Friday, October 26, 2012

The color of context

As the view from my window displays for me this morning, Fall is solidly here in the Northwest.  The leaves are turning their muted shades of red and yellow while everything else has chosen its own form of brown.  Next week, Halloween makes its annual appearance with its own shades of color, much of which will certainly be borrowed by the impending death and hibernation of the season.  It occurred to me this morning on my commute across the street to my office, that looks down on this scene, there is a natural correlation for me between the seasonal colors and the holidays.  Right around the corner comes Thanksgiving, again with its reds, yellows, oranges, browns, all signs of harvest and the end or at least dormancy of another life cycle.  It has always been this way for me.  My life has always been lived across the northern reaches of our country.
When I first looked out my window on the scene below, with the colors before me and Halloween plans in the back of my mind, it occurred to me that Halloween would look very different to me if it occurred during another time on the calendar.  Just think about it for a minute.... What about July 4th?  Red, white, and blue, are just not Halloween colors.  Witches in long flowing robes and black pointy hats, riding brooms don't inspire firing up the BBQ while rolling out the dogs and burgers.  What about December 25 with all its red and green, or the Easter season that really has more random dating but a definite pastel bent when it comes to choosing colors?  Certainly not inspiring a zombie apocalypse.
After contemplating this for a bit, I realized what a small view that I really have of all this.  A good section of the country must not view these things in the same way at all.  What I mean is, Halloween without green palm trees, while never entering into my mind, is completely unthinkable in Southern California or Florida.  And consequently, a vision of Santa in a speedo is something that I would want surgically removed from my brain, it might be quite powerful and relatable imagery in Hawaii.
So is there something deeper in this thought process or is this just a reflection of the reality that I just spent 3 days on the couch dealing with some version of the flu?  It's one word really.  Not only is it one word, but its one of my favorite words.  The word is context.  This activity in my brain has reminded me that context is one of the most powerful words and powerful concepts that any of us deal with on a daily basis, especially when it comes to relationship.  It helps or hinders communication.  It can foster understanding.  It can build communion and community.  As a pastoral artist for the past 20 years in different contexts, I have come to a better understanding on the power of context and the dismal lack of appreciation that followers of Jesus have for it.  This is kind of irony for me because Jesus was a master of context, and people of my sort seem satisfied to paint him with the same brush...with the same color scheme.  In 20 years I have been in rural small town, sprawling suburbs and urban centers.  Each is different and into each context Jesus speaks differently.  Same message, different language.  In my reading of The Story, he entered into every context that he needed to enter into in order to build a relationship or to speak into one already established.  It's easier though to create one size fits all though isn't it.  However, if you have any fashion sense at all you understand that "one size fits all" really means" looks good on none".  The greatest tragedy to all of this is the idea that we would ever want to mute the incredible color palette that was provided for us into something that more fit our comfort level.   Frankly it makes us seem boring and rather uncreative.  That is criminal, in my opinion.  When I look out of my office, I am proud to say that I am looking down on a community of artists that I have had the privilege of leading for 6 years now, housed in one of our buildings.  These are some of the most creative people that I have ever had the honor of knowing and working with.  Many would not consider themselves followers of Jesus, but they all understand color, context, and creativity and, I believe that, until now, these are certainly not things that they would have ever associated with those of our kind.  Does anyone else see the irony in this?  We represent the Creator of creativity.  We represent the One who spoke color into existence.  We represent the master of context.  Our community of artists is known as "ginomai".  It's the Greek word taken from John 1 verse 3 meaning the creative process of God which reads " Through him all things were made (ginomai); without him nothing was made that has been made (ginomai)."   The Church used to be the major patron and influencer of art throughout the ages...but the palettes changed and it became uncomfortable and unfamiliar.   Instead of speaking into it, we wandered off to our own comfortable colors with artists we understood and waited for others to come over to our, frankly more boring, palettes.
So...to followers of Jesus,  I want to say, in the last words I have this morning, that if you have the courage to put down your pallete and your one size fits all faith, there is a whole new adventure awaiting you and along with that a whole new collection of relationships that god may be calling you to.  To those of you who don't necessarily consider yourselves followers, on behalf of all the monochrome and otherwise boring palletes whose lives you've been subject to, I apologize.  Jesus is not one size fits all or one brush paints all.  Don't take my word for it though.  Read his story.  Read about ginomai in the book of John.  And to all....Enjoy the season in whatever your context.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Put a bird on it

