Powell Manhood Ceremony

This weekend, I received the honor or participating in a birthday celebration that was the start of a tradition that fathers of pre-teens will continue as our guys transition from boys into men. Using a medieval model of a page or squire’s transition into knighthood, The elder (did I seriously just refer to myself as an elder?!) men who influenced this young man’s life during his fourteen years spoke our wisest encouragements and charges to compile a code for strong, influential and Christian manhood. Along with my contribution to the man code, I also participated by commemorating the event with spontaneous visual art.

My first objective for the piece I would create was something that represented the young man’s boyhood. I’ve known him for the last five years, in that time it became quite obvious among his top passions is playing baseball. Using an image shared on social media with a Sports Illustrated-worthy pose (wearing his baseball uniform, echoing his #4 with his right hand), I re-created his silhouette using spray paint on a plywood panel. Quite honestly, I was hesitant to continue with the piece because I was so pleased with the panel at this point! (kind of Banksy, don’t you think?)

Powell Manhod Ceremony starting image

The men commenced to taking turns speaking into this new man’s life, encouraging him in some areas and teaching him in others. As each man spoke, I listened intently for the key words appearing in our code for manhood. Using oil pastels and a graffiti style, I applied these words over the shadow of the boy that once was to signify the foundations of the man who will be.

DSCN2624

Courage, character, faith, blessing, respect, strength, integrity, excellence – qualities that define a man.

Let It Go

Let it go

A call to discipleship is a call to service. Pride serves one, humility serves all.

Matthew 19

“If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor  and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.” – Jesus

Boldly confess your need while humbly believing it will be met.

Pride, possession, stature, reputation, will……you fill in the blank. Your blank is the bird you fight to control. Let it go.

Steadfast

North Ridge entered 2012 by partnering with Port City Church in an initiative called My One Word. My One Word is a program where an individual methodically selects a single word, an attribute to which the aspire, to focus on becoming throughout the year. This single word replaces the cumbersome list of New Year’s resolutions that are all broken by Valentine’s Day. My word for 2012 began as ‘bold’ and honed down to ‘speak’ before the year’s end. You may remember seeing drawings from the sermon series (check out the My One Word link in my past series cloud if you are new to Plasso).  Several of us who found success in emulating our words last year chose to re-up on My One Word in 2013. My word for this year – steadfast.

Steadfast – fixed in direction, firm in purpose, unwavering, firmly fixed in place or position.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  James 1:12

Our family of five will be embarking on an adventure this year that we will be a ride that lasts the next four. We are letting go of a safe, consistent income so my wife can return to school full-time. She has been teaching biology in public high school since the fall of 2001. The increasing government regulations and bureaucratic meddling is effectively driving all the quality teachers out of the public sector, Julie is adding her name to their casualty list at the end of this semester. This time of spring in 2017, she will graduate as a licensed pharmacist.

To be quite honest, I chose this word focus on for all four years of the PharmD program! Letting go of the teaching position is the least of my concerns, I’m actually relieved to be free from the toll that career path takes on the teacher’s family. I encourage any young person who asks my opinion on their projected career path to avoid teaching if they also see family in their future. The nation’s public school system is in a sad state, driven by statistical algorithms instead of actual effectiveness. The mountains of paperwork and loathsome hours wasted keeping up with the requirements of this bureaucratic mess have changed the landscape of public teaching.  No longer is it a honorable career path that opens the door to significantly impacting children’s lives. It is now a contractual marriage to a thankless job that demands higher priority than any other aspect of the teacher’s life. 12 years of experience as a teacher’s spouse (2/3 of one year testing out the job personally) created my opinion and nearly every person I speak to who are also (or were formerly) married to a teacher corroborate this position. I am at least as equally excited as Julie that her professional divorce from teaching will be finalized in thirty days.

Our objective now is maintaining the household while she becomes a commuter student  and fulfills a dream to enter the medical field which was alive when we met 16 years ago. Remaining steadfast.

Those of you who follow this blog know how my mind works, or at least are familiar with its results. Steadfast is more than just my word until 2017, it is also an image that is burned into my mind and hangs on the wall above the desk where I type.

