Alone Together

Self-sufficiency is an illusion.

Galatians 6

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Independence and self-sufficiency are nifty catch phrases people use with varying motivation to describe a person who can handle life on their own. Most often, these terms are used with a positive connotation: praising someone (usually oneself) for being able to supply their own needs, provide for anyone they hold responsibility, or embrace their freedom from a situation they are leaving behind. When did we become convinced that being alone in life was such an honorable position?

We are not created to do life alone. None of us.

The world Jesus is building in His model on earth is not one of compartmentalization or segregation. Jesus brought us together. He shared meals with the outcasts and spent time with the deplorables. The design of the church body is to replicate and expand this unity to embrace everyone in our communities, our nations, and to the ends of the earth. This should be easy, right? Just be nice to each other! Train each other, encourage and support each other. Simply be a good friend! Ha…..what a royal mess we’ve made of that one. Pride takes over and we let ourselves be convinced that to life is to be in competition (one of my favorite strategies implemented by Uncle Screwtape through Wormwood in C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Screwtape Letters’). We separate ourselves from each other because we are ashamed to admit we struggle with any aspect of life. Those of us who have mastered this ability puff our chest and fly in like a superhero coming to save the day by telling people how to fix their problems. Many of those experts are church leaders.

The church is not an organization and it’s not a hospital. It’s not a business or a social club. The church is designed to be a home, and your home is where your family lives. Your family, coming together with open arms, celebrating each other’s victories, dealing with its conflict, growing despite the times of dysfunction. The church is your safety. Leaning on each other’s shoulders and standing firm to have each other’s back, the church is designed to be a unified force to lead people home.

Share your load, take another’s hand and offer your own. Come home.

You are not meant to be alone.

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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.

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.

 

 

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?

The Man Code

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Men have a basic code we live by that sets our standards for ethics, morality, judgement and behavior. Unfortunately, these standards have been compromised by social pressures and manged to fit personal agendas until a boy has to be careful he’s following the correct code to be a man. ‘True Love’, week 2 cuts through the smoke and makes the path to manhood clear.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:26-28

This passage in Genesis recounts the moment humans came into existence. Now, before you stop reading, I’m not going on a Ken Hamm rant here. Today’s blog is not about the accuracy of a literal seven-day creation or the validity of evolutionary creationism. I am focusing on the established images and roles of male and female homo sapiens, specifically the me.

This passage has been totally butchered by societies for centuries. The primary flaw in these distortions is to twist this passage to be establishing a hierarchy for the home resulting in male dominance and female subservience. Insecure, super-religious men will often reference this moment in history to extort their way into power and domineer their family. The words of these verses proposes quite a different scenario. God explicitly establishes the equality of men and women in two simple phrases; “So God created man (‘man’ being a generic word for humans) in his own image…male and female he created them.”

God created men and women with equal value, but different roles. God creates both men and women as a reflection of himself (v.26), then commands them to cooperatively be fruitful and multiply, and have dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth (v.28). The concept of male superiority is imagined by the inspiration for the creation of Eve as a “suitable helper” (Gen 2:20). As we have just read, God’s process of creative development established the existence of male and female before any groundwork began, Eve was not created as an afterthought, as reading Genesis 2:20 out of context can be misinterpreted to say.

So if the Genesis creation story is a clean slate which establishes men and women as totally equal, where do men find their code for that relationship? Us men are very black and white, what are the rules? Ephesians 5:25 gives men a clear directive for relating to women, particularly in marriage. “Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Rule numero uno for a successful marriage, men? Get over yourself.

Let me break this down into a simple list for the guys out there, because that’s what we can understand. Men, your responsibility when it comes to women and your family is:

Lead. This doesn’t mean you make all the decisions or that you’re always right, it simply means you can take charge and do what needs to be done in any given situation.

