Tag Archives: Expression

Guernica

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Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me!

Psalm 35:1 (NRSVCE)

In January of 1937, Pablo Picasso was commissioned to do a painting for his native Spain to be displayed in the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair. His initial sketches for the project show very little difference from the theme of his other works at that time.

On the 26th of April, Nazi German and Italian Fascist air forces bombed the town of Guernica, Spain at the request of Spanish Nationalists who desired to strike against their Spanish political rivals in the region. According to local accounts, it was market day and most of the villagers were gathered in the town center when the bombs began to fall. In his diary, the commander of the Nazi squadron recorded that the town was still burning the following day. It was utterly destroyed. There were no military targets in the area. Guernica was the most ancient town and the cultural center of the Basque region. It was a terror attack designed to wipe out political rivals.

Guernica in Ruins after 1937 bombing

On May 1, Picasso read eyewitness accounts of the attack. He immediately abandoned his original ideas for his commission and began to work. The 25.5 foot wide and 11.5 foot tall painting, entitled Guernica, was finished in 35 days. Containing images of the suffering of people and animals wrought by violence and chaos, the painting prominently displays a gored horse, a bull, screaming women, dismemberment, and flames. Picasso painted it in black and white using a specially requisitioned matte house paint that was void of any gloss to give it the feeling of a black and white photograph recording a moment in time. Guernica is considered among the most moving and powerful paintings of all time.

What do artists do in response to powerful forces beyond their control? They create. They channel and express their emotions, even their most raw, painful, and socially unacceptable emotions, into their creative work.

I find today’s chapter, Psalm 35, among the most unique songs David ever wrote. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, David’s life is quite a story. He had a lot of enemies throughout his life. There were military enemies from neighboring regions who wanted him dead. There were also internal enemies everywhere he turned. His own King wanted him dead, and therefore all of Saul’s political allies were against David. David’s own son rebelled against him, turned David’s political allies against him, and led an armed rebellion against him. David’s life journey was not an easy road.

Psalm 35 is David pouring out his emotions to God in song. You can almost feel the desperation as he begs God to take up his cause. Surrounded by those who want his life on every side, and betrayed by friends and family who he loved, David begs God to take up his cause. He pours out his soul in raw anger at his enemies, asking God to destroy them. It is not an easy read.

What do artists do in response to powerful forces beyond their control? They create. They channel and express their emotions, even their most raw, painful, and socially unacceptable emotions, into their creative work.

One of the things that I love about the Psalms is the diversity of them. David wrote liturgical, religious songs for corporate worship events. David wrote the blues when he was down. David wrote songs of intense joy when he was delivered. David wrote songs of intense contrition when faced with his tragic flaws. David wrote songs of intense anger when enemies outside his control were closing in all around him.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about our emotions. Emotions can have significant negative consequences when they lie hidden, suppressed, and ignored within us. Finding healthy ways to get out my negative emotions has been one of the greatest lessons of my life journey. Many people think of God as a strict moral judge who will be shocked and punish us for expressing our “negative emotions.” I don’t find God to be that at all. Like David, I find God to be a loving creator who is not shocked, dismayed, or surprised by any of my emotions – even the negative ones. I can cry, scream, rail, and vent to God, who is Love incarnate, because love is patient, kind, and gracious.

I imagine God listening to David’s angry rant of a song, that we now call Psalm 35. I imagine David getting to the end and being almost out of breath from the pouring out of his emotions. I imagine God smiling and saying, “There. Nice. Feel better?”

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The “Why Me?” Blues

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O Lord my God, if I have done this,
    if there is wrong in my hands…

Psalm 7:3 (NRSVCE)

David is on the run from his King, Saul. David is God’s anointed to ascend the throne, but Saul is still wearing the crown and he is hell-bent on killing David and keeping the throne to himself. To accomplish the task, Saul puts a price on David’s head. Bounty hunters are on the loose and they have David in their sites. The reward is not just the bounty, but the favor of the king and all that comes with it.

King Saul is from the Hebrew tribe of Benjamin, and in his tribe, there is a man named Cush who is after Saul’s favor and David’s demise. In those days, hunters often used a technique of digging a pit and arranging for your prey to fall into it. Cush is digging pits to trap David.

