Art

Good Friday Gratefulness

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It’s Holy Saturday and I’m supposed to be quietly waiting for Easter, focused specifically on the darkness of the tomb and the cost off the cross. Instead, I’m thinking about how grateful I am for the services yesterday, especially the long vigil we held from noon to 3pm.

The clergy and good folks at St James Episcopal Church in Potomac opened their hearts and minds to a new vigil exercise, different from previous years. Together as a community we followed the readings of the fourteen stations of the Biblical Way of the Cross as designed by the late Pope John Paul II. These fourteen stations are all built upon scripture instead of upon a mix of scripture and tradition. They are also accompanied by some amazing prayers!

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Carrying Christ’s heavy cross to the altar.

As we read, prayed and sang through the stations many volunteers placed pieces of a tableau at the altar for each one. At the end we had an installation of greenery, signs and elements of the crucifixion, each related to the passages we read. In the final station we placed a corpus upon the altar, a representation of the wrapped and buried body of Christ. 

Let me say honestly, a three hour vigil is a long time, wearying and taxing. I have such respect for my clergy colleagues (Meredith and Mary Margaret) who stood, vested and focused, for the lion’s share of three hours of liturgy and stations, just to uncomfortably kneel the rest of the time. I was on my feet as well, but I was at the back of the sanctuary directing the placement of the tableau pieces. I had a chair handy, but stood in solidarity with those on stage. 

I have heard good things from some who haven’t worked together to make such a tableau before, and I’m so happy that the images and art spoke to them. I am most moved by what we did for the stations in which Peter betrays Jesus and then later when Jesus forgives the criminal on the cross… we had a familiar image, a Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was made to be broken in two at Peter’s denial and then put back together at the moment Jesus forgives the dying criminal: a broken heart, and a healthy active heart.

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What a blessing. I am so grateful to have shared the time with the amazing souls at St James, grateful for the legacy of selfless love and devotion we find in Christ.  I am so blessed by God’s church. Easter will be that much sweeter in joy and celebration after such a rich Good Friday.

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Have a great Easter Sunday, beloved! 

AMDG, Todd

Missional Voices Conference 2016

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This past weekend I was deeply blessed to be part of the inaugural Missional Voices conference at Virginia Theological Seminary, a weekend to bring together a diverse group of people from across the Episcopal Church and dream and share about ways of incarnating the gospel in our diverse communities. From the keynotes to the panel discussions to the new friendships, I feel full, loved and cared for.

I was also excited to be an artist in residence for the conference tasked with digital visual note-taking and leading a small group time on Zendoodles (Zentangles). I wanted to make a blog entry on some of the things I produced as a digital visual note-taker, and introduce you to some exciting people I met in the weekend.

PEOPLE

I have some new friends, heroes, and I hope, folks I might find ways to spend time and ministry with in the coming years. So many good souls were with us in the weekend that I could never mention them all, but I did want to highlight some new friends…

Ginny Wilder… Um, I’ve already started my Apple Music playlist of her stuff. Yes, she’s a singer songwriter currently working on her 7th studio album and has some of her stuff in the iTunes library. I didn’t know all that when I met her on Friday. I think we were just standing around before dinner outside the refectory having cold beers, finger foods and soaking up the long-awaited sunshine of a late-in-coming Spring. We started chatting and I noticed she wears the same James Avery wedding band I wear… BFF zone. She has a YouTube channel and is currently raising money for her next album.

Stephanie Spellers… Stephanie Spellers is an author and the Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism and Reconciliation, and a really cool lady. She was a keynote speaker at the conference and a leader in the worship sessions.

There were so many more like Alan and Christian, who started the idea rolling for the conference and worked so hard to make it happen. And there was Jason Evans, a good friend and Missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

ART

I was making some digital art! I’ve done the visual note-taking thing with white boards and markers, and I’ve done live painting in which I weave the themes of worship and the speaker(s) into the canvas… this weekend was a hybrid of the two and I really enjoyed it.

I took notes during the keynotes, sometimes on a prepared digital canvas I made before the conference, sometimes of a photo from the Seminary campus and chapel, and sometimes completely from scratch. Here are a few of my favorites…

A prayer before we got started…

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Keynotes…

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“Missional Voices” talks…

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Notes and responses to panel discussions…

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As I listened, the theme of Table relating to Missional became clear…

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Response to worship…

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And I was asked to do my art live, projected on three walls, during the closing Eucharist. I’ll see if I can also post the video for that one so you can see the progression of the image as well as the finished still…

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and the video…

Looking forward to next year! Missional Voices 2017!

