Monday, December 31, 2012

30 Paintings In 30 Days Challenge

That's right. Beginning January 2nd, I will be posting one painting a day for 30 days. This will be a deviation form my typical posts. The content will be a mix of nature, objects, scriptures, hymn texts and more. I'm really letting myself be blown by spiritual winds for inspiration for this journey. And just like any of my postings, I welcome your comments and reactions. Stay tuned to see what happens next.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Nativity: Emmanuel

5"x5" Oil on Canvas

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." - John 1:14

Today we celebrate the incarnation of the Word of God. In a rank stable, lying in a food trough, wrapped in whatever was available to keep him warm, our Lord was born into our lives. The mystery of mysteries rests in a manger, dependent on human faith and love for survival. What a paradox. What wondrous love. 

One of the finest Christmas sermons I have ever heard came from the Rev. Jay Earheart-Brown. At the time of his message, he was a new father. He shared his feelings as a father to help us grasp the mystery of the incarnation. The most memorable moment was when he said, "Now I understand how love can become flesh." It was the love of Jay and his wife that brought their child into the world. 

And so... love, joy, hope, peace, righteousness, faithfulness, sacrifice and fulfilled promise all became flesh in Mary and Joseph's little baby boy. Jesus—Emmanuel—God with us—was delivered into our hands. And our lives have been forever changed.

Happy Birthday, Jesus.

Merry Christmas, everyone.


The Nativity

Click on the image to see an enlargement.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nativity: Gabriel

5"x7" Oil on Canvas

"Do not be afraid."

Those are the words from the angel, Gabriel, every time he appears to people in the Nativity stories. Being visited by one of God's messengers can be a frightening event indeed. When we realize we are in the middle of a God-moment, our shortcomings become abundantly clear. We are faced with the reality that God is God and we are not. This reality stirs us at our core and brings us to our knees in humility.

"God is coming!" That is the essence of Gabriel's message. That message swells up in us both great excitement and great fear. God is coming to interrupt our plans—to stir us from our comfort zones—to call us to a life of faith. We are afraid. Afraid of change. Afraid of what people will think. Afraid of our inadequacies. Afraid of failure. 

But Gabriel says, "Do not be afraid." Those words can embolden our faith today, much like it did for Joseph and Mary. Gabriel's words comfort us by reminding us that this is Good News. The God that calls us is Emmanuel—"God with us." The God who is coming into our lives is GRACE and LOVE.  In his song "Emmanuel," Michael Card blends two very different scriptures into a common truth:

"Emmanuel—our God is with us. And if God is with us, who can stand against us?"

This painting of Gabriel is the most abstract of the pieces in this Nativity project. Gabriel bears the star of bethlehem like a torch of enlightenment. His wings are transparent—for angels (human or not) live among us unseen unless we are looking with eyes of faith. He kneels in the presence of "God with us." In this series, Mary and Joseph are a mix of bewilderment and wonder. Gabriel knows the reality of this God-moment all too well. It is a reality that brings even angels humbly to their knees.

If you look and listen with your heart, 
you might just discover the angel's message speaking to you today:

"Ready or not, God is here—calling you to be a person of faith. Don't be afraid."


Here is a link to a video featuring "Emmanuel" by Michael Card. The song is performed by the Choirs of school children from Cheshire and the Wirral. It is a wonderful reminder that we are not alone in our calling. Rather, we are a community living out our response to God's calling.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nativity: Mary

5"x7" Oil on Canvas

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." 
—Luke 2:19

This week's reflection on the Nativity is focused on Mary. Like Joseph, how unfathomable must have been her thoughts, joys and concerns about mothering the Christ child. We know a bit more about Mary from the Gospels. We know of her beautiful song in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke (See my previous posting on the Magnificat). We know that she followed Jesus' ministry to the cross—and the resurrection. Of all of the passages about Mary in the scriptures, Luke 2:19 is my favorite. 

How we parents love to brag about our children. My facebook page is full of proud parent moments. How tempting it must have been for Mary to share the wonders her miraculous child. Even as the shepherds confirm the miracle of Emmanuel, Mary kept it all as treasures in her heart. 

