Friday, March 31, 2006


It is Spring!

The daffodils are pushing up. And the grass is green, GREEN, GREEN! After all, this is Oregon.

There is something vibrant about a sunny spring day in the Willamette Valley.

My middle schoolers are off for Spring Break. They will return with the changes this season brings to the hearts, minds, and bodies of adolescents. The sixth graders will return as full-fledged middle schoolers. The 7th and 8th graders will return with even greater spunk and vinegar.

Watching them is like watching a nature film on public broadcasting. We call them kids because they act like mountain goats, springing about, shouting, alive.

Perhaps that is why it is called Spring. It puts a spring in our step. It makes kids spring from place to place, game to game. It feels like we have tapped into a spring of refreshing cool water.

Though my mind keeps turning to my upcoming 50th birthday I am feeling very young, in a lot of ways. Today something occurred to me.

I am in the Spring of my life.

There is a joy in my heart that makes it race, a clarity to my thoughts that makes reading and writing and listening to music feel pregnant with a coming spiritual epiphany.

I am immortal. I will never truly die. I will dance throughout time, I will sing throughout eternity. I will praise and shout and weep with joy beneath my benefactor’s smiling gaze.

I am brand new. I will live forever, and the whole of this life, this mortal life, is just the birthing of who I really am.

I’ve been on a U2 binge of late... today I want to share a song with you.


It starts out with a simple prayer, a plea for the Lord of all things to take us, just as we are, with our dead end lives headed nowhere, our ordinary clothes, our ordinary bodies, and wash us.

Take these shoes
Click clacking down some dead end street

Take these shoes

And make them fit
Take this shirt

Polyester white trash made in nowhere

Take this shirt

And make it clean, clean

Take this soul

Stranded in some skin and bones

Take this soul

And make it sing

I have known sorrow. I have held my dead child... three times. I have felt the ache of unreturned love. I have felt the fear of bankruptcy. And I have had a doctor tell me I have only months to live. I’ve felt shame and guilt and horror. These are the awful realities of living in a fallen world. These aren't emotions of God's but of the pain we have brought with us into this world... pain we need to feel before we can drop our own self-centeredness and embrace Him.

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh

Still I'm waiting for the dawn

I have felt the joy of relinquishing who I am, what I want, what my desires are, and sought to make myself obedient.

Take these hands
Teach them what to carry

Take these hands

Don't make a fist

Take this mouth

So quick to criticize
Take this mouth

Give it a kiss

(Please Lord, make me better able to serve You. Less of me. More of You.)

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh

Still I'm waiting for the dawn

Oh what a fearful thing! My heart quickens... someday... I will breathe my last breath, and the true dawn will come. I will see the Sonrise.

Still waiting for the dawn, the sun is coming up
The sun is coming up on the ocean

This love is like a drop in the ocean

This love is like a drop in the ocean

All that I am... the best of who I am... my greatest passions, my deepest love, is the faintest hint of the vastness of love I know is real... I feel that ocean lapping on the edge of who I am, on the shores of my soul, and I know that as strong as my love feels, though it makes me tremble, I am only sensing the true love that brings all things together... the subatomic strings dancing in patterns of three, making up quarks, making up atoms, making up molecules, making up cells, making up this body, are dancing a song of love, binding it all together. Science is stretching, trying to pull the laws of physics into a single whole... the strong atomic, the weak atomic, the electromagnetic, the force of gravity, attempting to describe You (my master).


There is an eternal spring bringing the freshest water to my greatest thirst.

And make Your city, the city, shine again. Rebuild it. Both the city of Your kingdom, and the city where I live.

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born

Yahweh, tell me now

Why the dark before the dawn?

Take this city

A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take

Take this heart

Take this heart
Take this heart

And make it break


Oh heavenly Father! Oh my master! I am so weak. I know I do not deserve to even utter this magnificent word, this holy name. Forgive me Lord for my pride.

Please accept my trembling offering. Lord, I lay it all before You. I give you my money. Take my checkbook, take my wallet. It is Yours.

Take my love... my love for my wife, my love for my children, my love for my church. It is Yours. Heavenly Lord.

