Tag Archives: Artist

Unexpected Events in the Narrative

…after having heard that Lazarus was ill, [Jesus] stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
John 11:6 (NRSV)

One of the things that has always fascinated me about Jesus’ story, is the way in which Jesus is aware of the bigger picture of all that is happening in and around Him. There is a master plan that is being carried out. The conflict between Jesus and the religious powers-that-be has been growing for some time, but it is all part of the Great Story narrative that God has been authoring since Genesis. Jesus continually speaks and acts in a way to move the narrative toward its prescribed conclusion.

Life and death, death and resurrection are the grand themes of the Great Story. Jesus knows that events are falling into place. Characters are in their places and the cues are being called. Jesus will soon play His part in the grand climax of the story. He will die and then rise again to life in three days. For those who had ears to hear it, Jesus has been saying it all along…

“I will destroy this temple and raise it in three days.”

“Just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the fish, so for three days the Son of Man will lie in the earth.”

In today’s chapter, Jesus hears of Lazarus’ illness and chooses to stay right where He is. He is waiting for Lazarus to die. This is part of the story, though for Mary and Martha their brothers sudden illness and Jesus’ subsequent refusal to act must be both unexpected and frustrating. Jesus must allow Mary and Martha to suffer the grief and sorrow of their brother’s death, knowing the eucatastrophe that will ultimately allow them to experience the power of Life. The author of creation is a master artist and writer, and He is calling the shots. One dramatic miracle, the resurrection of Lazarus, will accomplish multiple layers of purpose:

  • Lazarus’ resurrection will foreshadow Jesus’ resurrection.
  • Jesus’ miracle will up the ante. He has revealed power of sickness and nature, but now He raises the stakes and will publicly reveal His power over death itself.
  • In upping the ante, He will force the hand of His enemies. They will feel compelled to go all in.

Over this past week, Wendy and I have experienced a small handful of unexpected life events that have us scratching our heads. We can’t see clearly where circumstance is leading for us or our loved ones, nor do we have focus regarding how these small events fit in the bigger narrative of our stories. This morning I am reminded, and encouraged, that the author of creation is a master story-teller, and I can trust that He is writing our own stories to fit perfectly into the Great Story narrative.


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The Language of God

Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
John 10:6 (NRSV)

I taught a class a year ago called The Language of God,  and in the class I and my classmates walked through the Great Story, unpacking evidence that metaphor (something that represents something else) is the medium God incessantly uses to communicate Himself to us. God is Creator. God is an artist. God reveals Himself in creation and in word pictures.

John understood this better than Matthew, Mark, or Luke. In his biography of Jesus, John begins by revealing Jesus as “The Word.” Since then, John has communicated different metaphors that both John the Baptist and Jesus used to communicate who He was…

Lamb of God
Water of Life
Bread of Life
Light of the World
The Gate
The Good Shepherd

John isn’t done. There are more metaphors, more word pictures, to come in the remaining chapters.

I find it fascinating that John records that Jesus used “this figure of speech” or way of speaking, “but they didn’t understand what he was saying to them.” Later in the chapter the religious lawyers even make it more blunt, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus response: “I have told you.” And indeed, Jesus has been telling them all along. They were so myopically focused on the scribes’ ink on the papyrus of their precious scrolls that they couldn’t interpret the language of metaphor, the living Word, that was being communicated in front of their eyes and in their very own ears.

“Those who have the ears to hear,” Jesus said. Those who can interpret the word pictures Jesus is verbally painting, those who can understand the language of metaphor, they get what He is saying.

Understanding God’s Message is deeper than being able to read the ink on the page. You have to understand the language of metaphor our Creator/Artist God is using in His works of creation and the Great Story He authors.


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Artist’s Date

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 (NIV)

Wendy and I will sometimes go on an artist’s date with friends. Often it’s just another couple, though we have done it with slightly larger groups. We typically go to the Des Moines Art Center because it’s close, it’s free, and it has an amazing collection of 19th and 20th century artwork. Here’s how the artist’s date works:

First, we wander together through the Art Center quickly browsing through each gallery. Each person is to be open  and mindful to pay attention to what particular piece of artwork strikes them for whatever reason.