Steadfast
Steadfast

Steadfast is composed of three 12″ x 16″ canvases. I used four 8-penny nails to hold each panel in place. Once the shape was created, I began painting. The primary emotion I wanted to convey was agitation. The first layer of the painting was a very dark, midnight black with just a touch of blue. To experiment with media (and a bit out of necessity when I realized I was out of blue acrylic at the time), the under-painting of this piece is tempra.

I made sure to purchase all the black and blue I could need for the outer layer of this piece. Using long, fast, borderline violent strokes horizontal strokes, I imagined myself inside a tornado seeing the wind and debris swirling around my head. Various shades of blues and blacks concealed the dull under-painting. Stepping back to look, I was quite pleased (and a little out of breath) when this sitting was complete.

The final piece of this painting was to take a Jackson Pollock sort of spin like I used in ‘Torn‘ and literally throw some highlights of orange, yellow and white onto the dark canvas. Hosting a party to break the mundane-ness of January changed my direction. Once complete, ‘Steadfast’ had a hole to fill over the computer desk in our living room. It is not a direct focal point in our party-gathering space, but leaving the space empty would stick out like a sore thumb. Though incomplete, I hung ‘Steadfast’ for the party. This proved to be a defining choice for the piece and my understanding of my word.

We have can lights in the ceiling in our living room and the wall above our computer desk is an ideal location for artwork without glass because the piece is perfectly illuminated. ‘Steadfast’ was no different. The piece looks amazing in this location; the lighting makes the subtle light blues pop against the darker hues. The light also added another unexpected dimension. Reflecting against a sheen I only guess was created by painting acrylic over tempra, a streak of almost white yellow slithers its way down the paint and gives the image the same likeness as a calm, moon-lit lake.

Steadfast (no flash)
Steadfast (no flash)

A good friend who is a creating in his own right as a writer (check out his work here) admired the piece and we discussed the background, the creative process, and the future plans for the piece. Jason made a profound suggestion; leave the image as is for 2013, but revisit it each year and modify the image as your understanding of remaining steadfast evolves. Pure creative genius. I am doing as he suggested and practicing steadfastness by leaving the image alone until next January.

What began as an agitated, chaotic whirl-wind with three canvases holding on for dear life became the most peace-filled, calming image I can recall ever creating. Through the process of creating this piece, God showed me that remaining steadfast is not just exemplified in a soldier on the front lines of battle who yells to his comrades to stand their ground. There is a peaceful, calm side of steadfastness as well. Keeping your cool under stress, refusing the urge to worry when anxiety comes knocking, declining the part-time, third shift job I was offered to supplement the income and remaining faithful that ends will meet without sacrificing my presence with Julie and the boys. This is me remaining steadfast.

Steadfastness for you could manifest in a thousand different ways. Steadfastness is maintaining your integrity and standing your ground. While at times it will be a fight against adversity, there is a peacefulness to be found. Peace as a result and peace within.

Peace runs deep, deep in Him.  – ‘Train Song’ Josh Garrels

Temptation – He’s Walked a Mile

1-5-13, Follow Me, Temptation- He's Walked a Mile

 

Happy New Year everyone! Our first series of 2013 is a study of the book of Matthew. We actually began working our way through this gospel during Christmas and are continuing on through the book.

Today’s focus is on Matthew 4:1-11, the initiation of Jesus’s ministry and his temptations in the desert. Before we focus on the specific temptations Jesus faced, let’s first clearly acknowledge the state of the world we live in. There are two realms in our reality, one physical, the other spiritual. We are in the midst of spiritual battles on a daily basis, independent from our recognition. Every time an inclination to act a negative impulse, we are being tempted. Each temptation is much larger than a red devil whispering in your left ear while Bugs Bunny whispers in your right. Spiritual warfare operates using the same strategic moves as physical war, temptation is a direct attack from one side on the other. Since you are directly associated with God, being his creation, you are in Satan’s cross-hairs. As your relationship with your maker grows tighter, the target on your back grows larger. Unfair, you might think? Are we just collateral damage in a spiritual war, targeted simply because we were born? Combat tactics. Satan knows that by subduing a person who is overtly associated with his enemy, he can generate “recruits” (people who vehemently reject God due to the failure of their peers).

