Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I will bring back your captives before your very eyes...

Needless to say, this season of pregnancy has not been my favorite season of life thus far.  Much of the reason has been extreme busyness trying to get classwork done before Eli arrives plus working full time, coupled with a very snowy and cold winter here in Boston.

Throughout this time I have also been working with Laura Cootsona on planning a women's gathering for CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts), called Doing Good Well.  The purpose and goal of the retreat was to equip young, female, Christian artists to embrace their vocational callings and family lives in a way that is supported by wholeness in Christ, Sabbath rest, and the fellowship of Christian community.  The irony of the situation has been that I do not believe, that I, myself, have been able to do much of anything, good or bad, very well during the last 8 months because of the pace of my life here. 

I've been meditating on two passages of scripture, both of which use the particular phrase, "I will bring back your captives..."  I sensed the Lord singling out this line in both Psalm 126:4 and Zephaniah 3:20 (the words can also be translated "I will restore your fortunes").  Sounds great, I thought, but what the heck does it mean?  I began to ask the Lord to reveal to me what my captives were.

I approached this past weekend, where I traveled to Leakey, TX, for the culmination of all of the work on Doing Good Well, with restlessness and admittedly neutral expectations at best.  My eyes could only focus on "what might go wrong."  I had prayed and offered everything to the Lord, but I couldn't seem to get my mind and emotions to follow and trust.  I was just too tired.

Upon arrival, I was greeted with hugs from women I had only gotten to know over the phone and online, but it immediately felt normal and good.  I was given a huge room to myself that overlooked a gorgeous limestone-bottom river, flowing through cedar-speckled Texas cliffs.  I had my own bathroom, my own window seat, my own balcony, my own thermostat.  Did I also mention that it was nearly 70 degrees outside?  My cup was filling up quite quickly. 

The weekend unfolded gently and exactly as it should have.  We shared meals together, worshiped, worked on each of our "hard places" with the abundant help of the Holy Spirit, and of, course, shared and created art together.  We talked about spiritual and personal wholeness, leadership, vocational and spiritual giftings, and how to balance our multiple callings in the arts, the church, and to our families.  Two other women there were also pregnant, and many had young or grown children.  The question that had been heavy on me for the past eight months was cracked open and poured out like an offering to the Lord: "How can I be a good artist, pastor to artists, arts administrator, wife and a good mother?"  The return from Jesus was not a concrete answer, but a joy-filled fellowship with other women with the same question, followed by an abundant peace.  My captives were returning...my fortunes beginning to be restored. 

Did I mention that not a thing went wrong?  Nothing.

I went into the weekend with an intense burden of responsibility that slowly melted away in the presence of 34 women, each with inexpressible gifts from the Lord, and a corporate creative vision like I have never experienced.  In the introduction to his book, God in the Gallery, modern art historian Dan Siedell talks about "the economy of the icon"--how the arts help us to see with the eyes of faith.  He talks about this sanctified vision "which opens up the world in order...to see the world the way it truly is, full of Jacob's ladders, with commerce from the angelic realms.  The distance between the immanent and the transcendent, between the material and spiritual, is wafer thin.  A Christian, then...has a transformed vision, one that sees the world as it truly is, as Christ's footstool, as the sanctuary of God, that is, the world that icons depict.  Ultimately, this is the lesson of the economy of the icon.  In the words of the Psalmist, with all the sacramental echoes of the Eucharistic liturgy, "taste and see that the Lord is good." (Siedell, 18-19).

I saw this weekend, again, that the Lord is good.  The women that surrounded me helped me to regain my eyes of faith.  They have helped my captives to be returned, and they have helped the Lord to "restore my fortunes before my very eyes."  Thank you, to all of you beautiful, creative and insightful 34 who trusted the Lord enough to gather together and see what happened.

In our continued pursuit of sanctified vision, check out the websites of a few of these women.  I wish I could post links to everyone!  Look at Alison Stigora, Phaedra Jean Taylor, Lin Preiss, Karen Brummund, and Kari Dunham to start...

Friday, January 07, 2011

Intentional Offense, Beautiful Offense

PhD Candidate in art history, Matthew Milliner wrote in a recent Huffington Post article about the arbitrariness of becoming offended by artworks such as Serrano's Piss Christ (1987, pictured here), Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary (1999), or, more recently, David Wojnarowicz's A Fire in my Belly video, a section of which shows ants crawling across a crucifix.  Each of these works presents a Christian symbol "defaced" in some way--the first and third examples use a crucifix as their subject matter. Wojnarowicz's work was recently removed from the Smithsonian after protests about its offensive nature.  Such art censorship has occurred over the years, most recently championed by the "religious right" in American politics. 

