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

Uphill

Everything worthwhile is uphill. Sadly, many people have uphill hopes and downhill habits. – John C Maxwell

Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I don’t know about you, but 2017 was a very long and often difficult year for me. 2017 coming to an end was life’s Christmas present to me. I welcomed 2018, but with with cautious reservations like drinking a steaming fresh cup of hot cocoa.

I am confident I was not alone in this feeling. Michael and the team at Journey are sensitive to this spirit of apprehension as well, choosing to kick off 2018 with a series titled ‘Uphill’, inspired by a quote from leadership coach, John Maxwell.

The first and most significant step in developing uphill habits is focusing on what you do. Where your feet take you (or where you allow them to go) determines who you are. One thing that life and humanity guarantees is that we will create habits in our life. Some good, some not so much. It is a mistake to consider habits lightly. Your habits are your responsibility. You define your habits, but then these same habits will define you.

You stand at the 2018 block of Another Way. You get to choose your road from here.

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The Parable of the Hole
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t
my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place, but it’s still not my fault. It still takes a long time getting out.

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there, but I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it. I walk down a
different street.
– Portia Nelson

 

Change what I do. Check. That’s really easy to say, but how do I actually do it when my habits are so deeply part of me? You must take control of your mind, be the master of your thoughts.

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Romans 12:2, 3:5-6
Ecclesiastes 10:2
Philippians 4:8-9

We are what we repeatedly do.
How we think determines how we feel.
You can’t change your behavior without changing the way you think.

Your thoughts determine your destiny

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My 11 year old son drew with me this week! His explanation of his drawing is the person is thinking of things he wants his life to be, while what is happening around him are habits he needs to change in order to make his thoughts a reality.

 

Well, ok. I am focusing on what I do and controlling my mind so it stays focused on uphill habits and not sliding comfortably back into old routines. Now what?

Keep your life aligned with your purpose.

Guardrails along the interstate are put in place to keep drivers safe. They don’t actively hold vehicles on the road, but they do prevent an accident from becoming something catastrophic. Using our actions and out thoughts, and leaning on God’s direction, we can put up guardrails that keep our lives aligned with the path we travel. That doesn’t mean accidents won’t happen, but it will ensure bumps in the road won’t change our direction.

Work of Art
εργασία
Ephesians 2:10

The Israelites marked each milestone on their journey to the Promised Land with a pile of stones, which inspired them to keep moving; at work of art to mark every accomplishment.

Out lives are God’s work of art, His workmanship. The word in today’s drawing is the original Greek, translated ‘workmanship’; or more literally, work of art.

God builds our lives as His work of art, we climb uphill, becoming our lives by living God’s work of art.

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The greatest asset to the trajectory of our lives are our relationships. The crowd we run with, the people we let into our circle. Psychology has studied social phenomenons of friendships and discovered many details about an individual can be determined simply by looking at who they hang out with. Political views, annual income, consumer habits, even the number of children you have and how healthy your most intimate relationship will be can be predicted with astounding accuracy by looking at your five closest friends in a lineup.

Relationships being our greatest asset, also makes us vulnerable to them becoming the most significant threat to our ability to grow. Choosing our relationships wisely, the ones to start, to keep and to change or end entirely, is critically important to defining our lives and holding to our path.

Uphill 4 – Choose My Relationships Carefully
Romans 12:2
1 Peter 4:7-8, Romans 12:17-18, 1 Corinthians 15:33, Proverbs 13:20, Proverbs 29:17

Nurture – Anything left on autopilot is destined to crash.
Restore – Forgiveness is not dependent on the other person’s response
Sever harmful relationships.
Initiate heathy relationships.

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We feed each other, but we also depend on each other. We are responsible for feeding each other well, and just as responsible to ensure we are being fed well.

Noah interpreted this message a little more literally than I

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Put It Down

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Having just finished up our summer series on prayer, we dove into a new focus this week; Titus – Believe. Do. The day’s message spoke to me at a very personal level. Based on the first chapter of Titus, it’s mostly words meant form me than imagery.

I lay my life down to live like Christ; but I must remember, I am not Christ. It is not my place to be anyone’s savior. I am not responsible to rescue people, even from themselves. Disappointing someone else by creating and maintaining a good relationship with myself does not make me a failure or a disappointment. It’s not my load to carry.