Take my sadness. Take my grief. Take my anxieties and cares and happiness and amusement and bewilderment and make it Yours.

Take my education, take my skills. Take my talents, and my knowledge, my curiosity and thoughts, my strengths and my frailties, use them in any way You please. They are Yours.

Today I am young. A man. A mere moth. I am in the Spring of my existence. I know I will dance beyond the life of the universe and You will sustain me.
Let me be Your servant Lord. Bid me and I will obey.


Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Lord's Prayer

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
--Genesis 1:1

The first thing the Word says about God is that He is the Creator. He created all things. He is the embodiment of creativity.

Creativity is central to human beings. Not surprising; we are made in His image. We are tool makers. We are artisans, craftsmen, builders, makers, shapers. We create tools to change our lives, to change our environment. The greatest thrill of our lives is in creating, bringing forth children. We thrill to the creation of new things... in our lives, marriages, pregnancies... building homes, starting businesses, creating art.

There is something about making things that lifts us up. There is something positive, something right about the creative process. I think that is even truer when we do things for Him.

This Friday the Prayer Room in our church is getting repainted; we do it every year just before Easter. I am very excited. The old prayers are covered over, the walls are fresh again for another year of praises, pleas, and expression.

On one of the walls in that room is The Lord’s Prayer. This year I’m redoing it on a sheet of 5’ X 5’ birch plywood. It is one of the largest non-mural art pieces I have ever done. I’ve primed the wood and sketched out the painting.

There is something about painting that isn’t easy to describe, to explain. I pray while I draw, while I paint; the words mix with the decisions I make, whether this line goes here or over there, whether this is yellowish white or bluish white, and is that orange, or red, or brown? I feel close to Him when I am doing something like this. The words I am praying influence what I draw, what I paint.

I sketched some of the elements on paper first. I used charcoal from the burnt church to transfer the images onto the painting.

The best part is the prayer itself: The Lord’s Prayer. There is no better prayer. It covers all the elements. It recognizes the supremacy of God; it reminds us of His glory, power, and control of all things. It asks for forgiveness, and for sustenance. It recognizes our earthly existence and our eternal one. It is glorious.

Let me share what I have sketched out:

Our Father

Our master, our Lord, our provider, our creator...

These words are centered, at the top, 12:00, with the Hebrew letters for Yahweh glowing above.

Who art in Heaven...

He is above all things, seeing all things, knowing all things, in control...

These thin letters, glowing in pale yellow, will float over a spacescape, Jupiter, Saturn, a two-tailed comet, and stars. The letters settle among stars, looking a little like stars themselves. The Lord is everywhere, even beyond the limits of our own experience.

Hallowed be Thy name...

This line ends at the 3:00 position, where the night sky transitions into dawn, at the shining, rising sun, amid clouds of purple and red. The names of God reaching, flickering toward the center.

Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done...

The clouds turn to rolling thunderheads and tall buildings of gold and white stretch out from the clouds through blue sky toward the center.

...on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Lord, make this place Yours. Have Your will here. Start with me. Start with mine. And may we learn to obey You, all of us, from north to south, east to west, super powers to thrid world nations, may we be obedient.

The Earth floats amid clouds (6:00 position) , and the dead center of the globe is Jerusalem.

Give us this Day our Daily Bread...

A broken loaf of bread and a glass of wine, symbolizing the providence we receive every day, as well as the spiritual nourishment of communion.

...and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

These dark, stark letters of caution float over reddish clouds, reminding us of the seriousness of our failings, an echo of how we frequently fail, and a warning that we need to forgive.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil...

(Some sources say “from the evil one...”) These words float beneath the moon peeking through the darkening clouds at 9:00.

For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory...

The letters glow over a darkening, sky shifting into stars.


The word repeats as it slides around a spinning mobius strip rising from the center. One edge is red shifted, looking backward, the other edge is blue shifted, looking forward, encompassing all of time, all of creation. The strip looks as if it is spinning up from the center, hovering amd galaxies.


Amen... the truth, so it is, so we agree... written on a ribbon unscrolling beneath the first words... “Our Father...” so the prayer begins again.

