Taking a break from updating this site with anything personal for a while I focus on this artist in residency-ship at Ecclesia Church in Houston. I’m keeping a blog about all that happens… so you should check it out! Click below
After live paintings gigs at conferences or churches, people often ask me how do you do what you do? You know when you answer a question and it doesn’t seem like it’s the right answer, and every time after that that someone asks you the same question, you answer a bit different trying to find the right answer? I’ve been trying to find the right answer to this question. Something that depicts really what’s involved with live painting.
It’s to not run away from God.
That’s what my job really is. It’s to not run away from God. It’s to be honest. To be honest with Him, with myself, and what the work is and where the true nature of the power comes from. Look, there are plenty of people who can do “christian” things in front of people that have no basis in prayer and listening to the spirit. We see this all the time. We see people saying one thing, and low and behold, later on we find out that they are soliciting male prostitutes or hoarding money. It’s a phoniness that we see all too often. And we’re sick of phoniness. We hate it. I hate it. It seems that number one complaint about “Christians” is that they are a bunch of phonies and hypocrites. I find myself agreeing too.
For me, yes… I have developed artistic skills. I practice all the time and I’m at a spot where i know what kind of things i can do and what time limits i can have. I know my materials. I know the elements of paint and how they work. I know all this from years of practice. But the poignancy of the subject matter, the stirring of hearts, the movement of the spirit…. this is all up to Him. And it can only happen through obedience. Our secret unsaid prayers can frighteningly look like “God give me what I want but i don’t want to have to be close to you.” We are all prodigals.
That’s why I’m so thankful that the nature of this work is an interdependence on Him. I was praying before an event recently, and i said a prayer that sounded something like this, “thank you for giving me a calling that keeps me close to you. Thank you for leading me into something that i can not do on my own, but something that i can only do if i’m close to you. I often want to run. But you have kept me close. Thank you for your mercy.” There is great joy in being close to Jesus. He could care less what we did if we are far from him. Trust me, i know. He kept me in obscure hidden places for years to teach me that no matter what i do, at the core of life has to be a deep love and closeness with Him. Always, always, always… the core of where he wants us to be is abiding in Him. From there everything else comes out of. What does it matter if someone gains the whole world, yet loses his soul?
So that’s what i do. I don’t run away from God. I stay in the light and let honesty rule… which includes a lot of repentance and forgiveness. It’s a really awkward place to be honest. But from that spot, I get to experience the restoring, enlightening work of the Spirit. And there is nothing else that I’d rather be doing.
HOW DO YOU START AN ART MOVEMENT?
my thought is i could spend all my time promoting myself and my career (boring) or i could help rally others to fill a void that exists. what i keep hearing as a christ follower and growing artist is that there is crappy religious art in the world today. leaders of the church want better art from christians. the art world elite have completely dismissed christians who make art. so how do we make better art that comes from disciples of jesus?
but art doesn’t just appear. it isn’t a mathematical equation we figure out that will instantly give us good art. art comes from people. so when we say we want better art… what we are really saying is we want smarter, skillful artistic PEOPLE making good work.
so how do we make better artists?
talking with a friend, he was saying that most artists who are making art in the church probably never went to art school. i think this is a correct assumption. so some of the work we would do would be to ask those questions, provide those critiques that would help an artist grow. deepen there understanding of concepts, interpretations, history, and representations.
one of the things that i see in christian art is a lack of different interpretations. sure we know christ is the lamb of God… but is the only way to represent him is by making a lot of paintings of lambs? one important aspect would be to spurn contemplation on how one interprets and represents their walk with jesus. when you think about jesus in your life, do you really think about a lamb? is that your experience? or is it in a friend? nature? stories…. etc etc. you get the idea.
we could definitely create some kind of curriculum and train artists in communities around the world. so that’s a way to go
but i was thinking today about a series of videos talking through these ideas. simple. 2-5 minutes. interviews with artists. talking through ideas. showing people the work they are committing too and the steps they need to consider on their journey.