I tend to believe that David, after being anointed God’s choice for the throne by the prophet Samuel, probably thought the road to the throne would be a cakewalk. But Saul still has a tight grip on the crown and David finds himself wandering in the desert avoiding the pits that Cush has laid out for him like a modern-day minefield.

“Why me?”

That’s the refrain of David’s heart, and in that spirit he writes a song. Today’s psalm are the lyrics.

“Why me?”

I used to ask that question a lot as a child when things weren’t going my way. I confess, victim mentality comes naturally when you’re the youngest sibling (btw, David was the youngest of eight brothers). There are a lot of times in life, especially when I was young when my mind and heart assumed direct connections between my negative circumstances and divine wrath. If something bad happened in my world, then it must be God punishing me. If I couldn’t come up with any reason God would want to punish me for anything, then I would start singing the “Why me?” blues.

It’s helpful to put myself in David’s sandals as I read the lyrics of today’s psalm. David begins by reminding God of his faith in God’s protection and his acknowledgement that without it, he’s a dead man. David then pleads his innocence. David has done some soul searching and can’t come up with any reason why God would be ticked-off at him, so he sings “If I deserve it, then let Cush take me.”

Having established his innocence, David shifts from plea to prosecution, asking God to rain down justice on the wicked. He envisions Cush digging a bit to trap David only to fall into it himself with Shakespearean irony.

Having expressed his trust, lament, plea, and prosecution, David ends his song in gratitude and praise. He’s musically thought through his circumstances, poured out his heart of anxiety, fear, and uncertainly. He finds himself back in the refuge of God’s protection, trusting God to sustain him against the traps and attacks of his enemies.

Along my life journey, I matured from the childish notion that every negative thing that happens to me is some kind of divine retribution for my wrong-doing. At the same time, I’ve recognized that my mature adult brain can find itself reverting back to childish patterns of thought and behavior, especially when I’m reacting to unexpected tragedy or stress.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself realizing that I often have to do what David did in today’s psalm. I have to process my thoughts and emotions. I have to walk through them, get them out, express them on paper or in conversation with a trusted companion. Once they’re out in the open, in the light of day, I can usually see them with more context and clarity. Silly, childish, tragic, or toxic thoughts and emotions tend to thrive in the darkness of my soul. Bringing them into the light allows me to see them for what they really are. They lose their power and I am able to get my heart back in alignment, my head on straight.

The “Why me?” blues can be good for the soul.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Tent to Temple to Table

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And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.
Exodus 25:8 (NRSVCE)

Our children posted a rather hilarious video of Milo over the weekend. At first, we couldn’t figure out what he was doing shaking his bum towards daddy’s legs. As we listened to the audio it became more clear that Milo was making like the Stegosaurus on his shirt and shaking his spiky “tail” to protect himself from the predator, played by daddy, whom I presume was cast in the role of a T-Rex. Yesterday, on our Father’s Day FaceTime, we got to witness Milo reprise his role for us a shake his little dino-booty for Papa and Yaya’s enjoyment.

It’s a very natural thing for us to make word pictures and games for our children and grandchildren to introduce them to concepts, thoughts, and ideas that are still a little beyond their cognitive reach. Even with spiritual things we do this. Advent calendars with numbered doors help children mark the anticipation of celebrating Jesus’ birth. Christmas gifts remind us of the gifts the Magi brought the Christ child. Wendy often recalls the Nativity play she and her cousins and siblings performed each year with bathrobes and hastily collected props which helped to teach the story behind the season.

In leaving Egypt and striking out for the Promised Land, Moses and the twelve Hebrew tribes are a fledgling nation. Yahweh was introduced to Moses in the burning bush. Moses introduced the Tribes to Yahweh through interceding with Pharaoh on their behalf and delivering them from Egyptian slavery. Yahweh has already provided food in the form of Manna and led them to the mountain. In today’s chapter, God begins the process of providing a system of worship that will continue to develop a relationship of knowing and being known.