Once we’ve made it through the Art Center, we then spread out, each person to the one piece that struck them the most as we browsed. This time, we stand or sit in front of that piece of artwork and look at it for 30 minutes.  There are no particular rules. You might look at it from different angles. You might get in close to inspect the brushwork. You might just sit in one spot and stare at it. I personally like to bring a journal (and a pencil, the Art Center doesn’t like you using a pen!) and write my thoughts.

When the 30 minutes are up, everyone meets back at the lobby. We go to a nice restaurant, order some good food and drink, and then take turns sharing what art work we looked at and what we gleaned from our 30 minutes with it. It’s always fascinating to hear others share.

When you look at an artist’s work, really look at it, you eventually begin to catch a glimpse of that artist. The painting, the photograph, the drawings, the sculpture are an expression of what’s inside the heart and mind of the artist.

We often forget that God first reveals Himself to us as Creator. “In the beginning, God created….” God is an artist, and the universe is an ongoing work of art as the heavens expand out into the seemingly endless canvas of space and time. When you look at creation, really look at it, you begin to catch a glimpse of the Artist. Detailed, ordered, and infinitely particular while at the same time infinitely playful and diverse in subject, composition, line, color, and form.

Today, I have the fortune of driving for several hours through forecasted rain and snow as I make my way home. My artist’s date today is in the Art Center of nature and I will focus my attention on God’s artwork: Prairie Winter. I can’t wait to see what new things there are for me to glean as I study the landscape.

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Green God

If you besiege a town for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. Although you may take food from them, you must not cut them down. Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you? You may destroy only the trees that you know do not produce food; you may cut them down for use in building siegeworks against the town that makes war with you, until it falls.
Deuteronomy 20:19-20 (NRSV)

One of the things that I have quietly gained as a life long fan and student of J.R.R. Tolkien is an appreciation for trees. Tolkien loved trees and his expression of love is woven throughout his works. In his creation story, there are two trees, gold and silver, which produced light. When evil destroys the trees their fruit become the sun and moon.

Throughout the Lord of the Rings you find Tolkien’s love of trees expressed through Old Man Willow, the ents, and through the elves who dwell in the forests and carry the blessings of all things that grow. Those who are evil, like the wizard Saruman and his minions, fell the trees and destroy the forests to fuel their war machine and generally tear down that which is good. As a result, it is the trees embodied by the Ents and the mysterious forest of Huorns who rise up against evil and help usher in an unexpected victory in The Two Towers.

So it is that I read with keen interest God’s command to the ancient Hebrew in today’s chapter. The army was not to fell any tree that was living and bearing fruit. When laying siege to an enemy city, they could eat the fruit of the surrounding trees but were forbidden from cutting them down to use in building siege engines and utensils of war. Only trees which were already dead could be used for such purposes.

I am reminded this morning that our Creator and artist God began His work on earth with a garden, and at the center of the garden He placed a very special tree. The vision of the end given to us in John’s revelation likewise makes special mention of a tree:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Revelation 22:1-2

I am not much of a gardener and I often joke of having a “brown thumb.” Yet, along life’s journey I have grown to appreciate that God, like Tolkien, is a gardner and a lover of trees. If I am to be like Him, then I must grow to love, appreciate, and protect gardens and trees and the living things that grow in His creation.

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featured image: The Tree of Life , Gustav Klimt

Warriors to Writers

American troops in an LCVP landing craft appro...
American troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach 6 June 1944. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sons of Ulam were brave warriors who could handle the bow. They had many sons and grandsons—150 in all. 1 Chronicles 8:40 (NIV)

I remember well the conversations between boys on the playground of Woodlawn Elementary School. There is something God instilled in boys that we begin to measure one another by physical strength and prowess at a young age. When comparisons on the playground ended in some kind of dead heat, the arguing escalated to comparing fathers, grandfathers, and ancestors for bragging rights. Those bragging rights often rested on military service, especially those whose male ancestors fought in a war.