idea: your artistic endeavors do not begin on stage. they begin in quiet lonely rooms where you carve out time to create. how do you build a community to help you in this journey? how do you except the call to make time to create week after week in these solitude places? how do you deal with the solo nature of this call?
something along those lines
i think this might be the big piece at least that i’ve been missing. i was thinking about the X prize that happened a few years ago. basically, space flight is expensive. and NASA with all it’s big budgets wasn’t trying to be thrifty and risky. so some guy created the x prize: a prize of 10 million dollars to the first group that could launch a vehicle into space and land it and do it the next week again. a vehicle that could do mulitple flights. they set a date. and before the date came to pass, spaceship one was created and they won.
they had a goal. they had a prize. it moved people to create.
if we want to fill a gap, we need to create some kind of incentive.
not sure what that is yet… but money, a place to show, fame, accomplishment…. these are all good things that motivate people. we could create some kind of website to host what people make. i would think create a competition with assignments that people could create for. deadlines are a good motivator.
there is a site
that has great assignments for people or groups to accomplish.
if there is a void… how do we fill it? how can we start a movement in art that is deep, good, creative, stimulating, what else?
so these are my thoughts. any thoughts?
let’s continue dialoguing.
(I Will Be The Glory In Her Midst, 20″x20″, acrylic on wood)
I was asked to participate in an art show in the Seattle area this last December. The show was going to be a group show and it was to have a theme. The theme was spiritual art, and I believe there were to be many different beliefs represented. Unfortunately the woman putting on the show got in an accident and it had to be cancelled. There was a later follow up show in February in which i showed these paintings, but the theme then was floral pieces and my paintings didn’t really fit. and the show was lame too… so long story.
(I Go To Prepare A Place For You, 20″x20″, acrylic on wood)
The theme that I chose to explore in my paintings for this show is the mega-narrative going on in the Bible about God wanting to dwell with humanity. He creates this place for the Infinite and the finite to meet. He walks around in the Garden with the people. There is this great separation. He adopts a people later on who He calls his children, and when He brings them out of slavery in Egypt, He says I’m going to dwell with you. They are afraid…. there is a lot of other stuff that happens but He has them make a place where He meets with them – the Tabernacle. In this Tabernacle there is a place called the Holy of Holies, and this is where men meet with God. Incidently, the dimensions of the Holy of Holies is a cube. Later on they build a temple. Same thing… cube Holy of Holies. These children turn away from God. Exile. Coming back. Lots happening. But from the get go, God never wanted his meeting with humanity to be in a cube room….. He wanted to dwell with peeps. So then we have the messiah, the Son of God, come and take human form and lives as a man among humanity. His job summed up was to rip the curtain (the curtain in the temple that separated God and man) and He conquered death through his ressurrection and gives us a way back to God. Not only that, Jesus leaves and gives all who believe in him his spirit within them. no longer the spirit in a building, but in the hearts of people.
(Home In Its Branches, 20″x20″, acrylic on wood)
I know that’s no way to sum the Bible… but seriously… it’s a blog.
So we have this book at the end of the Bible called the Revelation of Jesus Christ. not “Revelations” as in things to happen in the future. read the first sentence… it’s a revelation about Jesus. at the end in chapter 21, we see this image of a Holy City, a New Jerusalem, coming down to the earth.
vs.3 “…Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.”
If you look later on in this chapter (v. 16) the shape of this building is a cube (seen this before), each size measuring 1500 miles. now something that huge on a map would be half the U.S. and would stick out in space. It would work of engineering genius to keep it upright.
but it’s not meant to be a literal city.
(The Word Dwelt Among Us, 20″x20″, acrylic on wood)
I recently worked with Rick Watts, a professor up at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, at a conference in Seattle. I painted with him throughout 3 lectures over the weekend. It’s amazing cause 9 years ago i heard Rick speak at a weekend conference when was in college. What he shared about revelation 21 blew my mind and has stuck with me ever since. i have made a number of paintings about this idea over the years, so to work with him… well, it was just plain cool.
