Living at the convergence of faith and art.

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The Community I’ve Found

paper cranes

Paper Cranes Sarah Klockers-Clauser

I want to tell you about a Community of Faith that I’ve found. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that they found me. It’s interesting how Father God lovingly invites us down special paths of life designed specifically to meet our needs.

I think some really brief backstory is important or the significance of this Community will not be fully appreciated.

All my life I’ve gone to church, the institutional church. I’ve sat and listened to the sermons. I’ve stood and sung hymns. I’ve always believed that this was the Church, the Body of Christ, where I’d encounter Father God. But it wasn’t, and I didn’t. Something, … something that I couldn’t put my finger on, was somehow missing. Now, you need to know that in no way am I criticizing that centuries old institution of church. This is my story of my journey, and that is all it is; nothing more.

At some point, after marriage, and raising our children, I didn’t attend church much. I just slipped away and was open to whatever else Father might have for me and my life. To cut a long story short, it was through one friend after another that Father lead me to a vibrant Spirit-filled Community of the Body of Christ. This is Church without the building, without all of the trappings of mere religion, without the hierarchy, without the idolatry of mere theology. I found God outside of the covers of the Bible; intimately, personally, face to face. And I wasn’t alone … there was a Community.

This Community I’ve found has three powerful aspects to it that I wouldn’t trade for anything. They are a movement (not an institution); they are organic in nature, and they are entirely relational.

In it’s organic nature, this community is Community. The famous story of Stone Soup comes to mind. People round about had little or nothing to eat. Then a clever man brings a stone with which to make a soup. He begins to boils it in water. After a while he invites the people each to bring what they have to add to the soup; vegetables, salt, meat, broth, whatever they had. Each put into the soup what they had. After a while the soup was done and everyone had soup. Everyone ate their fill of what had begun so simply as a stone boiling in water. Now they were a Community, sharing what they had and who they were with one another. That’s the Community I’ve found.

This Community is part of God’s global movement, His Body. There are no preachers, although there are ordained clergy among us. There is no hierarchy, no pecking order, no formal documents to tell us who’s who and how we’re all supposed to behave. We’re a movement created, governed and, fully lead by Father God. It reminds me of Israel’s days of The Judges. God was their King … not a man. It was God who lead and “ruled” the people. So it is with our Community.

This Community is fully relational. Everything about it is relationship based, meaning we begin, each of us, with a deep, personal, intimate relationship with Father God. He is the unifying force and power of this Community. He is what makes us a Community. He is our spine and our glue.

Having begun in our relationship with Father, we extend that relationship to one another. As a movement, and not an institution, the organic nature of the Body of Christ is fully manifest. When someone needs healing, like white blood cells, a number of us gravitate toward that need and pray it away in healing. When someone celebrates, we all celebrate. We bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys. All of this, absolutely all of this is joy and not obligation. It’s fully Love and not duty.

In this Community I have never experienced so much joy and excitement with Father God and with one another in all my life. This is a priceless Community wherein I find the God of the heart, the God of relationship, the God of love. This is what / Who I’ve been looking for, and I’ve found Him.

Is There Life or Death?


Fayum-79 sml

Fayum Mask 1st Century AD

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and He lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what He teaches is true – it is not a lie. So just as He has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.”

1John 2:27 NLT (emphasis mine)

I read this passage from a blog post by Chip Brogden. He was writing about discernment and knowing what is truth or a lie. He wrote that discernment is not about deciding what is right or wrong, but about seeing what has Life or death in it.

The big revelation that Father gave me about this passage is the implication of our relationship with Him. In order to hear what the Spirit of God has to say about something, to help us discern the presence or absence of Life, I must have a vibrant, thriving relationship with Father God, His Son, and His Spirit.

Here in 1John 2 is scriptural teaching of the vital need to have a relationship with Father God, not a Theologists head knowledge about God. If I were to rely upon my head to discern, I might as well cut a divining rod, or toss a coin for all the good it’ll do. I’d be looking for the wrong thing, in the wrong place, with the wrong tool(s). But, if my life is filled with the organic, living Presence of God, wherein I actually talk with Him and spend time with Him, I’ll come to know what is Truth or not.  I’ll know it and recognize it.