And in the center is the cross, central. It is all about Him. A wooden cross floats an inch and a half above the painting, four spears of light stream out from it. The bottom spike strikes down, tapering to a thin point, resting on Jerusalem.

Along this path toward Earth creted by the cross the dove of the Holy Spirit is descending toward the world.

I will hang this in the Prayer Room and work on it a couple of times a week. When it is done, and when we go to repaint that room in a year, we will move it into the new building our church is going to build.

Oh yes, an update on that: We need to raise $800,000 for that building, designed to serve our community as much as us. Many of us have pledged more than we know how to raise, so this building itself is an act of faith. For example, Brenda and I have pledged about 1/3 more than we know we can budget. He will provide. There will be many amazing testimonies of God’s providence.

So... a new creative project for me... and a new prayer. I can hardly contain myself! Another year to draw, on paper and canvas, and closer to Him.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

I have always been a seeker. I have been intensely curious about all sorts of things all of my life... hence: “Curious Servant”.

When I was four I made little boats out of walnut shells, watched them float through irrigation ditches beneath orange trees in southern California. I wondered why they floated.

As my dad drove us out for frog gigging in rice paddies of northern California I watched the moon. I wondered at how it kept up with us, racing along behind trees and grain silos. Ignoring my dad’s jokes that the moon was following our pickup, I soon figured out without his help that the moon must be very distant and very large to be able to slide along with us in the distance. It was an epiphany reinforced the following year as I walked to my first grade class room, noticing the trunks of trees following along with me beyond the slats of white picket fences.

I was curious and I saw how curiosity taught me things. I kept my eyes open.

I have done all sorts of things... had all sorts of adventures... and I think curiosity was behind it all.

I’ve been scuba diving with sharks, and I’ve walked much of the John Muir Trail. I hitch hiked nearly 30,000 miles one summer in a youthful attempt to rack up miles and adventures.


I’ve seen the serpent’s shadow slither down the ancient stone steps of Chichen Itza during the vernal equinox and I’ve wiggled through tight passages of abandoned sliver mines in the desert.

I’ve lived in an ashram, meditating for hours on end...

Always searching...

Once, when I was 18, I took a stack of books to a cave on Saddleback Mountain and read, and read, and read. Nearly three months. I read the Bible, and the Book of Mormon, and the Bhaghavad Gita, and the Upanishads. I read Patangali, and the sayings of Mao Tse Tung. I read the Autobiography of a Yogi and the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. There was the Koran, and The Lost Books of Eden, and a book on astral projection. I dove into, through, and emerged from the sayings of Confucius, the poems of Omar Kayim, and the whole silly series of Carlos Castenda. I practically memorized Ewell Gibbon’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus and Be Here Now by Ram Dass. I took along some Richard Brautigan to lighten the mood, and kept Walt Whitman and Emily Dickensen on hand.

All my life things my brothers thought uninteresting fascinated me, especially things of the spirit. Even when I was very young. While in kindergarten there was this little church in Willows, California.

I jumped up as high as I could and grabbed the rope. My five-year-old body swung the bell in the tower above me, it rang out, a satisfying throbbing ring. I imagined people all over town hearing the bell ring, telling them it was time for church. As my feet touched the floor I let go. The rope swung up, and just as the rope reached its peak I jumped even higher, making the clang even louder.

BONG, -ONG, ong, ong, o n g... (It’s time for church!)

BONG, -ONG, ong, ong, o n g... (It’s time for church!)

BONG, -ONG, ong, ong, o n g... (It’s time for church!)

That was a significant year for me spiritually, 1961.

I started school. Kindergarten was next to the city swimming pool. I learned I’m not supposed to climb the school fence and run home to tell my mom something. I learned I didn’t draw the sun right (some girl whose name I cannot recall told me so). It was supposed to be round with wiggly lines and a smile, not a brilliant yellow white orb with speckles in a pale blue sky. I learned that if you aren’t feeling well they will take your temperature in the strangest way. And I learned that God was a real part of my life.

I was so honored to ring that church bell. It was like they had chosen me to help be the voice of God, telling our town that He was here, that it was Sunday, and everyone should hurry to church and hear stories about Him.

