Archive for the ‘spirituality’ Category

Walking out…

August 9, 2007

Perhaps it’s the heat of summer, maybe it’s the LA mindset, or maybe I’m finally finding some personal freedom… whatever the reason, I’ve noticed I’ve been walking out of things lately. Here’s what I mean:

This is not my proudest moment, but consider the circumstances: eight hours of class (six of which was spent slowly and painfully picking through the Gospel of Luke), consumption of one half of a huge airpot of coffee (can we say over caffeinated!?), and my frustration that this class had failed my expectations. These, in addition to online chatting with classmates, led to a state of humor and delirium that gave me the giggles. I started laughing so hard I couldn’t hold it back, and I had to walk out of class. Again not my proudest moment, but it sure felt good to laugh that hard.

Here it is: I’m having a hard time with church lately. I think it’s a side effect of being in seminary, but it’s really confusing and frustrating. While I’m being spiritually fed in classes, readings, conversations, the 60 minute church service has become unsatisfying and uncomfortable. It’s not for lack of trying, believe me. In addition, my sporadic travel keeps me from regular attendance, and my roommate who I normally go with to a local congregation, is gone for the next 6 weeks. Regardless, last Sunday I was so thirsty for the presence of God that I willed myself to go alone and put up with the rituals of the suburban attractional church. I sat down and waited …

A recent Fuller grad preached so full of theological wit that made me feel I was more in the classroom than church. I started to grimace, but I kept with it … until he flashed a timeline of Israel’s history on screen. This was the exact same timeline I had been studying the past four hours for an Old Testament midterm the following Tuesday. My heart and hungry spirit sank. Another study session was not what I needed to connect with God. I contemplated sitting there as a practice of endurance, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the strength. I got up and walked out.

I’ve seen some pretty crazy movies this past year, especially like Trade, Teeth, or Adrift in Manhattan at Sundance. I’d say I’ve developed a tolerance to sit through almost anything. I can resign it to a filmmaker or Hollywood’s vision, and appreciate it for what it is on its own terms. Yet doing so has desensitized me to the jarring nature of film.

Last night, a friend and I went to see Goya’s Ghosts with Natalie Portman. I got my artists confused and thought it would be about Gauguin and the wife he left behind to pursue painting. Not so. It was a very vivid and disturbing portray of the Inquisition in Spain, including how people were “put to the question” (i.e. tortured) to gain a confession to heresy. My friend leaned over after an intense abuse scene and said, “This is making me uncomfortable, I need to leave, but feel free to stay.”

I thought about it, but decided to walk out too. As soon as we hit the lobby, I knew it was a good decision. While at some point I’ll rent it to see the end, walking out validated how horrible the historical event of the Inquisition was, how powerful the medium of film can be, and how effected we are by the images on screen. It was good for me to say back to my friend, “Yea, this is pretty intense. Let’s go.”

Go ahead and judge me if you will. I know I would. But in the meantime I’m going to relish in these little moments of freedom when my soul and self care become a greater priority that someone else’s program or agenda. Hooray!


CIVA Part One: The great stuff

June 24, 2007

CIVA guidance

Last weekend I was lucky enough to get to the Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) conference. Hosted at Messiah College outside Harrisburg Pennsylvania, a few hundred artists of faith gathered together to learn, network and encourage. I’ve tried to write about it in one long post, but to spare you and me both, I’ll break it up into three parts and post them over the next few days.

Jurried gallery

The conference theme, “Transforming Space” addressed four different types of space: (1) the Museum/Gallery space [pictured above: the juried gallery], (2) the Church/Worship space, (3) Cultural/Critical space, and (4) the Built/Designed space. It was the later track that brought me to the conference – anyone talking about design and faith gets my attention these days.


Each of the four tracks were spearheaded by a scholar/artist in a relative field. Earl Tai [pictured above on the right], professor and Fullbright scholar at the well respected Parsons New School for Design, spoke for the built/designed track. In a short presentation during a plenary session, he quickly sparked unexpected interest by presenting a missional approach to design. He asked how design is currently meeting the needs of the world and dared to advocate that it can take on the biggest questions of our era.

Needless to say, his session quickly packed out. Many attendees changed their seminar choice to hear him elaborate on these ideas, and we weren’t disappointed. He put words to the nagging desire creatives feel to be doing more with design than pay the bills and buy our cool chairs. Yet this is just a gut feeling to serve global community with a severe lack of guidance into action. So, instead we take the our valuable “design capital” and go where the money and patronage is: commerce. But the question still nags and remains unanswered. At best, it’s relegated to pro-bono work which cooks up a mix of guilt for not doing more and angst for not getting paid our worth. Tai gave a wonderful effort to “move forward with resolve” to answer this dilemma.

