Restore. Reveal.

My friend, Linda, introduced me to videos by an art restoration master named Julian Baumgartner. There is something deeply satisfying about watching beauty being restored and revealed.

Grime and pollutants can add up so slowly we don’t realize that we have lost sight of the intent of the artist, that what we pay to see in museums is not what it looked like to the artist. Many old works are actually so much better than we thought when restoration reveals the true beauty underneath.

Some of the works Mr. Baumgartner restores look like they have been through a war. They are torn, gouched, chipped, patched, warped, filthy and generally distressed. I often wonder how he can ever make them look presentable again. And yet he does.

As I was watching another episode today, words from middle stanzas of an old hymn I heard when I was a squirmy, unappreciative, bored kid in the pew came to mind:

Though with a scornful wonder
men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

The church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
to guide, sustain, and cherish,
is with her to the end;
though there be those that hate her,
and false sons in her pale,
against both foe and traitor
she ever shall prevail.

Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

(from The Churches One Foundation by Samuel John Stone)

Considering how enormously valuable many of the old paintings restorers work on are, I wonder why owners have not taken better care of them. Perhaps familiarity with family heirlooms has bred a type of contempt. Perhaps owners have left them in storage and lost sight of what lies underneath layers of discoloured varnish and dirt.

I wonder if, under the grime of corruption and the distorting effects of neglect, what many people think the Church of Christ, the Body, the Ekklesia looks like is not what they think it is. I wonder if we, the living stones that make up the Church Jesus talked about, are in need of restoration to what the Creator intended us to be — those who can be identified by love as the Holy Spirit flows through them.

Repentance is change. Submission to Christ is a willingness to allow him to clean us up and restore us to be the visibly beautiful work of art he intended us to be.

Anyway, those are the words that catch my attention today. Restore. Reveal.

God has so much more for us. So much more.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.

(Psalm 51:10-12 NASB)

Sketchbook, circa 1971

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“I’m not having a porch prom!” my granddaughter protested when she learned her high school graduation celebration had been cancelled.

She had a porch prom. We attended by Zoom. Her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins praised her dress, her taste, her beauty, her intellect, her perseverance, and her attitude. Except for taking screen shots and cell phone shots of the computer screen, and the absence of any escort, friends, or fellow graduates, it was like the evening of her father’s graduation. We praised him, celebrated him, and took photos of him on the porch too. Then we waved as he left to pick up his date for the prom.

But her grad ended on the porch. No ceremony. No sitting in the sun in a stiflingly hot gown while some minor dignitary issued platitudes about adult life on a glitchy sound system. No diploma in hand, no hat in the air. No discovery that friends in expensive formal attire are still the same imperfect people they were all year.

I sympathized with her disappointment as I dealt with my own. We were unable to travel to see a very precious person cross the stage. I remembered my grad. I sang a solo at the ceremonies, but I wasn’t allowed to attend the prom. My parents forbid me to go to a dance. That was disappointing.

I dealt with more disappointment this week when a faucet burst and water poured out, unobserved for too long. My back was killing me by the time I moved the last crate in the storage room to higher ground. It looked then like I would have to toss out the empty frames and old sketch books it contained. It looks now like the frames can be salvaged, but not the sketch books. They were old anyway.

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I turned the wet margined pages of a sketchbook/journal I used when I was a teenager about the age my granddaughter is now. It felt like an archeological uncovering of my own history nearly half a century ago. I took photos of some of the less damaged yellowed pages. These quick cartoons were observations from my teenage point of view.

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1971 was a year of shift too, particularly in ideas of what it meant to be a woman, which, of necessity, included adjustments in the ideas of what it meant to be a man. I was, in equal parts, angry, enthused, confused, determined, and concerned.

In 1971, sexual harassment was called “Boys will be boys.” (that story for another day) I received one third less pay for the same summer job boys working beside me took home. One of my brilliant female classmates with a 98% average failed to get into pre-med in university. She was told, apparently without shame, that since she would probably drop out of medical practice when she had children, the spots were reserved for those most likely to benefit society. Another classmate, male, who I knew was not particularly brilliant since I helped him with math, was accepted. His father was a Member of Parliament.

In 1971, my pastor suggested I go to seminary, not to study and become a pastor, but to meet a pastor because he thought I’d make a good pastor’s wife. I looked at the lives of pastor’s wives I knew — and ran the other way.