Love. Real, selfless, genuine love. Mushiness not required. Need tips on what love is? Patience, kindness, keep your ego in check, honest. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Provide. Providing is a subjective role to your situation. In some cases, this means the male brings home the majority of the family income. In others, the man takes care of household responsibilities so the woman can bring home the bacon. In any case, providing is taking on the role of making the long and short term goals of your family happen. How that manifests is determined by how well you lead.

Protect. Dean gave some great illustrations on protecting this morning. Men with any hint of chivalry Naturally place themselves in positions to be protectors. What real man, upon hearing a strange sound in the house at 2am, asks their wife to go check it out? No self-respecting man ever puts a woman in danger to protect himself. Opening doors, walking on the side of traffic when you’re out on a date, picking up the check (even when it’s not a date), walking her to her car or to the door at night. The key is, none of these acts of kindness are performed with any expectation of return. You are nice because it is only natural for you to be nice, no ulterior motives. Guys, you need to teach your son’s how to treat and respect a woman. If you didn’t get those lessons growing up, learn from someone you respect, then teach it to your kids.

Honor. What is honor? High esteem, regard with great respect, fulfill with integrity, a privilege. All of these phrases apply to a man’s responsibility to a woman.

The introduction and festering of sin in the lives of men has made this and pretty much every other natural role much easier to say than to accomplish. Sin leads men to abdicate their responsibilities and abuse their authority. Instead of leading their family, sin makes men irresponsible and absent from the lives of people who depend on them the most. How often do you catch flak for the hours you put in at work or the time you spend on the ball field? Those are red flags that you are failing to lead.

Sin turns love into only a temporary physical condition. Men who dominate over their wives and children as a strict authoritarian do not know love. Cowards who prey on women thirsty for love for a cheap release then disappear at the drop of a dime, these men do not know love. Here’s a quick litmus test if you’re not sure how well a lover you are; when you enter the room, do your children (a) smile and cheer your name (b) fail to notice or (c) quietly cower where they are until you give them permission to continue whatever they were doing – either by your actions or your ignorance. If you answer anything but (a), you have a red flag to handle.

Men who do not provide for their family’s success are tangled in sin. If I asked you to list off a few things your wife dreams of one day accomplishing, could you even name one? What about your kids? Do you know what gets them excited? What they value? What goals they may have? Self-absorbed men know nothing of anyone unless it benefits themselves. If no answer immediately came to mind as answers to these questions. Get over yourself and get to know your family tonight. Pizza, root beer, and Star Wars sets the tone for me and my boys! Here again, this goes back to leading. Men who lead well, do whatever needs doing to provide.

Protect. I think we covered this one well, don’t be a wuss. Man-up and take care of your family. Protection is not just physical. It is emotional and spiritual. If you have anger issues, protect your family from yourself. Get to know God and introduce your family to him by your example.

Honor is the all-encompassing attribute for the man code, accompanied by integrity. If you respect someone, you will care for them; if you honor them, you will care for them above yourself. Integrity is knowing your principles and standing your ground. Men of integrity do not compromise their morals, even when it’s convenient. If you have no honor, or can’t spell integrity, turn in your testicles because you’re out of the man club.

Today’s opening image is a sculpture of Atlas literally carrying the weight of the world on his shoulder. The primary role of Atlas in Greek Mythology was to be the force that held the earth steadfast within the galaxy. Husbands, dads, men, this is precisely our job in the home. One of our roles is to hold our world in place within the realm of life, whatever needs to happen to keep the family going, that’s your job. Every man pictures himself in this position at some time, successfully carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Strength, integrity, honor, these are the top qualities of manhood every guy claims (but few actually own). Inside the “world” the Atlas figure carries are characteristics of Biblical manhood.

Juxtaposed to the Atlas figure is a fun house mirror. Carnival house are fun, they aren’t called “Fun Houses” for nothing! Bending a mirror distorts the reflection you see. In this case, the man code carried by the Atlas figure is distorted into the negative attributes that describe too many “men” in modern culture. Instead of honorable, loving providers and protectors, the reflection is that of insecurity, absence, irresponsibility and selfishness which then demands respect. The self-image does not match the reflection. Sin supports the mirror that tells men they are being Atlas by holding to the characteristics in the mirror.