I’ve never, ever been taught this; that we need to seek, cultivate, and nourish a living relationship with Father God. Every single preacher, teacher, book author, etc. has taught me to know all that I can possibly glean from the Bible about God. To approach Father God is supposedly impossible because I’m merely a forgiven sinner, and while sanctified by the blood of Christ, I am not worthy to approach Him directly. That’ll all happen once my tired old body gives up its ghost in physical death.

My life’s desire is to know God directly, personally, intimately, and to approach Him in the same way. It’s not that I just have a million questions for Him. No, it’s about wanting to know my true Father, personally, directly, and intimately. And scripture says that if I’ll make the effort, I can do just that. Further, scripture says that because of that deeply personal, intimate relationship wherein I approach my Father with any question I have, I will know immediately whether what I am pondering has Life in it or not. I will know this just as surely and deeply as I know Him.

Spending time with Life Himself does that. That time with Father is what teaches, nourishes, and trains my spirit to know the genuine article from the counterfeit fakes of the Liar, Satan.

Bank tellers were once trained, by touch, to instantly know counterfeit money from the genuine article. The same principle is at work here. The more time I spend with Him whom I love, the more readily I know the Truth from a lie, Life from death.

Because of this Cosmic relationship with Father, I don’t even need to use my head, going down a check list of identifying factors. I also don’t ask the wrong question(s); is this right or wrong? Is this good or bad? Discernment isn’t about right or wrong, good or bad … as Chip Brogden puts it, it’s always about Life or death – period. And discernment begins with and is grounded in a relationship with God.

Relationship is everything. Relationship, deep, personal, intimate, messy, and sometimes scary is the essence of all I am, all I do, and all I become. It is my identity. Why?; because, as my son Levi reminds me so often, Nothing makes sense without God. 

The Quitter’s Manual – Mangerchine

Quitter's ManualFor years, decades really I’ve struggled with rest, not mere inactivity, vacation, or sleep, but true, deep rest. I was once a firecracker burning at both ends, always working, and always busy. I suffered severe burnout three times. You’d think I would have learned my lesson the first time. In these vain pursuits of success, productivity, or achievement I found my identity and value, just as my culture instilled in me; work hard, live fast, and you’ll be a success.

Author, consultant, speaker Jeremy Mangerchine had a similar experience and writes about how Father God was finally able to get him to pay attention to his health, his identity, and his relationship with Him. The book is The Quitter’s Manual: Finding Rest in a World Gone Berserk, and Jeremy’s idea of quitting isn’t what most of us might think. It’s a nice brief 108-pages of essential life changing wisdom.

In a wonderful autobiographical series of anecdotes Mangerchine brings us along on his own journey into Father’s realm of true rest, of a powerful life in the Presence of God without strife, without struggle, or futile busyness.

What I enjoy so very much is how Jeremy shares his own journey, and doesn’t wag a finger at any of his readers. For us it’s a take it or leave it proposition, but personally, I found this book liberating, and affirming. I’ve come a long way on my won rest-seeking life journey and for me, it was good to read how I can better that journey as well as find encouragement in what I’m already doing well.

Great book. Short and powerful read. Life changing, if we want it.

Truth Through a Lens

  lifethroughalens This evening, I watched a film (80 mins) on photographer Annie Liebovitz, Life Through a Lens. It’s aptly titled because following her early career to today, it’s an historic walk through the 1970’s, 80’s, 90’s, and now. We revisited San Francisco and the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll era. We wandered through several decades of Rolling Stone magazine, read by anyone wanting social and cultural change. We moved on to her current work with magazines, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. It was 40-years of American, New York cultural history and influence.

What struck me most was how so many up and comers find their creative expression in such destructive lifestyles. She talked about her incredibly close friendship with the late Susan Sontag, singer & visual artist Patti Smith, and her engaging work in the lives of a vast array of celebrities. This film is a whirl wind tour of the back half of the twentieth century all seen in the tumultuous context that is artistic New York.

This morning Manuel Luz, singer/songwriter and author wrote a wonderful post. In Science, Hendrix, Banned Books & Brokeness he spoke of how truth is so often found even in the midst of lives of death and destruction.

