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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

From the snow to 122 F!!!

We took in quite a paradox this past week:  hiking in the snow of Glacier National Park and then walking slowly at Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park with the temperature hoovering at 122 F.   These are some amazing extremes which are in reality only a couple of days apart.  It is the extremes that often times capture our attention.  There is something uniquely human about being drawn to the extremes and to forget the all to important points in between.   For example in the middle of our extremes of Glacier and Death Valley we took three days to check in on Alan and Lana Lundgren in McCall, Idaho.  Here we laughed, played, performed some search and rescue and generally had a good time hiking, fishing, swimming and enjoying the Lundgren abode in McCall.   There were very few extremes in McCall.  We didn't break any  records nor did we hike in snow drifts.  And yet I have to say that while the extremes catch our attention, most of us live 'in between.'   I think as people of faith we need to keep this in mind as well.  There are plenty of extremes out there that are begging for headlines, attention and our allegiance.  However, the extremes while intriguing are not where most of us find life, community and health.  Instead we live 'in between.'   In between family events and decisions, in between political views and personal passions, in between who we've been and where the Holy Spirit is calling us to become.

As I reflect on these past three month (of which I only have 4 days of Sabbatical left) I am amazed at the experiences, the conversations, and yes the extremes that I've been able to experience.  But all these experiences have had one thing in common--to help me serve in the 'in between' of our lives here at Our Savior.   Yes we have our own personal extremes (divorce, trauma, sickness and death) but it is the time in between these kinds of events where we really live most of our lives. 

I look forward to talking with you all about these past few months and I thank you for the opportunity you've afforded me for personal, spiritual and professional growth.   I have one favor to ask you as I prepare to return on August 15  (I'm taking two weeks of vacation to tackle all the 'honey do's'  that I've been avoiding during Sabbatical).    Let me know about the journeys that you have been on these past few months.  Are there changes at home, sicknesses, grieving, joys, celebrations.....I might not know of these unless you tell me.   I'll look forward to seeing you all in August---and you might bump into me at Lowes or DeNaults as I'm working on my list until the 15th.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

True Love Found...but no pictures appropriate

I'm writing this from Missoula, MT.  We have just finished a three day excursion through Yellowstone and it was all that I expected.   We got lucky and saw some amazing geysers (including the Grand Geyser, which only goes off every 11 hours or so) and of course took in all the amazing geothermal oddities of this area (Thermal pools, mud pots, hot springs etc...).  Oh, and yes we had our encounters with several of the parks wild residents.  Lots of buffalo, deer, elk, and a single bear, coyote, beaver and fox. 

I had a chance to take some pretty wonderful pictures and I've included a few here for you to look at.  The first is simply a look up a tall lodge pole pine.  It just seemed to be reaching toward the light and reminded me of our own spiritual search.  The second picture is quite odd.  We came across two buffalo and one was taking a nap.  We were close enough to hear him snore and the picture is the dust being blown by his nostrils.  It reminded me of all the references to breath that we find in scripture.  The power of breath both to animate us humans and to blow upon the disciples in the upper room.   I think we often underestimate this breath of God, just like this sleeping giant could easily be assumed to be gentle and meek.  Finally I have a picture which simply speaks to the creativity of God.  Here is a famous spot in Yellowstone which is marked by beautiful bacteria which thrives in the scalding water.  To be honest I'm not sure I know what it says other than it speaks to the reality of life which seems to be the will of the creator--even in the most unusual and most challenging of places.

But now to the event I witnessed today that I couldn't in good conscience take any photographs to share with you.   I'm not going to go into great detail but simply give you a brief description of something that reflected the love of God.   Two teenage brothers who had obvious mental disabilities where in the hotel pool this evening and I watched them from a distance and also the reaction of others in the pool.  Then two adults walked into the area and one of the boys yelled out--quite loud--"Hi Mom, Hi Dad."   I imagined that this family was traveling as ours and I wondered how road weary parents of these two might respond to their gregarious boys.   Next I saw a huge smile on the face of the father as he jumped in the pool and began to love and play with his boys.   Then Mom too got in on the fun.   There was no disability, there was only love, laughter and play.   This family, which probably had more than there share of difficulties, modeled pure delightful love.   And it wasn't just love for the boys but love between the father and mother was so apparent as well.   Once again I have come out to look at the beauty of nature and it is majestic; but I'm surprised by the power of relationship that seems to be an even greater beauty.  May we all share in the beauty of loving relationships no matter what the scenary may look like outside.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A picture is worth a thousand words....but a good word is still good!

