16 articles Articles posted in Faith

On the Road Again, Naturally

I can’t help but laugh at how our time frame for living anywhere has gotten shorter and shorter. When 10 years ago the big dream for my life was to buy a nice large house and settle there for 30 years or so, now that that dream has changed drastically, along with our square footage. Even our last home in mid-town, which I was sure we would put down roots in, I felt in the first month that we moved in that I shouldn’t get too attached. A short year later, we moved downtown.

We’ve been in this missional community for almost 8 months now, and through prayer, we feel God is calling us on a new adventure. One that again, feels scary and weird and full of unknowns.

rv

We are going on the road – and living in an RV.

We will have a home base in Tulsa where we have family, but will likely be living most of  life on the road, seeing the world God made, meeting new people and forming relationships for the non-profit we formed 2 years ago.

The world seems to me made to wander in, rather than to abide in one corner of it and never see what the rest has in store. -Henry Van Dyke

 

adventure

The Blue Flower is what I long for. I can think of nothing else. The place where I must abide is the place where the Blue Flower grows, and when the call comes, I must follow it. -The Blue Flower

There is a treasure of a book I read recently, an allegory called The Blue Flower. In it, the main character is given a glimpse of  a Blue Flower in a dream, the most beautiful one he has ever seen, and his heart is set on finding it.

I set out on my journey, and my home is at the end of the journey, wherever that may be. -The Blue Flower

This is an allegory for our faith – the kind of faith that forsakes all else for seeking the beauty that abides in it.

Jesus tells a similar parable of hidden treasure buried in a field, a man finds it, then sells everything he has to buy the land and get the treasure (Mt 13).

The RV is a step in this direction. Finding the treasure in the field. Knowing that it’s worth giving up comforts and permanence and lots of other things for. Finding beauty along the way, and teaching our children to do the same – and hopefully revealing more of the Father as we go. I don’t know how long we will have this lifestyle, and perhaps life overseas is next. I don’t know.

I’m just glad I follow a God that calls us out on the water for a really great adventure.

The Fasting and the Feast

I recently finished Jen Hatmaker’s book, “7 – An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess” and just had to share something with you. If you aren’t already familiar, the book talks about how she did a 7 month fast, exploring 7 different areas each month – clothes, shopping, waste, food, possessions, media, and stress. It’s very anecdotal, to which I probably skimmed through half of it, but the point was good – an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God’s movement. That’s what a fast does – it creates margin for God to move. Here is a rather long, but beautiful excerpt from the chapter on spending that resonated with me.

—-

Calligraphy and Artwork by evie s. (ie. this is not the cover of the book :)

Sunday at church we sang: ‘God, may we be focused on the least, a people balancing the fasting and the feast.’ I almost came undone. That statement sums up all my tension and hopes for the American Christ follower, the American church, the American me. With good intentions but misguided theology, the church spends most of our time, energy, resources, prayer words, programs, sermons, conferences, Bible studies, and attention on the feast, our feast to be exact.
Now certainly there is a feast, and thank you God for it. Where brokenness and starvation once consumed us, God sets us at a new table:
“Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O Lord, you preserve both man and beast. How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” ( Ps. 36:5-9)
This is the feast of the redeemed; Jesus made it possible for the wretched to dine with the Most High, neither offending His holiness nor compromising His justice. For those adopted by grace and faith, He no longer sees our failures or omissions; He only sees the righteousness Jesus covered us with. We stand safely behind Christ, made white-as-snow perfect from His substitution on the cross.
The currency of salvation includes blessings, redemption, fulfillment, peace, healing, sustenance, forgiveness, and hope. Its a spiritual jackpot. For those salvaged from the gutter by Jesus, these are new mercies every morning. We are easily overwhelmed by the goodness of God, which knows no bounds. The gospel is so liberating it is worthy of adoration every single second of every single hour of every single day forever. We will never be the same. This in indeed the feast, and to celebrate it is utterly Christian.
But the feast has a partner in the rhythm of the gospel: the fast.