One Sunday I saw something my mom didn’t believe. The stain glass window of Jesus holding a lamb grew fuzzy, softened, and His face turned to me and smiled. I knew I must be special. He stopped and smiled at me! I cried silently and smiled. My dad frowned.

A few weeks later there was a communion service. My mom told me I couldn’t do it yet, I was too little, I didn’t understand what communion meant.

I loved my mother, but I knew she was wrong. I knew what it was about. I knew it wasn’t just bread and juice, that it wasn’t a snack. I knew it represented something much bigger, much more important. I knew it was about how Jesus was God in the form of a man and that He had let people hurt Him, kill Him, and that the bread and juice represented Him so we could always remember what He did and that we could take part in that sacrifice. I knew He had done it for me.

But words such as sacrifice, and salvation, and communion weren’t yet a part of my vocabulary. I couldn’t tell her I understood what it was all about. For a moment I felt like arguing with her (something I never did). But I also felt, deep inside, that it was ok, that it didn’t matter. That He knew what was in my heart.

Now I am pushing fifty and I feel a stirring in my heart that is still fresh, still passionate.

I have been reading Scientific American thoroughly since 1980 and I still devour books as if they are some sort of food that sustains me. But they aren't, they don’t.

I have found something more satisfying.

I love the Lord my God with all of my heart.

When I am mindful.

What a weak man I am. I can’t seem to keep that focus.

Here’s a guy who could sit for three hours, staring at a candle flame, and he can’t be obedient to his Lord and master, fully obedient, for a single day.

Ah well.

I’m not really going to beat myself up over it. In fact, that is the point of this post. (And you thought I’d never get to it!)

I am saved. The creator of the universe has literally moved the laws of physics, moved Heaven, and moved Earth, and moved Hell, just to be reunited with beings who reject Him continually. I know this to be a truth that is clearer than simple addition. Simpler than the fact that hydrogen is abundant and rainbows are pretty. I know it to be truer than my own beating heart. I am saved. I am loved.

I feel joy that makes me dance. Truly, it does! I do this stupid little dance sometimes when I am praying on my solitary walks.

But it isn’t enough. It isn’t all that I am seeking.

For I know that the joy I feel, the thrill of loving my Lord is shallow.

I know that the grief that broke my heart in two, when I clutched my dead child from the cold metal table at Willamette Falls Hospital, is a pale emotion compared to the LIFE, the VITALITY, I will feel when my faith is sight.

I know that the love I feel for my wife, especially when she smiles, is a shadow of the happiness I will feel when I shake off this flesh, and gaze upon the splendor that my soul continuously whispers to me exists beyond the borders of this strange mortal existence.

Science has a huge blind spot. It decrees that what is true, what is real, are all the things that are measurable, repeatable, observable. But I know there are many things that are not measurable, repeatable, observable. I can feel it because there is something inside my chest, some living, flopping, twisting thing that leaps and sings and has no part of what a doctor might see if he were to spread my ribs apart and peer within.

I have been giving a lot of thought to the band U2 and there is a song that has been rolling through my mind this past week and while I have been tapping away at this keyboard.

I have climbed highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt my healing in her fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well, yes I'm still running

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I have found something wonderful

I have found the reality of the divine incarnated. I have swept that truth into my heart and into my life.

But I know that I was created, all of us were created, to sit in a garden and speak with God, spirit to spirit, fully present to each other, and that was torn apart by the selfish motives of all humans who want to have things their own way.

We can’t help it! We are mortal. We are flesh.

Adam had to flee that intense reality, the presence of the almighty God, and Moses learned he could not look upon that reality, that truth, and live.

But it won’t be that way forever. Not forever.

I still haven’t found what I am looking for...

But someday I will.

If you have lost your passion for life. If you are seeking for a truth greater than yourself, for something that will make your heart quicken more than it did when you first fell in love. You need a relationship with the creator of all things. This isn’t some pap, some sappy western myth, but a reality.

It isn’t the total package, but it is as much joy as a mortal frame can handle.

Sunday, March 19, 2006



Brenda is at an AA meeting and the boys are bathing. I just finished grading papers. It is almost time to help my kids into bed, say prayers with them.

