Friday, January 27, 2017

"Presence" 36x36, Oil on Gessobord

"Presence" 36x36, Oil on Gessobord

I've been reading a book, The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane. It's a beautiful, thoughtful book about the trails that are left by man on the landscape. Many of the chapters are an exploration of England's wilder moors and mountains. 

I've also come from reading Silence, by Endo, Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura and watching the film, Silence, Directed by Martin Scorcsese. All of these left a deep impression on me. I will not talk about that in this post. But I will say that the mist in the movie seemed to be it's own character. I noticed it in the novel as well but of course visually it was just stunning. There were moments when the mist hid the priests and saved their lives. There were moments of deep spiritual clarity that came and went with the lifting of the mist. There was a deep thirst for the spiritual throughout the film and yet this heavy, thick mist (full of water of course). As if God was right there, waiting.

I have always felt mist to be a very spiritual visual. For me it is much like prayer. I never see clearly everything that is there but I am wrapped in a veil. I see what is right in front of me and that is enough.

In the painting I wanted the mountain to be almost fully veiled in mist. Like a lightness of air put on something immovable and large.

MacFarlane writes, "...we customarily imagine mountains in terms of their external surfaces and outward-facing forms: cliffs, plateaux, pinnacles, ridges and scarps. But mountains are also defined by their interiors: their corries, caves, hollows and valleys, and by the depth of their rivers, lochs and lochans. Once our eyes have learnt to see that mountains are composed of absent space as well as massy presence, then we might also come to imagine walking not "up" a mountain but "into" a mountain...searching not for the great outdoors but instead for profound interiors and deep recesses..."

For me, that's what I'm after in the painting. This topography of the mountain blanketed by a thick mist. A spiritual place as God was present on mountains and in mist/cloud/smoke. We can stand and be quieted by presence.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Brushworks in Juvi

One of the Students' final work, Anger and Flow (peace)

Thank you all for the prayers last week. The class was small. Only had 4 kids (2 boys and 2 girls). I went over some rules (some of which I share in a photo below). Blue and Red are significant colors to these kids because they are the colors of two dominant gangs. In a painting class we need to be able to let that go and just use them as COLORS. Lots of talk last week about "my favorite is red miss. You know. It's MY color." And lots of knowing looks to each other. Ugh. So this week I just went ahead and told them this is ART WORLD and in Art World there is no gang colors. I also was able to talk about their right to be respected (as well as mine) and their right to learn and be safe. Huge thank you to Dee Jones for helping me talk through rules and guidelines in the classroom.

I asked one student if I could share his painting with you. He's an African American young man. I have found him to be respectful and insightful when I ask questions. I have appreciated how he gets right to the assignment and does the work. On the left side is Anger and on the right side is what he calls his Flow (chill). I think he hit it very well as the assignment was to keep to a few colors with no symbols or forms and to pick two different emotions (prefer two contrasting ones). He is especially receptive to prayer.

This may seem like scribble or just color to you all but I am hoping that he sees how he can express himself (safely) through paint. Pray for God to use this to open some windows for some of them.

I am enjoying the class and ask that you please continue to pray for me to know how to best reach these precious ones.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Thoughts on Silence

Father Rodriguez with Kichijiro in the Movie, Silence

Thoughts on Silence

After watching the film, Silence, I was mute, full of emotion, questions and also a need to be around people (at least for a time afterwards). I won’t give a full synopsis of the film here but I did want to write down some thoughts that have been churning in me after reading Makoto Fujimura’s book, Silence and Beauty, as well as reading Endo’s novel, Silence and then finally watching Martin Scorsese’s film, Silence. That was the sequence I followed. Not saying that is the way to do it but it was my way. I found after each book and after the film that I needed space and time to fully get my questions out. Perhaps to untangle the mesh of emotions that came up as well.

I couldn’t help but think that the film and books touched so deeply on this theme of shame. How it was a profound part of the Japanese culture but is just as much a part of ours today.

