Common Ground

You and I have something in common. Something important.

Whether you are religious, secular, agnostic, sanguine or choleric.  Whether you are an INFJ like me, or an EPBandJ like my daughter Sarah (inside joke).  Whether you drink Jack Daniel's or Diet Coke, you and me have a long history of the same thing.

Whether I know you very well, or I don't know you at all. Maybe I thought I knew you, once upon a time.  Whether we love each other or we tolerate each other, whether you like me or you don't, whether you respect me, or think I am an unsophisticated Southern fanatic - or an idiot. No matter. We share a vital connection that binds us together.

You and me? We are hell-bent on our own way.

We have all, without exception, gone off the path of righteousness, like confused sheep. We have, each one of us, insisted on our own way. That is the only sin there is, really. But what that sin looks like might surprise you.

Because, when that first man fell and failed in the Garden, it was about perceived good as much as it was about evil. Mostly, the fall was about first Adam's own way.

My "own way" looked religious and socially acceptable for many years, but it was still my own way.  It was still my own interpretation, my own understanding, my own opinion. It took a long time for me to figure out that His ways in actually...are not my ways.

Your own way might look sophisticated or Southern Redneck. Your own way might be educated...or not. Your own way might be generous or parsimonious, fastidious or scandalous.

But you and me, we are bent on our own thing. Whether you are a Pharisee like me, or a prodigal whose Father yearns after her, you and me have much more in common than we realize:  the iniquity of our own way.

The Hebrew root word for "iniquity" means to be "bent", and we are certainly that. We are bent towards having our needs met by means of two sins:  1)  our own efforts towards being as good as God (keeping the law), or 2)  our own efforts towards all that is less than God, and therefore less than good (breaking the law).

I am here to tell you that all your works of righteousness, all your self generated virtue, all your effort to keep the law, has been already forgiven!  "What?!" you might say.  Yes...I said your efforts to keep the law have been forgiven.

{Only Christ is righteous. Without His righteousness, and only His, being imputed to you entirely, you are wicked. And when the wicked so much as plows, it is a sin. (Proverbs 21:4) No righteousness other than Christ's is accepted - if you even try, the effort is a sin. Anything not of faith is sin.}

Now for the easy part - this is the no-brainer: I am also here to tell you that all your moral failings have also been already forgiven! It is far easier to sense, and we instinctively understand, that our moral failings need atoning and forgiveness.  That forgiveness is found in Christ alone.  Your confession of need, and belief in His supply is the essence of salvation.  He paid the penalty for all your sin, past, present, and future.

Either way, Pharisee or Prodigal, you and I are forgiven our born-attachment to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If we so choose, we can be severed from it, and grafted into the tree that is root-holy - and wholly other - than anything humanly generated, good or bad.

Once you are grafted into the Tree of Life, your choices become not so much an issue of Good vs. Evil. Your choices become an issue of...fruit. Your life becomes more and more a fruit-bearing manifestation of God who simply is All-Righteous, and less and less a manifestation of self imposed behavior modification.

The Christian life is far more than receiving Christ as Lord and Savior, followed by a lifetime of law-consciousness.  Life is so much more than doing the best we can to follow Him, and then trying even harder to ensure that our children follow Him. If this has been your understanding, you are likely bored and lonely, over or under achieving, a bit depressed, and a lot critical.

But oh, if you could just hear me!  If you could just hear, if you have the ears to hear. Life is less about our own way, i.e. our own performance of good or evil. Life is less about whether our children take of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge that we've only ever offered them!

Life is more about scandalous, all-surpassing grace that scoops us up, both we and our children, and seats us in heavenly places. Life in the Kingdom is all about a righteousness not our own, and peace and joy heaped on top of that. It is grace upon grace.

We are all guilty of being bent towards our own way - that is the default mode of every human being, whether our default is towards doing good (keeping the law) or doing evil (breaking the law). The Lord has laid on Christ the iniquity of you and me.

We have such common ground. Pharisee...prodigal...or in between.  It would greatly glorify the Lord if the church could lay aside the petty differences and walk it together.

"For God made Christ to be sin for us, though He knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."

An Art Exercise Video For You {...Words Are Their Own Art Form}

This is a simple but enlightening grown-up art activity I put together last week, based on an old coaching exercise of mine.  I adapted it to artists, and like all my coaching material, I did it myself first.  It was powerful for me.

This is an exercise to help you in identifying and affirming your own artistic style.

For about the past two years, my art techniques and approaches have been undergoing a slow but very perceptible change.