The Iona community has a wonderful poem about the thoughts Mary could have been pondering in her heart:

What is this seed that God has planted,
unasked, uncompromised, unseen?
Unknown to everyone but angels
this gift has been.
And who am I to be the mother,
to give my womb at heaven’s behest,
to let my body be the hospice
and God the guest?

Oh, what a risk in such a nation,
in such a place, at such a time,
to come to people in transition
and yet in prime.

What if the baby I embody
should enter life deformed or strange,
unable to be known as normal,
to thrive or change?

What if the world, for spite, ignores him,
and friends keep back and parents scorn,
and every fear of every woman
in me is born?

Still, I will want to love and hold him,
his cry attend, his smile applaud.
I’ll mother him as any mortal,
and just like God.

Iona Community. Cloth for the Cradle: Worship Resources and Readings for Advent. Christmas and Epiphany. Wild Goose Resources Group. 1997.

May we treasure up the Word of God and ponder the mystery of Emmanuel in our hearts.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

We Light A Candle

5"x7" Oil on Canvas

In response to the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, this painting and the poem below is dedicated to anyone who's heart is hurting this holiday season.

We Light A Candle

Every season we come together to light a candle.
We light a candle of HOPE that God hears our prayers.
We light a candle of PEACE to calm the storms in our lives.
We light a candle of JOY—for one day all will be made whole in God.
We light a candle of LOVE for our families, our neighbors—and our enemies.
We light the candle of CHRIST—who’s suffering love heals our wounded souls.
Every season we come together to light a candle.
We light a candle to overcome the darkest night.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Nativity: Joseph

5"x7" Oil on Canvas

I can still vividly remember the night my first child was born. It was a night filled with excitement and anxiety. Most of all, I remember the feeling of helplessness. We began with a plan to deliver naturally. Many hours later, our son was born through surgery. I remember struggling  for those long hours to bring comfort to my wife. After our son was finally born,  I remember being overwhelmed with feelings of complete and utter inadequacy as a new parent. But I got through that time with the love of my wife, the support of my friends and family, and the love I had for my newborn son. As I reflect this Advent on the story of the Nativity, I think I can identify most with Joseph. But I suspect my story doesn't even scratch the surface of what Joseph must have felt.

Michael Card penned it best when he wrote a song from Joseph's perspective. "How can a man be Father to the Son of God?" was one of the most powerful lines in that song. Whatever feelings he had as a first-time parent must have been compounded ten-fold with the feelings of inadequacy of  being a parent to the Messiah. But I think Joseph's love for his new family and trust in God helped to give him confidence.

This is the first of four paintings on the Nativity. In this painting, Joseph is kneeling in the presence of the new born Messiah. He is also resting with a staff. A tool for traveling and protection, this staff serves as a symbol to remind us of his need for support. As future pieces to this Nativity story are revealed, you will soon see that his gaze is different from Mary's. Joseph is posed to appear to be looking at either Jesus or gazing outward. Joseph could be lovingly looking upon Jesus. But he also could be looking at the world around him—wondering what will be coming next in their wild adventure. He could be wondering how he is going to provide food and shelter for this new family. He could be just trying to understand where he fits into this incredible God moment.

Ultimately, like all new parents, I believe Joseph did his best with what he had—one day at a time. With the support of his wife, his family and friends, Joseph took on the challenge of parenthood. He worked hard. He made mistakes. He trusted in God. He loved Jesus. And in doing all of these things, Joseph helped to raise a baby boy to become the Son of God.


Here is a link to video featuring "Joseph's Song" by Michael Card. The video shows other wonderful Nativity images. May the gifts of music and visual art bring your soul into a deeper relationship with God—our loving father.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Days are Surely Coming

12"x12" Oil on Panel

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. 