Its practice is unmistakeable in Scripture. Hundreds of times we see reduction, pouring out, abstinence, restraint. We find our Bible heroes fasting from food- David, Esther, Nehemiah, Jesus. We see the Philippian church fasting from self-preservation, sending Paul money in spite of their own poverty, a true sacrifice. John the Baptist says if we have two coats, one belongs to the poor. The early church sold their possessions and lived communally, caring for one another and the broken people in their cities. We see God explain his idea of a fast: justice, freedom, food for the hungry, clothes for the naked. This balance is a given in Scripture.
If we ignored the current framework of the church and instead opened the Bible for a definition, we find Christ followers adopting the fast simultaneously with feast. We don’t see the New Testament church hoarding the feast for themselves, gorging, getting fatter and fatter and asking for more; more Bible studies, more sermons, more programs, classes, training, conferences, information, more feasting for us.
At some point, the church stopped living the Bible and decided just to study it, culling the feast parts and whitewashing the fast parts. We are addicted to the buffet, skillfully discarding the discipleship required after consuming. The feast is supposed to sustain the fast, but we go back for seconds and thirds and fourths, stuffed to the brim and fat with inactivity. All this is for me. My goodness, my blessings, my privileges, my happiness, my success. Just one more plate.
I think the early church would cover their heads with ashes and grieve over the dilution of Jesus’ beautiful church vision. We’ve taken His Plan A for mercy to an injured lost planet and neutered it to clever sermon series and Stich-and-Chat in the Fellowship Hall, serving the saved. If the modern church held to its biblical definition, we would become the answer to all that ails society. We wouldn’t have to baby-talk and cajole and coax people into our sanctuaries through witty mailers and strategic ads; they’d be running to us. The local church would be the heartbeat of the city, undeniable by our staunchest critics.

When the fast, the death, the sacrifice of the gospel is omitted from the Christian life, then it isn’t Christian at all. Not only that its boring. If I just want to feel good or get self-help, I’ll buy a $12 book from Borders and join a gym. The church the Bible described is exciting and adventurous and wrought with sacrifice. It costs believers everything and they still came. It was good news to the poor and stumped its enemies. The church was patterned after a Savior who had no place to lay his head and voluntarily died a brutal death, even knowing we would reduce the gospel to a self-serving personal improvement program where people were encouraged to make a truce with their Maker and stop sinning and join the church, when in fact the gospel does not call for a truce but a complete surrender.
Jesus said the kingdom was like a treasure hidden in a field, and once someone truly finds it, he will happily sell everything he owns to possess that field. a perfect description of the fasting and the feast. It will cost everything, but it is a treasure and an unfathomable joy. This is the balance of the kingdom; to live we must die, to be lifted we bow, to gain we must lose. There is no alternative definition, no path of least resistance, no treasure in the field without the sacrifice of everything else.

Oh Lord, may we be focused on the least; a people balancing the fasting and the feast.

What is Beauty?

There are some whose idea of beauty is just too small. We tend to make snap judgments about what is beautiful, and what is not. But beauty can be strong and astringent, disturbing, shocking and dark. It can also be  easily overlooked and ignored. I am tired of our culture creating a formula for beauty and dictating it to the masses. Recognizing beauty is not about having good taste. Tastes change as we evolve as a civilization. Trends come and go. Beauty can be a constant. A sunset will always be beautiful, a new life entering the world will always be beautiful.

As a designer, you learn that certain compositions, colors, lines and placement make a better design. If you stick to these basic proven principles, your art should be timeless. Contrived rules without scientific merit should always be questioned. Rules like, “Don’t wear white after Labor Day.”

Explore the perimeter of “good taste.” Don’t get stuck in the rut of trends and fads.  Because while I’ve found that beauty is subjective and depends on the person, it usually stays the same. If I learn to recognize on my own what is beautiful, it doesn’t change. And if I train my eye and heart to find what’s beautiful in even an ugly situation or environment, no matter what happens, that is my constant.

