WE – a Journey Worship experience

Make me a vessel of Your hope. Where dreams are dead, come wake them up.

A new horizon, I feel it rising. Make me a vessel of Your hope. 

-Pour Me Out (Vessel)

This weekend has been one to go down as leaving mark on my spirit which time cannot fade. The exceptional team of creative people who make up the worship and production teams at Journey Church Asheboro planned and organized an evening of worship to unite our community in one voice and one experience with our God. The evening was full of music, spoken word, video and live and spontaneous art.

My role in planning this event was the visual art. I was set free to create as the Spirit led and use whatever methods and materials that inspiration demanded. I prepared in tight coordination with the worship band and selection of music for the night. As the team was led to songs for that night, a theme began to appear; freedom. I spent weeks reading and meditating on the concept of freedom. What does it mean to be free? What binds us and fuels our deep longing to find and embrace freedom? Why does freedom matter? What does freedom look like?

The more I tumbled over this concept, the broader my range of possible subject matter became. I thought of open landscapes, blue skies with gentle cumulus clouds mingling leisurely together. Next, birds in flight, the ultimate cliche image for freedom. My mind traveled to Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth. I thought of blues and wispy grays, colors of calm and freshness. Despite all my ideas, none seemed to entirely capture experiencing freedom. That’s when it hit me; freedom is too large to be adequately communicated in one image. Freedom is not domesticated. It is far too wild to be contained. Freedom is a scandal. Freedom is an experience.

The only way to properly convey freedom in an art form is to lead people in an experience of it. The art I create on this night could not be a planned with an end-goal image in mind. It would have to be abstract, I would have to move quickly but intentionally, and it must be completely spontaneous. The only preparations I made was selecting my medium.

I am always pushing myself to try new methods and experiment with ways of reinventing old ones. I had used spray paint in art before, but always used it “safely” by spraying large areas or creating stencils to tame the spray stream. This time, I would allow the full breadth of the spray stream to behave freely. I also find acrylic pours and the uninhibited dance of acrylic pours and ink on ceramic tile exciting, but not braved those methods. I chose to combine these methods and discover how they could partner  together in a marriage of freedom and abstraction. After purchasing acrylic and watercolor canvases, my adventure into freedom began and the results were a beautiful mess. Like any good science experiment, the initial messes gleaned fantastic discoveries and refined processes. I was almost ready to share this experience with any eye who will see.

With my method and medium set, I developed a corner of our worship center into my studio for the night. With a table from the a preschool classroom, industrial trash bags from the kitchen and a $14 floor lamp from Walmart, art was ready to commence.

Work space.jpg

The creating corner was set adjacent to the worship band so we could watch each other and coordinate how we would experience this night individually into a unified, corporate experience. The very fluid medium I used required the canvas lay flat, which posed a visibility problem which was crucial for this experience. Using a GoPro camera connected to a TV, everyone in the worship center could watch the art come to life as paint hit the canvas.

Setup.jpg

Knowing speed I’d be moving and the minimal coverage required to complete the practice images, I brought multiple canvases to use throughout the night. Our intro song was ‘Here as in Heaven’. Lighting played a crucial role in setting the stage for this worship experience, so I soaked in this song, preparing my heart and mind for action and waiting to illuminate my work space. The first line of this song, “The atmosphere is changing now. The spirit of the Lord is here.” was an invitation for us to encounter our Creator and for Him to engage with us in this moment.

Exodus 40-34

As the band began playing ‘Reckless Love’, I clicked my power strip switch to the ‘on’ position, electricity surged into the filament of my lamp’s bulb and the TV began projecting the blank canvas facing me.

The line in ‘Reckless Love’ that strikes me deep and explodes in my spirit is the start of the bridge, “There’s no shadow You won’t light up, mountain You won’t climb up, coming after me.” These lyrics inspired the first painting of the night,

Reckless Love.jpg

‘Reckless Love’ was followed by ‘Spirit Lead Me’, a song which has quickly become a favorite of mine to play and worship though. Following the heart of this song, the second painting was truly led by the Spirit. This one is layers of ink, reacting to rubbing alcohol, then masked by spray paint and layered again. We entered a short speaking time once the song closed, where I continued to let the image flow out of me.

Spirit Lead Me.jpg

Our experience of worship and freedom continued as the band returned to play “Pour Me Out (Vessels)” – incorporating the lyrics at the start of this blog, and “King of My Heart.” I began the third painting with a spray painted base, then pouring rubbing alcohol directly on the canvas and allowing it to pool randomly. The alcohol reacts with the acrylic ink to give it the freedom to dance and swirl together. The spray paint reacted more subtly (I used a sugar-based, odorless spray paint). “King of My Heart” inspired the crown-like swath of black and yellow ink in the bottom left corner.

Pour Me Out-King of My Heart

We finished the night with four tracks that include our most recent favorites and energizing songs in our repertoire, “Love Has a Name”, “Stand in Your Love”, “Glorious Day” and (to cap the experience and underscore our objective) “Freedom.”