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Men. If the way people treat us is a reflection of our treatment of them, pay more attention to your reflection that you do to yourself.

Protect and embrace the man code.

Lead, love, honor, provide and protect.

Grace. The ‘Why’ of the Incarnation.

As everything, He became nothing so that we could have everything.

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Nearing the end of our Upside Down Christmas series, we’ve tackled who Jesus is, touched on the when and where. Today we addressed the most important question. Why?

Jesus is God’s creative expression of Himself, His ultimate biological sculpture. Grace is the reason for the incarnation.

Before we go much further, what is ‘incarnation’? Incarnation is physical manifestation. In biological context, it is conception and birth. In spiritual context, it is the crossing of realms from supernatural into natural. In Christianity, it is both. Jesus, as a physical extension of God, was physically born. He became human while remaining God.

Why lower Himself to a human level? Grace. What is grace? Grace is defined many ways, based on context. Spiritually speaking, it is a virtue of God which provides for human sanctification. It is through grace that we are inspired to generously serve, to be gracious, to one another. Boiling it down, Jesus is incarnated by grace to provide an example for us to show grace.

Grace is an over-used term in modern “Christian” circles, not because it is an attribute that should be limited but because its actual definition has been so diluted that the word is misused. Grace is not synonymous with apathy, it is the apathetic’s antonym. Some will throw the word grace around when arguing the “proper” Christian position on certain, controversial social issues. Grace, without understanding is grease, creating a slippery slope of incomplete theology and leading people deeper into chaos.

Properly defined, grace inspires us to forgive people. Grace is the ability to let go of the past. Grace is our motivation to generously serve strangers.

Being a gracious person is not as easy as flipping a switch in you head. Being gracious is more than doing good things, it’s also keep your motivations in check. When your acts of generosity are limited to those whom you deem “deserving”, you are no longer being gracious. When you serve to build your reputation, you are separate from grace. When you are so frustrated by a lack of gratitude from the ones you are serve that you stop serving, you are bankrupt of grace. Motivations are more important than to God than actions. To understand grace, we must fist understand ourselves. God is not looking for obedience alone, He is concerned with our hearts and our intentions. Until we recognize how bad we really are, we will never recognize how good God is or grasp the concept of grace.

 Today’s drawing is an image of incarnation, grace, and an ignorance to grace. The positive space shows several figures with their arms raised in worship. It is a rare occasion when I raise a hand in worship. For one, I can’t draw above my head well. Unless I am so moved that my body language speaks through movements like raised arms, I feel an awkwardness about physical expression, as if I’m not sure my motivations are pure enough to raise my hand. The figure on the right shares this uncertainty, with one hand raised and his attention directed below.

The negative space brings another dynamic into view. The white space the figures appear to worship wraps around either side of the page and back under the drawing. As the shaded area separates, a figure with arms laying outstretched toward the worshipers. This figure is the Christ, manifested in physical form but still fully God. The outstretched hands support the figures spiritually and physically. Of the figures, only the self-conscious character on the right notices this support. This figure includes a highlight on its face, an detail I included to imply he sees Christ. The others are all shadows, implying they are in darkness. Worshipers n darkness? Is this possible? Unfortunately, it is. Worship is only worship if it is expressed in genuine love. Your motivations matter.

If this Christmas is a season where you’re feeling lost in the bustle or a little depressed among the seemingly happy crowds, start giving. Don’t go emptying your bank account or washing car windows at stop lights, unless you feel so led. Start simple. Take a box of cookies to your neighbor. Call that friend you’ve lost touch with. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Spontaneously start singing Christmas carols in the food court. Will it be awkward? Probably. Will it be easy? No, if it were easy, everyone would do it. Will it be worth it? Definitely. Doors to serve people on significantly deeper levels will begin open and you will find that the more of yourself you give, the more you are filled in return.

The parts of our life we will hold most dear are the parts we gave away. – Donald Miller