AMDG, Todd

The Voice Bible: Enjoying Some New Sounds

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the voice bibleI am totally addicted to our scriptures. I have this wicked old King James Bible that I bought at a thrift store last year for a quarter, some of you know it and have seen it, and well… sometimes I just smell it. It smells so good, the old leather and old paper. I also have to confess that I have most of the English translations on my shelf. I’m sure there’s a few I don’t have, but I have the biggies.

Just yesterday I bought a paperback copy of The Voice, which was introduced a couple years ago, but I don’t claim to spend a lot of time watching what is hitting the scene year to year. I was just snooping the shelves at Barnes and Noble and saw it, picked it up and decided to give it a good home.

First thoughts…

This really is a new thing. The goals and diversity of the translators, scholars and artists all come together to create a rendering of our scriptures that is both informative and engaging. In a time when many of us are becoming increasingly conscious of the deficits in some of our traditional readings and interpretations (due often to our favorite English translations), The Voice is helpful for re-hearing the message.

I dig the screenplay aspect. I like that the The Voice will break dialogue into a screenplay format instead of just trying to maintain columns with quotes and paragraph breaks. It does take a little getting used to, since other notes and summaries are included in the text of a passage. My only angst is that pages can almost become cluttered with everything going on.

I’m excited about the way it lends itself to the public reading and presentation of scripture with creativity and life. Wow, that was a long thought. I was so blessed in July to spend a couple of days with Dr. Nancy Gross up at Princeton Theological Seminary to study and practice the public reading of scripture, along with four days refining presentation skills with Dr. Michael Brothers. (You’d think I would be a decent preacher by now, right?) What a great summer to stumble onto The Voice! I’m beginning to tie lots of cool ends together in my head as I read through the translation.

Here’s a review of The Voice that I thought was a balanced approach to weighing it’s strengths and weakness, a review by Dr. Ben Witherington. But of course, the best way to experience a new translation project like this is to, well, experience it. I recommend The Voice if you are finding your engagement with scripture to be a little dry these days. It might be a fresh wind of joy to help rediscover the depth and grace of our sacred writings.

AMDG, Todd

Believing in Your Goodness

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I’m not only trying this month to write about my belief in your goodness and my desire to be your pastor, but I’m also reading. One book I’m spending time with is Eknath Easwaran’s “Original Goodness,” his book on The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. His book “Love Never Faileth” is also amazing.

Here’s a just a snip that I read while on a long walk, yesterday, and a doodle I did this morning in my prayer and reflection time.

     “When I was growing up in South India, just half an hour’s walk from my home was a lotus pond so thickly overlaid with glossy leaves and gleaming rose and white blossoms that you could scarcely see the water. One of the Sanskrit names for this most exquisite of flowers is pankaja, “born from the mud.” In the murky depths of the pond a seed takes root. Then a long, wavering strand reaches upward, groping through the water toward the glimmering light above. From the water a bud emerges. Warmed by the sun’s rays, it slowly opens out and forms a perfect chalice to catch and hold the dazzling light of the sun.
     The lotus makes a beautiful symbol for the core of goodness in every human being. Though we are born of human clay, it reminds us, each of us has the latent capacity to reach and grow toward heaven until we shine with the reflected glory of our Maker.”

Eknath Easwaran, “Original Goodness” 1996, pages 10 & 11

Be blessed in your day, my friends, for you are good.
AMDG, Todd

lotus quote

Where The Cross Has Been

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where the cross has beenWe’ve been painting little hearts, hands and crosses in worship at Church in Bethesda as we talk about service, sharing and the impact of our faith and lives on the world around us. To make cleanup a little easier I’ve been taping the little wooden pieces to half sheets of construction paper. I thought it would make it easier to paint to the edge of the pieces while keeping fingers clean.

Later, I come along and pull the pieces off to lay them around on the altar. What I didn’t plan on was the awesome way many of our people painted onto the paper, using it as an extension of the canvas. I was also struck by this image of a piece of paper with the outline of a cross after I removed the wooden piece.

When we work so hard to create a life that has beauty and intention, we don’t know how far that life will reach or how much it changes the world around it. Painting that little red cross created two images, the cross itself and the place where it was made. How like that is my own life? How like that is your life? Let’s keep painting and working on our little lives, our efforts of colors and shapes of grace, and let’s stop every now and then and look to marvel at the patterns and imprints we leave behind.

One of the sweetest elements of community is sharing the surprises, the unexpected and the leftovers. One of the deepest blessings of our faith is what we don’t easily see it creating in us and our world. Thanks be to the God who paints alongside us. Thanks be to the God who overpaints our edges and covers the world anew in grace each day. Thanks be to God.

AMDG, Todd

P.S. There are more photos of our crosses, hearts and hands on my Facebook page and on the Church in Bethesda Facebook page!

Meditating with Saint Christopher

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st christopherI’ve been meditating on the story of Saint Christopher. It’s got my imagination fired up and my soul is energized by the images and icons of service that he represents. You can research the story here or here or here, as a few places to start. The story is readily available.