In the New York Times article titled, “Shame Culture”, David Brooks writes, “The desire to be embraced and praised by the community is intense. People dread being exiled.” We tend to think of shame as something that happens very readily in Asian culture (I am a missionary kid from the Philippines and have seen first hand the effects of this “saving face” mentality and how it is handled) yet we never seem to see that it is right in front of us here in our western culture. In the article Brooks quotes from Andy Crouch who writes, “Any talk of good or bad has to defer to talk of respect of recognition…Asia’s shame culture is to have save, “face” or honor but contemporary culture is to be unique, attention grabbing…” We have become a social media society that seeks to be liked, loved, envied even but dare not be disagreed with. Crouch is quoted, “Shame culture can be unmerciful to those who disagree and to those who don’t fit in…”

In the film we see that the Japanese devise a deeper way of persecuting the Christians by using shame. They see that if they get the very Jesuits to apostatize then they can make them an example to the other Christians. They could root out this religion through the means of stepping on the fumi-e (cutting down any respect they might gain by their shamefulness).

Dan Allender, renowned psychologist, writer and founder of the Seattle School of Psychology and Theology writes, “Shame is one of the most effective weapons to silence us and shut us down. It is where Satan (his very name is “Accuser”) divides our heart most effectively from God, others and even from oneself.” In fact, Dan writes, “I often try to escape my own suffering and equally refuse the kindness of God in the midst of my struggle…yet God waits, exposes and constantly invites back.”

The film seems to play on two central figures that of Father Rodriguez and Kichijiro. Both travel through the film and become different people by the end. Father Rodriguez seems to discover his own humanity (and in it his humility as well as a deeper love for the sufferer more likened to Christ than he ever was). Kichijiro is the Judas figure of the story. He keeps betraying yet wanting to confess and be forgiven. Both men know what it means to live in shame. Yet, as Tish Warren writes in Liturgy of the Ordinary, “Our failure or successes in the Christian life are not what define us or determine our worth before God or God’s people. Instead we are defined by Christ’s life and work on our behalf.” Rodriguez literally hears Christ tell him to stomp on the fumi-e. Kichijiro relentlessly shows the ability to keep getting up and striving to live in grace even when it doesn’t seem fair to be tried so cruelly by the world.

Hebrews 12:1-2
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I heard a sermon on this passage two days after watching the film. Naturally, my ear was struck by the word, “shame” in the Scripture. What did it mean that Jesus “despised the shame?” My Pastor, David Rogers said, “Jesus FELT the cross. Don’t forget that He knew it through His own flesh and blood.” I forget as I see Jesus, the Son of God, almost inhuman at times. But He was human. FULLY human.

John Piper writes about this passage, “Shame was stripping away every earthly support that Jesus had: His friends gave way in shaming abandonment; His reputation gave way in shaming mockery; His decency gave way in shaming nakedness; His comfort gave way in shaming torture. His glorious dignity gave way to the utterly undignified degrading reflexes of grunting, groaning and screeching…”

How could the Son of God let Himself be shamed to such a level? This scripture points out the JOY set before Him. Jesus believed that shame, fully exposed, fully in the open, could be grace for all of mankind.

Rodriguez is able to let the Catholic Church believe he has apostatized. He is able to take on the role of a married man (even after taking vows that he would not do that). He is able to take the ridicule of the village children (the people) because he fell past the shame into a deeper place of love. He became one of them. No longer is he above them or using them for some deeper meaning to his life. He sees with truer eyes: They are you and you are they. And in a nutshell we aren’t enough. Not one of us is. We all fall short; we all step on our fumi-e perhaps unnumbered times a day. AND YET GOD LOVES. Phillip Yancey writes in, What’s So Amazing About Grace? “God loves people because of who God is, not because of who we are…”

There is another beautiful nugget I left with and that is true empathy. There is a line in the movie
where Inoue says to Rodriguez, "Your glory is their suffering!" Glory is not through that path at all
but in letting go and BEING with another person in their suffering, just as Christ did for us.
How does our true compassion meet shame? How does empathy help me see more clearly
the truth of how I am loved? How does Emmanuel meet me today?

