The Triumphant Cross – a story of life, love, sacrifice and death to rebirth told through art on Good Friday

Creative worship in the form of visual art creation has been a goal I’ve focused on for the last seven years or so, since I began keeping a visual journal of drawings spontaneously sketched to capture the message being communicated within sermons. This Easter, during the Good Friday worship service, that dream of expressing devotion through the talents God invested in me and conviction the Holy Spirit presses on me came to life in a divinely orchestrated project, The Triumphant Cross.

The service was arranged into three sections, an opening worship set, delivering the message, then a closing worship set. With careful coordination with the music selection and words of the sermon, the painting evolved throughout the service while I was physically working during the worship music sets that bookend the sermon.

The image traveled through four different stages, capturing four different messages on its way to final completion.

The starting point of the artwork was a stark white panel. White represents purity and innocence, this is the beginning of existence. Standing at the front of the stage, illuminated by spotlights and the thunder of the drum set, the bright presence of the panel on the easel is unavoidable. The panel stands unmoved, silently shouting “I am here, I am part of this”.

Meditating on an image to capture the depth and meaning of Jesus’s traumatic sacrifice on Good Friday, the pain of loss and confusion of burial in a sealed grave during silent Saturday, to the flood of joy and victory on Resurrection Sunday, my spirit was led to focus on the secure hope delivered to us through it all. One of the most secure and reassuring phrases uttered by God throughout the Bible to me is the simple statement of ‘I am’. Those two simple words are a statement of historical fact, present status, and future intent. God was, is, and is to come. This pure white panel simply states, I am.

“Before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58

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As the first worship set begins, the white panel comes to life in an array of bright colors. The worship team begins the set with King of My Heart, which is an anthem of hope and security of our life and our worth in Christ. I specifically chose the brightest oil pastels I could find to create a feeling of the work exploding to life. Large, geometrical shapes of colors familiar to Easter and the beginning of spring formed an image styled similarly to a traditional stained-glass window.

The focal point of this drawing took shape of a ‘Christmas Star’. I wanted this shape to take viewer’s minds back to the beginning of Jesus’s life, His humble and beautiful birth and the excitement of realized anticipation of a new king arriving. Full of energy and color, Jesus is alive.

King of My Heart transitioned into No Longer Slaves with a short chorus of ‘God is so Good’. As we sang of rescue and deliverance from fear, I added two small, yellow crosses in the bottom corners of the panel. These crosses rested on two green hills, then a purple hill was added at the base of the star. At this point, I began shading the edges of the star with a drab green-grey. The bland hue fights against the brightness of color used to this point. As I contaminate the image with darker shadows, the star is re-formed into a cross.

The life and energy of the star that dominated the artwork draws back into a symbol of suffering and death, arms overreaching the crosses below where the guilty hung. Life and energy are now mingling with guilt and fear.

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At this point, I pick up my paintbrush. None of the original white remains, the purity has been compromised by a mess of color that pushes and pulls against itself.

Reckless Love has been a pivotal song for this Easter season at Journey Church, for our congregation and within our worship team. As my brush travels around the panel, the colorful depiction of the cross is slowly picture-framed by heavy black. Directing my strokes to make the blackness grow, the dark closes in on the cross. Soon, the main cross in the center is the only shape remaining.

As the song leads into the bridge, I fill in rest of the image with intensity until all that remains is solid black. Everything that was once white and pure is now completely opposite, black and heavy.

There’s no shadow You won’t light up

Mountain You won’t climb up

Coming after me

There’s no wall You won’t kick down

Lie You won’t tear down

Coming after me

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The life and energy that this image contained has died and is now buried.

The panel is left at this stage while our lead pastor comes to stage and delivers the sermon he prepared. My intent was for the congregation to be left wondering at this point, confused why I would have “ruined” the colorful image I had worked so hard to create by painting it entirely black. I imagine that feeling may come close to the emotion the disciples felt as Jesus was led away by the Roman soldiers. The shock and despair of the hope found in doing life with Jesus, stripped from their foundation by the betrayal of one close to them. Then the anxiety of wondering what is coming next.

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As Michael closes the sermon and invites the congregation to respond, I return to the easel with the worship team on stage. The second worship set kicks off with When You Walk Into the Room and includes worship through communion. I begin working on the next phase of the artwork with as the song begins.

When You walk into the room, everything changes

Darkness starts to tremble at the light that You bring

As we sing these words, I use a knife to cut away the dark paint that buried the bright color. Life is returning with each stroke. I chose to carve blooming flowers out of the blackness. I studied several species of flowers and their traditional meanings while settling on the designs to reference, right up until the moments before I walked back on the stage. The focal point and largest of the flowers I chose is the open bloom of the Edelweiss. The edelweiss flower represents courage and devotion, two of the most predominant characteristics exemplified by Jesus as He laid Himself down without guilt and with the power to free Himself from the entire process.