I don’t want to be known for my “good taste.” I want to be able to recognize beauty in unexpected places, and invite others to see it too. Maybe give what’s repulsive a second glance. Great art hasn’t always been in good taste. Before the avant-garde art movements of the twentieth century, it would be interesting to hear the Authority on Good Taste’s response to Picasso’s Guernica. In my view “good taste” can be so confining and restrictive – to the point that it isolates true beauty. 

And here is the moral here. God doesn’t really have good taste when it comes to us.

Picasso said that good taste is the enemy of great art.

Good taste has everything to do with being cultured and refined. Art has everything to do with being human. That’s why I love the Bible. The humans in the Bible are not very refined. And neither am I.

People would always say when I was a kid and say cheer up, God loves you. I would say big deal, God loves everybody, that don’t make me special. That just proves that God ain’t got no taste. And I don’t think he does. God takes the junk of our lives and he makes the greatest art in the world out of it. If God was cultured, if he was as civilized as most Christians wish he was, we would be useless to Christianity. Because God is a wild man, and I hope that over the course of your life you encounter him. – Rich Mullins

Here is what I think - things are lovely not because they are beautiful, they are beautiful because they are loved.  There is something about the things or people you love that you are attracted to and find appealing. But I think we need to enlarge the circle of what we deem beautiful. Love is the vehicle for this. Love invites us as artists to take things that would be considered without value and give it value. Art can be just as much about creative solutions for our world as it is for our own enjoyment and to the glory of God.

What are your thoughts?

Winter

I love winter and I hate it. Being cold is just so miserable, yet I love the cool wintery hue that the world takes on, and especially when it snows – the stillness and wonder that thickens the air and seems to freeze time itself.

I’ve been knitting up some cozy gifts for loved ones. I tried my hand at making these little canvas tags that have thoughtful words stamped on them and sewing them straight on – one of those sweet little details that I love incorporating into gifts.

There is a beautiful pattern for a lacy looking cowl that is just so easy and quick to knit called the Drop Stitch Cowl. If you are a member of ravelry, you can check it out there – tis free!

Since moving, I’m also making it a fun challenge to find natural beauty while living in the heart of the city. My mother gave me her flower presses about a year ago, and I’ve been pressing leaves like a mad woman, in fact it’s an addiction now.

I find God in creation. Connecting with Him in a meaningful way comes easily when I’m in nature. So being in an urban environment makes me miss, well…trees. And flowers. And just the rustic beauty of dirt and earth.

It is not unusual for me to be floored by leaves like the one above, especially the Lamb’s Ear on the far right, that feels just like – a lamb’s ear. And it grows from the ground. Is that not just completely and utterly amazing? God’s handiwork excites and inspires me like nothing else.

You know that behind the watch’s dial the hidden work of springs and gears occurs, and that the movement of the hands across the dial is caused by that hidden working. So too in terms of God’s creation, behind that creation, a hidden, secret working of God’s power and wisdom is occurring, and that only thereby do things operate as they do. This working is not an unconscious operation of a languidly propelled power, but the working of a power that is being led by three truths that fit together. First, the full and rich clarity of God’s thoughts existed in God from eternity. Second, in creation God has revealed, embedded, and embodied a rich fullness of his thoughts. And third, God created in human beings, as his image-bearers, the capacity to understand, to grasp, to reflect, and to arrange within a totality these thoughts expressed in the creation. Beauty, and beyond that, divine glory is the Spirit radiating through what appears before our eyes. -Abraham Kuyper, Wisdom & Wonder

A Full Heart

Over last weekend we successfully moved to downtown OKC – a little bit different than where we thought we were going to end up, but I am overwhelmed with gratitude where God put us in this season. We are living in apartments across the street from City Rescue mission, doing life with other believers, figuring out how we can serve and love our city, push back darkness and pursue Jesus. It’s been incredible and overwhelming. It’s rich and beautiful being in a community who have sacrificed to live lives of love, sharing, serving, and believing. Truly living out the Gospel and what it means to be the Church – The dream of Church that was deposited in me one year ago when I read this passage and caught it’s truth for the very first time:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Acts 4:32-35

It’s also a young mom’s dream – to live within steps of other moms for encouragement, support or relief. This is the way life should be. It felt so suffocating to be alone inside four walls of a house in a neighborhood, and even with all the efforts to step outside our walls, it never felt like enough. There was always something lacking.