This experience of temptation is not unfamiliar to God. Jesus faced temptation during his physical life, the same as we do. Unlike us, he faced them all successfully, never succumbing to Satan’s tease. Understanding this is imperative to embracing a personal relationship with Jesus because it affirms that he is a person. In today’s passage, Satan tempts Jesus in three specific areas; physical needs, personal security, and his status as Messiah. With a series of perries and thrusts, Jesus rejects each enticement and exits the desert holding his head high, integrity unscathed.

I went and saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with my wife and sister during the Christmas holiday, and begun reading the novel on my new tablet. Julie and I are working our way back through the Lord of the Rings trilogy now as well. With Tolkien on the brain, I chose to represent our tempter the same as he in today’s drawing; the dragon’s eye in the background.

The second reference in today’s drawing comes from a song released by Clay Crosse in 1997 entitled ‘He Walked a Mile in My Shoes’. The song is a story of Jesus’s relationship to us, taking our place to pay the debt we incurred to God by turning our back on him. I helped lead and perform a dramatic interpretation to this song with a group in college that consistently resonated with our audiences. With that song and skit in mind, I created the foreground for the drawing. An old, worn, ragged pair of Chuck Taylors.

Whatever temptations you face now, or will cross your path in 2013; he’s walked a mile in your shoes. He’s been there, he’s shown us the patience, self-control, and forethought required to stand strong in those situations and offers them to us. It’s now your responsibility to take hold and use them.

 

In the Storeroom

Prayer is the spiritual life-blood of a Christian. Direct, intimate, honest conversation with the Creator is critical to maintaining proper balance in life. So how does this whole prayer thing work? Are there certain buzz-words I can use to guarantee positive results? How many times do ‘God’ or ‘Lord’ need to be used so that my prayer is acceptable? Questions like these are not only common, but they haunt the subconscious of even the most devoted Christians. The sad thing is, using questions like these to gauge the effectiveness of your prayer life are a lead weight around its neck. This is why we are starting a new series today aimed directly at weeding through the over- (and under-) spiritualized mess our opinions created. The next few weeks will interpret a series titled, ‘How To Pray’.

Jesus knew, better than anyone possibly could, the confusion that surrounded the mechanics of praying as he walked the dirt. So much that he found it necessary to include specific instructions during one of his most famous lectures, the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:5-9

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues or on street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go in to your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father sees what is done in secret and will reward you.

And when you are praying, do no use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

Pray then this way;

Jesus goes on to create what we now know as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, but that’s far enough for today’s message.

Let’s start from the top, verse 5. Do not be a hypocrite (well, duh)……standing and praying in the synagogues and on street corners so they can be seen (huh?). The religious élite of the day earned their ranks being the loudest or the most animated; ultimately the most popular. Their popularity among their peers is their reward, the obvious achievement of their goal. Once again, the critical importance of motive arises. Man is concerned with what you do, God wants to know why. Praying loudly, even praying publicly is certainly acceptable, provided your motives are externally driven.

We now know how not to go about praying, so what are we supposed to do instead? Go into your inner room and shut the door. Okay, so I need to shut myself into the central-most room in my residence as if the National Weather Service just issued a tornado warning? Well, sort of. The original Greek word being used here for ‘room’ is directly translated ‘storeroom’. Residential architecture in this time period was obviously more primitive than modern architecture; no central air, the whole dwelling essentially a mud room. Doors and windows were simply openings, providing easy access to rooms, but also constant ventilation to the house. Only one room in the dwelling included a working door, the storeroom. The purpose of a storeroom in residential architecture is exactly what it sounds like, to store household valuables, including food storage. Jesus communicated importance of intimate, private conversation with God by equating it to the contents of the most guarded room in every home. Pretty heavy stuff.

Last, to the nuts and bolts of a prayer, the actual words to use. Don’t be like the Gentiles who believe the wordier the better for effectiveness. God already knows what you need, He’s just waiting to hear your acknowledgement. I once attended a church where one of the pastor’s popular picks for closing services was a guy who opened and closed every phrase with ‘God’, ‘Lord’, or an occasional combination of both (I suppose to mix things up). EVERY PHRASE. Despite being some of the longest public prayers I’ve endured, it was slightly entertaining to tally how many times ‘God’ or ‘Lord’ could be mentioned in a single prayer. This guy is in undisputed ‘God, Lord’ champion. Be real, that’s all God asks. The language we use as we pray shouldn’t be any different from when we talk to our best friend. God knows everything you’re thinking as you pray, your words don’t need further explanation (for better or worse).