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At the moment of Jesus’s death, the veil which separated the majority of humanity from entering the presence of God was torn from top to bottom. This symbolized the destruction of the wall separating us and opened the pathway for everyone to communicated with God on a personal and individual level.

O Praise the Name was the song chosen to finish out our worship for this night and the grand finale for this painting. As a nod back to the tearing of the veil, I dropped the knife and began tearing away a shape I had created with tape and concealed with a last coat of primer.

As I continued to peel off the tape, a historic icon takes shape.

Early in the 11th century, Carthusian monks in England designed an icon we know today as ‘The Triumphant Cross’. This icon was associated with a Latin motto, Stat crux dum volvitur orbis. Translated, this motto and the symbol communicates “The cross is steady while the world is turning”

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The circle represents the globe, while the horizontal line symbolizes the equator. The cross rests in the center of the circle, acting as the axis which the world turns on.

 

All of the colors and contamination are now removed. The innocence and purity are dominant again, standing out brighter than anything else in the image. The cross was present from the very beginning, designed into the perfection of ‘I am.’ We just couldn’t see it until we were on the other side.

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Stat crux dum volvitur orbis

The cross is steady while the world is turning

 

Follow this link to watch the full service on our YouTube channel: Good Friday|Journey Church

Walls Fall Down – summer series

Have you ever faced a season in life that makes you feel like a mouse running aimlessly through a maze, just trying to find your cheese? Better question, who hasn’t? The Walls Fall Down series attacked those mental, emotional and spiritual blockades head on. It changed my outlook on life in the process.

The first thing we must address when we feel walled in, perspective.

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Obstacles in life often feel like walls we have to climb over, navigate around, or plow through. These physically exhausting methods do nothing but drain our strength and steal our limited time. What if getting beyond a wall was much easier?

Changing your perspective from focusing on the size of your wall to the size of your God.

Then your walls becomes your path.

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Changing your perspective requires focus. Where your heart focuses, your life follows. Take a close look at the drawing below. Try to look at the entire page, dark and light, simultaneously. Read? Go….

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Tough to do, isn’t it? Our eyes are designed to work together. You can’t focus on the dark and the light at the same time. Your eyes force you to pick only one.

Which will you choose?

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Once we accept obstacles in our life as necessary parts of our story, we realize those struggles are what develops our strength.

Consider the butterfly. The fight to break free of its cocoon is what gives the butterfly the strength to fly. Without the struggle to develop its wings, this creature cannot survive the outside.

Embrace the necessity of your struggle to develop your strength to survive.

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Equally important to our perspective of the wall is seeing that we are not alone in this fight. No one is immune to struggle. There is no vaccination, no easy way around. We are all in this together. Supporting each other is the only way through.

If one brick falls, the tunnel collapses. Hold one another secure through to the other side.

Lay it Down

Moving forward requires letting go of what’s behind. Like a magnet picking up iron flakes in a Wooly Willy toy, life throw flak at us that builds up and weighs us down. Some things we hold on to, others hold on to us. Through unity and vulnerability, we can lay down this extra weight. Let go of their chains and stand tall, taking every step with your head confidently held high.

Keep moving

With our fears behind us, continue moving forward even when you can’t see what’s ahead. Michael shared the story of Florence Chadwick. Florence fought to achieve her goals and show the world what can be accomplished with determination and hard work, a 34 year old woman in 1952. Swimming 21 miles across the Catalina Channel, fog set in and she lost sight of the shore. Unable to see the finish line, she gave up and was carried to land by boat…….merely 1 mile from accomplishing her goal.

Florence began to doubt her ability. She was not able to continue under her own strength. We do the same thing to ourselves.

Two months later, under the same foggy conditions, Florence completed the 21 mile swim, breaking a 27 year old records by 2 hours. The first woman to hold this accomplishment.

Don’t give up, especially when it gets hard and you can’t see an end to the fight. Your breakthrough may be on the other side of your next step.

The Man Behind the Curtain

The Man Behind the Curtain, Ephesians 6, 10-12, Michael Trogdon

The Wizard of Oz says, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
When Jesus breathed His last, the curtain was torn.

Our enemy is the man behind the curtain that weighs us down and separates us from our Creator. We hide ourselves behind the curtain, ashamed of our failures and perceived inadequacy.

God asks, “Man, where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)

Know the man behind the curtain, but pay attention to the One on the other side.

Awakenings – a series inspiring the spiritually restless, hungry and weary to start 2017

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The first step required for any kind of change is ultimately confession, admitting a problem exists and change is imperative. Not just a private confession to God, and not within the safety of anonymity, openly presenting your personal failures to another human being at the risk of rejection (but also risking love). After 37 years on this planet, the person I have the hardest time relating to without a filter is myself. Unless we strip away the curtain  that hides the reality of our imperfection from ourselves, authentic relationships with another human being is impossible.
The Bible recounts the tale of shame entering the world in Genesis 3. The world is exploding in color and life, leading up to this point. The figures of Adam and Eve are figuring out who they are and how to navigate the world around them. Then, they get arrogant, thinking they have it all figured out. They cross a clear boundary God set for them, symbolized by taking a bite of fruit off a forbidden tree which was a step down a path not meant for them. In that moment, recognizing they failed their creator, shame blanketed them both.