I'm writing this entry from Jackson, WY just minutes away from Grand Tetons National Park.   We have finished our journey of the 'desert' parks (Arches, Canyon lands and Grand Canyon) and now we are heading into the wooded more northern part of our trek.   I think I've taken some wonderful photographs and I'll put a few on this post for you to consider....but still I wonder how can one capture "Grace" in a photo of the natural world?   We visited a wonderful gallery today and talked to a most delightful family who has spent 35 years taking photos and supporting the National Parks.  (They often vacation in Laguna Beach) and he showed me a great paining of a mountain goat jumping from spire to spire. The picture is called "Faith."  But can a goat jumping from high rock to high rock really capture the essence of the word?    

On the other hand there are some amazing images that certainly help us reflect in ways that words simply don't allow.   I'm praying for insight and creativity!   Of course the one word that still always resonates is WONDER!  This is an amazing continent filled with marvelous things. 

I've posted three pictures here that I think have some theological merit....but not overtly so!  The first picture above is from the Windows at Arches National Park.  There is something about those arches that compel people to want to be next to them, inside of them, to peer through them as if they offered a glimpse into heaven itself.  I like this picture of hikers standing and sitting in the arch.  For me it reflects our desire for God, for the holy, our search for meaning and our looking for windows where God might be found.

This next picture is from Canyon Lands National Park and it is a simple photo of two outcroppings of rock that frame a magnificent vista in the back ground with needles coming up from the desert floor.  I have another picture I took which is just the opposite--the background is clear and the forground is out of focus.  To me this picture reflects the difficulty of being in this world but not of it.  It is hard to focus both on this world and on our spiritual world

Finally my friend the raven.   This photo reminds me of the story of the ravens bringing food to a tired and depressed Elijah out in the desert.  Look at the light on this photo as it comes down around the raven.  Sometimes God can use very ordinary things for extraordinary purposes. is the problem with my trek so far...I like the photos I 've taken...but do they speak 'theological truths' to others?  I'm not sure?  If I explain them they do...but each image is also taken apart by the imagination and experience of the viewer and this makes the universality of any image hard to find.   More to come!  Let me know if you like the photos!!! 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Images of Wonder!!!

As I begin this final leg of Sabbatical I have two main interests.  One:  To spend good quality time with the family deepening our relationships and building memories.  Two:  To explore the use of natural images in regards to proclaiming spiritual or theological truths.  What do I mean by that?  Often we use images of the natural world (Beach, mountains, sunsets etc...) to solicit an emotional response.  I wonder if we can find and use nature images to bring about theological musings as well?   So I have set out to explore and photograph in some of the most stunning places in America.  Grand Canyon; Zion National Park; Arches National Park; Canyonlands National Park, Grand Tetons National Park; Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park.  

So far we have the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Zion under our belt.  What have I discovered?  Awe!  How awesome is our God!  We have to be careful because God is not IN the creation.  God is not in the canyons or in the trees--but God has left God's fingerprints all over the natural world.   I have felt humbled and insignificant by being in such beauty.  But I also renumber the words of Psalm 8....that we ourselves are a marvel of creation.   Here are a sample of some photos I have taken.  Can you see any theological truths or spiritual ideas expressed in them?   More to come...

PS....What a wonderful "God moment" we had today in Zion National Park as we totally on accident ran into our dear friends from Silverdale Washington who were likewise touring the park.   It was a reminder that even in the midst of natural beauty it is the love and power of relationships that still soothes the human heart!

PSS.  On the family side of things we have had a great adventure thus far and more to come.  Today the highlight was watching Aaron try to swim upstream in the Virgin river running through Zion National Park.  The hiking is fantastic and the scenary so beautiful that it can even compete with a DS Gameboy!!  And that's saying something.  Keep us in your prayers for a safe and memory building time together!