Living in close proximity with other people, and especially other believers forces you to step outside yourself and your bubble to be accountable, refined and selfless in loving your neighbor. It’s only been 7 days, but feels like God has changed me so much already. I’m excited, and completely spilling over with the fullness of it all.

This is what we’re made for: We’re made to live for something bigger than ourselves, we’re made to give of ourselves for others – and hopefully by God’s grace, that’s why we are here, in a little apartment, in the broken, but beating heart of Oklahoma City.

—-

On a separate note, I did a little interview over at my new friend Shayla’s blog, complete with a picture of our old house that we are putting on the market to sell very soon – you can check it out here: Why Do You Blog?

How are you doing, friends?

The Theology of Enough

I have a hard time understanding how people who live with so much, as we do, think that they can get by without judgment when people live like this (at a Guatemala city dump). Some people choose poverty. But there are people right here next to us that have not chosen this. And if we turn our backs on them, we are turning our backs on Christ. -Rich Mullins

I want to talk about something that has been burning in my heart for a long time now. First let me give you some back story - For years I had the false mindset that the direct result of faith in God was prosperity, safety and comfort.

Then my husband went to Kenya, and God completely shattered that way of thinking. Kent saw people who had nothing, yet their faith in God was so rich, so beautiful, so sufficient – it wasn’t just something that fit neatly into their lives – Christ was EVERYTHING to them. Now I can see how spiritually poor I was compared to these amazing Christ followers. I had unknowingly made idols out of my comfort, my safety and my possessions.

So in the last 4 years, we have slowly down-sized our house size by 75%. We have pared down our possessions by giving things away. We live a bootstrapped life – we rarely go out to eat, we don’t go see movies or shows, don’t go on vacations, you get the point. All this to say, downsizing was something necessary for us to do so we could release our grip on self-gratification and material things. I don’t say this so you can pat us on the back, I don’t even share it with the hope that you will do the same. I simply invite you to dream with me for a moment.

Poverty was not created by God, but by you and me – because we have not learned to love our neighbor as ourselves. -Shane Claiborne

What if all who profess Christ and believe the Bible would actually do what it said? God is very clear about taking care of the poor, the widow and the orphan. God’s commands to Israel were so extensive that they were designed to eradicate poverty. (Deut. 15:4) God was then furious over Israel’s failure to care for the poor and the oppressed. (Isa. 58:1-3, 5-10)

In the book, The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne says, “We need neither the gospel of prosperity, nor the poverty gospel, but the gospel of abundance rooted in a theology of enough.” This is taken from Exodus where God commanded the Israelites to only gather what they could eat, and no more (Exo. 16:16) and of course from the Lord’s prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

There is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed. -Gandhi

In the early days of Christianity, when there was not enough food for everyone to eat, the whole community fasted until all could come to the table together. This kind of boggles my mind. We are so far from this model of doing life with our brothers and sisters in our self-serving culture.

“Does God’s dream look like Wall Street?” If everyone lived the American dream, we’d need four more planets. Can the world really afford the patterns that we’re living in? -Shane Claiborne

The theology of enough. It is something that my husband and I are still working on – we still blow money on crap that we don’t necessarily need. But the hope is that the grip will loosen more and more.

God’s love for you and God’s love for the larger world in need cannot be separated. God’s longing to see you liberated for life that really is life can’t be neatly pulled apart from God’s longing to see the poor liberated for life that really is life. My friend Nate, who works with Compassion International, sees this pretty clearly. Nate will be the first one to tell you, “Compassion’s work, releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name, is releasing me from wealth in Jesus’ name.” If your life is anything like mine, God longs to set you free from addiction to pleasure, appearances, busyness, consumption, envy, greed and self-absorption.  -Margot Starbuck

What are your thoughts, friends? Do you struggle in this area?

