WE – a Journey Worship experience

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

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

-Pour Me Out (Vessel)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work space.jpg

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

Setup.jpg

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

Exodus 40-34

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

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

Reckless Love.jpg

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

Spirit Lead Me.jpg

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

Pour Me Out-King of My Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let there be freedom.

-Freedom

In Action-Instagram

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

it is why he does it.”

– A.W. Tozer

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Alone Together

Self-sufficiency is an illusion.

Galatians 6

Lost in the Crowd.jpg

Independence and self-sufficiency are nifty catch phrases people use with varying motivation to describe a person who can handle life on their own. Most often, these terms are used with a positive connotation: praising someone (usually oneself) for being able to supply their own needs, provide for anyone they hold responsibility, or embrace their freedom from a situation they are leaving behind. When did we become convinced that being alone in life was such an honorable position?

We are not created to do life alone. None of us.

The world Jesus is building in His model on earth is not one of compartmentalization or segregation. Jesus brought us together. He shared meals with the outcasts and spent time with the deplorables. The design of the church body is to replicate and expand this unity to embrace everyone in our communities, our nations, and to the ends of the earth. This should be easy, right? Just be nice to each other! Train each other, encourage and support each other. Simply be a good friend! Ha…..what a royal mess we’ve made of that one. Pride takes over and we let ourselves be convinced that to life is to be in competition (one of my favorite strategies implemented by Uncle Screwtape through Wormwood in C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Screwtape Letters’). We separate ourselves from each other because we are ashamed to admit we struggle with any aspect of life. Those of us who have mastered this ability puff our chest and fly in like a superhero coming to save the day by telling people how to fix their problems. Many of those experts are church leaders.

The church is not an organization and it’s not a hospital. It’s not a business or a social club. The church is designed to be a home, and your home is where your family lives. Your family, coming together with open arms, celebrating each other’s victories, dealing with its conflict, growing despite the times of dysfunction. The church is your safety. Leaning on each other’s shoulders and standing firm to have each other’s back, the church is designed to be a unified force to lead people home.

Share your load, take another’s hand and offer your own. Come home.

You are not meant to be alone.

Honor

Following on the tail of the most tumultuous United States campaign and election season endured in my lifetime, Journey Church launched a series focused on the concept of honor. Delving into our understanding of what honor looks like, who deserves to be honored and the actual nuts and bolts of honoring another, these are the images born from our discussion.

Installment one stripped our understanding of honor down to it’s basic foundation; what is honor to begin with? Honor is respect, honor is admiration, honor is an active choice.

Our ability to honor the life, feelings and basic humanity of another person is capped by a dark ceiling of our own pride and ability to honor ourselves. One cannot treat another with a spirit of honor without first approaching the other with an attitude of respect. The most basic place to practice respect is within oneself. Honor requires humility, humility opens the gateway for service. To visualize this concept, I drew a dark ceiling. A figure who escaped this prison has opened a trap door, allowing light to explode into the darkness and reaching back through to show others the way out.

The figures still trapped inside are attracted to the light, but the ceiling is too high to be conquered alone. Each one must work together, building platforms to raise each other higher and build a structure each of them can climb together to freedom.

This is honor.

honor-1-what

In the second installment, we tackled the question of who? Is it something we wait for another to earn, or something we spread liberally across everyone we encounter? Is there someone or something which should NOT be honored?

Who do we honor? Everyone and everything formed by our creator.

Honor is a gift we each hold in abundance, but must actively give. Honor does not give itself away. In this drawing, the hands of the Creator spread openly to support all of creation. From left to right, you see a politician at their desk (representing all leaders in our lives), a homeless beggar making their plea for help (representing anyone we could choose to help), a doctor (anyone who takes care of us physically, emotionally or spiritually), a family with small children (we are all one family on this planet), a soldier (representing anyone who fights for us; military, law enforcement, EMS), a disabled veteran (to represent all who sacrifice for us), a stoic tree to represent all of nature and the planet we inhabit. At the far right, peeking from behind the thumb, a figure in a Burka carefully leads a child to move beyond the tree and join the other figures while carrying a stuffed animal. I chose this image to represent refugees; those who don’t necessarily make us feel safe or comfortable reaching to, but need our help as desperately as any other. I skipped one figure, the one in the middle straddling the hands of God. This is you. The figure points back at you with one hand while holding an umbrella in the other. The open umbrella (decorated with HONOR) not only covers every person and human characteristic the figures represent, but also the one who holds it and the hands who hold them. Honor yourself, honor creation, honor others. In doing so, we honor God.

honor-2-who

Finally, in entry three, we studied how to honor. How does a person honor anything? Is there a formula; a specific procedure?