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In 1971, many women wanted to be able to choose to have a fulfilling job where they would receive recognition in the form of a pay cheque. Now, many women happily pursue careers that fit their talents and interests, but the other side of the story is that many women feel they have no choice but to show up for less-than-fulfilling jobs to meet expenses. Not all, certainly, but some women long for the seemingly unattainable luxury of nurturing and teaching their own children at home themselves. I suspected in 1971, and finally knew in 1986, after leaving a sick child behind to fulfill a contract for rehearsals and concerts, that I was one of those.

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When I was growing up, my mother had a job. I had a house key. I wanted both and I wanted neither. As a teen, I didn’t know what it meant to be a woman, and I often resented what I saw, but it never occurred to me that I could choose not to be a woman as some of my granddaughter’s friends have done. I never foresaw that foundation crumbling.

So I tell my granddaughter not to let these circumstances break her stride. She is an exceptional person with impressive insight in spite of  “unprecedented” times. I wonder how she will see her journal in half a century?

In the meantime, here are some pages from mine.

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That Other Time the World Was Inconvenienced

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It must have seemed like the whole world had been inconvenienced – everyone except the leaders and bureaucrats who ordered the chaotic mess. What were they thinking?

What ordinary citizen could afford to walk away from a shop or farm or business and travel for days, simply to register for the privilege of paying more taxes? With the town’s resources stretched and tired traveler’s incomes pinched, tempers flared. They usually do when people feel out of control.

Only two people could afford to appreciate the unprecedented circumstances. Eventually a few more outsiders on the bottom rung of the social ladder understood,  and later some inquisitive foreigners showed up, but most people had no idea the world was about to change. They dragged themselves into the next day not knowing they had just entered a new era.

Seven years ago, I stood in crowd of hot, tired people from every place except the town we were in. We all waited for a chance to squeeze into a ridiculously small room with a metallic star around a hole in the floor. This place, the tourist machine told us, was the birthplace of the Christ.

Our guide had his doubts. He made a quip that locations of famous events in Israel were more likely to be determined by the availability of parking for tourist busses than archeological evidence. He favoured an empty field north of the edifice. Nevertheless, on tired legs and aching feet hundreds of us shuffled forward on a worn stone floor as the cacophony of many languages surrounded us.

Today, looking at photos, I remember the crowds in Bethlehem. It was the Sabbath. Christian sites were open on the Sabbath, so it seemed like a good day to go. Bethlehem no more lay in peaceful stillness that day than I suspect it did on the day Joseph and Mary arrived for the census ordered by Caesar Augustus.

We passed armed soldiers at check points beside high walls and rolls of razor wire. Later in the day, loud fighter jets passed overhead while we wandered around ruins on the outskirts of town. A man in our group, who was a native Israeli raised on a kibbutz, became very serious and immediately took out his cellphone.

“This is not good,” he said as he waited for someone to answer. “The Israeli air force never flies exercises on the Sabbath. They’re on a mission.”

We felt the tension in the air. When we returned to our hotel, we learned the planes had attacked a convoy of trucks in Lebanon. With only partial information available speculation and rumour filled in the blanks.

I don’t think I’ve had a discussion with anyone in the past month, on an online group call, or by text, or yelling across the fence, that hasn’t begun with observations of these strange times and unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in. As the repercussions of a halted economy begin to sink in, and voices express more irritation with inconveniences, speculation and rumours fly.

The lull in the daily-ness of life in the past six weeks provided me with time for reflection. I see a young Jewish couple in my mind’s eye.

The woman is very pregnant. They have walked for days. Her back aches and she needs to pee again. The baby’s head is engaged and intermittent cramps make her stop and lean on the man while she waits them out. Yet she and her husband smile at each other and exchange knowing glances. They know what this means.

The God who sent an angel to bring both of them into his plan played the politicians and experts who thought they were in charge. He inconvenienced the whole country to arrange to get them here in this place at this time. Without fanfare, an ancient prophecy is about to be fulfilled. In the midst of enormous upset, strain, and confusion, the world was changing forever.

On this night, at the perfect moment, predetermined from the beginning of time, the Messiah arrived. God with us. The crowds queueing in the streets, worried about finding accommodation and having enough shekels to pay for everything, had no idea they were entering a new era.

The fullness of time arrived.

Nothing would ever be the same.

Joseph and Mary knew. God graced them with his favour – not with a life of painless ease, not with social approval, not with wealth, but with inclusion in his plan. He shared the secret of the ages with them.

They knew.

God smiled and the angels rejoiced.

Into the Hidden Places

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I watched two people play statistics wars. Both debaters adamantly claimed ownership of diagrams and charts that backed their positions. Now I’m not a scientist, but I live with one. I’ve been around academics long enough to recognize poor research protocols and an apples and oranges argument. I’ve also learned it’s pointless to say anything to people who have their minds made up, academics included.