As I described in my podcast, Time (Part 1), we are still at the toddler stage of human history and development. The Ark of the Covenant (yes, the one from Raiders of the Lost Ark) and the plan for a giant traveling Tent to house God’s presence, are all tangible word pictures that their cognitive human brains could fathom revealing and expressing intangible spiritual truths about God.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that as humanity has matured so has God’s relationship with us. Jesus pushed our spiritual understanding of God. “You have heard it said,” he would begin before adding, “but I say….” I have come to believe that Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection were like the “age of accountability” in which we talk about when children become responsible adults. Jesus came to grow us up spiritually and to mature our understanding of what it means to become participants in the divine dance within the circle of love with Father, Son, and Spirit. On a grand scale, God is doing with humanity what Paul experienced in the microcosm of his own life:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

1 Corinthians 13:11

I have also observed, however, that human beings have a way of getting stuck in our development. Many adults I know are living life mired in adolescent patterns of thought and behavior. Many church institutions are, likewise, mired in childish religious practices designed to control human social behavior, but they do very little to fulfill Jesus’ mission of bringing God’s Kingdom to earth. Again, Paul was dealing with this same thing when he wrote to Jesus’ followers in Corinth:

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3a

There is a great example of this from today’s chapter. God provided the Ark of the Covenant, and a traveling tent called the Tabernacle, as a word picture of His presence and dwelling with the wandering Hebrew people. It was a physical sign that God was with them. Once settled in the Promised land, the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem became the central physical location of God’s presence. When Jesus came, however, He blew up the childish notion of the God of Creation residing in one place. Jesus matured our understanding of God’s very nature and the nature of God’s presence. With the pouring out of God’s Spirit to indwell every believer, Jesus transformed our understanding of God’s dwelling and presence. “Wherever two or three are gathered,” Jesus said, “I am among them.” The place of worship transitioned from the Temple to the dining room table. After the resurrection, Jesus was revealed during dinner in Emmaus, making shore-lunch for the disciples along the Sea of Galilee, and at the dinner table behind locked doors where the disciples were hiding.

Wendy and I have this quote from Brian Zahnd hanging on the fridge in our kitchen:

“The risen Christ did not appear at the temple but at meal tables. The center of God’s activity had shifted – it was no longer the temple but the table that was the holiest of all. The church would do well to think of itself, not so much as a kind of temple, but as a kind of table. This represents a fundamental shift. Consider the difference between the temple and the table. Temple is exclusive; Table is inclusive. Temple is hierarchical; Table is egalitarian. Temple is authoritarian; Table is affirming. Temple is uptight and status conscious; Table is relaxed and ‘family-style.’ Temple is rigorous enforcement of purity codes that prohibit the unclean; Table is a welcome home party celebrating the return of sinners. The temple was temporal. The table is eternal. We thought God was a diety in a temple. It turns out God is a father at a table.”

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the ancient Hebrew people struggling to mature their understanding from a polytheistic society with over 1500 dieties to the one God who is trying to introduce Himself to them in ways they can understand. I am reminded of the ways Jesus tried to mature our understanding of God even further. I find myself confessing all of the ways through all of the years of my spiritual journey that I have refused to mature in some of the most basic things Jesus was teaching.

As Wendy and I sit down together to share a meal together this week, my desire is to acknowledge Jesus’ presence. To make our time of conversation, laughter, and daily bread a time of communion with God’s Spirit. I think that’s a good spiritual action step.

Bon a petite, my friend. May you find God’s Spirit at your table this week.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Art History; History Art; Art, History

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 (NIV)

Back in college I was required to take a visual art class as part of my major. Being a lover of history I chose to take Art History II. The fascinating thing about Professor Jeff Thompson’s class was that the text book was not an Art History textbook. It was simply a History textbook.

Professor Thompson began the class with a question: “Does art merely reflect history, or does it drive history?” If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll recognize this is a binary, “either, or” question, and the answer to his question that we arrived at was “yes, and.”

What was fascinating in the course of study was the connection between all that was going on during a certain period of time of history (politics, religion, economics, and etc.) and what we were seeing in the important artworks of that period. Not only that, but also the connection between what we saw in visual art (paintings and sculptures) and the other art mediums (music, theatre, architechture, and literature). The art of each period both reflected what was happening and drove history forward.

That class planted in me a seed which has grown over time to bear much fruit of thought. Here is the root of it: In creating art, no matter the medium, artists express themselves through what they create. It cannot be otherwise. It is inherent in that act of creation itself that artists express who they really are, what they see, what they think, what they feel, and how they’ve experienced the world around them. In expressing these things, they influence the world around them and they drive the action of this Great Story.

