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

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The Rescue – on the Second Sunday of Advent

To free or deliver from confinement, violence, danger, or evil.

To liberate or take by forcible or illegal means from lawful custody.

On this second Sunday of Advent 2014, we celebrate Jesus’s arrival as the spiritual medevac for creation. Our captor is stripped of power, the walls that cage us compromised. Today we celebrate our rescue.

The Rescue

Today’s piece is a modern adaptation of an ancient Christian symbol, designed to pronounce Jesus as savior.

Ancient Savior SymbolDesigned by Greek artists, the center of this icon references the cross used to slaughter Jesus the man in an effort to eradicate the Roman culture of the spirit of love and social justice he lathered over his community.

The sets of letters each carry significant meaning.

IC are the first and last letters of Jesus’s name, written in Greek. Ἰησοῦς, transliterated as Iésous (ee-ay-sooce) are the names we know as ‘Jesus’ or ‘Joshua’.

IC XC NIKA

XC are the first and last letters of the title, Christ.  Χριστός, transliterated Christos (khris-tos) literally means, anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ.

NI KA are meant to be read as one word, NIKA. Nika is a Greek verb which translates into our language as ‘to conquer, win, be victorious’.

The final statement of the Christogram, ICXCNIKA, is this phrase:

“Jesus Christ is victorious.”

I have modernized the Christogram to reflect our theme for this second Sunday of Advent, “The Rescue”. Using an old, beaten and tattered work table from a furniture manufacturing plant, I cut a panel to feel like war-torn debris. The panel is cut to 33″ x 33″, representing the 33 years Jesus walked on the planet.

Using a textured, Army green spray paint, I covered the wood panel and scraped over the tacky coat to create even more textural nuances and make the panel appear camouflaged.

My central cross is the Red Cross logo. Nearly every human being from even the least industrialized nation automatically associates this logo with a rescue team, emergency relief and disaster recovery. This is the universal symbol for being rescued.

The goal at this point was to make the panel feel like it is a piece of a military emergency medical vehicle recovered from ground zero along the front lines of battle. This panel, damaged, beaten and riddled with imperfections is humanity. Our natural tendency is to focus all of out intensity on camouflaging every flaw in a sheer mask of perfection. Despite our best efforts, the truth will always shine brighter than the fabricated reality we project.

The red cross covers our facade with blatant disregard for our weak attempts to reconcile ourselves. The red is bright, it saturates every flaw and jumps off the board to suddenly draw you into itself in a sweep of fierce protection.

The letters, sprayed on like a graffiti artist’s tag in a blood red paint surround the cross that holds you secure. ICXCNIKA, Jesus Christ is victorious.

The rescue is upon us.

From Dark to Light – Advent Begins

Literally defined, the word advent is a noun which announces the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. The Christian tradition accurately applies this word as the introduction of the Creator to his creation. Our maker, our king, the explanation of our affection, our God has arrived. A critical precursor to understanding the weight of Advent is understanding ourselves and our place in the story.

The moral, ethical and spiritual struggles so many experience today are not products of social evolution, nor are they problems which cultures 2000 years our senior would find unfamiliar. The details have changed, but the root of our problem remains the same, altruism does not come naturally and the narcissistic beast which leeches itself on each of us from birth is not easily detached. Tantamount to our DNA, the common thread we share with all of our ancestors is the instinctual drive to serve ourselves, suppressing the needs of all others in order to feed our internal monster. All too late, the curtain is drawn and the true nature of the dreams we selfishly chase is exposed – to be the object of your own affection is to be alone.

History documents an endless cycle of nobility leading to egocentricity and civilized captains mutating into maniacal oppressors. All of these inflations being subsequent to the inevitable collision with ourselves which travels down every human connection in an explosive outbreak of anguish and leaves us empty. God arriving in the human form of Jesus was not the equivalent of our parent walking into our bedroom to throw down a lecture, this was your closest friend stepping into every crevice of your life and saying “I know you’ve tried and I know your mistakes. What’s past is gone, let’s do this together.” Jesus’s life was not a regulatory, administrative mission. It was the ultimate expression of love to us which set the ultimate example for us. His life was, and still is, the flame that illuminates our darkness.

No single image could ever be expected to carry the motivation for celebrating Advent much less the gravity of this man, arriving in the skin of this baby, in this place and at this time. Each week in during this season will produce a unique work of art, individually inspired to relate a specific characteristic of Advent. Beginning this season is our transition from darkness into the illumination of the light which is rising.

Focus intensely on the positive image of the painting, allowing the shapes and colors to burn themselves onto your retina.

From Dark to Light

The barren landscape feels very isolated, very cold, but also light. Loneliness tugs on your soul like the weight of an iron anchor plunging into the depths of the ocean. In simultaneous irony, the snow-covered hills reflect the lightness of the gently dancing clouds draw you closer into this world’s embrace. Peering over the frigid landscape, you almost feel a stiff winter breeze slide its icy fingers beyond the protection of your layered garments and violate every cutaneous detail you’ve worked so hard to conceal. The setting sphere appears sun-like, but its dismal blackness kidnaps all your strength in a violent back draft. What we perceived as our light has suddenly become our darkness.

After 45 seconds or more, look away from the cold landscape and toward a solid, flat surface. The inverted image will be revealed.