I walked away to make coffee when a line from Simon and Garfunkle’s song, The Boxer, began to play in my head.

All lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

When my coffee was ready, before I even started my Bible reading for today, I remembered this verse from my childhood:

You desire truth in the inward parts.

The Passion translation phrases it this way:

I know that you delight to set your truth deep in my spirit.
So come into the hidden places of my heart
and teach me wisdom. (Psalm 51:6)

Deceit is deceiving. No one believes a lie or jest intentionally, but very few ask to have falsehoods they believe publicly exposed. Gullibility feels like a character flaw, like a failure to fact check with the right fact checkers backed by the right authorities. With playground taunts still ringing in their ears many people will double down before admitting error.

Sometimes we absorb untruths because we need them to fit into a construct that allows us to feel less insecure. Sometimes we believe lies simply because we trusted the wrong people. Is that not the theme of millions of stories since the Garden of Eden?

Still thinking about the song (and about them and the lies they believed) and how that fit in with the verse about truth, the Lord arrested me with, “Let’s talk about some truths I’d like to set in your heart. There are some things that need displacing.”

He’s kind like that. He doesn’t talk about my stupidity for believing a falsehood, he talks about a truth that is lacking, a gap in my understanding temporarily filled in by something else. Cooperating with the process is called transformation.

Earlier this week, while I listened to some uplifting worship and encouraging speakers, I tried to paint my feelings about this time of isolation I find myself in.  It feels like the Lover of my soul is asking me to come away with him and simply sit quietly in this prepared time and appointed place. I do believe we are stepping into a new era and this long pause is a gift to reflect on embarrassingly wonky values and  ideas I’ve accepted that need to be replaced with truths before we journey on.

A little defensively I ask, “Who can I trust anyway? What is the truth?”

“Me,” he says. “In answer to both questions. Let’s start with how much I love you — and how much I love them — because you don’t really believe me yet.”

 

 

 

 

Struggling Against the Wind

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Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves.

About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them, but when they saw him walking on the water, they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. They were all terrified when they saw him.

But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!” 

Then he climbed into the boat, and the wind stopped. They were totally amazed, for they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.

(Mark 6:47-56 NLT)

The disciples were in a storm struggling against the wind and waves. Everything in their evidence-based experience told them this was bad. Very bad.

Jesus saw their struggle.

If this pandemic experience had happened earlier in my life I would probably have felt overwhelmed with anxiety. It’s a sign of how much the Lord has healed my heart that even though I am in the high risk for complications category in several ways should I come into contact with the virus, I have more peace now than I’ve ever had before.

Like the disciples in the boat, my experience tells me this is bad. But unlike the disciples at that time, my heart has been softened by seeing Jesus do the unexpected. Sometimes the scary ‘what-ifs’ break through, but most of the time I can trust that no matter what, God still loves me and still loves and cares for the people I love.

I had no grid for God’s intervention back in the years of anxiety and depression. I struggled against the wind, but all I saw was the waves. Like Jesus’ friends, I interpreted anything supernatural as something even scarier than the storm.

Jesus didn’t shame them for what they felt. He responded to their cries. “I’m here!”

He had compassion and showed them what it was like to be at peace. He demonstrated authority over not only  chaos in the physical atmosphere, but in the spiritual atmosphere as well. He put himself in the same position they were in and the wind stopped.

During a time of turbulent emotions stirred up by fear and illness, I painted a prayer of wanting to see Jesus in the emotional storm that raged around my heart. I had almost forgotten about it until I read this story in Mark today.

In a dream this week, I waited and waited in a church hoping for an encounter with God. When I could no longer stay because the last person turned off the lights and indicated he wanted to lock up, I went out into the dark rainy night. To my surprise, Jesus was waiting in the parking lot for me. When he touched my hand all fear was gone.

He wasn’t in the decently-and-in-order building with its platform and neat rows of seats. He was outside in the storm.

Perhaps that is where he is waiting for you.

 

 

I’ve Seen This Before

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Lord Yahweh, you are my glorious God! I will exalt you and praise your name forever, for you have done so many wonderful things. Well-thought-out plans you formed in ages past; you’ve been faithful and true to fulfill them all!

(Isaiah 25:1 TPT)

When I’m tempted to agree with the fear broadcasts in the atmosphere all around me, I take time to remember how God got me through the last crisis, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that…

Lord, you’ve been so good to me. Thank you. I will praise you and never forget your goodness in times of trouble. I trust you.

