16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
I heard a news clip this weekend reporting a political debate on rising gas prices; one side compared the amount of fuel production to consumption in America compared to the rest of the world while the other followed up with the size of the American GDP versus that of other countries. If there’s one thing we can link to America, it’s consumerism. A second story I heard last week reported the results of a study on the values among the Millennial generation’; here’s a quote from that story:
While “there are certainly individual exceptions” to this image of young adults, she says, “overall, the pattern is pretty clear.The trend is more of an emphasis on extrinsic values such as money, fame, and image, and less emphasis on intrinsic values such as self-acceptance, group affiliation and community.”
The state of “having” is among the top ten of American idols. The more we have, the more we want. The more we see our neighbors get, the more we think we deserve. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, angling to find something we’re lacking. Finding out what ‘it’ is initiates an insatiable desire to get it.
Paul revealed the key to happiness when he wrote these words:
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
Happiness is not found in having more than the other guy. Happiness is being content with what you already have. Break the switch inside you that clicks on every time you start to feel content with your belongings, your salary, your family, yourself; whispering “you deserve better”. Kill your ‘more’ button. In the words of Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
Several messages have come together to inspire my latest piece which also happens to represent my word for the year; bold. Last week, North Ridge started a new series titled Bold. In the first message, we discussed the experiences of Peter and John at the hands of the Sanhedrin in Acts 4. After publicly proclaiming the gospel and healing a lame beggar, Peter and John were jailed and abused by the governing authorities. In a political move to avoid public chaos, the Sanhedrin chose to release them with the strict warning to stop talking about Jesus and his recent resurrection. After receiving word of their release, the believers close to Peter and John prayed for their journey back; not for safe travel, but asking the Holy Spirit to instill the boldness to continue healing, sharing, and proclaiming to the public, despite the severe punishment for doing so that the Sanhedrin assured. This inspired me to create an image of what that kind of boldness must look like.
Step one to creating this piece was applying a crackled background texture using varying tones of India ink wash and newspaper. Adding an ironic twist of modern social issues to this creation, the paper I used to create this texture included a front page article reporting an increase in childhood poverty in my county. I applied the darkest hue of ink wash with a wide brush using diagonal upward strokes, creating a sense of movement from the bottom of the page toward the words representing culture.
In the next layer of the background, I wanted to represent surrounding culture; not necessarily as it is, but as it is perceived by many. This led me to choose the words ‘people’, ‘heathen’ and ‘the world’. Linking this reference to culture to that of 2000 years ago, so I wrote my selected words in Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic; the original languages of the Bible and its Middle-Eastern setting.
Painted across the center of the mounting board is a single word. The word is written in Greek, pronounced ‘laos’ and translated ‘people’. Next came ‘the world’ and ‘heathen’ written in Hebrew and Arabic over top of laos. I finished this layer of the background with one English word, ‘UNCLEAN’. I added this word to mirror the gut reflex of facing anything we do not comprehend. At face value alone, the mere presence of foreign text can conjure up emotions of fear, anxiety, and possibly even contempt without ever translating it into one’s native language. Once translated, the words heathen, people, and the world are often used in the context of competing with Christianity and the church. As the layers show, those we perceive as unclean or heathens are still people.
In my first post for 2012, I laid out the differences in the words that defined the original group of followers (ekklesia) and the modern transformation of that word into a site and not an influential movement. From the kirche perspective on culture in my piece, the church would act as our safe haven, a clean environment that protects us from the sick and dying world outside. The caution tape stretched across the world, the heathen, the unclean, and outside people in general, warning us from getting too close. For added protection, the surgical mask prevents any airborne transfer of “the world’s” contagion. Like another catastrophic viral outbreak movie, the kirche operates inside boundaries of yellow tape and clean-suits, avoiding contact with any “infected” people and taking necessary precautions when interacting with each other.