So is there supposed to be a 1500 mile city plopped on our world. mmm…. not so much. That measurement, to the ancients, was the area of known world. So this city of God, the dwelling of God, is as big as the known world and it comes down to our world….
The idea here is that our world enters the Holy of Holies. We, once again, dwell with God the way we were meant too.
It’s not about going away somewhere (heaven) and trashing this place then ditching it. we were always meant to stay here. be here. the goal isn’t heaven. the goal is togetherness here. a new heaven and a new earth. not separated. but together.
this is the basis of the paintings i was making. this has had a huge affect on the way i think about this world. one thing i hate in western christianity is a focus on the spiritual and a neglect on the material. now i don’t think we need to become obsessed with our bodies (more than we already are) and try to preserve them. i’m more talking about how we take care of this world, each other, our environment. if we believe it’s all going to burn… then fuck it, right? but if He’s coming back here to the world He gave us to tend…. um… that’s a fearful conversation.
in the paintings i made i picked out particular scriptures that talked about this dwelling. i will be the glory in her midst is out of zechariah 2. i go an prepare a place for you is from John 14:2. Home in its branches is from matthew 17. the word dwelt among us is from John 1.
On September 1, 1999… myself and four friends went to CBS Studios in Southern California to participate in the taping of the Price Is Right game show. These videos show what happened….
My life is complete.
This is an excerpt from a book I’m writing about my thoughts about art and the church…. to be released whenever I get it done.
If I think through my church upbringing, and you were to ask me what we’ll be doing in heaven, most of what I’ve heard is that in heaven we will “worship God forever”. Have you heard this as well?
I must confess that as a young man and even a few years ago, this idea sounded most distasteful to me. I think the reason is that when I hear the word “worship” all I have to recall is the countless formal musical experiences I have had throughout my north american church experience. Maybe you can relate.
“Worship” means this: we meet in a large room, very churchy in nature…. you know, a lot of beams, banners, and organ pipes…. Like a wooden ship that has been turned over and wooden benches put underneath it. Or if you didn’t grow up lutheran like me, it might look like a refurbished warehouse. You have people gathered in the room… evenly dispersed between the benches (“pews”) or hooked cushioned seats… all facing forward. Up front is a varying organized musical team singing the “worship” songs… meaning songs that are sung in unison exemplifying something about the Almighty or how we would like to be in relationship to him. This whole scenario can be very different for many people. It can be an organ player and someone classically trained doing that arm wave thing as we follow along in a hymnal. Or it can be a musical band, either representing a number of genres – rock, emo, soft rock, funk, R&B – or just strictly their own genre -adult contemporary Christian. And for the most part, this team is utlra energetic and peppy. We follow along by reading the words on the screen (overhead or projector)… or from memory if it’s a particularly favorite song… singing, clapping at appropriate times, and closing our eyes if we really mean it. In fact it seems that if we close our eyes and sing intensely enough, the Spirit may come down from heaven and do something crazy like make people faint or speak a different language.
Does something like this resonate with you? I’m joking and exaggerating a bit, but isn’t this what most of what our corporate worship experiences look like? For the most part, the times of gathering together and singing corporately songs to our Creator are a beautiful experience. What gets me though is when I get to a spot where I ponder eternity, where I think about an existence in relationship to all of humanity and to the I AM WHO I AM, and where I am told I will “worship God forever”, it is this corporate musical scenario that is put into that infinite timeline. For me, quite frankly, the thought of doing this forever sounds boring, non-enjoyable, and almost torturous. I mean, aren’t we able to fly? When can we get to that?
This idea of our heavenly situation is obviously wrong. I can’t believe the God who created peanut butter, parakeets, and shivering would ever come up with this lame scenario. Seriously, if it were so, would the band have to practice, or would they just divinely know it all? And who would run the powerpoint? Nobody likes that job… and I’m sure that someone who got put in that job might contemplate if they are really in heaven, or this is their hell.