The action of honor is a paradox. It is a very simple action, but also one of the hardest thing a human can do. Humble service. Humility is a hot word in the circles of churchianity. It is printed on t-shirts, waved on banners and advertised as the bare minimum expectation for acceptance into even the outer circles of organized religion. But humility is not just philanthropy or an altruistic attitude. Humility is loving another human being on a level higher than yourself, the willingness to let go of your own life for theirs and following through with your actions. Humility is authenticity.

When we honor another person, we place value on their life. This value is not just a feeling, it is expressed in a way that allows it to be transferred into the other, acknowledging and increasing their self-worth. We will only honor that which we value.

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In thinking about how God wove honor into the fabric of life, I asked myself what service looks like. Visions of soup kitchens, volunteer firefighters and Habitat for Humanity building projects came to mind. Simplifying these all into a single icon, I envisioned a figure kneeling in a near-fetal position. The head is bowed and arms outstretched with their palms up. Another figure mirrors the first, kneeling and reaching in the same position. As the two reach for each other, their arms create an interlocking pattern. I lined these figures along a rolling patchwork landscape. Like the teeth of a zipper, this array of figures serving each other are united as the glue which holds their world together.

In the background, a pair of hands reaches through the sky to the flowing land. Holding cross-hatched fabric of life as we know it, these hands pull the figures together. As the arms connect, the land is binding together to form a mountain peak. The summit of this peak will point directly back to the one who is forming it, praising its Creator.

By honoring each other, we honor God.

Life is War. To Pray is to Fight.

Life is War. To Pray is to Fight.

After a long drought brought on by life, I have finally let myself open up and create spontaneously again. We kicked off a new summer series yesterday morning. For the next few weeks, we’ll be focusing on prayer, how to pray, the importance of prayer and what our focus should be.

Life is war. Spiritually, emotionally, physically; we are constantly battling something. Some days we battle ourselves.

I chose the image of a boxer to embody the idea of prayer being our fight. The boxer is exhausted, resting in his corner, his sagging head only held off the mat by his arm. His towel lay crumpled beside him. The boxer is ready to fire the towel into the ring, giving up on all that he has worked for, but he lacks the arm strength to throw. Burying his face in his glove, all he has left is to pray. Prayer is all the fighter has left in his arsenal.

Often times, we get to this point where crying to God is all we have. Through our fatigue, we feel inadequate to pray and lack the confidence to even know what to say. Prayer is not about your words, it is about your heart. Learn more about how to pray here. God doesn’t need your words, he needs your heart. He needs your mind to open.

Choosing the image of the boxer is a personal reference for me as well. I have been travelling through an expanse of parched land in my life. The ground burned by neglect and the consequences of good intentions. Physical exertion has been my release. As I drew this image, I was reminded of my own fight by the dull crimson scars on my knuckles. Fresh wounds beginning to heal. Memories of another round violent encounter with the heavy bag.

Life is war. We must remember we are all in this together. All of us.

This Matters.

In today’s entry, I’m catching up on our latest series that we are three weeks into, This Matters.

Our introductory message in the “This Matters” series focused out attention on the Bible. The Bible matters. Why?

Historically, it lays the groundwork, not only for our faith but all of civilization. Regardless of your religion, the Bible is regarded as the most historically accurate documentation of its age.

Morally and ethically, the Bible provides us with concrete guidelines for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Though many have misconstrued God’s precepts while others create  new ones in God’s name, the Bible provides a solid foundation for morality and ethics in every aspect of life.

Logically, it lays out the simple design for living in peace with all of humanity and with yourself. When you read scripture; first read it for the literal words, dissect those words within the context they were written, then apply those words to modern day as they can apply to you.