Ekklesia is the opposite. Ekklesia tosses its mask on the ground, breaks through the caution tape barrier to risk immersing itself into a capricious culture, carrying the vaccine with it. The figure walking into the unclean is purple, the color of royalty in which it is divinely vaccinated and opposite to the yellow hue of the caution tape. ‘Ekklesia’ forms the spine of this figure, creating the back bone required to risk testing one’s spiritual vaccination against the elements of the outside realm.
Boldness is an adventure that takes risks, invites injury, sustains losses and experiences victories. Being bold is not safe or comfortable, but hiding in self-imposed quarantine feeds the virus Christ came to eradicate. My prayer is for boldness.
Last Saturday (10-15) I joined a team of twenty-one people on a trip to Barahona, Dominican Republic for a week of laying block, mixing mecla, teaching children, and feeding families. To say those seven days were life-changing is an understatement.
The day after we arrived, we attended a church service in the community where we stayed. I did not miss an opportunity to fulfill my role in worship; this is what came out of it. We attended the Sunday school time of the service, in which the pastor presented the text for the morning and then opened the floor to the congregation for questions, opinions and discussion. My Spanish is extremely limited, but I was able to pick up that we were discussing the beheading of John the Baptist. The idea of open discussion of the message, welcoming everyone’s thoughts as valid ideas while still being open to correction, not to mention the enthusiastic participation of the congregation struck a refreshing chord in my mind. I couldn’t understand many of the words being said, but I still felt the spirit of God surrounding everyone in the room. I wasn’t able to participate in the discussion, but still I grew. This is worship.
We often place so much emphasis on proving our “rightness” we neglect our call to righteousness. I believe this imbalance is the stone around the neck of the church. God has given us each a particular place in the body of Christ, the church, required to accomplish worship. Each unique ability/passion/gift God places in all humanity is at the root of worship, meant to feed the tree. The trunk of the tree of worship relies on unity for its strength. Only when we get past our differences, get over our fear of being wrong, let go of the self-worship driving us to dominance can we truly be unified. Through a wide-spread of roots that converge into a strong, unified trunk, worship flourishes.
–adjective of or pertaining to the United States of America or its inhabitants: an American citizen.
-noun a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view.
Selfishness is our cancer. The deeper it becomes rooted in our culture, the farther we get from a cure. ‘American Cynicism’ exposes our disease.
Three images make up this composition; Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’ (1942), Tom’s Restaurant (featured in the sitcom, Seinfeld), and a photograph of a starving African child. The brightness of the neon lights spelling out ‘RESTAURANT’ draws your attention to the painting. Seinfeld fans will immediately hear the signature bass-line jingle initiating the upcoming restaurant scene in their mind. The scene inside the restaurant becomes the second focal point.
The restaurant scene in ‘Nighthawks’ includes four characters around the bar; a man in the leisure suit, a man and woman seated next to each other on the far end, and a waiter behind the counter, seemingly taking an order from to at least engaged in conversation with the couple. I chose to delete the couple and the waiter serving them in the painting. The imagination of the viewer decides what has happened to these characters. One might assume the couple left together to spend the rest of the evening in a more private setting. Perhaps the waiter is taking a few dishes to the kitchen, on a smoke break, or has left the diner all together. The items left on the bar provide possible clues to his whereabouts.
To the right of the man at the bar lies an envelope-shaped item with a couple of dollar bills protruding from beneath it. This envelope is actually the waiter’s paper hat, folded flat, forgotten out of haste when the waiter left. Beneath the hat lies his latest tip, left by the man seated at the bar. The waiter has rushed off to his second job, something required to cover the bills after the economic downturn of 2008. Without knowing who it was serving him or why he disappeared, the gentleman slides a small tip under the waiter’s hat, protecting his reputation from being stained by any hint of greediness.
Regardless of the situations each character missing from the original ‘Nighthawks’ scene, the gentleman in a leisure suit remains; alone and unaffected by the others’ departure.