Since this blog ranges from the theological to the every day stuff, I thought I would at least make an attempt at posting tonight by using this as a little journal to record my thoughts.

First, I am discouraged by how many of my students chose to plagiarize from the internet. Eight of my students have some explaining to do. Worst I’ve ever seen. I wonder if it is because they didn’t expect a technology teacher to check out their writing so closely. This only happened once or twice a year when I was teaching English.

Busy week. I interviewed for and was selected to help rethink how our middle school works. I wrestled with a toilet and, after three heroic days of struggle, emerged victorious. I did a painting for a friend. I began several new spiritual disciplines (new prayers at night, new prayers in the morning, and meeting with some folks each Thursday night).

Isaac told me how he didn’t want me anointing and praying over him each night. I told him I might go a little easier on the oil for a bit, but the prayer thing is here to stay, even if I just come up, and do it silently beside his bed. Kid is turning into a teenager.

I am definitely growing the beard back as soon as Easter passes. Strange ritual, scraping my face each morning. At least it makes me stop long enough to pray through certain things each morning. Everyone tells me it makes me look younger, but what the heck, I don’t have to look at my face. If this face is too aged, they can avert their eyes. The shaving thing goes.

I’ve taken to walking a half hour each morning to pray (PT: that's where I'm off to when you see me on Redwood in the mornings). That is a significant time for me. I have been thinking about my spiritual life and I believe I am becoming more excited, more passionate about it all the time. Not the enthusiasm and fervor I felt when I was a teen attending Calvary Chapel in a tent in Costa Mesa, but a swelling of my heart that makes me feel emotions that aren’t easy to express.

I’m working on that. I am trying to finish up a post that inspired by a conversation about U2’s song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. I am trying to formulate how I feel about my faith today.

This past year has been such a strange journey. And though it has had challenges that have hurt (financially, emotionally, spiritually, physically) I see it has been very good for me. I am not the man I was a year ago.

Speaking of changes, the missing beard has prompted me to look closer at my physical features and I have to admit it... I’m not 30 anymore.

In general I am fine with turning 50. It just seems a little weird.

Gosh, I want to get into the subject of the post I am writing, but I guess I best get to the kids and lay my head down to sleep and pray the Lord my soul to keep.

My apologies for the stream of consciousness post tonight, but it is all I can spare of me for tonight.

God bless.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Ode to a Missing Beard

In honor of St. Patty's Day I offer this limerick:

There once was a curious servant,
who shaved all his beard for Lent.
He was caught by surprise,
by cheeks of great size,
and said "Razors are money ill-spent!"

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Grinding Flour

Big, heavy, deep, sobs shook him, making it difficult for him to pray. Each word came gasping out, pulled laboriously from deep inside. My wife and I held his hands, guiding him, helping him find the words.

My heart ached for him, and it grew a little larger.


I wasn’t really in the mood for church today. I got there early, as usual, and went in the prayer room. I lit a half dozen candles. I sat down. I prayed. I waited.

It was a good service today. Before the service there was an invitation to come forward and pray. I did. It helped a little.

The worship songs were well chosen. In singing them I felt my heart lift a little... but not like I usually feel.

The message was good (I'd already read the notes before hand when I posted them here).

Even at church I am busy. Tasks to do between services. Set up for a Sunday School class... There were a number of people I needed to speak with. A woman who wants me to do a small painting for her son, a state legislator who is going to appear on my students’ tv show, a buddy who agreed to repaint the prayer room, my spiritual mentor to verify tomorrow’s meeting, a guy who can help me with a wood surface for a painting I am starting after Easter... and... Oh, I almost forgot... Jesus.

My life is too busy. It is getting busier.

I have an interview tomorrow with the district’s superintendent and the personnel director for a team that will design the philosophy, pedagogy, and curriculum for our school. Important stuff, plans that will affect our school and thousands of children for a very long time. Worth the time and effort. Very exciting. But it is one more task. My life gets so busy I feel like I am on some sort of treadmill.

I’m too busy. Aside from work and my prayer times I have three after school programs, and more importantly, a family that needs my attention.