This is the mystery of our faith, and the core of our hope. Since Christ’s ascension, centuries ago, we’ve been living in a season of Advent. Look at the world today and you can see that we are a people who have witnessed a Great Light, but continue to live in darkness. Thankfully, it is only a season. In the end, Grace will dawn again. God’s Messiah will return. Crowned with the mysteries of the universe, our King will once again bring the light of truth to our world. A robe of justice will flow from his shoulders, like a waterfall of grace, to purify us. And all that’s wrong with our world will be set right. That’s my vision of our Advent hope. It’s easy to loose sight of that hope while waiting in the dark. But, rest assured. The day will surely come.

Advent, Christmas & and Epiphany Art, 2012
for First Presbyterian Church, Franklin, TN

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Faith (Parable of the Mustard Seed)

30"x36" Oil on Gallery Canvas

What is the kingdom of God like?

Jesus explains it to us using the imagery of a mustard seed. They are the smallest of seeds and produce trees large enough for birds to find rest in their branches. Jesus doesn't stop there. Later, in two gospels, Jesus uses the imagery again to explain the nature of faith. When his disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, he tells them that if they had faith as small as a mustard seed, they could do wondrous things.

This painting tries to illuminate both teachings. Here you can see the scale of this paradox. The great tree has grown form the tiny seed and is host to a diversity of birds. As our faith grows, we become something greater than ourselves. We become the shelter, nurture and sustenance for others. You can also see roots in the soil—reaching deep to underground waters. These represent the "behind-the-scenes" mysteries that nourish our faith. Our baptism and the nurture of the church gives our faith the best conditions for growth. 

We need not discourage ourselves for our lack-luster feelings of faithfulness. Our limitations and shortcomings are not what defines us as people of God's kingdom. It is only the miraculous grace of God that transforms us from mediocrity into sainthood. 

May your faith so bloom.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Breakfast at Dawn

Personally, I have never attended an Easter sunrise service. But my wife has told me how powerful they have been for her. Perhaps it’s the anticipation of glorious Easter—when we get to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. Perhaps it’s the magic of witnessing the light of a new day—joining the morning birds to sing praises to God. There must be something special for christians to celebrate this way for so many years. However, I bet they were nothing like what the disciples experienced one beautiful morning.

The Gospel of John has a wonderful post-resurrection story. The last chapter reads like an epilogue of sorts. Peter and some disciples decide to go fishing in the night. They catch nothing. At daybreak, Jesus appears on the shore. He instructs them to cast nets again. They catch an abundance of fish. Realizing their Lord has returned, they quickly sail to shore where Jesus shares a fireside meal of bread and fish with them. Jesus then specifically speaks with Peter. Jesus asks, “do you love me” three times – one time for each betrayal Peter committed on the night of Jesus’ death. And after Peter responds “yes,” Jesus instructs him to “feed my sheep.” How wonderful that morning must have been.

In this painting, I tried to imagine that beautiful morning meal. The composition is both macro and micro. Brother sun rises over the world’s horizon—illuminating the sea with dancing light. The reflections swell to the shore where we see the abandoned boat and a circle of fellowship. Looking close, you can see a communion of grace taking place.

This is more than a sunrise breakfast. It is morning worship. God’s people abandon the work of the day, gather together to break bread and be near the Lord again. In this circle, Christ makes himself known to us, teaches us, and forgives our sins. Christ feeds us and calls us to act in love for the world.

Today, the circle spans around the world. In fact, this painting was commissioned by a patron living in Singapore. The Resurrected One calls us, from all shores, to come together and dine in grace. Wherever you are, may you answer the Lord’s loving call and join in the feast. And may the song of Alleluia, be heard all over the world.

Happy Easter.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lenten Labyrinth

30" x 30" Oil on Canvas

“It is finished.” My most daring painting project yet. Fans of my blog often tell me how much they like to know my thoughts behind the art. Well, this time, I painted my thoughts in the form of a labyrinth.

Labyrinths are ancient meditation tools. Unlike mazes, labyrinths are not puzzles to solve. They have the same entrance and exit point. The traveler merely wanders to the center and then journeys back out. The purpose is to journey into prayer and meditation while traveling through the Labyrinth’s many twists and turns. Although many labyrinths are large enough to walk through, most of the ones that I have been exposed to have been on paper. However, with paper ones, I find my eye finishing the journey in too short of time to fully engage in the labyrinth’s mystical potential. I decided to paint my thoughts and meditations into the twists and turns of a labyrinth in the hopes of rekindling its contemplative character.

