknowledge whom the target of his finger rests upon. Adding to the depravity of this piece, the image could only transfer a message by leaning on the crutch of text. Message #1: “People need you, whether they admit it or not.” Message #2: “God needs you to respond, without waiting for an invitation.” In all honesty, today’s drawing depicts more of my fight with myself rather than a message for you.

Ephesians 2:1-10 You matter to God.

Passages like this are solid proof Jesus, as a man, was a creative. Before an individual embraces Jesus, before they grasp the basic concept of the Gospel, before the ‘get it’, they are dead. Selfish, narcissistic, arrogant, dead to everything that does not benefit themselves. This deadness manifests itself in animosity toward Jesus (or anything Jesus-related). Despite our ultimately hate-filled nature, grace sat us in like-standing with God’s human likeness, though the Father was hated, He still longs to embrace His children without reservations.

Like every artist, God’s passion is to inspire people back to Him and to love through His creation and love. Like any work of art, the response of the viewer is not required but longed for like the pangs of lovers separated by distance. God does not demand our response, but He longs for it. Despite the negative reception to His physical presence, Jesus was amplified through that response. Had He been cast aside as another religious nut and ignored, His mission would have been squashed. Like the mission of the artist, any response equates to ultimate success.

In verse 10, humanity is described as ” God’s workmanship”. God is the artist, we are the creation, love is the message.

You matter to God.

Hebrews 10:19-25

An individual can only grow through the influence of other individuals. This means taking off your mask. Your public facade acts like salt on your soil, nothing will grow. Enough salt exposure and the soil is ruined. Deep friendships is an art many lose after college, if they make it that long. Within deep relationships lie the keys to happiness, success, health and longevity. Modern society finds it hard-pressed to even discover a marriage that involves a deep relationship anymore. No wonder our lives are so convoluted.

How do we get these kind of friendships back, you ask? Letting down your guard and letting people in. People who allow themselves to be vulnerable in the presence of another are mocked by this advanced culture. Children are discouraged from living honestly. Boys and girls alike are set up for failure when they get kicked out the door with a suitcase full of situation-appropriate masks and a foundation of lying for the benefit of yourself and the modern social trend. Those lies catch up to us, long before we dare confess.

This is the essence of community groups within the church community I attend. Building deep friendships among a tight community of people. On the surface, it may sound like a clique, but it’s much harder to create than a gossip circle. The only way to invest in deep friendships is to become interested in your friends. You have to be interested in someone other than yourself without a personal agenda. Does anyone even know what their friends’ favorite colors are anymore? I know it sounds pre-school-ish, but if that’s where you need to start, go for it!

You matter to us. Set down your costumes and invite other to do the same.

Ephesians 4:1-16

Community groups are one of several aspects of North Ridge that raise skeptical eyebrows in our region with vehemently conservative roots, particularly since our philosophy is encouraging community groups in lieu of traditional Sunday school. The quip commonly thrown out in contempt is “church is not a social club”. Well, why not? Which clubs and organizations attracted the most participants in collegiate and grade school? The social ones. I’m not saying we disregard the Gospel or talk on deep spiritual topics, I just finished saying how we need to open ourselves up to deep relationships and really get interested in other people’s lives. Is that not the Gospel, participating in quality relationships and doing life together through the example of Jesus? Particularly in light of our rough and bigoted history that shines so brightly in the spotlight, why would anyone care what we have to say before seeing the fruits of living it out together in community?

You matter to “them”. (whoever “them” happens to be at the time)

Now back to my travesty of graphite:

Each phrase I wrote in was another punch in the head of my psyche that wants to be noticed, wants to be valued,

“People need you,” – OK, yeah, we established that above. You’re important, I’m important, we need each other, now let’s break out in a number from “Frozen” (a flick I have successfully evaded so far). I often brush this statement off my arm like the mosquito that bit me during my son’s baseball game this weekend. Don’t bury me in generic clichés and fault me when I’m not inspired. Give me a tangible mission objective and then let me loose. Can you tell this is where I am most skeptical of myself?