This morning, in this chapter-a-day journey, we make our way to Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus living in Rome, heart of the Roman Empire and epicenter of western civilization at the time. Today, art historians flock to Rome to see remnants of the ancient city with its architecture and artwork. The people Paul wrote to were surrounded by it as it was happening all around them, and to them he wrote this:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

The creator revealed themselves in what was created. The Genesis poem says that humans were created in the image of the Creator. Just as Van Gogh painted the unique way he saw light and color, just as Bach channeled his love and understanding of mathematic order and the woven details of the universe into his music, just as Shakespeare expressed the tragedy of everyday humanity in the gilded trappings of man-made royalty, so God the Creator expressed  the light, energy, life, beauty, and power of their person(s) in all creation.

In the quiet this morning I’m pondering how through much of my journey I’ve viewed faith and science as living entrenched in their “either, or” camps like the armies of World War I dug in for the long haul, reduced to hurtling grenades at one another across no man’s land. At least, that’s the perception I’ve had from what has been presented to me by media who like to simplify complex issues into simple binary groups in conflict (it sells more). As I’ve proceeded in my journey I’ve met many fellow sojourners who could be easily labeled as a members of either trench, but who have wandered out into no man’s land. They observe and study and appreciate this cosmic work of art still expanding outward, still creating, still reproducing life, and  they’ve come to a “yes, and” realization, just as we did in Professor Thompson’s Art History class.

That’s where Paul begins his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome. He starts with the expansive canvas of the cosmos through which the Creator expresses self. From the mystery of the cosmos Paul will dive into the mystery of being human, and how he sees the Creator has interacted with creation in the Great Story.

Order and Freedom

But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
1 Corinthians 14:40 (NIV)

Along my spiritual journey I have been a part of worship with many different traditions. I was raised in a very liturgical Methodist church, meaning that every part of the service was very structured around ancient traditions. There was a lot of repetition and it was largely the same service every week with minor differences to account for different seasons of the traditional church year. I get how repetitive religious practices lose all power of their metaphorical meaning when a) no one remembers why we’re doing it in the first place and b) there’s no Spirit connection between the repetitive words/actions and the spirits of those worshipping.

At the other end of the spectrum I spent some time in the Quaker tradition (also known as the Society of Friends) which developed out of reacting to all the liturgical structure of the traditional church. In a traditional Quaker service (even their anti-liturgy style becomes its own form of “tradition”) there is little or no structure. Everyone sits in a circle and is quiet (they call it “centering”) until someone feels moved by the Spirit to speak or to sing or to do whatever. Anyone can do so and can say pretty much whatever it is they want to say. The original intent was that everyone would wait for Holy Spirit to prompt them and to be loving and mindful of everyone else in the group. It’s a beautiful idea, but eventually things were so unstructured that there were problems with things in many Quaker churches becoming what would be described by some as a chaotic free-for-all.

I have come to understand that we as human beings like and need a certain amount of structure and order. I think this is part of us being made “in the image” of our Creator. If you stop to think about it, everything in creation has a certain detailed structure and order to it. This is the way God made it. Even the seemingly chaotic tangle of bare tree branches is actually an orderly visual fractal. At the same time, you can get so lost in the order that you, as we say, “lose the forest for the trees.” I’ve come to believe that corporate worship is another example of truth being found at the point of tension between the extremes.

Along my chapter-a-day journey through Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth, I find there is no doubt that their local gathering was rapidly moving along the disordered chaos side of the spectrum. Paul points this out multiple times. There had been a breakdown to the point that Paul even says their weekly gatherings to worship were doing “more harm than good” (11:17).

In context, I find today’s chapter to be about Paul trying to reestablish some order and structure to the chaos in Corinthian worship. He’s trying to pull them back from their chaotic free-for-alls. Paul hints that they’d come to resemble a pagan food orgy (11:20-22), and the chapter reads like an instruction manual for bring some semblance of structure and order to the Corinthian gatherings. He sums it up by saying “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

This morning I’m thinking about differences, even in our human personalities. Some of us tend toward the side of “free spirit” in which we go with the flow. As such, it’s easy for us to get little accomplished and to create chaos around ourselves that becomes counterproductive. Some of us tend toward the side of detail and order. As such, it’s easy for us to major on the minors and to create rigidity that becomes counterproductive.

In the quiet this morning I once again find myself seeking balance: freedom with ordered structure; order with room for movement of Spirit and expression.