In the far corner of the restaurant sits a guitar, microphone, and amp, waiting for their musician’s attention.
These are included in tribute to my time playing with a band in college. Known to our followers as The Zen Pimps, our full name was The Zen Pimps (for social change). By playing blues, jazz, folk, and classic rock music, our intentions surpassed just making good music; we were out to make a difference. I believe that drives artists in every genre (the good ones, at least); more than recognition, more than money, great artists want to leave everywhere they go a little better than when they arrived. Through influencing lives we come in contact with, the value of our work is found and increases each time someone “gets it”; but is that enough? Countless artists present their message of social woes and vocalize a need for change, but how many then change themselves? “American Cynicism’ is a call for artists, including myself, to become the change we all want to see.
The viewers eye continues moving down and to the right, exiting the restaurant and stopping on a small, dark figure outside the window, resting against the exterior, concrete wall. Upon closer inspection, a severely malnourished young boy on a folded blue mat comes into focus. The warm colors in the restaurant set against the coldness of the concrete exterior sends a stiff chill up the viewer’s spine as the boy’s condition is exposed, amplifying the cold, dispassionate nature of the outside environment. The interior walls are bright yellow, the bar a warm burnt umber, inspiring a most welcomed sense of warmth and comfort. The tables are clean, as if freshly wiped down. All upholstery inside the restaurant is purple, symbolizing the wealth and royal status of its patrons. Lastly, closed blinds, blocking our sight of anyone who may hope to come in, cover the window of the entry door.
The boy stares to his right, as if watching for someone who will come around the corner of the restaurant. Perhaps they will be carrying a Styrofoam clamshell tray, containing half-eaten leftovers, still a little warm; a stocked treasure chest by his standards. Better still, maybe the passerby will be of generous nature and offer the spoils from their dinner out to him? A left over biscuit or a handful of french fries would be greatly appreciated. No matter how strong his focused stare wills it to happen, few who pass by even acknowledge his existence, much less donate the remnants of their recent meal. Yet his hopeful stare is unwavering.
Last, the your eye travels up to the advertisement on the wall above the boy.
The poster show here was, at one time, on the exterior wall of Tom’s Restaurant in New York. I do not know exactly what it was promoting, my own cynical nature assumes it was a credit card or other financial “tool”. I could not ignore the irony of that slogan, given the message of the painting. The image beneath the slogan, also included in the original ad, has been modified to send a different message. The top left corner of the card in the poster has some white marks, resembling text. There is no real text here. The markings imply letters but do not actually form any. Despite none of the alphabet existing in this location, for many, the mind translates these markings into a word, money. The top right corner contains the white silhouette of the head of an animal, a goat. The bottom right holds a full silhouette of another animal, a sheep. The text in the bottom left explains the inclusion of these details, directing the viewer to read Matthew 25:31-46, found in the first book of the New Testament in the Bible.
The purpose of ‘American Cynicism’ is not to leave the view depressed over their own nature or the state of society. Instead, I am aiming to inspire a change in attitudes, to encourage people that being honest and emotionally vulnerable with others is not only OK, it is a necessary part of life. Is it safe? No. Is it comfortable? Rarely. Unfortunately, the only option aside from vulnerability is isolation. Either we open ourselves up and really connect with people or we are left to tackle life alone.
The analogy of the goats and the sheep Jesus uses in Matthew seems to also reflect this due to the nature of the animals being referenced. When handled as a group, goats tend to display less clumping behavior than sheep, and when grazing undisturbed, tend to spread across the field or range, rather than feed side-by-side as do sheep. Goats isolate themselves from each other, sheep stick together, which better describes you?
Ironically, my goal in developing this piece was to expose the social parasite that is cynicism, calling for individuals to adapt to living selflessly. In the process, I discovered deeper aspects of my own cynical nature I had tried to suppress. Join with me in acknowledging your selfish tendencies, then follow through by taming those attitudes and encouraging your community to do the same. Together we will change the world.