In a popular Ted talk, Brene Brown tackles the nature of shame and exposes it as the root motivator of destructive and broken behavior.

Human behavior leads us to conceal our faults and avoid that which has potential to hurt our spirit, at least from our perspective. Physical threats create the option of ‘fight or flight’, but, as physical beings, we are powerless to combat threats to our spirit so we hide ourselves away in hopes of avoiding them. A child who has disobeyed their parents avoids facing the consequences of their failure by physically hiding. An employee who has failed their employer hides their mistakes by redirecting blame or covering up the error if blame is unavoidable. We naturally want to please others and avoid failure. When Adam recognized his failure, he hid himself from God. When God came looking, He did not angrily cry out “Boy, what have you done?!” or “You had better hide. Don’t come back until you get yourself right!” No; He came asking one simple question. “Where are you?”

God didn’t come searching to place blame or scold, He searched to find His creation so by seeing, acknowledging and confessing their failure, the would no longer feel like they must hide. Exposing faults, then being accepted despite them, renders shame powerless.

The key to defeating shame is finding someone you can lean on to be completely vulnerable and authentic, exposing your soul without fear of judgement or rejection. Someone who will listen while you confess your darkest thoughts and your deepest failures, loving you at your worst simply for who you are. This doesn’t mean overlooking or justifying blatant negative behavior; it is loving you through it, taking you by the hand and finding a way out of it together.

Being completely known and not being loved is a deep fear of man; being completely known and loved anyway is one of man’s greatest needs.

Risk being loved just as you are.

Wake up from your self-induced tranquilization. Where are you?

Do you want to stay there?

Week 1 made us recognize where we are at; in some, exposing truths about ourselves we’d rather ignore and confessing our role in getting us there. For week 2, we spoke about how to get moving and knowing which path to follow.

Jesus emphatically desires a relationship with each of us, but it is not demanded from us. We find and develop that relationship by following His example, obeying the life principles and philosophies He embodies. Jesus’s life and example recorded in the Bible are our map, the Holy Spirit acts as our compass.

There are many paths in life. The Holy Spirit guides us, showing us direction, but we can’t know where we’re going without also looking at the map.

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It’s not always black and white, knowing what we are leaning on for direction and which road is “right”. One thing I have learned through my life is to have multiple resources. The compass tells you what direction you are facing, the map gives you a glimpse of possible routes and the terrain that lay ahead. Using either of these tools exclusively leave you with only half the information.

Moving ahead through the this installment of our series, we’ve talked about what we need to do to awaken and free ourselves (confessing and accepting our faults) and we’ve talked about how to find our direction and move forward, stepping beyond our failures. The third installment encourages us to be confident in the steps we take and let the world see the light of our God and feel his love through our scars and brokenness.

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I’ve always been intrigued by the interwoven shapes and light refraction of broken glass. Glass is so much more beautiful and interesting after its been broken. Such is the human life. Broken glass inspired this drawing. To create this broken effect in a two dimensional drawing, I paused in the middle of creating the image to crumple and damage the page with seams and wrinkles.

No one is immune from being broken. Some of us have more scars than others, some scars are self-inflicted.
God did not give us the example of Jesus to teach us how to disguise and bury those scars, He illuminates our world when we risk being present and being seen, despite our scars, loving people without reservations or minimum requirements.

Jesus is the light, beautifully refracted through our brokenness.

 

The fourth and final installment of Awakenings was a commission to take assessment of our lives and purge it of anything that clouds our relationship with ourselves, our relationships with others and our relationship with God. The message was titled “Remove Doubtful Things”, but I believe “Questionable” is a better word than doubtful, in this case.

It is part of our nature to push our limits, to question authority and discover ourselves through experience. This is a double-edged sword that does not cut cleanly.

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Michael referenced Sodom and Gomorrah in this message this morning. The main focus of his message was about removing “doubtful” (I think questionable is a better word) things from you life to make way to be who you are designed to be in your life.

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were held to to the condition of only 10 faithful people in the entire population to avoid destruction and they could not even meet that.

The point of remembering that story is not about the cities, its not about how terrible the people in those cites were, and its certainly not to condemn specific sin.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is the story of you and me.
I am Sodom, I am Gomorrah. I it is my responsibility to look in my life to create and keep any righteousness inside me. Check your own life. Is anything righteous? Focus there.

The last four weeks have laid out methodical steps to re-awaken our complacent and sleeping souls, to come alive in who we are meant to be.

It’s time to wake up.

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.

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.