The Bible is not God’s rule book, it is our pathway to knowing Him. The Bible matters.

In week two we focused on prayer. Prayer matters.

Through the Bible, we can know God on a corporate level. Through prayer we connect with God (and ourselves) on a personal level.

Prayer, This Matters 2, Matthew 6, 6-13

Prayer is literally a conversation with God. Prayer is most effective when our hearts are open to let the communication flow both ways.  I heard a Rabbi once describe the Jewish perspective of prayer as an introspective assessment of one’s day. Sitting down at the end of the day to inspect every choice you made, then committing to whatever changes that are necessary to become a better person tomorrow. Christians would benefit from incorporating this aspect of prayer into their perspective as well.

God is not a genie, prayer is not a wish list. Submit your requests to God, but take an honest account of where you require improvement.

Prayer holds you in community with God. Prayer matters.

Stepping into week three, the things that matter have been fairly personal in their application. The Bible matters, I need to read the Bible. Prayer matters, I need to pray. Today has more public ramifications, community.

Community matters because life is not designed as a solo endeavor. God designed us as interdependent beings. One person’s weakness is matched by another’s strength. Our misguided focus on self breaks the bonds of unity and leaves us vulnerable. I enjoy National Geographic, Discovery, and PBS for their nature programming. Nearly every episode set in Africa includes a Lioness hunting a pack of Gazelles. The Lioness quietly spies on the unknowing Gazelles as they graze, strategically picking out the slowest and weakest of the pack for her family’s dinner. When the attack begins, the Gazelles scatter. The target tries to keep up but, for whatever reason, is separated from the pack and is overtaken by the Lion in the open field. We are the Gazelle, our Enemy prowls like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

CommUNITY, Hebrews 10, 19-25

Much like there’s no ‘I’ in team, there’s no community without ‘you’. Dying to self is not a mandate to make yourself a door mat, it is the open door to embrace life. Tear off your armor of ‘self’ to open the pathway to community. Letting go of your needs creates opportunity for needs to be filled.

Community matters.

An Introspective Look at Compassion, the Gospel and Community

Compassion + the Gospel = Community

 

If I had an enemy bigger than my apathy, I could’ve won. – ‘I Gave You All’ Mumford & Sons

Like any good locker room pep talk before the big game, Game Time began with a broad review of North Ridge’s place (and any church, for that matter) in our community, as a city within the city. Not as an act of voluntary segregation, but an organized effort towards unified community. Community is only as strong as its members, so periodic self-examination is important to maintain its health. Last week began a broad assessment of our effectiveness as the lighted city on the North Ridge. We were also encouraged to focus this assessment of effectiveness a little tighter, owning our success and failures as individuals. Game Time, week 2, takes this individual self-review a little further, diving into directing our focus. The gospel of Jesus is this, Jesus lived sinlessly, He died mercilessly, He was buried shamefully and rose miraculously. In devotion to Him, we’re invited to do the same; not by literally becoming Him but by emulating Him in community by serving each other. The gospel of Jesus is a call to action. It is more than some magic words and ritualism that rubs the sweet spot of a mystical genie. If our heart for God doesn’t translate into active community participation, what good does it serve?

A city on a hill. These are the words used to describe the church. A shining example of a community of people doing life together and prospering out of that unity. The light that defines the city is produced by the heart of its members. Each member casts a shadow of the gospel when they claim to be part of that city, though the shadow left by some does not accurately reflect the dogma of the city. When the light shines on you, what is found in your shadow? If an accurate understanding of the Gospel is central to your shadow, in the wake of your presence will be love, compassion, and community. This is the essence of discipleship; leaders empowering new leaders.

Today’s drawing is an introspective look in the light of the Gospel. The light symbolizes life, an allusion to the city on the hill. Any details of the figure are washed away by the light, symbolizing death. The death of cynicism, of ego, of social competition; the final burial of selfishness. In the center of the cast shadow are icons representing the Gospel of Jesus. The outer shape of the cast shadow grows into a community of figures joining hands and helping each other up. As the figures begin to stand, they stand together having conquered the world.

What do you leave in the wake of your shadow?