Engaging Liturgists

-1Through the suggestion of a friend, I ran onto a very engaging podcast as of late on the LGBTQ issue that I’d highly recommend you take the time to listen to. “The Liturgists” are a collection of emergent church minds that run with likes of Donald Miller and Rob Bell. Thoughtful, seasoned, researched, personable and reasonable from what I’ve read and have listen to on their site I find their theology is evenly balanced with their humanity.

From the get-go they make clear that they were tentative to engage LGBTQ topics as a podcast as they have diverse opinions on the matter, a caveat I found very refreshing. They chose to go for a very personable tact in part, letting those who self identify simply tell their story of faith and sexuality.

The interviews and conversations are engaging. Tabitha clearly is a lovely person whom I’d be delighted to see at my church, I felt educated about the science of it all and the thoughtful dialogue between science Mike and Preston Sprinkle I found enlightening. Most impressive was J.J. Peterson who comes across with humility as a man that has simply been doing the work God has put in front of him, and who as of late has been coming to terms with his sexuality. Peterson’s center is in his relationship with Christ, and he comes across as sensitive and insightful. In contrast Matthew Vines seems like not the best fit for the dialogue as he appears myopic and naïve. Often using “you” and “we” statements when what he really means “I,” from the get-go Vines negates others stories and writings on the matter which I assume he would not want others to do regarding a certain book he has written? Vines at one-point states emphatically, “sexuality is the linchpin to how you bond and connect with other people.” Something granted I’d expect to hear from a man in his early twenties, but as a lifetime celibate man in his forties I’d beg to differ.

The Liturgists also have a very engaging conversation with Stan Mitchel and Mellissa Green from Grace Point church in Nashville, a now (as of January 11, 2015) evangelical and inclusive church. Clearly these are pastors wrestling with trying to do the “right thing,” and they come across with sincerity and kind hearts. Mitchel remarks that they have lost the majority of their 2,200 congregants. Was the loss of those members due more to church governance than to homosexuality?  From what I know some members felt Mitchel simply made the decision for the congregation and did not let the body of believers decide as a whole. Did members feel unheard and disregarded and left not so much due to the embrace of homosexuality, but because of the strong-arm tactics of the leadership? Both?

Joshua Meyer,

Joshua Meyer, “Silencing Stories,” 2013, oil on canvas, 32 x 28 inches. http://www.joshua-meyer.com/home-g.html

Grace Point’s story makes me think of a couple in their later forties I know who were active in an Episcopal church some years back, but left never to return. They are liberal in their stance regarding LGBTQ issues, but they related to me how years back they were appalled at how the individuals in their church (largely older members) were treated when the church became inclusive. Even though the couple agreed with the churches stance they said the treatment and disregard of these long standing members disgusted them so much so they never want to be a part of a church body again.

These are difficult waters, tender matters indeed when inclusion can mean exclusion. How do we make room at the table? What does love embodied really look like, practically in the here and now? I know I’m still working on it.

Give this a listen to this podcast, I think the Liturgists are trying to figure this this too:

The Liturgist Podcast Episode 20: LGBTQ

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Tender Matters

Ben Shahn. Man. 1946 MoMA

Ben Shahn – “Man.” 1946 MoMA

It has been said that one should contribute to a conversation only if you can add something new or different to the dialogue. I have spent the past four years listening and querying others about their journey of faith and homosexuality, expanding the depth of breadth of my circles. I’m to a point I feel I can share what I’m finding and what I see and know. So I’ll begin here.

In the Spring of 2011 I published a book: A Bigger World Yet; Faith Brotherhood and Same-Sex Needs, (see the book tab for details). The book was the culmination of a ten year process of gathering stories and data, and the text basically presents that friendships are central to getting same-sex needs met, the core of who we are is grounded in God not sexual impulses, active homosexuality is not the best for a Christ follower, and that all men struggle with what it is to be a man in our age. I intentionally steered away from the term “gay” and instead used more neutral terms like “high-same-sex needs” (I know, a term that is bulky at best). The book was self published, as I had several Christian publishers communicate to me that they were going away from this difficult issue and/or that my book was not far enough in one camp or the other for their readers. So much for moderation… Since the book went to press I have received many kind notes from men who found it helpful, honest and life-giving.