I admit that, at the time, I always feared this escalation of generational military comparison. My friend, Scott, had an actual saber from one of his forebears who served in the Civil War. That was the ultimate trump card. As far as I knew, there wasn’t too much of the warrior spirit to brag about on either side of the family. My uncle was a navy man in the Korean war, but being a cook on a landing craft wasn’t about to go over big with the boys on the playground. My maternal grandfather served in the Civil Defense during WWII, but having a helmet and billy club to defend Des Moines from the Imperial Forces of Japan wasn’t exactly the stuff of playground legend either. I still remember that billy club. It was made from a sawn off pool cue, but that didn’t compare to a Civil War saber.

As I’ve been reading through the genealogies of the tribes of Israel the past week, I’ve noticed that “mighty warriors” get called out quite often by the Chronicler. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. And, I get it. A few weeks ago our country celebrated Memorial Day followed by an apt commemoration of D-Day. We honored the warriors, both men and women, who put themselves on the front lines to defend our country, our culture, our freedom, and our values from those who have sought to take that away.

Around 450 B.C. when the scribe was first penning the genealogies of the book of Chronicles, I believe things were far more precarious than anything we know in America today. City states and villages were under constant threat of raids and attacks. The Chronicles were written after both Israel and Judah had suffered destruction and exile at the hands of Assyria and Babylon. “Mighty Warriors” who could defend a village, town, or tribe were honored because they were an every day insurance policy against being raided, pillaged, tortured and killed.

Everyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about the arts, but it is not lost on me that the freedom and affluence which affords me the luxury of being able to explore every medium of art was made possible by the blood sacrifice of warriors. I have always heard versions of the quote, “I was a soldier, so my son can be a farmer, so his son can be a poet.” I did a little digging to find the source of that quote and found it predicated on a letter our American founder, John Adams, wrote to his wife, Abigail:

I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy.  My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce, and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry, and Porcelaine.
Letter to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1780

Today, I’m thankful for the warriors, leaders, farmers, teachers, and businesspeople who paved the way for writers, poets, musicians, artists, actors, and playwrights to work in peace and freedom.

Life Imitates Art

Canon EOS 6D f/4 1/1000 ISO1000
Canon EOS 6D f/4 1/1000 ISO1000
Art by Mathew R. Kelly
Art by Mathew R. Kelly

A few months ago, Wendy and I acquired a wonderful work of art by our friend Mat Kelly. It’s now hanging in our dining room where I get to appreciate it every day. On our guys weekend at the lake a few weeks ago I went out on a personal photo safari and happened upon this old tree whose roots had been exposed through erosion caused by the constantly fluctuating lake level. In the dead of winter the lake level is very low and it creates some very interesting sights. As soon as I saw this tree and the system of intertwining, gnarled roots I immediately thought of Mat’s artwork.

There is wisdom and fascinating stories in the exposed roots of an old tree.

A Personal and Artistic Stretch

Cover of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever...
Cover of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

As an artist, it’s always good to stretch yourself.

Tonight I start rehearsals as director of the holiday show for our community theatre. “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” has become a Christmas classic. Set in the early 1950s, it’s the tale of a family of ruffians who discover that there’s free food at sunday school. They come to check it out just as parts are being divvied out for the annual Sunday School Christmas pageant and he bullies end up with the critical parts of the Christmas story. Chaos ensues.

I’m excited about the great group of talented kids who tried out and are in the show. I will admit, however, that this is not a show I typically like to direct. If you look at my resume you’ll find that I like to direct small casts of adults in comedies or dramas. Directing a host of children and youth is stretch for me. In fact, I confess to you this morning that part of me is feeling something close to complete terror. But, I know it’s always good to stretch yourself.

Here we go.