Tag Archives: Artist

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.

chapter a day banner 2015

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.

A Lesson in Asaph’s Unique Lyric Style

But as for me, I will always proclaim what God has done;
Psalm 75:9a (NLT)

If jazz is playing in the background and I hear Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet, I know it. If an electric guitar solo is being played by Carlos Santana, I can tell it’s him. Walk into an art museum and I can tell you immediately the Picasso from the Matisse and the Rothko from the Miro. Ernest Hemingway’s voice as a writer is so distinctive that there’s an annual contest to see who can best parody him, and Woody Allen used Hemingway’s own words to humorously establish the character in his movie Midnight in Paris [see video]. Artists, musicians, and writers have distinctive styles that mark their work. God is an artist, and making us in His image He gave us the gift of being able to express ourselves uniquely. Just as each of our DNA is unique, so our creative expressions (when we honestly express ourselves) is unique.

Psalms 73-78 are a grouping of songs penned by Asaph. As I read through the lyrics of Psalm 75 the phrase in the line above struck me: “But as for me….” That sounds a lot like what I read the past two mornings.

  • But as for me, it is good to be near God.” Ps 73:28
  • But you, O God, are my king from of old.” Ps 74:12
  • But as for me, I will always proclaim what God has done.” Ps 75:9a

As with all artists, Asaph had developed a personal style. He likes to set up a scene with his lyrics and then drive a stake in the ground establishing his faith in contrast to all that he sees around him. It’s effective. It causes me to think about my own personal faith and my belief system in contrast to the world around me. Where do I place my own personal stake in the ground?

  • I see a lot of brokenness, but I believe God redeems broken things.
  • I see a lot that I don’t understand, but I believe God is telling a story that will someday be complete and all will come into context.
  • I see many who give up on the faith journey, but I am going to press on.
  • I observe many self-proclaimed believers who differentiate themselves by what they piously and religiously don’t do, but I want to differentiate myself by being loving, gracious, and forgiving.

Chapter-a-Day Hosea 1

from loren javier via Flickr

When the Lord first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, “Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods.” Hosea 1:2 (NLT)

Hosea was written in whacky period of ancient history about 750 years before Christ. After King David and his son Solomon, the small kingdom of Israel had been broken up in a civil war. The southern kingdom was called Judah and their kings followed the lineage of King David. The northern kingdom continued to call themselves Israel and their throne was occupied by anyone who could plot, assassinate or politically maneuver themselves into the position.

There are two things that I love about Hosea. First, God told Hosea to marry a prostitute and I love to imagine how that conversation went over with his parents.

“God told you WHAT??!”

Hosea stands as an eternal reminder that God does not fit inside a box of our own finite  cultural, social or political sensibilities. God is not subject to the limits of our own definition of propriety. In fact, the only limits God fits are those He has ordained for Himself.

Second, I love the way God made Hosea’s very life became an object lesson. His marriage to Gomer became a metaphor for God’s “marriage” to the idolatrous and therefore adulterous nation of Israel. Hosea’s poor children became metaphor’s for God’s message to Israel. The Great Creator as master artist turned Hosea’s life into a work of performance art.

I think God does the same with my life and yours.

How interesting to think of our very own life journeys being a metaphor for what God is doing. It’s why I love history. There are lessons, eternal spiritual lessons, to be learned from each person’s story. A few days ago I asked the question “What’s your story?” Today, I’m asking the same question for a second time with a different twist:

What is the story God is telling through your life?

(Note: Those following along on a chapter-a-day may wonder why we haven’t finished the book of Psalms. Because Psalms is 150 chapters long, I’ve opted to break it up a bit so as not to get fatigued with it. Psalms is broken up into five distinct sections or “books.” The first book ends with Psalm 41 which we walked through yesterday. We’ll pick back up again with the second section in the near future.)

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 12

A word cloud of Wikipedia talk:Requests for co...
Image via Wikipedia

“Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.” Matthew 12:36-37 (MSG)

As I’ve said many times before, God is an artist and therefore He is a God of metaphor (something which represents something else without using “like” or “as”). Because we are created in His image, we are creatures of metaphor without ever thinking about it.

Take words, for example. A word is a metaphor. The word “cat” isn’t really a furry animal that purrs, but when we say the word “cat” it represents the furry animal that purrs in our language. When we use words in our conversation or in our writing, we are using metaphors. In a very basic way, we are being artistic, creating word pictures.

Jesus said that words are powerful, and they are. The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is a bunch of b.s. Most of us can still remember, vividly, a hurtful things someone said to us many years ago.

When you speak, you are painting a picture that reveals your own soul. What do others see when you speak? Anger? Criticism? Prejudice? Hatred? Fear? Anxiety? Kindness? Hope? Faith? Love?

Today, I’m going to listen to myself. I’m going to examine my words and look at the picture they paint of who I am.

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