Tag Archives: Culture

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.

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Grace – Let Go of the Rope

Let Go of the Rope, Jonah 2, Journey Church, 7-10-16

Grace can be defined as an undeserved gift from an un-obligated giver.

For grace to be offered, an offense must have occurred. Most often, the offense is overshadowed by the offender’s unwillingness to receive grace from the offended. We hold on to our faults with a death grip, but then describe them as if they have permanently leeched onto us. We are a sadistic people in this way, torturing ourselves when the pathway to freedom is simply letting go of our perfectionist mentality. When we give ourselves enough grace to make mistakes and learn from them, we open the floodgates to building real relationships and creating a community that can withstand the greatest adversity. I believe grace is the key missing ingredient that makes real friendship a fleeting phenomenon among adults.

From birth through preschool, we are all equals. Race, sex, religion, favorite color, none of this matters. We see each other as we really are, just people riding on a rock, breathing the same air and doing our best to figure out how to do this thing called life. Everyone is our friend, we welcome each other in without a second thought and play together as complete equals.

With the beginning of elementary school comes the start of organized sports and friendly competitions. My two oldest sons are baseball players, Jacob is wanting to try soccer this fall. They are beginning to find and roots of the most valuable relationships the will nurture their young lives are beginning to grow. We learn to work together, in competition with other teams who work together. The seed of competition has been planted. We being developing our smack-talk skills, boasting in our inflated perception of our abilities and emulating our favorite athletes and superheroes.

As the teenage years begin, so does a new level of  competitiveness. Sports teams are no longer pickup leagues where everyone gets to play, participants compete in tryouts. Bullies have defined their reputations and cliques take their form. Friendly banter over abilities and faults evolves into insults and hurt feelings. In high school, even more areas of competition find their way onto our plates. We compete over academics. We compare everything; skin complexion, hair styles, clothing, musical tastes, each others’ friendships. The older we get, the more meticulous we are about the comparisons. We put all our energy into creating a facade of perfection that bests even the people we care about. This competitiveness is amplified by the system, pushing the importance of SAT scores, end of course tests and making college applications the engines for yet another race to be won.

We graduate into the next chapter of life and divide ourselves further by competing over things that have potential to define the rest of our lives. If we enter the work force, we compete to be the best at what we do be noticed and rewarded more than the next guy. Those of us in college compete to establish our value in the community we’re chosen. Some compete over grades, some compete over sports, some compete over relationships, others compete for position in their own sub-communities. The philosophy we’re indoctrinated with regardless of the path we choose is that the rest of our lives will be a competition for survival. Give no grace, take advantage of every opportunity, become your own person and fight to be better than everyone else.

No wonder we have such a hard time finding friends after 25.

Small groups are the lifeblood of most new church communities. Speak with any of the core leaders and they will lay out the same reason for nurturing small groups. Friends. Small groups exist for the soul purpose of helping adults become friends, to break the mentality of competition. Friends help ease the weight of competition, but only our ability to give and receive grace will eradicate it. Without the ability to forgive and move forward, no relationship will survive.

I’ve heard it said, “when you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”  I no longer believe this philosophy is beneficial to anyone. In fact, I am sure it has locked souls into a prison of self-reliance that destroys lives.

What if you weren’t designed to hang on to a rope to begin with? What if the rope is what keeps us restrained and chokes the life out of us?

Once we can let go of everything, no more competition, no more entitlement, truly set down our selfish pride; then we can dip our hearts back into the life of innocent freedom we so easily forgot from out early days. We are still all just humans riding on this cosmic rock, doing the best we can with the time we have. Let go of your irrational and unattainable need to “do it better” than everyone else. Let go of your ropes and just enjoy the ride. God will not let you fall, if you let him take the reigns of life. Your only obligation is to live.

There’s no competing your way into happiness and freedom, there’s just setting each other (and yourself) free.

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……

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Love is…

Love is patient, love is kind…

Love is..., True Love 4, 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13. I won’t label it overused, but it has definitely become cliché’ in marriage ceremonies. Read within its context, Paul is hardly doing marriage counselling! The church at Corinth has revamped their definition of spirituality to be based upon individual talents. Those considered the most spiritual were the best at their trade, the most eloquent speakers, the wisest advisers, the most talented musicians; these people were considered the closest to God. (Does that sound eerily familiar with the modern church to anyone else?) Paul is not defining love to Corinth so that the boys know how to make the girls’ hearts melt or so that the girls know how they should expect a guy to treat them, he his blatantly rebuking Corinth for screwing up spirituality and totally rejecting what Jesus taught and died teaching.

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist in its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong-doing, but rejoices with truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Replace ‘love’ with your name in these verses. Does it describe you? Maybe a little?

Hate is impatient, hate is unkind, it is envious and proud; arrogant and rude. It insists in its own way, is irritable and resentful; rejoices in misfortune and is skeptical of truth. Hate bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thing, only when it is convenient and benefits themselves.

Replace the ‘hate‘ with your name in this version of the passage. Does it sound more or less like you? I honestly do not expect anyone to admit, even to themselves, that they are more like the second version of verses 4-7 than the first. No one likes to admit their flaws, particularly those that impact other people (like your ability to love). If you are serious about loving well, give these descriptions of love and hate to someone close to you, let them tell you which best describes the love you’re putting out.

At the end of the day, love focuses on others, hate focuses on self. Where’s your focus?

Get Up.

Throughout this in-depth look at the book of Jonah, our primary focus has been on our own similarities to Jonah; his fear, his failure, his success and his pride. Jonah’s adventure serves as more than just a fantastical story that teaches us to faithfully serve our God, even when it seems illogical, it is a direct representation of the gospel. Even Jesus drew that parallel in his time walking the earth. Jonah was called to reach a people that had rejected his own, Jesus came to reach us when we rejected him. Jonah was thrown from the boat and swallowed by the sea for three days, Jesus was thrown from humanity and swallowed by the grave for the same duration. Jonah’s presence in Nineveh led the city to redemption, Jesus’s time on earth leads the world to redemption. Jonah and Jesus take separate paths from this point forward.

Jonah’s story parallels ours at many turns as well. Jonah was prejudiced toward a people who left scars of hate on his homeland, we (whether or not we’ll admit it) have the the same tendencies toward bigotry. Jonah came face to face with his fear and ran the other direction. Our society leans upon a “path of least resistance” philosophy; if it feels good, do it, if it doesn’t, don’t. Even when Jonah conceded and accepted his responsibility to reach the Nineveh, he did the bare minimum required by God and expected substantial reward for his efforts. Going above and beyond is a lost art in modern culture while entitlement thrives. We do the least required of us in our jobs, our homes, even our hobbies, then call foul when we a passed over for that promotion, when the chores aren’t done, or when someone else earns higher honors for doing better work. We are Jonah.

The parallels of Jonah to ourselves is not limited to the main character, we often share traits with Nineveh. Nineveh chose to live by their own rules regardless of who it hurt, many of us live in the same obstinate disobedience. Like Nineveh, we have a Jonah that will lead us to redemption in the person of Jesus. The decision to follow is ours.

Our directive is simple; get up. Go. Live so that you will be missed. Where should you go? Attack that area of your life you fear most, the sin you just don’t want to let go, the characteristic that is more comfortable to keep rather than change. Once you’ve conquered your own demons, lead others to conquer theirs.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel, Romanian-born American novelist, political activist and Holocaust survivor.

Get Up. Jonah 5

Sometimes you are Jonah, sometimes you are Nineveh, sometimes you are both.