His theological foundation was as follows:

    1. Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of God, and ushers it in with his death and resurrection – in doing so we know God’s redemptive plan.

    2. The kingdom of God is now and here. It’s “already, but not yet.”

    3. The coming of God’s kingdom is not a detached spiritual reality – but fully engaged in this world (this was the standard theological foundation for the conference allowing artists to let God use them and their work for transformation). This leads beyond a “functional” view of art and design into a “redemptive” view of art and design.

    4. Therefore, we can, and are called to play a role in God’s redemptive plan > the goal of which is transformation.

    5. The task of designers and artists is to envision a heavenly ideal and bring it to fruition in this world. He sited N.T. Wright who said, the heart of mission is mandated in the arts as it is in a field such as chemistry.

He lost me a bit on this heavenly ideal using Revelation 21 (the shining new Jerusalem) and Isaiah 11 (the branch from the stump of Jessie). Though I liked the way he tied Philippians 4:8 and common grace into “defamilarizing the mundane to break through and come face to face with an ideal such as beauty, justice, and peace”. He also included the philosophy that supported art/design for the masses for ‘good’ using the Distributive Justice philosophy of John Rawls (Though my professor William Dryness later told me he personally considers this theory faulty…hmm).

Regardless of the philosophical details and my struggles with the heavenly ideal (more below on that), I think Tai is right on to give designers such a theological foundation. Gosh it’s the story of my post-collegiate life. Part of me couldn’t believe what I was hearing, that someone had thought this out. Wahoo!

I wish I thought more on my feet and wasn’t such a processor (though the processing is the main reason I’m turning into a more and more verbose blogger). I’d want to ask him more about his heavenly ideal – is it limited to an elite modernist aesthetic that would cure the worlds ailments?

I hope not. There is something to say about a design based on a contextual aesthetic. Simple can be beautiful. Cost effective can be beautiful. It doesn’t need to show up at the high end dealers. Something at Target – or better yet a freeware style technology available for anyone to reproduce (like the Pot-in-Pot cooling system that keeps produce up to 21 days rather than just 2-3 in rural Africa) can be beautiful. A modest local, natural and sustainable solution can quietly steal the show and paradoxically be a radical transformation.

“Design” is such a wide-range of practices (graphic, product, environmental, architecture, etc) there is still much to flesh out. I hope to engage graphic design down the road, but Tai focused on architecture. He did a wonderful job showcasing projects that used innovation to radically transform lives. I’ll leave you with three examples:

Sergio Palleroni, professor at University of Washington and Austin, takes students into rural Mexico to design and build facilities, such as a communal kitchen, which embody the values of the local community, dignify the people and provide an effective and helpful finished project for the community.

Sam Davis Architecture in Berkeley, California worked to create an open and communal environment for the homeless. The open space offers healing and validation through elements of the design such as windows that create a two way line of vision with the outside world. Davis listened to his clients who told him they who don’t want to be in a closed off and boxed into shelter, but given a space that does not shame or hide them.

Diebedo Kere, the first to study abroad from his village in Burkina Faso, returned as an architect and innovated clay building methods. Previously unstable compared to imported building materials, he was behind the design and construction of the Gando Primary School home to 350 students in Gando, his home village, which has an illiteracy rate of 80%. In support of such innovation, the government now pays the teachers salaries and the school now functions as a community center.

Retaining faith

June 23, 2007

“Teach us, O God not to torture ourselves, not to make martyrs of ourselves through stifling reflection; but rather teach us to breathe deeply in faith, through Jesus, our Lord.” -Soren Kierkegaard

This quote hit me today and helped bring me back to some semblance of center. Studying and thinking about God, faith and culture can leave me dry, agitated and anxious. I have no answers.

Yet I have teachable lungs. I’m swimming up from the depths of books and my thoughts bursting for fresh air. Each day, I’m bursting. My soul suffocates without this faith, this freedom, this love of Jesus.

Bola Moyo = Better Life

June 3, 2007

Bola Moyo logo

A good friend I knew from the design program at Chico State, Cara Pattison, shocked me and our classmates by leaving the design field after finishing school. Yet, in a sense, she really hasn’t left design behind. Since graduating, she and her husband Dustin, have since started a non-profit called Bola Moyo (which means ‘better life’) to work with Africans in Balaka, Malawi at the grassroots level. They aim to:

…mobilize and support African communities in response to poverty, suffering, and inequality. Our vision is to see thousands of Africans empowered, living free from the oppression of poverty and disease, and realizing their potential to live productive and purposeful lives.