For many Christians, the season of Lent is a time of deep reflection on the sacrificial life and death of Christ. Going though Lent prepares the heart for a more meaningful Easter. Traditionally, people devote themselves into a discipline for the season’s forty days. My discipline for this year was this painting project. The symbolism in this labyrinth reflect my thoughts influenced by my own lenten experience this year. Some inspirations came from worship, some came from explorations of scripture, and still others just came from Spirit-lead meditations on the life of Christ. Every inch is covered with paths of repeating symbols. Some are pictorial. Some are abstract. Some patterns involve specific numbers to add to their meaning. Others are purely random. Some paths are clearly defined, while some are harder to follow. Together, they take you into deeper thought about God’s Sacrificial love in Jesus Christ and what it means to live as a follower of The Way.

Because this labyrinth is meant to trigger your own contemplation, I won’t go into great detail explaining its meaning. I will, however, get you started. The labyrinth begins and ends with the black path at the bottom. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Good Friday. Both are services about darkness, and death. Likewise, this Lenten Labyrinth begins and ends with the darkness of the cross.

Here are some themes you might find:
Covenant Relationship
The Law
Readiness and Patience
Christ’s Passion
New Life

The center is left blank. Empty, unpainted canvas. That is your place. Once you make it to the center, you can add your own thoughts. I welcome you to take some time out of your day to journey with this labyrinth. I would love for you to share what comes to YOUR mind when you reach the center, and what changes when you are finished.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

—Genesis 9:8-17

Rainbows are happy things. Their beauty fills us with wonder. They inspire our dreams and hopes for a brighter future. This was my third attempt to paint a rainbow. An earlier attempt was to put my own spin on the quintessential “happy” rainbow. It turned out very nice, and would go great in any child’s room or Sunday school class. But happy rainbows didn’t seem to satisfy me. They didn’t seem consistent with the context of the story. The story of Noah is one of great sorrow, loss and healing. I wanted to paint Noah’s rainbow—a sign of remembrance.

We are so tempted to cuddle up with the animals and bask in rainbow colors with our children. But recent natural disasters in our world awaken the realities of Noah’s story for me. I imagine the rainbow that Noah saw felt more like a peace offering. An assurance that this kind devastation would never happen again. An encouragement to a survivor trying to live in a “new normal.”

We assume the rainbow is meant to be a reminder for us alone. But the story repeatedly says that the covenant was established between God and humanity and ALL living creatures of every kind. It also proclaims that when the rainbow appears, GOD remembers the covenant as well. We see a rainbow and remember a story with a promise. God sees a rainbow and remembers an event and a bond with all creation—even to creatures who could never ponder the depth of such a sign.

So, I tried to paint God’s covenantal sign. The sign that appears after the storm—transforming chaos into peace and fear into hope. A loving reminder for God and all of God’s creatures on this earth. Our rainbow.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Carpe Diem

Why am I posting a fall painting to start the new year? I has to do with my new year’s resolution.

Typically, in late October, I bring my new paintings outdoors to photograph. One day, as I was setting up for the shoot, I was impressed by the beauty of the little tree in my yard. It was the perfect scene to sum up everything I love about autumn. The leaves were peak color. The sky was brilliant. Fall is my favorite time of year. I just love the mild temperatures, the crisp air, the changing colors and the long cast shadows in the afternoons. I believe I could live perpetually in autumn. But sadly, autumn is but a season. The colors here are only at peak color for just a week or two, if you’re lucky. Realizing the brevity of the moment that I was witnessing, I decided to stop what I was doing and paint the moment. I replaced the finished art on my easel for blank canvas and began to paint my little tree. And I am so glad I did. That evening, a weather front blew in. The next day, the tree was bare.

Each and every day is a gift from God. My resolution is to make the most of every day’s blessings. Rain of shine, I hope to live each day in gratitude. Life is too fragile and brief not to.

Happy New Year.