“…whether they admit it or not.” – Silence is my kryptonite. Silence, to me, is synonymous with apathy is synonymous with dislike is synonymous with hate.Often to the root of my own frustration, I value knowing the focus of my energy is in some way significant to another human being. The only way to discern significance is through feedback, vocalized or visibly evident. You want me out of the picture? Don’t respond to me with negativity, just don’t respond at all. I’ve been told this is a character flaw, that I should reject this emotion and not care if I have carry any importance to anyone other than myself. My small mind cannot fathom any purpose in life other than creating significance in that of another’s.

“God needs you to respond…” – Another tired phrase, over-used by pastors desperate to moisten their dry-rotting baptismal tubs by laying down a guilt-trip under the guise of spiritual urgency. As if I am so important God can’t accomplish anything without me…really? In thinking that, though, our limited understanding of the Gospel rises to the surface. God needs you to respond, not because He needs you, but because you are the best able to step up for the sake of another in that moment. The need is there, urgency is real, but the aim is not to benefit you.

“…without waiting for an invitation.”  – This is the kicker for me. I will own that I am quick to volunteer myself to fill a need, once the need is announced. I have trouble searching out the need to fill own my own. Here again, our pride and cynicism shoots compassion in the foot because we either refuse to admit we have a need or hide behind the mask of humility and wait to be asked for help. I am the one to hang back until needs are obvious, buying into my self-conceived lie that initiating a conversation that could open doors to a new (or deeper) friendship is intrusive and unwanted. This kind of hesitation does not pass without consequences. Do not doubt your ability or your responsibility to experience relationships, serve people, and share the Gospel. The invitation is standing open, the RSVP date is always now.

You matter to God. You matter to us. You matter to them.

 

 

 

 

 

This Matters.

In today’s entry, I’m catching up on our latest series that we are three weeks into, This Matters.

Our introductory message in the “This Matters” series focused out attention on the Bible. The Bible matters. Why?

Historically, it lays the groundwork, not only for our faith but all of civilization. Regardless of your religion, the Bible is regarded as the most historically accurate documentation of its age.

Morally and ethically, the Bible provides us with concrete guidelines for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Though many have misconstrued God’s precepts while others create  new ones in God’s name, the Bible provides a solid foundation for morality and ethics in every aspect of life.

Logically, it lays out the simple design for living in peace with all of humanity and with yourself. When you read scripture; first read it for the literal words, dissect those words within the context they were written, then apply those words to modern day as they can apply to you.

The Bible is not God’s rule book, it is our pathway to knowing Him. The Bible matters.

In week two we focused on prayer. Prayer matters.

Through the Bible, we can know God on a corporate level. Through prayer we connect with God (and ourselves) on a personal level.

Prayer, This Matters 2, Matthew 6, 6-13

Prayer is literally a conversation with God. Prayer is most effective when our hearts are open to let the communication flow both ways.  I heard a Rabbi once describe the Jewish perspective of prayer as an introspective assessment of one’s day. Sitting down at the end of the day to inspect every choice you made, then committing to whatever changes that are necessary to become a better person tomorrow. Christians would benefit from incorporating this aspect of prayer into their perspective as well.

God is not a genie, prayer is not a wish list. Submit your requests to God, but take an honest account of where you require improvement.

Prayer holds you in community with God. Prayer matters.

Stepping into week three, the things that matter have been fairly personal in their application. The Bible matters, I need to read the Bible. Prayer matters, I need to pray. Today has more public ramifications, community.

Community matters because life is not designed as a solo endeavor. God designed us as interdependent beings. One person’s weakness is matched by another’s strength. Our misguided focus on self breaks the bonds of unity and leaves us vulnerable. I enjoy National Geographic, Discovery, and PBS for their nature programming. Nearly every episode set in Africa includes a Lioness hunting a pack of Gazelles. The Lioness quietly spies on the unknowing Gazelles as they graze, strategically picking out the slowest and weakest of the pack for her family’s dinner. When the attack begins, the Gazelles scatter. The target tries to keep up but, for whatever reason, is separated from the pack and is overtaken by the Lion in the open field. We are the Gazelle, our Enemy prowls like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

CommUNITY, Hebrews 10, 19-25

Much like there’s no ‘I’ in team, there’s no community without ‘you’. Dying to self is not a mandate to make yourself a door mat, it is the open door to embrace life. Tear off your armor of ‘self’ to open the pathway to community. Letting go of your needs creates opportunity for needs to be filled.

Community matters.