As Different as Chalk and Cheese

Sometimes I wonder if one of the greatest miracles Jesus performed was to keep the disciples from killing each other. This week, as I watched another political/religious family feud break out on social media I remembered that Jesus, born into a time of political high tension, took both a collaborator and a resistance fighter on a road trip. It’s time to re-blog this.

Charis: Subject to Change

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I grew up in a family where teasing was a form of affection. Wrestling, practical jokes, funny stories that revealed weaknesses in each other? All normal (to us). To those not accustomed to this way of relating, such play appeared intimidating and offensive. Most of the time we knew where the line was, but in the background, we often heard someone warning, “You had better stop now before someone gets hurt!”

And then someone got hurt. A line was crossed. For one of the participants the action wasn’t fun anymore. Teasing became bullying (to them). Fights ensued.

Like many parents, we discovered our children’s individuality early. One liked to cuddle. The one who had to move-it move-it move-it resented the restraint of adult arms. One cried easily, one bounced back like an inflatable clown punching bag, one treasured solitude, and one was happiest when surrounded by 27 of her closest…

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Why Have Children?

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I have been reading articles and listening to young friends talk about reasons they choose not to have children. They have given thought to this and their lists of reasons are logical. Children do make demands on time, finances, and emotional and physical resources. Some people would rather spend their efforts on pursuits they consider to be potentially more rewarding. Some don’t think they would be good parents. Frankly, I would rather people recognized that factor before neglecting or abusing a child. Sadly, some don’t want to risk a repetition of the home they grew up in. Intentionally childless people’s decisions are not illogical; the choice is evidence-based and values-based, but it is a unique choice historically.

In times past, when food was plentiful, and wars weren’t tearing couples apart, the population grew. Today, in many of the wealthiest countries of the world, the birthrate is shrinking below replacement levels.

All of this has made me wonder why people do choose to have children. Why, in the decades after WWII, when shortages were still a reality, and even in the years when birth control became less complicated, did people have children? I don’t think couples intentionally filled the station wagon with kids as some sort of patriotic duty to re-populate, at least not consciously. I asked some friends from my parents’ generation. One person’s response surprised me.

“It was a celebration of life, in defiance of death,” she said. “After so much loss in our homeland, we longed to share what we still had: life. We survived. We had little to give materially, but we could give the most precious thing that was given to us – the beauty and joy of being alive.”

As I thought about this, I realized that each of us owe our existence to at least two other interdependent human beings living in interdependent relationship with others. None of us got here by our own efforts. There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We all needed mothers who shared their bodies, and fathers who, at the very minimum, contributed part of the life force given to them. Most of us also had communities that helped raise us.

boy playing monkey bars bwI thought about beauty and joy. I remembered the beauty of a field of beaming sunflowers and the first warmth of an April sun on my face. I remembered seeing the Ice Capades with stunning athletes in sparkling costumes glide through colourful spotlights chasing them around the rink. I was five years old and wondered if my eyes could take in anything more beautiful. I remember the joy of playing with my funny kitten, Mittsy, and of discovering the delicious cold thrill of strawberry ice cream on my tongue. I remembered how I gloried in the confidant vigour of my young body as I swung on the monkey bars. These were not only gifts from my parents, but gifts passed on from a good God.

I thought about joy and my search for it through difficult times in the valley of depression when I nearly lost hope of finding it again. Last night, as I entered rest, I had a simple, but profound revelation. I have learned, through experiences that have not always been easy, that joy is discovering that God is who he says he is. He is the one Jesus came to show us.

We often think a successful life is one in which a person has an admirable career,  money to spend on pleasure, and many decades without suffering. What if there is more? Today I felt overwhelmed with shared joy as I listened to my giggling, happy grandchildren making new discoveries. At this stage of my life, when I live with the reality of a life-threatening disease, and the greater reality of death-defying hope of  life both here and in eternity, I can say this is my distilled list of reasons to have children:

  • Beauty.
  • Joy.
  • Love.
  • Hope.
  • Life. Life here and now and life forever in Christ.

I love life!

There is more provision set aside for us than we could ever possibly imagine. I thank my parents for giving of themselves. I bless them.

I thank God for creating beauty, for loving us, and sharing his joy.

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For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
Pleasures pure and undefiled,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

(From For the Beauty of the Earth by Folliet S. Pierpont, whose parents gave their baby a distinctive, original name)

 

Hope: Child-like Expectation

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Some people love routine. If asked what they are doing at 2:15 p.m., Wednesday, February 19, 2021, they can tell you. Because it’s a Thursday. At 2:15 p.m.. Assuming no unforeseen circumstances interrupt the schedule, they will be doing what they always do on Thursdays at 2:15.