Angst is real. It’s a part of what is true. So if you’re wanting music or any art form that is true, you go for truth, regardless of where it comes from. I think Jimi Hendrix was doing something that was actually really true. Now he was coming from a sense of brokenness, and I feel bad for that because he never was able to reconcile that. My faith is what has helped me to reconcile…”

So many Christians in this season – and it’s becoming less so, praise God – keep ugliness and unpleasantness at arms length simply because it is unpleasant and ugly. They’re not really looking for God’s Truth, but merely a quiet, pleasant life. When it comes to their kids being seduced by pop culture, or secular humanism, their tendency is to wall themselves off with their families lest they be contaminated. In this way, these Christians are operating from a posture of fear and are allowing themselves to be neutralized by their enemy, the Liar. To them God isn’t very powerful, and evil must be battled even here in the physical / material realm. Folly this.

This is perhaps the main reason the institutional church fights to manage artists who are Christian; much Truth is found amid ugliness and unpleasantness. If the artists are forced to seek Truth in stringently clean, fully Christianized contexts, well then, it will be not only beautiful, but pleasant. However it will contain absolutely no Truth.

Because artists are open, brave, and receptive to the world around them, their lives are often lived as loose cannon, rolling around the deck of life and doing “damage”. Christians who wall-off and shelter themselves from unpleasantness and ugliness seek peace and order, something that life has very little of, and in so doing endeavor to present a Theology of Aesthetics. In effect these wall builders seek to dictate and control expressions of beauty and the arts. Therein lies much of the basis of the centuries old friction between the institutional church and artists.

This is why I am creative outside of the church, and in The Church (Body of Christ). I do not allow any institution to dictate to me what I will or will not produce as art. If the creative person is censured, there is little or no Truth in the work, just Christian propaganda; yet another reason why 1-million Christians are leaving the institutional church every year and seeking God in person – directly and relationally.

And all of this was triggered and unpacked just by a documentary film on the greatest cultural photographer of our times.    Amen ~

Inherent Hope

Fujimura - refractions cover - smlArt is an inherently hopeful act, an act that echoes the creativity of the Creator.”

Mako Fujimura / refractions / pg 69

I don’t seem, as yet to share that hope, although I do / am / will produce works which point to the foot of the Cross. That’s certainly hope-filled. But what is hope anyway? Is it a deep spiritual straining? Is it a kind of, sort of wishing that something would happen in the midst of our prayers, whatever those may be?

I’d like to believe that this hopeful (hope-filled) act is like faith; “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) I want to focus on those two words substance and evidence.

Substance means the being or nature of a thing; the essential nature of something hoped for; it’s essence. Evidence means the proof, being obvious or apparent. Hoped for … is to wait for something in full faith and confidence; in essence waiting in full joy and confidence for the manifestation of what is hoped for. This hoped for is not a mere wishing. It’s a fully confident “done deal”, kind of new reality that has yet to become a manifest reality.

In the manner Fujimura uses hopeful, as in hopeful act, it seems to me to mean that the making of art is an act filled with hope; filled with the full confidence of a new manifestation of a positive, creative reality. “Art is an inherently hope[filled] act, one that echoes the creativity of the Creator.” I see this act of making as filled with hope (waiting in confidence for a manifestation), which does, indeed, echo the creativity of the Creator. Our God is in His very essence positive, loving, and certainly creative. We artists are privileged to “imitate” Him through the use of the gift of creativity which He gave us at our Genesis (birth / conception). Being made by Him in His image, we’re the one and only species on the planet to be so endowed.

We most often use the word hope to mean awaiting the manifestation of a better tomorrow. We so often merely wish for a better tomorrow. But both the passage in Hebrews 11, and the statement from Fujimura indicate a confident waiting for the manifestation of that better tomorrow. Art, Mako says, has that inherent power in its DNA as it were, and it is the privilege of the artist to point the way, to suggest what that better tomorrow might look like.

The Artist’s Call

At the heart of Christian humanism is the effort to achieve a new synthesis between the condition of the world around us and the unique ways in which grace can speak to that condition. That is how art created by Christians will touch the lives of those who encounter it.”

pgs 23-24 / Beauty Will Save the World / Gregory Wolfe

faithbooks-smlThis year I’ve been reading a lot of books. My favorite non-fiction subjects are faith, art, and the convergence. In my readings I’ve noticed a trend. I am a global-thinker after all. The trend is that a good many Christian authors are calling upon God’s artists to rise up and make a culture changing difference in this hour, in this season.

Here are five titles I’ve read on Faith & Art which populate my Artist’s Desk Library. First up is a master classic by Dr. Calvin Seerveld; arts advocate / former professor of philosophy & literature, Institute of Christian Studies, Toronto. His book, Rainbows for a Fallen World. Seerveld is definitely a weighty read but he’s adamant in his call to God’s artists to take their gifting extremely seriously.