 I am finding the courage to be radically simple in my subject matter and palette. And make no mistake, in this mixed media world I know and love so well, it takes courage to, in the words of country singer Luke Bryan, "Strip It Down".

 (Which happens to be my current favorite country song...but I digress...)

My processes in reaching a finished piece are still at times complex and varied, but the finished piece tends far more towards a still simplicity than it did, say, three years ago.

In life as in art.  Or is it in art as in life?  I don't know and I don't care.  All I know is nothing but bare, stripped down simplicity inspires me these days.

"Strip it down...down...down..."

( know you want to click that link, up there.  I dare you to listen only once.)

This was an exercise in writing down all the words that define who I am as an artist - words that describe the sort of work I want to put out into the world...and then painting those words.

Here's how to do it:

First, choose a few words that define your artistic bent. {Example: bright.  light.  complex.  layered.  Or....simple.  spare.}

Then, look up synonyms for your word or words. Don't forget the names of the colors in your palette...I promise, that's fun too.  Break out your old Thesaurus with the yellow pages.  Seriously.  Don't use your computer, because that goes against the whole spirit of this exercise.  We're tossing technology, and stripping it down...down...down...

Sorry.  {I'm embarrassed to tell you I'm chair dancing, even as I type.}

Then, find synonyms for THOSE words.  Then THOSE words.  Let the word geek in you come out.  Keep going down the rabbit hole of discovery. List all the words that most deeply resonate with who you are as an artist.

 Then, write every. single. one. of. them.  Scrawl them as large as you dare, with willow stick on paper. Keep writing, smudging, and layering. Then paint over all of it.

Lastly, I don't care what you think of the finished thing.  I want you to display it somewhere.  Honor your own effort - you applaud everyone else's.  Give the work of your own hands a special spot.

 This is an exercise I've always used in my coaching.  I've sat and watched women tear up...I've watched their tears a woman's own descriptive words take hold of her own tender heart.  Let's never forget that words really are that powerful.

{Since someone always asks: this sketch and paint took exactly 12 minutes in real time. Simple.}

Thank You, Jeanne Oliver { trip to Colorado...}

Mostly, you don't know how someplace has changed you until you leave that place.

 You can't understand the way an experience has transformed the way you are in the world until you've had time to synthesize and transmute that exposure to something translate what you saw, into an awareness of just how it has changed you.  It takes time for the adventure to catalyze itself into the venture.

Three weeks ago, I flew to Colorado and stayed in the home of my sweet friend Jeanne Oliver.  She had invited me months before to be her special guest for the very first art workshop in her brand new studio, on the grounds of her brand new home in Castle Rock.

It has taken me this long to write about it, because I've been processing all of it deeply.  More deeply than I ever expected, to be honest.

I knew how that being in the physical presence of an artist whose work you admire, even taking one lesson from that artist, live and in person, can change your own art forever - but it takes time to see the incremental changes.

What I didn't realize - or to be more accurate, what I had forgotten - is how being in the presence of a friend who simply bears witness to who you really are, can change who you are forever.

That weekend, I got both.  I was in the presence of both friend and artist.

That entire weekend, my friend Jeanne was crazy-busy.  I can't imagine putting the finishing touches on an entire 1,100+ square foot teaching studio a mere day before a major workshop, then hosting an entire workshop while hosting a visiting friend.  But that's what she did...

...and so, what I'm saying is that she didn't have much time to consciously "bear witness" of me, or be profound with me or try to change me.  What I'm saying is that who she is, is so authentic, that it simply is.  And you impart who  you are, not what you think you want to teach others.

I caught such an impartation to dream and to believe yet more in a good, good God.  I was reminded that who I have been, in secret, for many years, is of infinite value - because to live life beautifully and soulfully is never - ever - a wasted effort.  In fact, it is the only way any of us can give away inspiration.  You can never just up and decide you are going to inspire someone.  No.  You have to live in an inspired way, alongside your spouse or your whole family, on a thousand Monday mornings, when the dailyness of the daily can become monotony - when no one is around to see the peaches you put in your oatmeal, when there is no one there but you and your loves to smell your scented candles.

After years of this, you can then impart powerfully.  (So start today!)

While I was there, in that beautiful studio, I enjoyed the company of other women, and participated in the art exercises.  But I didn't, at that moment, see one single change in my art.  (I didn't expect to - and neither should you.  These things take time.)

I've had three weeks to process, and suddenly, this week, art has come pouring out of me:

Art that isn't Jeanne.  It is art that is me, with elements of things I saw in her workshop - things that I consciously remember, and some that I'm sure are unconscious.