The Power of Expressing “Willingness”

not because you must, but because you are willing
1 Peter 5:2 (NIV)

My company measures service quality (e.g. “Your call may be monitored for quality assurance and training purposes“) and then we train and coach agents how to provide a better customer experience when talking on the phone or other mediums of communication.

I’ve always taught my clients that Rule #1 of Customer Service is “do the best you can with what you have” because every team member at every level of the organization is limited in some way. The problem is that we tend to get mired in the excuses and frustrations of what we can’t do instead of what we can. Front line agents may not be empowered to functionally do everything for the customer they would like to do, but they often underestimate the power they have to positively impact the customer experience simply by what they say and how they say it.

One of the most under utilized skills in customer service is expressing a willingness to help, to listen, to take responsibility, and to serve. In the business world we call it an “ownership statement.”

Here’s what I hear on about 95 percent of the calls I assess:

Customer: I have a question about my account.
Agent: Account number?

That’s an agent doing what they are obligated to do. But when you simply and consistently communicate a positive, willing attitude you improve the customer experience:

Customer: I have a question about my account.
Agent: Sure, Mr. Vander Well. I’ll be happy to help. May I have your account number, please?”

There is so much power in simply communicating a positive, willing spirit. And it goes so much further than customer service business transactions. This is what Peter was getting at in this morning’s chapter when he told the leaders among Jesus’ followers to carry out their responsibilities “not out of obligation but because you are willing.” I can improve how I relate with my friends, family, and loved ones simply by learning to consistently communicate willingness:

Friend: Hey Tom, are you available to help me move a piano?
Me: Happy to help. When do you need me to be there?

Wendy: Tom? Will you carry the laundry to the laundry room?
Me: You got it, my love. Laundry Man is on his way.

Madison: Dad? Can you get me a new insurance card?
Me: I’d love to, sweetie. Let me call our agent and arrange it.

I know it sounds simple because it is. We can positively impact every one of our interpersonal relationship experiences by simply and consistently communicating a little positive willingness. And, my experience is that “what goes around, comes around.” Give a little positive willingness and you just might find that “it will be given unto you.”

I’m going to focus on expressing willingness with every opportunity I’m given today. Will you join me?

Express Yourself

The Lord said to me, “Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.” So I called in Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberekiah as reliable witnesses for me. Then I made love to the prophetess,and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said to me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. For before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.”
Isaiah 8:1-4 (NIV)

The world of the ancient Hebrew prophets was a whacky place in which everything in their lives was fair game for being living metaphors of their spiritual messages. Marrying a prostitute, walking around the city naked strapped to an ox yoke, and building a city out of Legos in the middle of the city square in order to lay siege to it are among a few of the rather bizarre word pictures God had them act out.

The poor sons of Isaiah had the enjoyable distinction of being born to be given names from their father’s prophetic work. And, I have to believe it likely got them ridiculed and beat up on the ancient playgrounds of Jerusalem:

  • She’ar-Ya’shuv meant “a remnant shall return” which foreshadows the people of Judah who were taken into captivity in Babylon, and the remnant who returned to restore the temple (as told by Nehemiah).
  • Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz meant “spoil quickly, rush to the plunder” which foreshadowed the impending attack and plunder of King Ahaz’s enemies by the Assyrians.

While S-Ya and the Baz-man may have names that seem very strange to us today, the act of layering names of our children with meaning is not new. Taylor and Madison both have middle names that reference women in my family, one on my mother’s side and the other on my dad’s. While Madison is not named for the street I grew up on, I love the added layer of meaning it has for me. It is quite common to give children names layered with meaning by naming them after role-models, inspirational figures, Biblical characters, and etc.

We all do things metaphorically. We layer things with meaning. Metaphor is God’s language. It’s God’s modus-operandi in communicating. Made in God’s image, we all inherently do it. We express ourselves (who we are, and what we believe/think) in what we wear, drive, hang on our walls, do with our time, and post on social media. The prophets simply pushed the envelope. Prompted by God, they were more intentional and more creative with their metaphors.

This morning I’m thinking once again about how I wordlessly express myself, both unconsciously and intentionally. I am no ancient prophet, but it seems to me I have an opportunity, perhaps even an obligation, to be mindful and intentional in all the ways I express myself.

chapter a day banner 2015

Edifice Complex

drawer pulls 1

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide,and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
Daniel 3:1, 4-6 (NIV)

When I was a kid growing up in Des Moines the tallest building on the skyline of our city was the Ruan building. “In rust we trust,” was the phrase I heard muttered by locals back in the day, inspired by the rusted steel skyscraper. Then, The Principal company built their even taller marble and glass skyscraper at 801 Grand. I will never forget that, as the new Principal building was completed, Mr. Ruan held a press conference to announce plans for a new building that would be even taller (it never happened). I believe that’s what is colloquially referred to as an “edifice complex.”