For some it will sound very odd to be meditating with or on a Saint. I didn’t grow up with the Saints, so I understand… it’s been a relatively new thing in my life, for about 6 years now, to read about and explore the lives of the Saints. My recent prayers, focusing on the short litany, “Let me love. Let me learn. Let me serve.” have brought me to the study of St. Christopher. Well, that and finding a sweet St. Christopher medallion at a flea market. =)

This Saint’s story is one of honest searching for a king worthy of serving. It’s a story about one’s strength and giftedness being used as a blessing to others. It’s a story that shows how we aren’t all the same in our coming to Christ or in our following of Christ. I like the story a lot. It’s a story of the divine in the mundane, and reminds me of a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

Don’t faint when you realize that we aren’t sure if he lived in the 3rd or 4th Century. Don’t give up on him because of the interesting divergence of details among the myriad traditions. The story of Christopher is not scripture, so we aren’t looking in it for that kind of divine revelation… but we can find in it divine vibrations… we can find in it a picture of humanity that points us to the divine.

Who can’t relate to the redemption of Christopher? Who can’t relate at some time in life to physically standing out, by our stature or appearance. Who can’t relate to seeking someone worthy of our service and fidelity? Who among us doesn’t live next to “raging rivers of life” that force us to journey together? I like the story. It inspires me.

I want to be a Christopher. I want to serve with fidelity and strength. I want to be a useful neighbor in the world. I want my service in this life to be service to the One who gives life. Perhaps one day we’ll each get across this river and wipe our tired brow, and sigh real big, and look around and say, “Dude, I just barely made it through.” And our Christ is going to high-five us and say, “No way. We rocked!”

Breakfast Is Not Infinite

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breakfast is finiteIt’s such a shame that breakfast is a finite quantity and experience. One moment I was enjoying an absolutely amazing breakfast sandwich here at La Madeleine this morning, and then it was gone. Why wasn’t I taught that breakfast was finite? Why wasn’t I prepared for the consequences of eating?

Yeah, I’m so not really writing about the finite’ness of breakfast. I’m actually writing about the finite nature of creativity. I’m discovering in myself and my own life that creativity is in fact not in infinite supply. It seems I was raised with the expectation that creativity was a bottomless well, a super power without limits, something to be tapped, mined and spent with abandon. I believe I’ve experienced just the opposite.

I’m not saying that you may not have a creative super power that goes on and on (although I don’t believe you do, hehehe), but my well can run dry. And I’m not just talking about those times of life that are creatively a bit dryer than other times. I have noticed that when I choose to invest my creativity too heavily in one direction and pursuit, I simply don’t have the juices to move in another direction. It’s really disappointing.

I swam a few laps this morning with Google to see what other bloggers and writers might be saying about the finite nature of creativity and discovered a couple of things that border on the profundity of “life lessons,” and they go like this:
1) creativity is in fact not boundless, but something we need to invest and use wisely, and
2) anyone who says your creativity is infinite is selling you something, a product or a service.

What all this means for me is that I must do some reflection and self-analysis periodically in life to make sure I’m not wasting my creativity. I need my creativity in my work and career. I need my creativity in several career related pursuits in my life. I want to be a creative husband and father. If I’m investing my creativity in pursuits and activities that do not channel into these important areas of my life, then I’m going to come up short when I need it the most.

One of the biggest culprits in my life is video gaming. Video games in their various forms can be amazing creative outlets, at least the ones I’ve chosen to play. From Minecraft to World of Warcraft to Second Life, I am invited to create characters, build worlds and fashion whole realities from pure imagination and creativity. All the games I mentioned offer various kinds of rewards for spending my creativity there, and none of them are bad, evil or inherently wrong.

I know, I know… who wants to read a 43 year old man-child blog about spending too much time playing video games? It’s not just video games. I can do this with movies, Netflix and going on a TV binge. I can do this with hobbies and other pursuits in life that do not help me channel my energies and pursuits in the direction I need to be moving or simply a direction that is producing usable returns for my life. This whole finite creativity thing may also have an impact on my tendency to be a “starter” but not always a “finisher” as I change my spending habits midcourse with projects. Maybe it’s the natural outgrowth of an addictive personality.

Today, I’m making some lists. I’m making some lists of unfinished work projects, current hobby activities, upcoming creative needs and unmet life desires, and I’m going to toss those lists into a mixed salad of opportunities for spending my creative reserve, and prayerfully try to make some wise choices.  Honestly, I’ve been doing this for a few days now, and am committed to continuing the exercise.

Thankfully, as finite as my reserve of creativity may be, it’s also a replenishing resource. My mistakes aren’t my future and the well that ran dry will run again.