And the conversation has continued in the past four years, and quickly.   Homosexuality is the hot topic in Christian communities as gay marriage becomes a reality in States, and more and more Christ followers have felt freedom simply to proclaim a gay identity outright. Perhaps I’ve steered away from writing about this topic for fear that this its artistic suicide, and people talk with such finitude and certainty regarding homosexuality, while I with all I know at 48 am wary to declare universal truths on the matter. I also do really care about what others think, and feel a level of responsibility and obligation of sorts to those whom I’ve had the privilege to mentor, lead and walk with over the years.

Several days back in the span of twenty four hours, I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine on the East Coast who after heading up a ministry for years and being married for over 30 is now divorced, openly gay and in a relationship with a man, and I had a good chat on the phone with a friend in his early forties in Arizona who’s getting married this August to a lovely woman after being very sexually active with other men in his teens and twenties. Both men call themselves Christians, love Jesus, and both are doing what they feel is “right.”

What I don’t see happening at large is openness to a diversity of stories regarding homosexuality and faith. There are a variety of experiences and choices men make as they try to live out what is good, right and true. One side does not exclude the multiplicity of other stories being lived out. With the conversation with both of these friends, I realized that I have been blessed to know a broad spectrum of men who have made a variety of choices with their same-sex desires. In the name of “having a voice” some individuals getting media attention seem to feel they need to exclude others whose story they feel may threaten their own. That is not honest, good or kind.

So within the category of “Tender Matters” my objective is to write with candor and transparency about my own path as it continues beyond A Bigger World Yet, and the narratives of the amazing array of men and women I call my friends. I’ll keep you posted.

Ben Shahn – “Self Portrait Among Churchgoers” (1907)

Ben Shahn – “Self Portrait Among Churchgoers”  1907

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Did You See That?

A 360 view of a room in the National Gallery in London

A 360 view of a room in the National Gallery in London

In a network of immediate communication and images, I find myself more often than not being reticent to share my latest meal or endeavors anywhere on the digital networks that are at our fingertips. I’ve just gotten back from traveling for three weeks with twenty Juniors from my University, to various lovely locations in France and England. Not once did I tweet or post an image or report what I was seeing or doing. I’ll own in a sense it was an act of rebellion because everyone else was. By the end our adventure 300 photos were posted on our Facebook site and students had disposed of or downloaded numerous photos to various clouds of sharing often on a daily or moment-by-moment basis.

Traveling with a group of students has its nuances. Walk down a street in Beaune France, pause to enjoy looking at something. Take out camera. Take a photo; -flash- four to six students are surrounding you, jockeying for position to photograph the same thing. I don’t know. I do like them (or I wouldn’t take these trips) and maybe this is a way I can to help them see things. And yet, I’ve seen too much vacuous photo shooting watching individuals in a somewhat gluttonous manner photograph item after item in a museum, never really looking at anything they are photographing, simply walking on once they “have” the image. I found myself grumbling in the Musee d’orsay a little over a week or so ago, “Stop and look at the damn painting….” Rather than really experiencing the object or work, it becomes an image in a digital collection that has a high likelihood of never being thoughtfully looked at again. What comes to mind is thoughts from The Shallows by Nicholas Carr; we are using digital technology to externalize our brain rather than actually knowing these actual things and internalizing them.

Yup what you're looking at is the crowd of people in front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.  How many folks are really looking?

Yup what you’re looking at is the crowd of people in front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. How many folks are really looking? And are there crowds like this in front of the other DiVinci pieces just a room away?

I have a desire for the experience itself not the facsimile. I want to soak in the richness of the moment, the smells, textures, colors, ambiance and nuances, and really experience it in full for what it is. There is an element of letting a piece of artwork or landscape be an individual experience before I share it with any others, before taking a photo to hopefully be an aid to remember the more nuanced experience itself. What comes to mind is a term from the blog, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,

vemödalen:

  1. n. The frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist—the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same close-up of an eye—which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself.

I have done an exercise with my classes where I will take them somewhere where I know they have spent time looking previously, like one of the art galleries on campus. I will have three students face the rest of the class, and simply ask the three to, without turning around, tell me everything that is on the wall behind them. What I always find curious is what students remember: dramatic items, people, items that are unusual or out of the ordinary, and what they don’t remember: things that to them weren’t important to look at or for like wall plugs, subtleties or items we have learned to visually skim over.

Perhaps my hope is if more internalizing of what we look at would happen, we’d be a bit more thoughtful in what we create, and understand a bit more thoroughly what we are looking at in the first place. We can try to document everything we see, without ever really understanding any of it.

And a 360 of the room of Pre Raphaelites in the Tate in London.  Certainly lots to look at here.