Calvin Miller writes in The Table of Inwardness:

"Did I talk to God today?
Yes, some, but more than talk, I listened.
Did I see Christ in my world?
Yes, I saw nothing but Christ."

Shaming Shame, Ecclesia Houston Podcast, Dan Allender, May 15, 2016.
What’s So Amazing About Grace? Phillip Yancey, Zondervan, September 30, 1997.
Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Warren, April 1, 2015
The Table of Inwardness, Calvin Miller, July 1984.
What Does It Mean for Jesus to Despise the Shame? Article for Desiring God, John Piper, March 29, 2013.
The Shame Culture, New York Times, David Brooks, March 15, 2016.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Brushworks, Classes Starting in Juvi

Two Emotions: Anger and Peace
(My Example Piece)

A few months back I was encouraged by a dear friend to be as intentional in my observations in Juvi (Henry Wade Juvenile Justice Center here in Dallas) as I was in Big Bend when I was there painting. I've been praying about how to communicate about it. My heart is not to exploit these kids in any way. I want very much for the Brushworks class to be a safe place for them and not part of what I'm going to blog about this week. You know what I'm mean? So I'm treading carefully here. I will not be sharing their real names or any pictures of them. I will ask to share some of their artwork with you but only with permission.

The one above is mine. I did it in just a few minutes. I'm trying to show them how to loosen up and start to convey a feeling on canvas quickly. Not trying to paint something really tangible or with words just the way the paint is applied and thought through.

Last week I had 6 boys and 3 girls (all teenagers). It was a crazy class with just an hour and 15 minutes. I launched right into the first project which was to paint the left side of the canvas (first box) with the emotion they picked. They ranged from: Greed, Love, Envy, Anger, Depression, Happiness etc. In my haste to get the materials out and running I didn't go over the RULES of the class. Needless to say I will be going over rules this week... *blush* I am learning too!

In all, I felt that I had a great group of kids. They were interacting with me and were really trying to do the assignment. One boy in particular was hitting the work so well. I told him several times to put his brush down or he was going to overwork the piece. He kept painting and painting and it finally turned to mud. I could sense his frustration but I wanted him to see what happens when you go past the feeling to trying to "fix" it.

We meet in a small room that is designated for art with art materials given through a grant to Juvi. The kids come in with Detention Officers (who are very kind and helpful). I was also honored to have the Director of Volunteers in there with me who was a tremendous help. As they came in to paint I was reminded that these kids have been in trauma for so long that for them to have any space, time or reflection can be very difficult. Not only are they working through the normal adolescent angst and posturing but also the violence and abuse that has been a part of their lives for too long.

I feel very honored to be with these kids and I pray the Brushworks class can be a safe place to create, explore and have some fun. We meet every Thursday night from 6:00 - 7:15 pm.

Please pray for these precious ones. They are the Daughters and Sons of our Community, our city. Many of them haven't had the Mom's and Dad's we have had or a safe place to call home. Pray for God to show His love in real and tangible ways. Pray for me to have a balance between discipline in the class and freedom to explore and thrive.

Big Thank You to ALERT Ministries, particularly, Christina MacKenzie, Director (who has let me do this class in Juvi) and to Cynthia Wallace (Director of Volunteers at Henry Wade) who handles special programs for the kids.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

"To the Lowest Place" 60x48, Oil on Canvas Available at Joseph Gierek Fine Art

I've had the wonderful honor of being with Joseph Gierek Fine Art for over a year now. This is the ad that Joe put out in the area. I can't tell you how many times this painting has almost sold. I hope and pray that it will get a good home in 2017.