The problem though is when this ”worship forever” thing is mentioned, I’ve never been presented with something else to insert into my mental constructs. It’s this corporate building thing that always pops in.
There has to be more. So this started my own journey in prayer and seeking what worship could be. I started at the beginning – Genesis. I wanted to find out where the first time worship is mentioned in the Bible. Now I’m not a Hebrew scholar and maybe I missed some key hidden definition that can only be found with a PHD, but with my English translation bible and the holy spirit, the first use of worship comes up with Abraham. And it’s this…
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.
4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.
5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
This scenario doesn’t really resonate with the clapping and the singing along that we are used too. What it sounds like is something very painful and obedience demanding. It sounds like sacrifice. In this story, obedience and sacrifice are their worship. We know that this can be backed up by Romans 12:1 which says we should offer ourselves as holy and pleasing sacrifices to God… this is our spiritual act of worship.
The second time worship is mentioned is when Abraham sends his servant to go get a wife for his son Isaac. The servant goes on a journey way way far away and prays that God would reveal the choice in a very specific way. Everything happens the way he prayed for and the servant drops to his knees and worships the Lord. So we see his worship coming out of a place of thanksgiving.
Obedience, sacrifice, thanksgiving, praise… Out of all these varying situations, it seems to me that at the heart of what worship is is that it’s responding to God. It’s a response to Him – His will, His requests, His nature, His character, His goodness, wonder, mercy, etc.
“Worship” then is the word describing our interaction with God. Therefore, living a life of worship is living a life that is constantly responding to God. When we put this definition in the context of eternity, it’s not so bad really. In fact it sounds pretty great. “Worshiping God forever” really means responding to God forever. This looks like praise, yes, for sure. We can see examples of this in scripture… heavenly song and physical acts of bowing down( Revelation 5). But we can also see conversations (1 Kings 22:19-22), joy and celebrations (Luke 15:7), and responsibilities (. I mean, the original intention of creation was for us to be on earth in God’s presence doing what we do now, but without all the sin.
[Side note: Have you ever thought about that everything you see in this world came from the world. Gameboys, lawn mowers, x-ray machines, fire hydrants, boats, parking meters, the space shuttle… it all came from the earth – the materials that are inside it. God put all these things in there from the get go. It’s not hard to imagine then without the fall ever happening that these technologies would most likely have come around into existence. Probably a lot less weapons, for sure, but there would still be an advance in technology. God gave us this world to tend, to tend all the things He put into it. And when Jesus returns to restore all things, we are still going to have that commission to dwell with Him and to tend all that He put in the world. Hmmm…..]
This relationship between man and God, this responding forever, is modeled in the idea of marriage. In fact, that’s what we see scripturally how God frames our connection to him…. like we are married. In the garden we are naked and one with him. There is a great divorce where we have to move out. But his intent is to always get back to being among us again (dwell with you). Then jesus comes. He says that eternal life is that you would know the father and the son whom he has sent. That word “know” is the same word on how a husband knows his wife. Oneness. Marriage. And when he comes back to restore all things… what do we see happening? A marriage. A groom coming to get his bride. And what are we going to do from there? Be married and live together.
A pastor i knew gave me some advice about figuring out if you would like to be married to a certain person. He said if you can, find a room with no distractions in it. no tv. No books. No nothing. And the two of you just go in there and spend 8 hours together. He said that if you could do that, that your marriage to that person would probably work out because marriage, when you get to the short of it, is just really about being together for the rest of your life. and you really just need to like being around the other person.