It's those unconscious influences that are the juju...

...they are the weighty, compelling imprint that changes you.

I don't want this post to seem, in any way, like a "you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours" advertisement for my friend, telling you to take a Jeanne Oliver workshop.

Not even Jeanne would want that.

What she would say, and what I would say, is that you must hold who you are - or if you are an artist, you must hold your art and yourself in high esteem - such high esteem that you trust the process of investment.  

Invest in you.

Remembering that the results take time.

But the rewards are permanent.

A Different Perspective on the Existence of Evil

There is an enemy to human existence.  There is an enemy unleashed in the earth, who is hostile to the image of God - malignant towards the image of God that walks about upon the face of it. 

Sometimes, this enemy co-opts for its own evil designs the very human beings created to bear their Maker's image.  And that is the sad, sad part.  That is the ultimate degradation of imago Dei and the ultimate insult to the Creator.  

Though evil sometimes wears a human face, though it has often worn a human face for thousands of years or more, our battle is not with flesh and blood.  

Evil can seem to lurk large, even dwarfing the delight we feel in God.

But without this delight, without an unshakeable, unbendable, stubborn willing of our inmost being to be happy in all God is, all He gives, all He does - without inner delight dwarfing outside evil - joy dissipates.

Where joy is in absentia - (known to exist, but not present within) - strength is also absent.

It is time to put evil in perspective.  I tremble to write these words, because we all hope against what feel to be overwhelming odds.  But I will write it:

Evil has its limits.

Though the pain of evil scrapes out the interior of our hearts, leaving us feeling wounded and thin and without strong walls of defense, the weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

At the end of the day, at the close of your day-to-day fight to delight in God, you have a promise:  evil is only sufficient for a day.

"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof."  Matthew 6:34

I've heard it said that God operates out of abundance, the enemy operates out of a budget.   I know this is an unexpected perspective on Matthew 6:34, but I believe it is Biblical.

The enemy is the one on a budget.  You are limitlessly resourced.  Joy comes in the morning, no matter what this day brings.  Your God is all-sufficient, and your sufficiency is of Him.

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God

Evil has a short shelf life.  On this we can depend.  On this we can hope.  

On this we can act:  we can live and love and dream big dreams and look far beyond today with a hopeful heart.  We can plant trees, literally and metaphorically.  We can build houses and inhabit them and plant gardens and eat the fruit of them, even when all around us we see nothing but death and captivity.

Our sufficiency is from God.

(another great explanation of Imago Dei is found here

Cicadas and the Second Coming {...a repost from the archives...}

I heard the first cicadas of the summer season last night, and everything in me wanted to celebrate and mark the occasion.

But how?

Then I remembered the following post.  Hope you enjoy what I dusted off out of the archives today:

The Bible says in Romans that all of creation declares to us God's invisible qualities. Nature declares His attributes and power. This has given me great pause, over the years, as I try to figure out the message of each created thing. 

The rainbow speaks of the promise of God to Noah. The rainbow reveals the complexity of a God who is full of paradox. The rainbow speaks of justice and mercy, of law and grace.  It speaks of a God who said, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" and then told a prophet to marry a prostitute. 

That arch of color in the sky tells of a God who predestined me to salvation, and yet also infers life-altering significance to my choices. There can be no rainbow without opposites coming together. There is no prism of color without sunshine and rain present together, at the same time.

There are those created things with obvious messages, like rainbows and eagles and oak trees. Oak trees - those trees of righteousness, silent sentinels to the fact that even what God plants can sometimes take a lifetime to grow very large.

But my real obsession is with the Great Mystery of the Periodical Cicada

What.  the.  heck. can the cicada tell me about God?

Cicadas are harmless. They are nature's longest lived insect. I love the sound they make, so long as their numbers are not of plague proportions. They hatch, and burrow underground as nymphs, only to reemerge 13 or 17 years later, transform overnight into adults, reproduce and die.

What the...?? I'm stumped to consider the fact that a whole brood of periodical cicadas were under my grass, the whole time I was birthing my babies and teaching them to read. They were there, waiting, throughout the entire grueling process of my twin daughters receiving their driver's licenses.

And there are more, right there, underground, right now. They will hatch when I am, like, old.  

Kinda creeps me out.

If you look closely at the wings of a cicada, you might see the letter "W" or the letter "P". An old wives tale says that if the emerging insects have the "W", then there will be a war, and if a "P", why then we will have peace of course. Never mind the fact that there have been wars somewhere in the world since time and cicadas both began. 