Frankly, though I try really hard, I don’t understand women. Sometimes I wonder if some people are gay just so they don’t have to try to live with the opposite gender. (Fear not, I'm not going into a battle-of-the-sexes frustrated-male monologue today.) But I recognize that I need to slow down, care for her as the most important human in my life, because she is.

She is a good woman. I love her very much. I wouldn’t hesitate to give my life for her, do almost anything to make her happy.

The house needs my attention. That is a whole other treadmill. The bedroom door needs fixing, the floors are peeling, and the toilet plugged up yesterday. Even when the plug seemed to be cleared it still wouldn’t flush properly. The water was draining, but the bowl wouldn’t fully refill. I finally pulled the toilet out and dragged it into the back yard to see if there was something still stuck somewhere in its innards. I tried to run a plumber's snake through it, and a garden hose...

My mother in law was here, sick because she had spent a couple of days last week watching Jeremiah when he was sick. She needed to use the only other restroom every 20 minutes. That was a frequently occupied room.

And Brenda was having a bad day.

In the most positive moment of the afternoon I reminded her of the evening out we had the other night and how she was having a good day. She said: “A good day is when I’m not screaming on the outside.”

It made me feel sad, and tired, and old.

So I was at church with a heavy heart. I slapped on a plastic smile. I prayed fervently. I tried my best to think of others and how I love my Lord.


After church I fed the kids and went back to wrestling with a toilet.

While I worked I got to thinking. I was thinking about bread.

We had communion this morning and I was thinking about the last supper, the first communion. I was thinking about that loaf of unleavened bread.

I was really thinking about the donkey.

You see that meal, the Last Supper, happened in Jerusalem during passover. In a city like that, and for travelers such as Jesus’ group, the bread was probably purchased from a professional baker. The flour for that bread would have come from a source of wheat able to feed a city full of pilgrims.

Wheat was ground at a mill, a donkey walking around a tight circle, rotating a mill stone.

That donkey probably worked there for a long time. It would spend most of its life there. A lot of grains of wheat poured between those stones while it ground those kernels into flour.

Most of that flour fed regular folks regular meals.

But that week something unusual happened. During that particular week it produce a sack of flour that would be touched by the hand of God. That loaf of bread was broken before twelve close associates and passed around in a symbolic meal that would multiply itself through the ages, like a timeless feeding of thousands from a few loaves, until I reached this morning to pick up a small piece of cracker and place it in my mouth to consider its dryness and how I am far less than my Lord wishes me to be.

That donkey walked around in circles for a long, long time, working, working, working...

Sometimes that is all I can do. Even when I am weary, I need to just keep moving in the circuit He has placed me in and pull that stone.


This afternoon, born of the frustration of unresolved plumbing issues there was a break through with Jeremiah.

Something gave. His heart cracked in a way I have not seen before, and the fears and grief and anguish he has been feeling since the fire came choking out, sobbing out, in a prayer before his mommy and his daddy.

We are tired, and the work is often tedious. But in the mundane work of our lives something unusual can happen. So we are surprised when the result of our labors has a divine purpose.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Where Does Creativity Come From?

I wish I could play a musical instrument. It would be so cool to pick up a guitar or sit at a piano and have music flow out of me. I have a huge audio collection. I love to sing in worship on Sundays. Unfortunately those around me probably don’t have the same enthusiasm to listen to my singing. But it would be wonderful to have such skills.

Ah well. I have other talents.

One of them is art. I took a couple of years of art design and art history in college, and I grew up around it (my mother is an artist). I tried to make a living at it (read: “starving artist”).

It’s been a while since I was serious about doing art on a regular basis. I think the purpose of art comes from within. I needed something to express. I needed something to say.

A couple years ago our church took the Lenten season seriously. We dedicated a room for prayer. It was stocked with candles, a CD player, soft lighting, and interestingly, some Sharpie pens to write prayers and thoughts on the walls.

This place of prayer has been a tremendous refuge for me.

Writing on the wall was weird at first. But as others did it I felt more comfortable. We wrote passages of scripture, favorite verses, psalms and such... little prayers. Everything anonymous. It was exciting seeing how other people thought, how they prayed, what was important to them.