The most striking observation that Milliner makes, however, is that there is no need to dip the cross in urine or cover it with ants or dung to make a point.  The cross is innately offensive, and should be, to believers and atheists alike.  He writes, "The cross, at least according to St. Paul (1 Corinthians 1:23), is already an intentional offense, and nothing done to it by artists can make it any more horrifying than it already, quite intentionally is: The most hideous of spectacles, a hole impossibly black, absorbing every awful deed committed and every good one left undone."  When many American Christians are asked to define Christian art, first responses are usually closer to a poster of "Footprints" or a cottage by Kinkade, than "a hole impossibly black."  As Children of the Cross, however, we are invited to embrace this beautiful offense and become new creations ourselves.   Those who call themselves Christian artists are commissioned with the perilous task of revealing this offense that the Beauty might follow. 

Monday, December 13, 2010


Here is a link to our church's Advent blog.  It has been a really amazing venture for our church community.  Enjoy!Church of the Cross, Boston Advent Blog

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Temporary Drawer

My apologies for not posting in so very long!  My husband and I recently found out we were expecting a baby, and I've been occupied with many things, including sleeping alot.  This post, called "Temporary Drawer" is a collage I created in the process of my pregnancy.  It is a tryptych depicting the interesting thoughts, emotions and theology that have been swirling through my head.  The center panel is an idealized version of myself, blind to the future.  The side panels are pictures of me from my childhood.  The title comes from the tag, shown in the second picture, that I found in my vintage card catalog.  I'd love any comments!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why I Believe in Art

I believe in art because I believe in God.  I believe in art because I believe in Beauty.  I'm taking an arts marketing course right now at Boston University, and it has my wheels turning.  The whole premise of marketing is to "know your customer" and give them what they want; so market research helps you know what demographic you are dealing with, their preferences, spending habits, recreational affinities...and the list goes on.  Then there is the idea of drawing "new audiences"--those who wouldn't normally consider your product an interest or need.  The question becomes: do you change what you offer to meet the new audience needs, or do you try to convince them that they need what you already offer?  In marketing, this is the dilemma between "product-orientation" and "customer-orientation."  In dealing with the arts, this dilemma becomes even more sticky, as most of us that work in the arts believe that what we are "selling" is beneficial to everyone, no matter their race, class or demographic.  We believe there is inherent goodness in creativity and beauty, and that it shouldn't have to be "sold."  But sometimes it does have to be sold.  Sometimes that contemporary piece "that looks like something my six year old could draw" doesn't make sense to an untrained eye.  Sometimes the story needs to be told by someone who believes in the art, the artist, and the onlooker. 

Digging a little deeper, and returning to my first statement: I believe in art because I believe in God.  Creativity, for me, is only filled with an inherent goodness when we realize that Beauty is meant to point us back to God.  Christ became flesh to point us back to the Father.  The wrinkles in his fists, the dirt in his hair, the color of his eyes.  We could see, touch and experience him, so that we could see, touch, and experience the Father.  Sometimes the art does need to be sold.  Jesus may still look like just a man to the untrained eye.  The Story still needs to be told by someone who believes in the art, the artist, and the onlooker.  We love because He first loved us.  We create because he first created.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thoughts on Art and Rest

As one who currently works in a primarily administrative role at work, I often long for the respite that creative activity brings.  I can turn on the music, pull out the collage materials (or sometimes design software) and go to town.  It happens this way usually: joy, rhythm, creativity, sputtering out....tired.  And I fear that this initial joy is only the result of not often having (or taking) the opportunity to make art these days.  Then I remember that creativity is a discipline, as well as a delight. 

I've been reading a couple of books on sabbath-keeping.  One is called Sabbath in the City by Bryan Stone and Claire Wolfteich (who happen to be my brilliant supervisors at work).   One of the major themes that the authors pick up as integral to Biblical sabbath-keeping is Creativity.  "The first [theme] emphasizes Sabbath as a time of awed respect for God as creator and for the wonder of the created world, an imitation of the divine rhythm of creation and rest, work and Sabbath.  Biblical texts clearly link Sabbath to the creation story: So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation (Gen. 2:3)."  I wonder about the process God encountered as he created the world.  The word "work" often brings to mind images of difficulty, obstacles, and even drudgery; but somehow I cannot believe that creating the world was drudgery.  There must have been bursts of joy as each new thing blossomed, birthed and breathed. 

Often, creativity=rest for me these days, but I remember times of rigorous studio work in years past, where the art was truly the work of the week.  Did God the Creator feel this burden?  He did, in fact, need rest afterward, and calls us to the same.  It is amazing that art can refresh and frustrate, sometimes simultaneously, and I celebrate this beautiful and exhausting gift of being made in His likeness. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I can't believe I heard you...

Every time I hear from God (usually in times where I really needed to hear from him), I look back and marvel at the fact that I was able to detect his Voice.  Voice with a capital 'V'.  How can the still, small Voice be so grand?  The beauty of his Word is arresting, and after the fact, I can never remember how.  But I know I heard. 

Thank you, Father, for your Voice and your Word.  Thank you for deciding to come and be with us in Jesus, and for continuing to speak through your Spirit.  You paint us pictures and write us poems.  I can't believe I heard you...