I’ve interpreted today’s message in a literal drawing. The figure is closed in a room, obvious by the closed door in the background. The darkness implies solitude, the figure is closed in the room alone. As the figure kneels, it throws its head heavenward and grasps its chest in Superman fashion, opening its soul. Further inspection of the image reveals the figure is tearing its own heart open. The bright rays of light explode from the figure’s core in a vulnerable surrender of its total being.

Honest, intimate, private communication with God, in your storeroom. This is sustenance to a devoted life.

The Eight Portraits of Joseph

Joseph, adored by his father, despised by his brothers, owned by his enemies, employed by a foreign king, then reunited with his family – it’s not about you.

Week 4 of It’s Not About You took us back into Genesis to study the life story of a man that mimics Jesus himself, Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph. The message today actually inspired two images, both requiring color in order to communicate properly. Instead of posting the concept drawings and notes I made during worship, I created a digital drawing of each image to translate what went on in my head.

8 Portraits of Joseph - watermarked

The Eight Portraits of Joseph

The core of Joseph’s life progresses through eight key stages, eight separate chapters of a life, eight portraits of a man.  As Ray was teaching us about each stage of Joseph’s life, I spent time contemplating on the emotional and physical environment where Joseph found himself, settling on a color to adequately represent that stage.

Portrait 1: The Favorite Son 

Portrait one is yellow; bright, warm and comforting. As Joseph’s story begins, he is the favored son by his father, Jacob (that’s Jacob that coerced his father, Issac, into giving him the birth rights due to his older brother, Esau. Yeah, that Jacob). Joseph’s in a pretty good place. As a sign of his esteem, Jacob has an elaborate coat made for Jacob, the garment we know as the “coat of many colors” (subtly alluded to in the overall image). All things considered, Joseph has it made.

Portrait 2: The Despised Brother

Portrait two is a drab, dark green; symbolizing discontent and envy. Joseph is not an only child. Naturally, his siblings do not appreciate the favoritism he’s receiving from their father, Jacob. The flashy coat was the last straw in a long line of offenses. With Judah instigating the deal, Joseph’s brothers devise a plan to remove him from the equation and earn their father’s favor by default. Joseph will be sold into slavery, his coat strategically torn and dipped in an animal’s blood, and the trail covered by explaining how Joseph was torn to shreds by wild animals to their father. The plan seemed impeccable.

Portrait 3: Enslaved

Portrait three is a drab, dark green; drab to make you taste the awkwardness experienced by Joseph’s brothers, green to symbolize the envy that awkwardness spawned. Judah and his brother’s observed a caravan of Ishmaelites passing through on their way to Egypt and chose to capitalize on an opportunity to get rid of Joseph without carrying the guilt that would follow murder. For twenty shekels of silver (about $228 USD in today’s conversion rate), life as Joseph knew it was over. He became legal property to a band of foreign traders. Jacob was destroyed at learning of the “death” of his beloved Joseph, to the wrath of wild animals, as his other sons re-told the scene.

Portrait 4: The Pure Servant

Through every stage of Joseph’s life, his constant was purity. Purity in body and in spirit in complete devotion to his God. Pure white, the universal symbol of purity, the fourth portrait of Joseph.

Upon reaching Egypt, Joseph’s ownership changed hands; the Ishmaelites sold him to the captain of the Pharaoh’s guards, Potiphar. Joseph, a hunk in modern vernacular, drew the eye of Potiphar’s wife. She immersed herself in the pursuit of Joseph’s body, taking control of a moment when her husband was absent to seduce the object of her lust. The scenario did not play out with Joseph becoming Mrs. Potipher’s Mr. Grey, like she had hoped. Joseph ran, as his master’s wife literally tore the clothes off his body! Enraged by the rejection she’d experienced, Potipher’s wife created a scene using Joseph’s clothes, accusing Joseph of attempting to rape her and condemning him to prison.

Portrait 5: The Slandered Prisoner

As a result of his devotion to purity, Joseph was imprisoned in, what I imagine as a dank, dirty environment. Dusty, blue-grey was the only color I imagined to represent the coldness Joseph must have felt in this chapter of his story.