Cara was in the Pasadena area over the weekend, and we finally got to catch up yesterday after a few years going in our own directions. I heard stories and got to see pictures of the kids and staff they interact with, as well as the House of Many Stories Youth Centre where they have created a welcoming after school program for the kids in the Balaka area. These after-school programs started to provide a nurturing place to play and have expanded to give a needed education supplement in English and Math. Its all run by locals and Cara and Dustin are only there three months out of the year. They have many other plans in the works to continue making strides to help the youth’s chances of succeeding in further education and life in general.

Though she wouldn’t say so, I think Cara is a still very much a designer. Of course she handles their graphics for the organization – see the identity above and their website (which she whipped after simply sitting through a tutorial with dreamweaver), there is more going on. In the larger picture Cara with her husband are drawing from process-based clear thinking and problem solving innate in the practice of design to carry out the very mission of their organization. They are intentional about hearing the needs of their clients (people in the Malawi community) and brainstorming and developing solutions to meet the goal (addressing HIV/AIDS, better education, quality of life) in a holistic way for both the long and short term.

I’m finding designers, whether in a studio job or not, tend to use these innate skills in what they’re engaged with. Bola Moyo get me excited because Cara is using her skills along with those of her husband, her staff and many volunteers to benefit the marginalized who need it most.

Cara and Dustin – keep up the wonderful work. Thanks for sharing your journey!

To find out more and support Bola Moyo, see their website and follow their blog.

Clap your hands if you’re alive in this

May 21, 2007

Turns out I’m alive, and turns out I’m in this. Get to dancing and grooving; the hula hoops are in the back.

I spent this weekend at the Joshua Tree Music Festival out in the desert. I don’t have dreads, tattoos, or skills with a hula hoop, but there I was. The whole experience was ridiculously new to me, but it was great. I spend so much time in books these days, I loved the live music and the wonderful laid back folks who emphasize peace, love and fun. To be part of a community ready to celebrate life (and not just think about it) was a great break and quite eye opening. Chatting up strangers until they aren’t strangers anymore is the mode of operation. I was impressed by the hospitality around us (which started with offers to help us set up our tent within 5 minutes of our arrival).

My good friend Katie was raised in the festival environment and passionate about the great music and people. Talk about hospitality – the weekend started with her bringing me into the festival world. I’m so grateful she shared the experience with me. In addition, the music was quite different from my store-bought CD music knowledge, and I needed some background throughout the weekend:

Me: “So…why don’t they stop between songs?”
Katie: “That’s how they play, stream of conscience. It’s called jamming.”
Me: “Oh!”

The first night I was hit by so many thoughts. I guess my theological mindset travels with me and wants to affirm where I see God moving and working. In this environment it was clearly evident: the community, hospitality, attitude of celebration. But even more I was struck by how these artists were sharing their work for the benefit of the whole – unabashedly rallying the crowd to the cause of peace, joy with a quality crafted beat to move and groove to. Call it hippie music, but it was good. It was holistic and direct from the source of those who’d created it.

One of the artists, who played solo by looping beats and melodies on his guitar, was grateful to share the “healing frequencies” he’d been playing this past year. My made my heart twinge in my own gratefulness for him. I wondered if I’m finding ways to share my own “healing frequencies” with those around me?

Granted admist all the wonderful things I saw, and there was much to pass on. I tried to keep the deer in the headlights look to a minimum. Yet there is something to it… and the freedom to choose God made my tie stronger to him. Thought it was interesting how many artists acknowledged a spiritual connection, whether it was a mystical, eastern, “mamma earth” or “creator”, it’s obvious they were tapping into the spiritual realm too.

Larger picture: it affirmed the need (again) for spirituality in religion. John Drane said it best when the secular society has become spiritual, but the church has become secular. A squeaky clean welcome/worship/message/in an hour God is good, but nothing close to kinesthetic, spontaneous, hospitable and incredibly personal God I felt closer to this weekend. There are droves who’d drive out to the desert to find community and haven with each other, and are seeking some larger connection to the divine. Something to think about.

Pictures? In the theme of sharing and community, check out photos from other festival-goers tagged on flickr. A pesky memory card error left me with corrupt jpegs, and will keep this weekend’s memory only in my mind. Perhaps that’s where it needs to be to remember the larger picture.


April 22, 2007

[Discipleship] is nothing other than being bound to Jesus Christ alone. This means completely breaking through anything preprogrammed, idealistic, or legalistic. No further content is possible because Jesus is the only content. There is no other content besides Jesus. He himself is it. p 59

Sometimes I sense people looking at me, wanting content. It’s the same way I look at others and my RSS feed, looking for content. Something clever, smart or just good to hear. Then the disappointment comes.