I believe that my Lord wants us as his people to be busy in the birth of a culture – in daily, long-range cultural obedience – as an ordained way to spread the Good News of his rule.”

pg 48 / Rainbows for the Fallen World / Calvin Seerveld

Secondly, there’s cultural commentator / pastor / author Dick Staub whose Culturally Savvy Christian has a chapter specifically calling God’s artists to take their gifts very seriously and make a difference in American culture.

I believe that cultural enrichers from the arts are the best hope for transforming today’s popular culture. The restoration of the artistic endeavor is as close to God’s heart as redemption, because it is evidence of that redemption.”

pgs 179, 180 / The Culturally Savvy Christian / Dick Staub

Next up is artist / composer-musician / author Manuel Luz and his book, Imagine That. He joins other voices calling God’s artists to realize the power of their God-given gifts and to use them to Father’s glory.

We, as artists who follow Christ, need to tell our story, render our personal expressions of redemption to the world. And tell them with artistry and beauty and grace. And in doing so, we hint at the grander story of God.”

pg 70 / Imagine That / Manuel Luz

Next is artist / author / speaker Matt Tommey and his compassionate, encouraging work, Unlocking the Heart of the Artist.

You were created to co-labor with Christ in the Kingdom of God through your unique creative expression. You were created to reflect, reveal, and release the Glory of God in the earth through your art.”

pg 28 / Unlocking the Heart of the Artist / Matt Tommey

And last in this grouping, Christ (like wrist) Otto’s clarion call; An Army Arising: Why Artists are on the Frontline of the Next Move of God. Like all of these authors, Otto sets a very serious tone for God’s artists, strongly encouraging a deep, personal, relationship with Father God as the vital foundation of an effective arts practice in the service of the Lord.

Jesus [is] working as an artisan; and he is also raising up the artisan. These ones who have seemed to have no value in the world system, are now being called as the end time secret weapon. This is the moment for the artist to arise. This is the moment for the artist to make a way. This is the moment for the artist to be the sermon.”

pg 26 / An Army Arising / Christ (like wrist) Otto

Combined, regardless of each author’s emphasis, these five writers are calling God’s artists to get on with making culturally influential, God glorifying, top quality work, regardless of the media used; dance & movement, writing, collage / mixed-media, painting, theatre, or music, for example. All five are adamant about excellence and decry the overwhelming flood of sloppy, embarrassingly bad work labeled “Christian Art.” And all five writers stress, in no uncertain terms, that the effectiveness and quality of the work is directly proportional to the depth and intimacy of the artist’s relationship with God Himself.

From many quarters I am hearing and reading about a New Renaissance. What that looks like or actually means is anybody’s guess, but when these five writers are motivated by the Spirit of God to write such deeply serious calls to God’s artists, I figure we ought to listen up and heed the call. The Holy Spirit is calling us to action. As Calvin Seerveld wrote, “God forbid that any of the little believing ones should be caught stumbled or napping when He returns, with their talent of aesthetic life tucked away, wrapped up in a hole in the ground.” pg 48 / Rainbows / Seerveld.

Please allow me to add my own voice to the call of these, and many other, artists and authors; Our gifts are God-given and blood-bought. We have a divine purpose. The Master has endowed us, entrusted to us, the responsibility to take up our pens, our brushes, and cameras and create works of the highest quality in whatever way the Spirit leads us. We’re unique in how we see the world, and uniquely equipped and empowered to make seen the unseen mysteries of our faith in our Creator God who loves each of us so very much.

Process, Process, Process

Sojourner by Lewis M. Curtiss jr~

SOJURNER – Dry Pastel – 11×14 / LM Curtissjr

When I was a youngster, I was just like all kids seem to be. I was energetic and impatient. When I was supposed to do a “project” I’d rush through it as fast as possible. I’d then gather up my “creation” and toddle off in search of praise despite the dripping glue and paint.

Even in college I was still working fast because in this American culture of ours; fast is rewarded. In my work in film & theatre, there were time crunches and budgets to maintain. The mentality was for high quantity, and the quality just needed to be “good enough” for the job at hand. My creative work was always pressed by either a budget, a deadline or both.  It’s no wonder students of the creative arts are always asking the “old pros”, “So, where do you get your ideas?” The pressure to produce continuously is enormous.  But alas, I digress.