I hate routine. It feels like prison to me. I don’t even like taking the same route to the grocery store twice in a row.  Loss of efficiency is not so much a factor as lack of expansion.

Lately I fell into a routine. It’s not a good sign. My routine involved a prolonged daily stop at Procrastination Station. I’ve been neither exploring nor creating. Worse, I realized I’ve hunkered down, “waiting for the other shoe to drop” as my pessimistic former self would say. Other people can accomplish more when routines make sure they remember to remember, but when I choose routine, it’s because I lack energy for growth and I am protecting myself from disappointment.

I prayed about this as I stared at another blank page, bereft of creative energy. I realized that loss of wonder is connected to loss of hope. Loss of hope, for me, darkens and curls the pages of my story when I allow cares of this world to overshadow the goodness of God. Recently I’ve I allowed myself to become burdened by cares for my divided country, cares for my friends’ predicaments, and especially cares for my family’s pains, feeling a responsibility to do something about situations outside my purview. It hasn’t been working.

This past weekend, I agreed to paint at a gathering of believers as they played and sang worship songs. I had a few ideas for a subject, but none really moved me. Then, a couple of hours before gathering up my art paraphernalia to toss in the trunk of the car, a photo of my little granddaughter showed up on Facebook Memories. She was beside the street in bare feet, waiting excitedly for guests to arrive for a birthday party.

She waited in expectation of something good about to happen. I thought, Wait a minute…hope is expectation of the goodness of God. I need to paint this. I started it on Friday evening. What I didn’t know then was that the speaker’s theme on Saturday evening would be “Child-like Expectation.”

I had asked the Lord where I went off track. This weekend, I felt him saying it was when I lost the perspective of a child. When I forgot that I am a child of God I gave up wonder. When I neglected to cling to the hope –the expectation– of seeing the goodness of God in the land of the living, I took my eyes off Jesus and began to shut down creatively.

My hope is not in what I can do. My hope is in who God is. I am not a person left alone to figure it all out all by myself. I am a child of the King and I have the best Dad in the whole wide world.

“Learn this well: Unless you dramatically change your way of thinking and become teachable, and learn about heaven’s kingdom realm with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, you will never be able to enter in.” – Jesus

(Matthew 18:3 TPT)

 

 

 

Holy Ambush

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“Holy Ambush” Painted September 14 and 15 during worship services.

I love the story of the woman at the well. I’ve written about her before (here).

Jesus sent his disciples ahead so he could wait to talk to someone who was the wrong sex, the wrong ethnicity, the wrong religion, and had the wrong social standing, according to contemporary religious types.

She had her defenses up. But when she was honest with this strange man who broke with all social convention, he was open with her. He spoke plainly to her about who he was. After that encounter, she became a woman of influence.

I painted Jesus waiting for her. I usually avoid painting representations of the Messiah. There is already a very long history of artists imposing their culture on the stories told in the Bible. How does one paint someone who was both God and man? And did they really dress like Medieval peasants at that time? The metaphors nature provides are safer and less likely to attract critics whose minds snag on possible historical anachronisms.

At the end of the first worship session all I had on my canvas was something that looked like the background for the flannel board lesson my grandmother used to teach at Happy Hour Bible Club on Thursday afternoons after school. The problem was that I didn’t know what this story was going to be about. The creative imagery screen in my mind was playing a test pattern. I was blank.

I thought about sneaking all my painting paraphernalia out the side door and taking my regular seat at the next service. I worried that I was falling into the old performance trap. It would be better to admit I had no ideas than to forge on trying to look good because I enjoyed the compliments I received before. Been there. Have you seen my T-shirt collection?

Then the speaker began to teach about honesty and the Samaritan woman. The part of the story that struck me this time was that Jesus, who listened to his Father, probably knew she would be coming to the well alone. He sent the disciples ahead because this encounter would be way out of the box for them.

Then he waited for her.

Sunday morning I put the painting, such as it was, back on the easel and began to paint the picture I now had in my head. I know that 2000+ years ago Jesus wasn’t mostly white like me. He didn’t speak English, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t wear jeans. But when he invites me to sit and be open and honest with him, he speaks my language. He understands my landscape and my culture. He knows me and my history and all my shame and that wretched fear of rejection. He offers more love and acceptance than I ever hoped for.

He still waits to reveal who he really is to those brave enough to respond honestly to him. The rejected, the overlooked, the ostracized, the marginalized? They are the ones to whom he reveals his true self first. It’s a holy ambush.