Nostalgic for God

I recently came across a guy named Sam Mahlstadt’s blog, then his book, Creative Theology ($10 for the eBook). The book is wonderful, and it was a huge breath of life-giving air for me to read someone that is passionate about the gift of creativity, and our role in creation.

A response to beauty is a response to the Artist.
A response to creation is a response to the Creator.

The big idea is that when we encounter intense beauty, even though we know and understand that we cannot adequately describe what we feel, we have to proclaim what we see and feel because it is the only way to respond. – Sam Mahlstadt

Following the breadcrumbs, I then came across this video of storyteller, Ian Cron talking about beauty. In it, he quotes John Paul II -

Great art makes us nostalgic for God.

Yes. And I would say that beauty makes me nostalgic for God. This is how I discover God. I see Him in his Word – but I also see Him in people, when I hear a beautiful choir, or when I’m exploring the world around me. And even when viewing the tiniest bits of earth that seem to be teeming with life (because they are).

 

But I love what he says when asked, “What is breaking your heart?”

Sometimes beauty breaks my heart. I’ve had moments in the presence of beautiful music or beautiful dance or beautiful poetry where, like an egg, I’m just cracked and poured out. I’m just brought to silence and can weep because it makes me nostalgic for God. That universal desire for redemption. And when you touch that place in the human heart – that’s heartbreaking. In the best sense of the word. So not all heartbreak is bad. Some of it is just exquisite – exquisitely, beautiful pain. -Ian Cron

 

Please, watch the video. It’s worth the 5 minutes.


 
Do you feel the same way?

Dirt & Diety

There are some days I wake up with an extra special passion for my day. I want to do it all – cook really excellent meals, create things with my hands, paint, love on my neighbors and family – today was one of those days.

I’m in the beginning of a 36-week study of Genesis. I don’t think I’ve ever spent the time to go through the first two chapters verse by verse with scrutiny. The first chapter is amazing of course, which is like viewing creation through a telescope. The second chapter views creation through a microscope and lets you in on some of the detail in which God created.

I’m noticing how the Lord bent down and made man out of the dust of the ground with care, like a great sculptor.

How he personally planted a beautiful garden, like a master gardener.

How he made beautiful trees with delicious fruit and created a sweet aroma there, like an atmospherics expert.

Today’s painting: Oil on canvas

Why did he do all this? He did it for us. For us to find pleasure in it. For us to see His glory in it and point it out to others. And man was the high point of his creation, even though He knew we would fail. Human and fallible, dirt yet deity. Wretched and beautiful. And I have a higher respect for work – God gave Adam the work of tending the garden. It was supposed to be joyful, creative, meaningful and fulfilling. With Christ, I think our work can still be this for us.

I love what Olympian Eric Liddell said – “When I run, I feel His pleasure.”

When I create, I feel His pleasure. And I’ve discovered if I’m in this frame of mind with everything I do, I can find new meaning in even the most mundane tasks because He can be in it. Even the dishes.

God created everything – food, marriage, art, music – as sacred, to glorify God. -Josh Kouri

On Loving Your Neighbor

Can I just first admit that I’m not good at this? Loving your neighbor can be hard. It can push on selfish tendencies. Sometimes people you are trying to love will take advantage of you. Then the risk is to insulate yourself from people all together, so you aren’t ever wronged again. But Jesus didn’t say it would be easy. He didn’t even say that people will love you back. He just said to do it. And sometimes, loving hurts.

Like today when I felt completely vulnerable and taken advantage of by a stranger I was trying to love, trying to help, but felt like it completely backfired. It was a hard lesson – that in the process of loving, you can be left hurting. That’s why I feel like what Jesus teaches is SO upside down. He says to love those who might take advantage of you. Why? I’m reading through Luke right now and I just keep asking, why, why, WHY?