This morning, as I ventured down the block for my weekly writing get away, I was confronted with a gauntlet that I was really not willing to pass through.  Look at the accompanying photo and see if you don't agree.  It puts another spin to the Portlandia "put a bird on it" culture.  There are some occasions where I might be willing to chance my timing, however this was not one of them...not after last weeks attempt at writing.  Last week, after settling in to my chair with my big red cup of caffeine perfection, I was hit with some writing inspiration that, in my estimation, hasn't occurred for me in recent memory.  It might be years now.  I had a burst of words and wit and insight and it all flowed together like some cosmically orchestrated divine plan.  You'll just have to take my word for it...because....after about 45 minutes of channeling from the Great Author himself, my post went blank.  Now in today's technologically advanced, plug and play, user and idiot friendly technology, this should not have been much of an issue.  I have autosave on this for just such an occasion.  Whether I want it to or not, this modern marvel saves as a draft anything that I input...always has, always should.  It saves incredibly boring and mundane crap.  It saves elementary gibberish.  It saves words that I hope to never have to read again.  Not this time.  This time, I indeed have a file called "draft" waiting for me...it too was empty.  I don't know if you've ever had this happen to you?  I don't know how you handled it.  I know how I did...I didn't .  I could not recover.  I packed up.  I downed my caramel latte like a college shot of "jack" and went on my way.  I'm really trying to be routine once more with these posts, I really am.  Every week...whether I or anyone else need it, has been my goal.  You won't find one for last week though.  It doesn't mean that I didn't exist.  I did.  I lived, I loved, I dreamt, I wrote...there's just no evidence...at least not the writing part.  I hope that there's plenty of evidence for everything else.
So....on my way this morning to give it another shot, perhaps you have a better understanding of why I took this sign from above and altered my route.  I'm not at Red Cup...I don't even have a Red Cup.  I'm at my familiar and safe second home known as Hotwire, with a drink skillfully and tastefully prepared by people who love me.  I'm at the end of this post and there's still words on the page...good choice.  Life is good, I'm sure you understand .

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The politics of holiness

It's a beautiful Fall day, I've got a caramel latte in a big red cup and I'm "Learning to Fly" with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in my ears. The only thing that could possibly ruin it is another trip through the Facebook land of political commentary. I can't help but imagine the heights that we as a nation might aspire to if we collectively invested as much time and passion in our vocations as we do with "sharing" and "liking" each others recent finds on YouTube and all things cyber. What is the most intriguing and, I'm not going to lie, distressing is the amount of rabid rhetoric from people who, like myself, claim to follow Jesus. It's not a partisan thing either...in fact, in my opinion it's one of the only truly bi-partisan efforts within our political process. At the moment, I am leading my community o'faith through a study in what it would look like to actually be a people who live lives of holiness. This actually sounds more intimidating and self defeating than it is. Holiness is really defined as living "set apart" from the rest. It's defined as people living with the realization that they are not citizens of any earthly kingdom nor bound by any political process. There are directives such as "honor the emperor" and love people unconditionally while giving any responsibility for judgment back to God. I'm told that this is not our kingdom, that i'm a citizen of something higher. This is only a temporary place and God places people in authority, good or bad...its not ours to decide. It occurred to me this morning that I have lived through many, many political seasons. Each and every one marked by people claiming Christ, on both sides, living and longing for their own parties success as if the very existence of the "Kingdom" itself was being held in the balance. It occurred to me this morning immediately after realizing this that I am, and we are, really now about the same as we were then. I still pay too much in taxes, I still know too many people out of work, homeless, hungry. If anything, I'd have to say that we are worse off. How can this be? We've been through several cycles of each parties administrations and yet, here we are and no one has an answer, unless there are several special interest amendments to it. So here I sit...looking at these words to the original church... "Honor the emperor"...really? Weren't these the guys who were using followers of Jesus as street lights and sport? How much more set apart could you possibly be than honoring him? Where were the petitions and placards? Where were the boycotts? When I look up from my reading I see Christians and churches, from both sides of the political fence, lobbing verbal assaults and worse, continually during the reign of the other side. It is as if, through the sheer force of effort and resources, we could take this kingdom. Problem is, the pages of my copy of the Book of Books tells me that its not mine to take. So what is the solution? Are politics off the table? I don't think so. I'm going to vote...then whatever the outcome I plan on going to work for the kingdom that I was called to. In the past week I've witnessed people who claim the name of Jesus protesting both sides of the same issue. Each side should say that they are truly in tune with what Jesus would do? I'd have to humbly disagree. Jesus held many things in his hands...a political placard was not one of them. It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing continuously and expecting different results. From where I sit, that has been the political strategy of both sides of the faithful fence for my lifetime at least. I propose something new. I propose that we "honor the emperor" whoever he or she may be. I propose that we trust God with the leadership choice and whatever judgment He may want to deal with while we live as citizens of a higher kingdom, loving unconditionally and sacrificially. I propose that we pursue holiness. That would once and for all truly set us apart.