Slowly pictures began to appear. A broken loaf of bread with a goblet of red wine. Pictures of the cross. I reproduced a Gustave Dore’ depiction of the crucifixion in crayons.

And that is where it began. I was looking at other pictures of Dore’s and a sketch of Jesus’ face. It stayed in my mind. And one day, while in a prayer session, I went to the spot behind the door and sketched that face in pencil. The eyes were level with mine. I came back another day and sketched it in with a fine point black Sharpie.

I came back again and penciled in His body. And all the while I thought about the movie The Passion and His great sacrifice. I started writing the words of the prayers I was thinking in the folds of His clothing in various colored Sharpies, working around other prayers that had been written on the wall.

Soon I was praying there a lot of the time. Praying and writing and drawing. I bought every color of Sharpie there is and brought in many colored pencils and acrylic paints.

I did the Lord’s Prayer, twisting around the figure of Jesus and over the door and around other scriptures written on the walls. I did a grape vine climbing up the corner and twisting out, using passages about Jesus as the vine to give the bark texture. One branch was the list of Jesus' heritage. I put sparrows in the vines, flying in to settle near grapes with passages about how He loves the sparrows and how much more He loves us.

Before long a year had passed and Easter was coming again.

I was uncomfortable at how some folks would talk so much about the pictures, as if they were something of worth in themselves. They aren’t. Their only value, for me anyway, was in the prayer I was praying when they went on the walls. So as Easter approached I convinced a reluctant pastor to let me paint over the walls for Easter.

What a shock for folks.

But then I began again. This time I planned the life-size image of Jesus from the start. He is the Good Shepherd, a lamb across his shoulders. He is wearing a crown of thorns, but there are no holes in His hands. He is looking purposefully outward, and a careful eye may notice that a shadow in the shape of a cross is falling across him. He has begun his final mortal walk, carrying His sheep, and resolutely moving onward. The entire thing is done in fine point colored sharpies, the lettering so small in places for shadow that I could not see the letter myself, I just knew the shape I had made formed them.

I did another version of the Lord’s Prayer. A large circle: a never ending prayer.

I painted a golden sword on one wall in acrylics, a reminder of a dream I had received when things had gotten a little rough this past year (post:November 12, 2005).

The prayer room is a place for prayers, and that is all that these are.

And in a couple of weeks it will get painted over again.

There are folks who are dismayed that it is going to get painted. I’m glad they will be gone. They were done for the moment, not for anything else.

I suppose some people see art where all I see is a time of meditation and prayer that marked a passage for me. I will be glad for new canvas.

But I have an idea. If folks want these images so much (some have even talked about cutting out the sheet rock to preserve them), I have a plan.

This year I will do most of my prayers on canvas and wood and hang those on the walls (I'm excited about redoing the Lord's Prayer!). Then the following Easter we can have a silent auction and folks who want them can have them. The money can go to the fund the rebuilding of our church from the fire.

I’ve said all this for two reasons. First, I would like to promote the idea of churches having a place where people can go to pray; let them express themselves in anyway that seems fit to them at the time they are praying.

The second reason is a little trickier to articulate.

It is the idea of creative prayer. I’m not sure what to say about it, but when I approach a creative project something organic happens. I’m not exactly sure what is coming when I start, I am simply a tool for Him to use.

Have you prayed earnestly and for a long period of time and have felt the prayer take over? It becomes something outside of yourself.

I did a writing experiment once where I let a character in a short story begin to respond to what I was writing as I wrote it. I soon found myself arguing with a character I was making up as I went along. It was unsettling, especially since he got in the last word.

Art can be like that. Last Christmas morning I stepped up to a blank canvas on the stage of our church while the congregation sat to hear our pastor speak.

This is what I was thinking:

Uh oh! I don’t know what I am doing!!! What color should I use?! Everyone is watching! I better get started... Now. NOW!! NOW!!! Uhhhh... what color? What color? Uh, WHAT COLOR?!!! Come on... pick a color!!!! OK.... Uh.... BLUE!!!!!!

I didn't know what I was going to do. I had set myself up to let the Lord lead me at the last possible moment.