The gospel is not just a message of spiritual salvation, it is freedom to acknowledge and live in the light of self worth. The gospel is the manifestation of complete love; salvation lies within. 

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.

Advent 2014 – a new series

My, it’s been way too long since I’ve shared an update here. Family, friends, work, and play have all taken precedence over blogging, and rightfully so. We’re half way through the classroom side of Pharmacy school and the kids and I are having a blast being boys. In riding the roller coaster that this chapter of our lives, art has not taken a back seat, but the blog roll has!

I am excited to announce a new series that will roll our next week. I will be creating a painting for each Sunday of the Advent season this year, to be displayed during the vocal message with which the image correlates. I am insanely excited to share with you the first installment, “Dark to Light”; but I must control myself to not let the cat out of the bag too early! This piece will be like none I’ve created before and I know it will blow you away the same way it did me creating it.

Stay close! Next Sunday, ‘Dark to Light’ will be unveiled!

Give Us Clean Hands – First Wednesday Feb 5, 2014

 

Took a risk tonight and set up an easel with some mounting board, spreading out mine and the kids’ gear over two tables in the coffee lounge to create a live interpretation of the first First Wednesday service of 2014, we celebrated baptism tonight.

Baptism – a ceremonial washing, the public action proclaiming personal faith, spiritual cleansing, the start of new life

Give Us Clean Hands

Who can stand on the mountain of God? Who can scale the holy north-face? Only the clean-handed, only the pure-hearted;

men who won’t cheat, women who won’t seduce  – Psalm 24:3-4

Give us clean hands

Give us pure hearts

Let us not lift our souls to another

The representation in this piece is obvious, hands dripping in clear, clean water. When do we wash or hands? Before we eat. After we’ve been working hard. During flu season, because we don’t want to get sick. Why do we wash our hands? It prevents harmful bacteria and viruses from entering our body or transferring to another’s. It is not respectful to have dirt, grease, paint (whatever your grime of choice) caked into the grooves of your skin and fingernails when you interact with the public. It’s just plain feels good to be clean! Water does that for our skin, baptism does that for our soul.

This image hit me on Sunday afternoon, while I was posting this week’s drawing entry. I knew the plan was a baptism service, so I wanted to properly represent the most visual and personal act in the Christian faith. My art has been on a ‘hand’ kick lately, a lot of messages that have used hands in the image. I chose to stick with that theme to translate ‘baptism’ and the old worship song “Give Us Clean Hands” came to mind. Originally written by King David, the song is an ancient Psalm set to modern music.

The process of creating this piece is as representative of baptism as the piece itself. My 7 and 4 year old covered a piece of mounting board with bright hues of wax crayons and oil pastels. I strategically had them color the bottom third of the panel white, where the image would be water. With the color done, I covered the board with a thick coat of black Tempra paint and the prep work was complete. As the service began, I opened up my pocket knife and began scraping away the black paint, using an Exacto knife to create finer details of the fingers. As I scraped away the dirty facade, the beauty of the panel’s true colors shone through. As the Holy Spirit wiped the slate clean on faithful souls, freeing their colors to shine, I was freeing this image from its Tempra prison.

I finished the piece using a glossy acrylic varnish. I covered the bottom third with a solid coat, then painted the palms full. The movement of the image was completed by splattering drips of varnish below the hands, simulating the phenomena of liquid running through your fingers as you splash a handful of water on your face.

I recall my own baptism, how I knew what I was doing but didn’t entirely grasp why I was doing it. Understanding the spiritual magnitude of taking public step to, not only profess, but to present your faith in Jesus to the world brought new visions of God’s reaction. It is a misrepresentation of righteousness to suggest God sits on an extravagant throne and says “Well done, good and faithful servant.” while looking down His nose at the moment of baptism. I propose a different response. At the moment you are baptized and your heart is purified; imagine Jesus on his knees, a tear of joy trickling down his cheek as he whispers, “Child, your hands are clean.”

My boys get into creating artwork with me on First Wednesdays. They get excited the morning of the service and start talking about what they’ll draw and what they’ll use. Here is my 7-year-old’s creation for tonight. He’s learned about the history of baptism in his break-out group on Sunday mornings, how one of the original methods involved pouring water over the head of the one being baptized, this method is the subject of his drawing. He explained to me this is Jesus baptizing someone this way with the sun setting behind. I must be honest, my first thought was Jesus baptizing someone using a water balloon! Either way, this is awesome and he made me proud.

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