I’ve been married for 3 years now and it’s been great. Not always easy, for sure. But it gets better and better. I remember holly and i went out to our favorite restaurant in seattle on a Friday night. We had both had really exhausting weeks and although we hadn’t seen that much of each other, we had been catching up on everything before we went to bed. So on Friday night, there was nothing really new about to talk about. We just wanted to be around each other. So there we were, eating our favorite meals, but not talking. Now i’ve worked restaurant jobs for many years and i’ve waited on a plethura of people. So i’ve seen the couples sitting there, not talking, while they have dinner together. It looked so pathetic and i hoped that i would never be in that scenario when i was married. But here i was in that scenario, but on the other side, and it was great. I told holly what i was thinking and she agreed that it was a good thing. We didn’t have anything to say. We just wanted to be around each other.
So we are married, in a sense, to the almighty. Through jesus we are offered the chance to experience this kind of connection now. Although there is an absence of that garden presence, we can still know him in the biblical sense. And living a life of worship is living a life in response to him – in praise and adoration of course, but also in obedience, sacrifice, grief, and thanksgiving.
So this leads me to another question? What do we mean by the term “worship leading”?
I know that the usual definition to this term is someone who leads the musical performance during a church gathering. I’m not refuting that. But I’m wondering if we can get to a deeper meaning than just during services. Here are some thoughts.
First, we as worship leaders are responsible for living this response lifestyle. If we don’t pray, if we don’t listen and hear, we have nothing to lead others into. In a video about Rich Mullins, Michael W. Smith (go west young man!) said about Rich’s music that is was like he would go into places that you couldn’t see, into the darkness, and he would go and meet with God. Then he would come out of the darkness and write about what he saw and heard. This is a great picture into what being a worship leader is. You can’t lead people into places you have not gone. Your role is never taken out of our own personal journey with God.
Second, we are creating a space for conversation. We – through music, prayer, art, scripture reading, etc. – are creating a place for response to happen. Jesus’ conversations with each person will cause different responses – some people may respond with joy, others repentance. It’s not in the methods themselves. The words, harmonies, crescendos, pictures… these are all catalysts for creating an open doorway to the spirit. I’ve found this to be true a lot when i paint live. I’m rarely on the observation side of live painting. but in my conversations with people, i find as they are watching me, there mind is trying to decipher what i am painting and when the final product is going to be. As the mind is doing this, it begins to put meaning to the shapes, colors, the overall composition in the painting. now i can’t tell you when this happens, but at some point in this process, it seems that a conversation with the Spirit begins. I believe this cause when i’m done, i’ll have people come up to me giving different accounts of what the painting means. This color means this, right? This painting is about this, right? And the thing is they’re not wrong. It could be interpreted that way even if there might be some intention to the meaning of the painting. what i see happening is that the spirit begins a personal conversation with the person and speaks to them about what they need to talk about. The painting process is just the catalyst for conversation. The words of songs are this too. So is the music. So are our words. We are being asked to be the curators of this conversation space.
Third, we are to live out our response through our giftings. Now this is where “worship” opens up to everyone and we have to begin to change the way we think about “worship leading”. If worship is to respond to God, then leaders help teach us how to respond to God in all giftings. What we’ve done though is taken this whole range of gifts for the body and the kingdom, and only highlighted the ones that can be done during a service, i.e. leading music, preaching, tithing, and the ministry of being an usher (very important). Most of the gifts God has given to His people are going to be lived out outside the church service. The kingdom is much much bigger than our services…. and to lead in a life of worship is going to lead us to our everyday happenings. Worship leaders can be gifted hospitality people, leading us to a place of comfort and acceptance, teaching us how to care for others. People gifted in numbers and finances can lead us to a place of stewardship. Gifted quiet people can lead us to a response place of silence and meditation, and help us deepen our prayer life in the midst of a loud world. Can you see that worship leading is not an occupation for good musicians and artists in church services? It’s so much more. For those of us who do lead in music and art, we must go to that place of response outside of our responsibilities at church. We must go there in our craft, and then lead when we play at coffee shops and bars, or lead when we hang art at galleries and third places. We lead in this world, in the neighborhoods and communities we dwell in, by responding out of our time with God with the gifts He’s given us to proclaim His kingdom.