Joseph’s life and legal status changes once again, he is now property of the Egyptian government, as an inmate. While serving his time, some of the pharaoh’s servants are imprisoned with him. Joseph brings out one of his innate big guns, and interprets the dreams of the two servants; a cup bearer and a baker. The dreams become reality, as Joseph predicted, and the cup bearer was restored to his position, beginning to create a path for Joseph into the royal court.

Portrait 6: The Celebrated Leader

Purple, the rarest, most expensive dye in Joseph’s culture; obtainable only by royalty. Now a member of the royal court, Joseph’s sixth portrait is purple, but not free of some subtle dark streaks to remind him of his past.

Despite being forgotten by the restored chief cup bearer, Joseph receives an opportunity to interpret a dream for the Pharaoh himself. His successful interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream earned him a get out of jail free card, straight into the Pharaoh’s employment, as governor over Egypt, no less. Distributing food in Egypt, during the seven-year famine predicted through Pharaoh’s dream by Joseph, becomes a responsibility of the governor and leads into the next portrait.

Portrait 7: The Brother Who Restores

The color for portrait seven didn’t come quite as easily as the others, how can a color represent the emotional release of restoration on its own? I thought further about what Joseph restored and the catalyst for its restoration. He restored his family through food distribution. Red and yellow are colors proven to inspire hunger (hence major fast food chains utilize them in the marketing designs), what color results from combining red and yellow? Orange. To represent the dirtiness of restoring a broken family, particularly this family, streaks of brown flood the orange hue.

As Joseph is distributing food in Egypt, familiar faces approach from the line of families praying for food; the faces of his brothers. Joseph is face with a choice, given his position. Feed the men who are his family by blood, or condemn the men to sold him into slavery and completely altered the course of his life to certain starvation by denying them the rations they wait for. His presence unbeknownst to his brothers, they approach and reach for their portion. Joseph stops them and accuses them of being foreign spies and locks them up for three days, despite their denial of any conspiracy. Joseph has a plan.

Portrait 8: The Reunited Son

Joseph’s story now comes full circle, back into the arms of his father Jacob along with the rest of his family. To symbolize this, the final portrait mirrors portrait one, the same warm yellow.

At the end of the three day stent in the Egyptian prison, Joseph reveals his identity and offers a deal to his brothers. Return home with enough food to feed their families, but leave the youngest brother behind. Confess to Jacob all that has happened and return for both members of their family.

These eight portraits of Joseph’s life are a foreshadowing of another’s, Jesus. From his rightful place at his father’s side, to despised by his brothers, sold into  captivity, brutalized despite his purity, justified his accusers by his mercy, and now back at the right hand of his father.

What else can we learn from Joseph’s ordeal besides the imagery predicting Jesus? God is sovereign, no matter your situation. We have a responsibility to perform the tasks God directs us toward, but his sovereignty follows the mission through to completion, even when we drop the ball. Judah was the instigator of Joseph’s plight. Jesus is a direct ancestor of Judah. Despite Judah’s envy and poor decision-making, God’s son was born out of his blood line. God’s sovereignty is balanced with our responsibility.

Sovereignty Balanced With Responsibility - watermarked

The background of this image is a deep, heavy blue which reflects the weight of our personal responsibility. Our success or failure at fulfilling our responsibility can bring us pleasure or it can result in pain. Judah’s irresponsibility brought with it pain; first for Joseph, then for himself. God’s sovereignty opened the doors for his ultimate mission, delivering the Messiah, to succeed through Judah despite his failure with Joseph. God’s providence is the only foundation we have for experiencing pain in life. As we learned during week one, God doesn’t owe us an explanation, even for our pain.

God’s sovereignty flows like a waterfall over our responsibility. The flow separates at the top of the image, curling back together as it splashes against the bottom of the page. Turning the image upside down reveals a heart shape forming over our responsibility. Further inspection of the heart reveals the updraft of the waterfall of sovereignty impedes on the center of the heart, breaking it in half. Like any good parent, it pains God when a child fails and must experience the consequences of their actions. With greater ability than any other parent, God’s sovereignty allows an ultimate goal to be accomplished through the consequential pain.