"If you know exactly what you are going to do, then what is the point of doing it?"
-- Pablo Picasso

Then I stopped and thought about Tim’s sermon. It was on Mary’s song. the Magnificat.

Here is a woman, no one special, a girl really, and of all the people on the Earth, among all the mighty cities, this girl in a tiny town was going to be the tool the Lord used to step into mortal existence. She sang a song of praise.

So I painted a picture of a tiny figure among enormous buildings, bathed in the light of grace and love and divine selection.

Suddenly I find myself drawing and painting. And with each stroke of the pen, or brush of acrylic paint, or rubbing of chalk, I think about the prayer in my heart that is finding expression outside of myself.

And there is so much going on in my heart. I ache to be nearer my Lord, whispering prayers that are spontaneous and liturgical, rote and creative.

That is the second point I wish to make, aside from encouraging others to create prayer rooms. I want to encourage others to find new ways to communicate with our Lord. If He has given you a talent, can you use it to express a prayer? Can you write? Can you sing or play an instrument?

We fill our lives with nonsense: TV, movies, silly human politics. I believe we too often overlook the things within all of us that are divine; where else could creativity come from than from The Creator?

Sunday, March 05, 2006


I’ve a very good friend. He has consistently prayed for and with me through many difficult times. He was the first to come when my son died. He took me out for coffee at 3 a.m. when Jeremiah was arrested last June. He has encouraged me so much.

He is also my pastor.

He has had challenges also. And, on occasion, he has permitted me to help.

He promoted a monthly prayer chain, 24 hours once a month, in a room we have set aside for it. And in that room I have enjoyed many blessings. One of which is exploring prayer through my art (which is the subject of an upcoming post).

Out of that exploration my friend invited me to try my hand at painting a prayer during the service on Christmas Morning.

I chose to paint Mary’s song of praise: the Magnificat.

In January this good friend of mine went home to be with his brother who is dying of cancer. There is a powerful story there and I am tempted to tell it. But I want you to hear it from my friend, who gave a message on it today.

But I would like to share this. This man has accepted the Lord, after many years of rejecting faith and family, living homeless.

While my friend was there I prayed for him and his brother, and as I have learned to do, I prayed while doing art.

While sketching out this image I got the news of his change of heart. Here is that picture: “Prodigal”.

A heart of stone has rolled aside to make room for the Lord.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday

I’m looking at a jar of charred wood. It is from an eave of my church, near the spot where my son was playing with fire.

Within a year or so a new building will rise where the old one stood. Something new out of the ashes.

I watched The Passion last night. My children did not come with me. That is OK. I am humbled once again at the enormity of God’s love. I will watch it again on Good Friday. I am humbled that out the greatest horror, the greatest of sins, when men had the audacity to lay hands upon God incarnate, the Lord made something wonderful happen.

Humbled that He would do that, and include me in that grace.

I’m reading a passage from the Bible tonight...

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. --Philippians 2:1-3

There has been discouragement this past year, and encouragement. Discomfort and comfort. There have been tears and joys.

Most of this passage is pretty easy to take. But that last part... “...Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

That’s a little tougher.

I have tried to be humble. In fact, I think I am a little proud of my humility.

How’s that?!

I call myself Curious Servant. That is how I want to be known. Look at me! See how humble I am!

I’m sitting here with a cross on my forehead, made of the ashes from our burned church.

I strut through my life, trying to be great, and it’s all foolishness. I want to help shape the new look of our school. I want to run my tv show and after school clubs and lead a Sunday school class... and why is that? Is it all because of a desire to serve? Or do I crave attention?

Is there anything I have that I should be proud of? Is there anything I do, or think, or create, or make, or feel, that makes me special? Or is everything I have a gift from my Lord? Isn’t all I have, when it is at its best, at its purest, at its most wholesome, of God and not of me?

This isn’t going to be long post. I don’t want to put a lot of lovely words together.

I want to just record a few thoughts tonight before I go to bed.

God loves me despite my arrogance, despite my pride. He is pleased most when I use His grace to honor Him.

That is all. That is everything.

I want to be an honest servant.

I need to seek opportunities to quietly wash feet.