Above is a painting that I did at Sanctuary church last Sunday. It’s based out of Zechariah 2….
1 Then I looked up—and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand! 2 I asked, “Where are you going?”
He answered me, “To measure Jerusalem, to find out how wide and how long it is.”
3 Then the angel who was speaking to me left, and another angel came to meet him 4 and said to him: “Run, tell that young man, ‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it. 5 And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will be its glory within.’
10 “Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the LORD. 11 “Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you.
The tree in the new jerusalem is based out of a passage in Revelation 21. Anyway…. I don’t want to give you every piece of scripture that I have in my brain when i do these paintings. But what i do want to talk about is how colorful, detailed, and non pragmatic these visions are that zechariah and john have. In fact, a lot of what comes from God to man is in the form of a poem, a song, or some kind parable. In fact, earlier on in zechariah 1, he writes…
8 During the night I had a vision—and there before me was a man riding a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.
9 I asked, “What are these, my lord?”
The angel who was talking with me answered, “I will show you what they are.”10 Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, “They are the ones the LORD has sent to go throughout the earth.”
What kind of vision is this? If God wants to say something to us, why doesn’t he just fax or email something to us with bullet points about everything He wants us to remember and obey? That seems way easier to decipher and figure out. But He doesn’t. He doesn’t speak like us at all. He doesn’t answer questions blatantly. He doesn’t come in pragmatic visions. He speaks in deeply layered way… and when He reveals himself in visions to people, they are wildly colorful, rich with detailed meaning.
Over the last couple months, I’ve been painting at these large conferences… and one specific speaker, Francis Chan, was speaking about how Jesus taught…. and how unlike us it was. He said that Jesus was hesitant of crowds. When we gather crowds, we get the best speaker who tells the best stories and lays everything out in a very understandable way. That’s how we do things… cause we want everyone to understand. But Jesus has a crowd of that has gathered to hear him speak. and what does he say?
“What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.
9“Are you listening to this? Really listening?” john 6
Does this make any sense when you hear it? No… it doesn’t. In fact the disciples come up to him afterward and say… “um…. what does that mean?”
and here is Jesus’s reply…
11 He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”
He says that i’m teaching in this way so that they’ll hear, but won’t understand. Jesus knows who really wants to know about the kingdom, and who is just there to see a show. He’s not pandering to the crowds. He’s giving hidden insight to everyone… and those that can see that there is something there will seek him to know more.
That was from Francis’ talk. I had this in my mind when I was talking to a girl who had watched me paint on sunday. She came up and asked me about the painting… what it meant, what these symbols were. She had an opinion about it, and she told me what she thought. the thing is that some of the things she saw weren’t things i was intending to do. she saw something else in the painting.
this happens all the time when i paint. people come up to me and ask what the painting means. but i ask them what they think it means, and they usual have a great, personal explanation. that’s the great thing about a visual picture…. the meaning can be layered. it can be lots of different meanings… even if the picture doesn’t change. It struck me later that this is in some small the way the way God talks to us. He doesn’t just lay our bullet points for what the kingdom of heaven is like… but he gives us a picture – “it’s like a seed that is planted and grows into a large tree and the birds of the air make their home in it’s branches.”
or the kingdom of heaven is like this priceless pearl someone finds… and sells everything he has to own it.
you see? He doesn’t just give us verbal memos of explanation. He gives us pictures that have deeply layered meanings that allow us to go deep into his mind and heart. He doesn’t give us bullet points. He speaks to us in a much richer language… the language of metaphor.
I think we, as artists, have a great opportunity to partake in this language. When we listen to the Spirit, and ask for images, we are asking to partake in the language of how God talks. It doesn’t have quick explanations… and not everyone is going to get it. But that’s not the point now, is it?
I don’t want to be the kind of person who always puts God in their camp…. but i do think God speaks like an artist.