And a 360 of the room of Pre Raphaelites in the Tate in London. Certainly lots to look at here.

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Contesseration at OSU

If your grabbing some food in the OSU Memorial Union Gallery check out the three person show I’m in that is coming down all too soon here.  I had the opportunity to have the space exclusively but felt it was far too big, so juried in two very good friends of mine to join me.

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Here are some photos from the exhibit:

Here is a shot of the twelve paintings currently on display.

Here is a shot of the twelve paintings currently on display.  I opted for simply pure paintings to display with them and felt these works fit nicely with the work of Andries and Heidi.

And another view looking the other way.

And another view looking the other way.  If you want to get some coffee, why the shop is just on the other side of the wall.  These images have greeted students as they have started their new school year.

 

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This gives you a shot of 2/3 of the gallery.  My work is on the left, Andries Fourie is on the right. Heidi Peterson’s work is actually in the space directly behind the camera, so is out of view.

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Submission & Revelation; Balaam

Paolo Veronese; Allegory of Love; Infidelity.

Paolo Veronese; Allegory of Love; Infidelity, 1575 oil on canvas, about 6’x6′

My initial sketch for the painting.

My initial sketch for the painting. 2013

In May of 2011 traveling abroad with students in England I was smitten. At the National Gallery in London I saw in the flesh Veronese’s Four Allegories of Love. Painted around 1575, the awkward angles, staged narratives, and stilted compositions had me at “Hello.” I picked up postcards of all four paintings and put them on my studio wall in order to stay in dialogue with them. Meanwhile in the back of my head I was thinking I wanted to move from painting singular figures of which I had been painting for the past two years or so, back to narratives. I also desired to work big again. In terms of content I have been struck over the past years by what I can only call “messy” Old Testament stories, and so I decided to try my hand at mimicking elements of Veronese’s compositions with characters such as Balaam, Jonah, and Job. Submission & Revelation (Balaam) is the largest painting I’ve created since 2001, and is simply the first painting of four, each based on a Veronese composition from The Four Allegories of Love.

Detail

Detail of the Angel Figure and Balaam.  Originally Balaam had a very different head that was then transformed into the head of a German incense smoker.

Detail

In Veronese’s painting there are two putti in the lower corner observing the scene, in mine there four characters discussing the events two of which have the gaze of the original two putti.

Submission & Revelation; Balaam, oil on wooden panel, 4'x4' May 2014

Submission & Revelation; Balaam, oil on wooden panel, 4’x4′ May 2014; Here is the painting in full.

(This paintings have been made possible by a George Fox University Faculty Development Grant.)

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The Process of Balaam

I thought I’d give you a little insight here into  the process I went through when creating a recent work “Submission & Revelation; Balaam” One of the slides is actually sideways as the painting was turned on its side while I was painting the directive hands.

I started this with a bright under-painting and then worked up the painting accordingly.

I started this with a bright under-painting and worked up the painting accordingly on that vivid base.  You’ll notice in the 6th image the donkey looks like a real donkey, by the 7th she has been transformed into her toy self. (Click the image if you would like a closer look.)

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Finding old friends: (Consistency and Hope)

Do you remember when slides, were… well, actual slides?  Pieces of transparent film sandwiched between two white crispy pieces of cardboard, or if you were willing to pay the expense, white plastic.

I’m slowly in the process of getting artwork that I did years ago that is simply in physical slide form into the electronic world.  Below are two recent imports of works into the digital age.

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Hope Firmly Rooted, Watercolor on wooden panel with oil varnish, linen, found objects, brass, & wood, 32″x42″x2″, 1995.  I was playing at the time doing watercolor on a gessoed panel, and then placing an oil varnish over it. The painting then had the looks of a glazed painting. The only trick was not getting any water on the piece as you worked on it as it would almost obliterate the work you’ve done. The friend who posed for this was Paul Bridgeman the set designer for the theater program at the time at Grand Canyon University.

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The Consistency of Grace, Watercolor on wooden panel with oil varnish, bronze, doll head, linen, toy rail road parts, wood, 39″x27″x3″ 1995 Collection of Billy Thrall, Phoenix Arizona.  Hard to believe these works are almost 20 years old, but this one particularly makes me smile as this dear friend Nancy who is in this painting is still very much a part of my life.  Why I just received a book from her for my birthday.  Perhaps the Consistency of Grace is the friendship that she has given me over the years! A blessing indeed.

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