Years later when I was in theatre leadership, I was the Production Designer for the company and its primary builder as well. I took my time on the designs because I had to enhance the context of the story.  A good set does that, but our low-skill novices needed to be able to assemble it quickly.  So there’s the dichotomy; meaningful beauty in a matter of a few hours of intense construction.

In these current years of not working for others, not working in a production context, I’ve slowed down a great deal. I’ve gradually moved from impatiently wanting to see the thing done, to actually savoring each and every stroke of brush, pen, or pencil. It’s been a wonderfully long journey that takes further steps every day.

The majority of this shift has been a movement away from a paradigm of quantity over quality, to the reverse; quality over quantity. I savor quality (or qualities) over quantity any day. I’m no longer a tin can being kicked along the road by the driving forces of production.  For me quantity is so meaningless that I simply won’t tolerate it in myself.

As recently as this year, I’ve even stopped making quantities of Coptic-bound journals; why? because in the end it’s nothing more than a pile of product about which I have little care. What enjoyment did I get from that experience? Well, I enjoyed the collection and processing of upcycled papers and paste-board. I enjoyed ironing the paper and cutting it into sheets, and then folding them into signatures. I enjoyed the design elements I’d use on the covers; covering the boards and folding each corner with a binder’s fold. In short, I loved the process. But in the end, I was left with a pile of journals that I liked, but very few people wanted (or would buy). It was pleasant, repetitious, and productive. And while I’ve ceased making them for sale I still make all of my own journals and sketchbooks for personal use mostly. I don’t buy journals or sketchbooks anymore.

Instead, I make art books – that is books as objects of art. These are one of a kind, filled with meaning, and certainly not repetitious. With these “books”, anything goes, and I’m no longer making them for others. There’s no pressure to “produce” quantities of “product”. Each is filled with meaning and story.

The beautiful collage quilt blocks I used to make were also product.  I began making single blocks, having researched thousands of quilt block patterns, and while each was unique, it soon became a production line effort.

It wasn’t until I began reincorporating story into my work that a far deeper satisfaction emerged.  It’s what I was creatively hungry for but had so quickly forgotten.  As a faith-driven artist, I just couldn’t see much of my relationship with God in the quiltblocks.  I’m not knocking quilts or quilters, I love both.  I’m simply saying that quilts just aren’t my medium, whether made in paper on masonite or in fabric.  What I am knocking is my own impatience, and lack of savoring each moment of making.  I was rushing to get the thing done and missing the point along the way.

How is it that I allowed myself to be pushed and shoved into a production mindset?  What is it that I temporarily let go of?  What did I forget about myself, who I am, why I make art, and for Whom?

I’ve had to relearn why I got into this “art-thing” in the first place.  I’ve had to return to the foundations of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.  That’s why I remembered that I’m into story – I’m a storyteller and that is the kind of art I need to be making.  I needed to quit listening to the “good advice” of well meaning others, and remember who and what I am before my Lord God.

I’m drawn to art that contains story.  At minimum the work must contain some evidence of human beings.  I don’t care if it’s a paring knife on a plate with a half-eaten apple, there’s a story in it.  Someone’s been there.  This development of story in my work has caused a dramatic slowing in my making.  I “listen” more to the materials, to the piece being made, and to God’s insights in the making.  I’ve come to the point of savoring every brush and pencil stroke; every knife cut and trim; every architectural element to be included in the work.  I’m even savoring the mental planning process of thinking through how it’s going to be assembled; something of an old friend from my scenic design and stage directing days.

For me process, the acts of making, of thinking about making, of considering the meaning of what’s being made all merge into a kind of meditation or at least a contemplation.  That’s the major reason I’ve slowed so much, and savor each moment of process so much more.  I don’t want to miss anything, not a “flavor”, or a “smell”, or the whisper of insight God’s Spirit might share with me.

To my mind art, like faith in God, is not an intellectual/mental “thing”.  Making, the process of making, is intimate, dynamic, deeply personal, uncertain, “messy”, but oh so precious.  God and I commune in process. I worship Him in process.  Sometimes I even feel a bit like John the Revelator who, being taken away in the Spirit, was shown things, deep things, and told to share what he’d experience with the world.  It’s a privilege, a celebration, a joy.

It’s all in the process.

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