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? (from Matthew 5)

Coming off the high of Circles Conference, it was very difficult to get back into the rhythm of motherhood – especially because it’s been so dang hard lately. Both boys, at 2 and 3 are extremely high need, and high energy. I often wish I could just skip the hard part and go to the easy part (is there an easy part?), the more rewarding part.

My second born, at 2 years old.

Donald Miller tells the story of how he hiked to the city of Maccu Picchu. The hike was incredibly hard and painful. But the pain made the city more beautiful. The story made him a different character than had he had skipped the pain and showed up at the ending an easier way.

Our sweet neighbor and friend.

So sometimes the things most worth doing can be the most painful, but the most enriching, the most beautiful. Like marriage, kids, gosh-just relationships in general, faith, loving your neighbor – those are all really difficult – but it’s worth getting through the difficult parts because those are the things that make up a life well-lived. And I want to live life really well. I want to love my neighbor well. I want to serve my family with joy. It’s hard, and it hurts, but in the end, I just have to remind myself that it’s worth it. Because I honestly don’t really love this world as it is, but I love it enough to want to change it – and that starts with changing myself.

Thoughts?

Circles Conference – Pt. 1

Circles Conference was amazing. Three total days packed with meeting new people, listening to inspiring talks from artists I’ve long admired, and soaking up some much needed independence. Ismael Burciaga (the event coordinator) has been an online friend for a few years now, but I was totally blown away by him as a person – completely selfless and generous, an amazing host.

Sketched talk notes by Sean Wes

While on my trip, I made it a point to talk to everyone I sat by – at the airport, on the plane, on the shuttle, wherever. This is something I don’t always get to do when my kids are around, because I’m so engrossed with watching them, but it’s become one of my favorite things to do. Remember that rule your mom told you when you were little, “Don’t talk to strangers?” Well, it doesn’t apply anymore. So I met lots of new people en route to Dallas, TX, and had interesting conversations. As I shared in my conference talk, meeting new people helps you discover who you are, having new experiences strengthens your art. This was the case for me.

  • I met Abee, a hard-working Ethiopian who drives a shuttle to put food on the table for his two kids.
  • Vladimir, a young Russian valet who dropped his gambling addiction when he started a family.
  • Gary, a bored gentleman who travels to Florida every two weeks to check on his vacation home while his busy Dr. Wife works – but I don’t think he was telling me the whole story.
  • And two lovely ladies who had me laughing so hard I was crying during my late night wait at the airport to return home.

Many of the speakers told their personal stories. I met so many people at the conference that shared their story. And I shared mine. I talked about my belief in story with a new friend named Ryan Rushing at lunch.

All that said to say, I think I am coming to believe more and more in story. I don’t think life in any way is a story about any of us, by any means. But I do believe that a story can inspire, relate to, and transform other people’s stories.

The very last talk was by Cameron Moll, sort of a web design hero of mine. But he spoke mainly about his work with charity : water. Getting to travel with Scott Harrison to build wells in Ethiopia, seeing first hand the impact made on foreign soil. He showed photos of little children that had never seen their image frozen on the screen of a camera before, and another photo of a house made of rocks that the villagers had unearthed from the ground.

That’s when it hit me.

Being an artist is a privilege. It’s not just a privilege it’s a luxury. As artists, we are given this unique ability and means to shape culture, to be creative in meeting the needs of the world. To do something beautiful and meaningful with it. That was the big takeaway for me – I left feeling inspired, and not just that – ready to take action.

After Cameron’s talk, Dan Mall had an interesting question. That we all know that a non-profit like charity : water is important – one that is a matter of life and death – but what of all the other causes? What about causes that aren’t a matter of life and death?

In retrospect, I think other causes are just as important as preventing unnecessary/unjust death. Because there are so many people that are “living,” but haven’t learned to really “live.” Their story is one of heartbreak, loss, loneliness, or pain. But we as artists, and especially as Christians, have this interesting opportunity to teach and show people how they can really live. It’s building Life on life. It’s showing people the potential in their story, and pointing them to the ultimate Story that weaves us all together.

(more to come)

Check out some other great write-ups on the conference: Kevin / Sean / Dan / Emily