Friday, July 2, 2010

A sample of other's work

 Here is a sample of what other people created at the icon workshop.  There were some very gifted folks studying here as well as a couple of novices like myself.  Made for a nice mix.  The accomplished never once made you feel out of place but were always helpful.

Click on this and look at the intricate gold leaf work.  This particular gold leaf is applied by writing on the icon with 'Beer glue" boil down a bottle of lager and then you paint that on the icon very thinly.  You blow on the beer glue to get it sticky and then apply the gold leaf. 

In Orthodox tradition Mary always has her head covered and is always painted with the Christ...never alone.   (to have your hair uncovered was the sign of the prostitute).   In the West Mary is often by herself and usually has her hair down.

This was a demonstration on how to attach gold leaf to the back and around the icon.  It is a three day process so only those who started at home did this.  This process is quite beautiful to watch, no beer glue, just a special additive you paint on the board (after shellac) then the gold is applied in squares and it seamlessly contexts by rubbing with a cotton ball.  WARNING:  Every eyelash, dust particle or brush hair is IMMEDIATELY visible under the gold if you are not extremely careful.

Click on the picture and look at the icon.  This is the famous "Trinity."  The more figures and the smaller the faces the harder it is to do.  This piece is actually a "commissioned" piece which means someone has paid for it to be created.  This by the way is Jennie from my previous posts.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Many hands....make good souls...and Icons!

I remember one day early on in my icon workshop that I was rehearsing the speech I would give in order to explain the absolute failure to produce an icon myself. "It was more about the experience....I just didn't have the natural ability...It was extremely hard and intricate work....It takes years to be able to produce anything of substance...."  And all these things are true, but what I hadn't counted on was the power of so many hands to help along the way.   The purpose of iconography is to create windows into heaven through which one can deepen their prayer life it is not to be the greatest artist or to selfishly guard one's skill.  In fact the greatest icons are never signed, they are less about the artist and more about what they reflect. 
Now here's the beautiful thing, each day, each new step in the development of our icons began with a lecture and demonstration on how to move forward.  Colors, strokes of the brush, techniques and tricks of the trade were all shown.  Standing around watching an expert you felt empowered, confident and able!   Then you went back to your table (at least for me) and felt alone, unsure and unable.   It could have been disastrous.  I was told that there were some workshops where folks would break down and cry and need to be taken back to their rooms.  My strategy was to go out to the kitchen and get some coffee...kind of hide away for awhile!  But then one of our mentors would come by and either lean over next to you or sit down beside you.  They would ask what you are thinking and then they would take their skilled hands and begin the strokes slowly and methodically so that you might understand. It would usually end with a "there this is what you most do."  And that's all you needed to restore you confidence and hope...someone to sit next to you, even if just for a moment.

Occasionally one of us would have trouble on a particular part--making a round eye, using the painters compass for making the halo, mixing the right color of paint to match the paint already applied.  It was then that one instructor particularly would honestly say...."would you like me to help, it is my gift to you."  What was amazing was that some of the most accomplished iconographers in my group would naturally say: "Yes, of course."  And a moment later the eye was fixed or the color was perfect.   There was a sense that each and every icon was the result of community.

So what...this is a wonderful metaphor for how we should be doing church!  We come together on Sundays or for Bible Study etc... and we feel empowered, confident and able and then we get out into the world and it's easy to feel alone and unsure.   We need more than Sunday morning...we need Christian community that can sit with us at the tables of our lives and give us hope, direction and restore our confidence.  We also need to be able to accept the gifts that we can give each other.  To know our own limitation and to gladly allow others to walk beside us and allow their hands access to those things which seem overwhelming.   It is not a sign of weakness, but the blessing of community.

I learned a lot about icons at this workshop, a lot about Orthodoxy, but I think the real gift was the experience of honest to goodness community. how did it turn out?  The top picture is the chaos of my table with my icon about half done.  The picture here at the bottom of John the Baptist..that's the finished product.  (I've got to oil it in two weeks to harden the paint and bring out some of the colors...but that's it!)  Be kind!!!