Last night I kicked off a Wednesday night class in which we’re exploring how God uses metaphor (something that represents something else without using “like” or “as”) to effectively express Himself and communicate Truth. We are also pushing into how we express ourselves metaphorically and how we can use metaphor to become better communicators. My assignment to the class in this first week was to look for metaphors in our daily life and bring one example back to class to share. One of my class-mates asked me for an example.

Wendy and I are in the final weeks of watching our house being completed, and yesterday I spent an inordinate amount of time contemplating knobs. We had to pick out the drawer and cabinet pulls for every room in the house. Talk about much ado about nothing. It was not an enjoyable process for me. Nevertheless, as I considered the endless options and how we were ever going to decide, I came back to some guiding principles that have emerged as we have designed our new residence.

“Clean, simple lines” is the phrase that always comes to my mind. From the start we have wanted our house to have a peaceful yet beautiful simplicity that invites people in to rest, to dine, to drink, to converse, and to comfortably be. So, I found myself looking for knobs that were simple, with clean lines and yet beautiful in their simplicity. That’s metaphor. The knobs we chose are an expression of the environment we desire our home to be. If we had chosen solid gold decorative knobs encrusted with gems and inlaid painted ceramic highlights we would have been expressing something much different with our choice.

nebuchadnezzars statueThose knobs came to mind again this morning as I read about Nebuchadnezzar’s great statue. How fascinating that in just the previous chapter King Neb has a dream about a statue and Daniel interprets that God is eventually going to replace Neb’s kingdoms with other kingdoms culminating in an eternal one. Now, the king builds a real statue and tells everyone to worship it. Why? Because he can. The statue of his dream and its interpretation rattled his pride, ego, and false sense of power and security. He responds by creating his own statue and making everyone bow and worship it in order to shore up the cracks in his fragile ego. The statue on the plain of Dura expresses is his own version of an edifice complex and becomes a metaphor expressing both his ego, power, as well as his fear and insecurity.

Today, I’m thinking about the edifice that Wendy and I are building out on the edge of town. I’m praying that it will express what we have talked about and intended all along: invitation, warmth, beauty, cozy hospitality, creativity, peace, and love.

The Gift of Music

itunes captureThese are the men David put in charge of the music in the house of the Lord after the ark came to rest there. They ministered with music before the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, until Solomon built the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. They performed their duties according to the regulations laid down for them. 1 Chronicles 6:31-32 (NIV)

I have studied and taught on the subject of creativity for many years. I’m a huge fan of the arts across the entire of breadth of ways people choose to express themselves. God’s Message says that through Jesus all things were made, and that we were made in the image of the creator. To create and express oneself creatively is to be Christ-like.

I have explored a host of creative mediums over the years. I like trying new things when they strike my fancy. Acting, singing, song writing, play writing, fiction writing, poetry, painting, pottery, writing, guitar, bass, piano, and drums just to name a few. I may not be particularly gifted or good at most of them, but I find it interesting how each one works and how one medium of creative expression differs from other mediums.

I do find it interesting, however, that music clearly holds a special place in God’s heart. Today as we read through the family tree of the tribe of Levi, who were responsible for the temple and worship, we find that there is an entire branch of that tribe whose sole responsibility was music in temple worship.

Music has a special way of affecting our thoughts, our moods, and our emotions. When King Saul was having some sort of mental health episode, it was David and his harp that had a medicinal effect. My iTunes and Spotify playlists are largely broken down by the types of music for different situations and moods. I have quiet music for my morning conversations with God. I have hard driving, intense music for working out. I have feel good music for lifting my spirit in the drab hours of the afternoon. I have cool jazz for rainy days. I have baroque music for when I need to concentrate at work or study. I have hours of easy listening music for the background of dinner conversations.

Today, I’m simply thankful for music and appreciative of our Creator for this gift of expression that is such an integral part of both life and worship.

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A Lesson in Asaph’s Unique Lyric Style

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

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

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

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

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

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