I am a shell. Do not look to me, I have no answers, only questions. If you wait for a good day when I’ve taken time to me clean my windows and God can shine through me, then you might get a glimpse Jesus Christ who lives here. Like Bonhoeffer says above in Discipleship He is the only content. I promise that’s what you and I both are after.


April 8, 2007

Lately my prayers have been whispers.

To the point.

I believe these prayers dear to God. Different of course from the as the ornate collects and other liturgy in the common book of prayer, yet just as true. I am broken, trying to move close to God, but his glory is intimidating. I’m at his feet with ashamed whispers.

But he hears.
He is my Father.

Brendan Manning’s words ring in my ears: God loves me as I am, not as I should be. I notice evidence of my Abba responding in my life through circumstances, friends, peace in my heart.

My jaw drops.
I look around,
Did you notice that?
I did.
I know I did,
but it’s fleeting.
It’s … mystical, spiritual, bizarre
when you know that you’ve been heard,
really heard,
by the divine.

God heard me.
God hears you.
God hears our whispered prayers.

May this resound today of all days. May you draw close to the source to celebrate LIFE, even (especially) among the whispers of your soul.

Personal Altarpiece

March 19, 2007

Final altarpiece

The amazing thing about my degree at Fuller is the occasional option to work on creative projects in place of traditional academic papers. My Theology and Culture class was like this and I jumped at the chance to work on a painting piece.

My professor, John Drane, kept asking why the church is largely ignoring the alternate spiritual seekers (new age, crystals, Buddhist, etc) who are already in touch with a spiritual quest. The looming question about spirituality resonated with me, and made me look harder at what spirituality is, and the ways I incorporate it in my own life.

Candle sketch 4

He also brought up some interesting statistics. Did you know the candle industry is a 3 billion dollar industry? These aren’t just the emergency candles in the kitchen junk drawer! After I admitted to myself lighting candles is one of the ways I express my spirituality, I started to wonder about this strange mix of consumerism and spirituality. Drinking coffee with a good friend to experience community, or practicing yoga to find peace and centering with my entire body came to mind. These are both practices that are heavily marketed and available for consumption, yet help me live a Christian life.

Coffee Cup watercolor

I started to wonder what it would look like to paint each object as icons of my own spirituality in an altarpiece. My mind started racing, is this alright? Is this theologically sound? Is it heresy? Is it satire? Am I putting my junk on the altar before God to be cleansed/blessed? Probably a bit of all of these, but I needed to paint it and embark on the journey posing the question/making the statement as only art can.

When I didn’t get my project proposal back from my professor and the TA with “HEATHEN!” written across it, I figured I was ok. I could have piggybacked on the 168 film project using that for the assignment, but I really wanted to pick up a paintbrush.

It actually turned out to be a catalyst for an inter artistic struggle. Oof, and it was quite a struggle. Not only because it was hard to get back into the painting/fine arts mode after being in the world of film and academics, but the pressure I was putting on myself to crank out a solid piece of work. I had a few bad drafts which put me in a few funky moods, but thanks to the girls who live around me who listened to me vent about the plight of the christian artist (or the artist who happens to be christian) and encouraged me on, I was able to find peace and centering. This is not about me, duh.

Working on the iPod

So the next three nights, I stayed up till the wee hours of the morning painting away. It was a sweet time with a paintbrush, and I’m pretty happy with the final altar (considering I almost gave up on the whole project a few times). It’s not technically perfect, and if I did another draft, it’d probably get better. Yet due dates are due dates, and I turned it in. I’m curious to hear what people think and how they react to it. I’m pretty sure I’ll be submitting it to the gallery at Fuller for the Arts Fest week coming up in April to be part of that dialogue.

Speaking of going to the movies…

March 12, 2007

amazing grace

Fuller’s Reel Spirituality Institute co-director and my Sundance professor, Craig Detweiler, is quoted in the USA Today about the recent Amazing Grace film release. He gives good perspective about the impact Christians can have in simply going to the movies. “The chance to support films that we may believe in is certainly preferable to (merely) protesting what we don’t like.”

Also interesting is the recent connection to film releases and social justice causes. The article sites Inconvenient Truth and Blood Diamond as examples for the recent surge of social conscience in environmentalism and the diamond trade. Amazing grace is to is tied to an effort by Bristol Bay Productions, to end tragic modern day forms of slavery around the world. You can add your name to a petition to bring the issue formally before the US and other international governments.

Father Matthew Presents

March 2, 2007

Sorry for the silence of late, it’s been busy and *some other lame excuse here*.

Anyway, I’m discovering Father Matthew’s videocasts. Pretty funny stuff. This one about lack of marketing in seminary is not only hilarious, but poignant:

(ht Church Marking Sucks)