This final canvas was the largest of the four painted that night at 27″ x 27″ (the previous three were each 16″ x 20″). I incorporated all the methods used in the other paintings on this final production; using found objects as stencils, pooling alcohol before applying ink, pushing ink to spread and combine by blowing through a straw, and layering the medium. Inspired by “Love Has a Name”, this painting includes a name; YHWH (pronounced yah-weh), a Hebrew name of God. In “Freedom”, we sang “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!” The bottom right corner in this painting displays an icon which represents the trinity, and the complete manifestation of the nature and spirit of God. It is a Celtic triquetra knot, which is interpreted to represent the union of mind, body and spirit. It is also the layout of the Venn diagram, which exposes the principle of primary and secondary color theory, where primary colors combine to create secondary and all colors unite to become absolute white.

Love Has A Name-Stand in Your Love-Glorious Day-Freedom

Dance like the weight has been lifted, grace is waiting.

Come out of the dark, just as you are, into the fullness of His love.

Oh, the Spirit is here, let there be freedom!

Let there be freedom.

-Freedom

In Action-Instagram

“It’s not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular,

it is why he does it.”

– A.W. Tozer

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Out From the Shadows

From the Shadows.jpg

John 8:12

What is the point of confession? Isn’t it just a twisted form of religious masochism, laying out all your mistakes to be flogged by everyone more “righteous” than you? That’s what the church really thrives on, isn’t it? Pointing out how Jesus has made them much better humans than the rest of us? Anyone who admits failure is made an example of, “SEE! You don’t want be like that guy, look how humiliating his sin is! Don’t throw your life away like that.”

I had a conversation with a friend recently about this very thing.

Have you ever been in the dark? I mean really dark. A space where literally zero light is present. I have. Touring Linville caverns in the mountains of North Carolina, our guide led us to an area deep in the mountain where we reached the water bed which slowly carved out the space we stood. After a word of warning, the guide turned off all electric lights. This was my first experience with true blackness. Even when you hold your eyelid shut while lying in bed at night, your mind do not experience this depth of darkness. In color theory, our minds perceive color when the receptors in our eyes receive light waves. White is the translation of receiving all spectrum wavelengths (all possible colors) at once. Every color we name ‘black’ is really just a shade of another color. Stare closely and your mind will begin to decode the light waves and pull out the hint of blue, yellow or red that is present in the deep hue you are looking upon. True black is only possible where no light waves can enter. In this cave was true black.

Something else was present in this cavern. A life form that called this space home, somehow thriving in the blackness. Trout.

These trout lived in blackness for all of their existence (until humans interfered and added electric lights for tourists). Surviving in utter darkness, the biology of the trout began to change. Just as our senses will strengthen and compensate when one of the five are lost, senses which go unused dissipate from lack of use. The trout which lived in this cave were blind.

What does any of that have to do with confession? Being consumed by darkness.

Confession is less about someone hearing us as it is about us hearing ourselves. God doesn’t need us to tell Him when and how we mess up, He watches it happen. It’s no surprise to Him. When Adam and Eve hid in the garden, God came asking “where are you?” Do you really think God was stumped in a game of hide-and-seek and couldn’t see the couple crouching under a mass of palm leaves? Not hardly. This question was fired directly into Adam’s heart. Where did you go? What happened to the man I made you? How did you lose your identity? Genesis 3:8-10

Darkness is heavy. There is a weight to it we feel in our emotions and through our spirit. The longer we spend under that weight, the more it effects our physical body as well. Heads hang, shoulders slump and backs become arched. Setting does this weight and escaping the dark frees us to stand with our head raised again.

Jesus is the light of the world. Confession is an invitation to bring that light into your life and illuminate every part of you; the good, the bad, and the repulsive. God isn’t interested in a clean and polished fabrication of the best parts of ourselves. He wants every piece of us.

Law reveals guilt, love reveals grace. The smallest source of light can chase away darkness. No amount of darkness can be added to conceal light.

 

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

confess

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.

the-road-to-obedience

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.

be-seen

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.

is-anything-righteous

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.

Rise

Rise, Jonah 3

As Jonah’s story continues, we find him washing up on shore and being faced with the exact same call that made him run to sea to begin with. Go to Nineveh.

Jonah rejected God, then he ran to escape his shame. In his shame, he brought torment on his companions and was thrown overboard. Alone and desperate, it still took Jonah three days to turn to God in prayer. Tossed onto shore, Jonah pulled himself up from the sand, only having to face the very thing that caused him to run in the first place. Yahweh is a God of second chances. When we turn our back on him, he will always bring us back around to the place we rejected him and give us another chance to change our mind.

When Nineveh repented of their brutal sins and warped worldview, they buried their heads in sackcloth and ashes to symbolize their mourning. Imagery of rising out of ashes is often used to describe coming out of a dark time. Ashes are more than just the leftover matter of what used to be, ashes are a valuable cleansing system. Charcoal filtration has been used to produce clean drinking water since the Ancient Egyptians in 2000 B.C. When contaminated water is poured through a charcoal filtration system, the pores of charcoal capture pollutants, allow the beneficial materials pass and exit as clean drinking water on the other side. Ashes have the same affect on our lives. When we fall and parts of our lives burn, it is a time to mourn, but also a time to grow. The ashes of what was captures the pollutants that have worked their way into our lives. As we rise, we are also purified; brought back to the place where it all began in order to begin again.

Today’s drawing is rising up from the ashes. The figure is strong, but humble. They were beaten, but not defeated. New life is rising from the old, more powerful and confident than before.

Burning to ashes is not punishment, it is graduation into new life.

Rise and embrace renewed strength.