I can understand the confusion - since the Bible does say that creation declares the mind and ways of God. Those old wives were just reading a bit too much into the whole cicada thing. They told their tale as though it were gospel truth.

Come to think of it, I know some televangelists who are no different. I wonder what they'd say about these mysterious insects, belonging to the genus magicicada? I'd almost guarantee you they'd find a message in there somewhere about the Second Coming.

Some folks eat cicadas. There is an actual cook book entitled The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook by David George Gordon

His book tells me that cicadas are nutty in flavor, and he gives me a recipe for Cicada Pizza. He also strongly recommends a certain fine wine to accompany the distinct insect flavors, but also advises me to drink it during the entire cooking process, well before I sit down to eat..."to fortify myself".

I've always believed that if sex or a meal has to be much-improved by the wine, then it is time for me to get suspicious. I prefer to be in full command of my reason, in the midst of either activity.

But back to Romans 1. Back to rainbows, oak trees, and the periodical cicada. My pastor-husband speculated, off the cuff, that the cicada might speak to us of God's persecuted, underground church. Surely the cicada's message can't be that obvious, though it is a thought. 

The poor man was just indulging one of my artsy-fartsy questions in the first place. He has given me other ideas and answers to my random questions that were accurate and even profound. So I have no reason to question his intuition on insects, but I do question it.

Until I can come up with something better, however, The Preacher's best guess will have to stand. 

What an enigma. Each thing in creation - the Bible says all of it - tells us something about God. Stars and even the periodical cicada have a message. 

If you figure out what that message is, please tell me. I won't eat them until I know for sure.

Southern Lights {...things that twinkle on a Wednesday night...}

I suppose I may stand amazed at the aurora borealis someday.  But until that day comes, east Tennessee fireflies will do just fine.

Summer fireflies, and summer stars.

(photo by my Preacher, Tim Atchley)

The June night was bracing cool like October, but without the promise of painted leaves.  June's exclusive rare and separate beauty is the firefly's staccato glow.  That's what we turned aside to see, my Preacher and me;  bushes burning with gentle tempered specks of flame.

We were parked in the wilderness of our national park, glad to be where neon is not normal, and all was unopposed, purple dusk.

I felt staggered by the glory of what must have been a million fireflies, each one lit from within by some sort of genius that is wholly something otherworldly.  The tall grasses, the fence line, the trees, the entire horizon glittered and blinked.  All the night was filled with darting gleam and moving shimmer.

It wasn't splendor, it was sparkle, which is splendor's lingering train.  Sparkle is like the backside of a beauty so bright, we best only focus on the leftover glow.  This side of heaven, sparkle is what you get to look at, when you say to God, "Show me Your glory!"

I looked and looked for a long time - and then I looked up.

Unhindered starlight.  Never had I ever seen a night sky like this - remember I said the night was bracing cool?  There wan't even a smidge of humidity to un-crisp this sight.

I looked and looked for a long time - and then chose to lay right down on the concrete, because I wanted to look all night.  The Preacher lay down beside me.

I lay prone on the sun-warmed slab, bad back be danged, and star gazed.  Every now and then I thought I saw a shooting star, but it was actually a firefly high in the sky.  The thought occurred to me that this was the first time since I was a little girl that I simply and singularly enjoyed the stars.  As a teenager, I was too busy to fling myself down and see stars.  As a young mom, I star gazed with my children, and loved every moment...but was too busy teaching about stars.  I was preoccupied with making sure my little ones saw stars.

Not this night.  This night, there was full-on wonder.  This night, there was flat-out, flat-on-my-back fascination.  It was then that I really did see a shooting star.  It was like all heaven was high-fiving the revelation that worship is wonder, plain and simple.

When surrounded by sparkle, face-up prone is greater than prostrate, and all is worshipful still astonishment.

As I head outside tonight, smack-dab in the city, my home a stone's throw away from a pawn shop and the sound of motorcycles, I plan on seeing fireflies and summer stars.

(photography by Tim Atchley)

I plan on being just as amazed.

"And God said, "Let there be light!"  And there was light."  ~Genesis 1

May Flowers

The unofficial start of summer is here, friends.  (School's out, here in Knox county...woohoo!  So glad my son-in-law, an algebra teacher at a local high school, can begin his summer break soon...after teaching a bit of summer school.)

This video isn't at all instructional.  It's just three minutes long.  It's just happy.  Pour yourself some iced tea and enjoy...

...and happy summer!