I lift my eyes up to the mountains, from where shall my help come from? Psalm 121:1

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Your eyes reveal an explosion of colors which jolts you into a new awareness. The dark is now light, the cold grows warm, your loneliness chased away by a new presence. The void that raped your soul of its stamina erupts with a brilliance that sheathes you like a lover’s sudden embrace. The thirst of your soul is immediately quenched by a reassurance of security so personal that it reanimates the very confidence your previous affections endeavored so intensely to extinguish. You now feel yourself standing a little taller. Air rushes through your lungs in a dance of freedom as your head raises skyward. The sun is rising, a new day beginning.

The son is rising.

This is the start of Advent.

Know Your Place

 

So God Made a Farmer, God at Work 1, Genesis 2

Think about ‘work’ for a moment…..who gets excited? If you do, either something is very wrong or the majority of the working public envies you. Where did this whole idea of working for a living start? Many Christians would say with the fall of man. Creation’s fall from grace made life hard; before sin the earth served human kind hand and foot. They are wrong.

Before Adam and Eve decided to test a different path, God placed them in the garden. Not placed like a stop on a destination cruise, placed like an assignment; and assign them He did. Genesis 2:15 specifically states, God placed them in the garden to work it and keep it. This assignment came before experimenting with the tree of knowledge. God designed our work before day one.

Why would a loving God design an exhausting, time-consuming, monotonous institution? He didn’t design it that way, we did. God blesses us and He uses us to do it. Our work is a service to others. Some vocations are more obviously “people blessing” than others. It is an undeniable fact that every job serves someone in some form. The word ‘vocation’ is derived from the root word ‘vocatio’ which means a call or summons. To perform a task as your vocation is to perform it as your call, as if you were summoned to complete that task. The flip side of that is if you do not perform your task properly, then you are not complying with your summons. An offense which temporarily revokes your freedom in the United States. I also find it interesting that, as a noun, the word ‘summons’ is to be called for a purpose. As a verb, ‘summons’ is to serve. Our work is serving others. Your vocation is your calling, but your calling is not always your career. We are each individual pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. The absence of a single piece renders a puzzle broken. With proper restraint from idolizing our work or being idol in our work, we own our piece of the puzzle to bring the image to completion.

A few Super Bowls ago, the advertising department at Chrysler designed a commercial which focused on the dirty nails, thankless labor, and relentless work of the farmer. The marketing angle was emphasizing the stage their product filled. The catch phrase that grabbed our emotions was “So God made a farmer.” The assembled jigsaw puzzle of today’s drawing contains that phrase, with minor but important details.

First, the word farmer is crossed out. Not because a farmer’s job is unimportant, but because it is not just someone else’s job. God placed you here, in the garden, to work the land. You may not be the one turning the dirt and planting the seeds, but you are working the land of your vocation.

Second, there is a hole in the image. One piece is removed from its place, not yet responded to its summons. That puzzle piece shapes the word ‘YOU’. You are the missing piece. Acknowledge your place, however mundane or insignificant it may feel. Fill your place and fill it well. God didn’t just make a farmer, God made you.

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” – Frederick Buechner

Now I’m going to go fill one of my roles; off to play ball with my boys.

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.

 

 

Easter 2014

I received the privilege of joining our worship team to add some percussive elements to the music set during our Easter worship services at North Ridge. I chose to take this opportunity to get back to playing music but to also push myself artistically, producing a unique drawing for all three services. This was an exercise in creativity as much as it was time management, since my drawing time was framed in by time on stage with the band!

Here’s what showed up:

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8:30 service

Being Easter Sunday, the message directed our focus to an empty tomb, Jesus’s resurrection and our responsibility in light of the many eye witness accounts to this being a real event and not a fairy tale.

I went surreal for the first service. The human race is given earth, nature, raw existence in creation. Jesus gives us our example for operating in this crazy train of life. We make the most of this life by following that example; liberally loving and caring for all of creation, starting with each other.

 

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10:00 service

I went literal with a twist of surreal during our second service (which I normally attend).

In this drawing, my goal is to twist your minds’ paradigm of death and the grave. The drawing depicts an ancient stone crypt with a stone slab to block the door thrown aside. As you notice your surroundings on the outside of the tomb, you feel cold and isolated. Death lies outside of the grave.

Looking through the open door into the burial chamber is like gazing into C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe. Life is abundant and inviting inside the grave. I am not suggesting physical death be our ultimate prize by this drawing, nor do I believe that’s what Jesus encouraged us to look toward. I suggest that sacrificing our selves for the sake of others should be our focus. The drawing is designed to lure you in to dying to selfishness (something Jesus repeatedly encouraged in his life). By letting go of the stress created by clawing  to fulfill yourself, you are free to breathe and then fulfill others.

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11:30 service

Finishing out the morning, I went minimalist in the last drawing. This simple phrase is a theme that started echoing in my mind during the first drawing and sums up our reason for celebrating Easter.

Chosen by love – brown and red to represent flesh and blood

Proven through love – black and blue to imply a weight of sorrow. Love is proven through sacrifice. For Jesus this meant his physical torture and execution

In order to love – yellow and purple to bring a refreshing lightness to the image. Yellow brings warmth, just like love. Purple represents royalty, referencing the position obtained by Jesus’s physical and spiritual resurrection.

This is what Easter means to Christians.

Not about bunnies and chicks, not about brightly colored eggs concealing treasures of processed sugar

(though there’s nothing wrong with having fun with that side of the holiday)

It’s only love. Unfiltered, unbiased, uninhibited, relentless, love.