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Los Angeles, California, United States

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A conversation on art and faith with Artist, Teresa Hill

I had the pleasure of meeting artist, Teresa Hill at "Alimento", an art show held at my current church, First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.  I was immediately drawn to one of her paintings, "St. Ty", 

a portrait of a "beatified" man holding an open pomegranate with bees buzzing around it.  

The painting held my attention because as a former Catholic, the light around his head and face, his upward gaze and the use of color... the reds and oranges and yellows... and the use of light and dark, reminded me of Renaissance paintings of saints.  This figure, "St. Ty" seemed to be in contemplation, which caused me to contemplate him... what was his story?  What was he contemplating?  He was wearing a red hoodie, set in modern times.  Why was he being portrayed as a saint? And what was the significance of the pomegranate and the bees?  What was the artist trying to say?

I stood in front of this painting for a long time, wrestling with what I didn't know and had no way to find out because there were NO ARTIST NOTES!!! (a pet peeve of mine) and in absolute frustration, I finally walked away. But I kept catching a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye because I was drawn to the rich colors... I loved the use of light and shadow... so warm and inviting to me.  

So as I'm turning away, trying to distract myself from this painting, a woman and her daughter walked up to me and started a conversation.  It's Teresa Hill, the artist who created the painting that so drew and perplexed me.  When I found out who she was, the first words out of my mouth were, "You're pomegranate guy!  Ok, so what's the deal with pomegranate guy!"  

As we talked, I found out that "St. Ty" is actually a portrait of her ex-husband, who used to be an animator for a well-known studio here in Los Angeles, and this is how she saw him... somewhat other-worldly, with a gift (the pomegranate).  However, there was also the ideas of both pollination (life) and danger that surrounded him and his gift (his artistry) represented by the bees.

I found our conversation really enlightening and so enjoyable, not to mention the fact that it relieved my frustration over her painting, that I told her about Ikthos, and asked to do an interview with her and graciously she agreed.

On December 19th, one week before Christmas, Teresa and  I met at Copa Vida, a coffee house in South Pasadena, California, to share coffee (for me, an elixir of life), conversation and thoughts on faith, her art and the meaning of life.  The conversation that follows, most of which you will be able to hear below, was an hour and forty-three minutes long, which I've condensed to an hour and twenty-three minutes (sorry that was the best I could do.  There's a lot of good stuff). 

"The Whistling"
The Hatchling"
We spoke about her take on her Southern Baptist background, or what she calls her "point of awakening", her interpretation of scripture, which can be seen throughout her work, where her faith journey has taken her outside of the Southern Baptist tradition and her views on life in general.  We discuss specifically, "The Whistling", "The Hatchling" and "Eve Revisited", a work currently in progress.

To my more traditional believers out there, I would ask that you listen to our conversation without judgment.  Teresa has gone beyond most of our comfort zones, but the echoes of what we were taught are still there.  I have to admit that I don't agree with all that she believes in, and that's perfectly ok.  We respect each other enough to listen to each other, which I believe is much needed in the body of Christ today and I know I grew from our conversation, as I believe she did as well.  We plan on speaking again.

I believe this is all a part of the journey Christ intended us to have as we each "run our own race".  She is running her race and I am running mine and maybe by sharing our stories of lessons learned, we can assist one another.  The body of Christ, "joint supplying joint."

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

That City Upon A Hill...

With all that has been happening in our country, the United States... the shootings in Dallas, the nationwide protests... the social tensions that plague us as a nation... I have felt the need to look back at what we are about as a nation. To return to its beginnings. To try and remember why we are here in the first place... why we exist as a nation. And that brings me back to what John Winthrop called us in A Model on Christian Charity. We are intended to be “That city upon a hill”, but are we? Have we really ever lived up to our calling?

When Winthrop used that phrase, he was referring to the gospel of Matthew. The full quote from Matthew 5:14-16 reads:

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven”.

It was Winthrop's prayer that this nation would be a beacon of light to the world. A place were people could come and hear the Good News. A place were people could practice their Christian faith freely, without persecution from the state. A place where the individual could be a self-made man (or woman), free from the rigid social constraints of class conscience Europe. A place where you could own land and the government couldn't confiscate or occupy it at will (hence the 3rd amendment which came later). A place where all men could be free to live a quiet and peaceable life. This unfortunately is not the America we live in today.

This year, in the month of July alone, There were at least 5 black women killed in police custody and according to the website, “Mapping Police Violence.com, there were at least 102 unarmed African Americans killed in police violence in 2015. That's approximately 2 a week. I don't believe this is the America Winthrop envisioned and it certainly isn't the land of the free or the home of the brave where we can all live a “quite and peaceable life”. [1Timothy 2:2]

Now I will be the first to admit, that not all of our Founding Fathers were as progressive as the document they wrote, which states that “...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ” There were some that didn't believe that the Africans they enslaved were human at all, which is one of the reasons we had a three fifths compromise... a compromise which violated the spirit of our Constitution... a compromise which never should have been made and unfortunately, a compromise we are still feeling the repercussions of. In God's economy, no one is three fifths God's creation... or three fifths his son or daughter and Christ did not die for three fifths of a soul or three fifths of the people, but “God so loved the WORLD (all of it and everyone in it) that He gave his only begotten Son, so that whosoever that believes on Him shall not parish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16]

Now this is not the first time we as a nation, have had problems living up to our better selves. Unfortunately, it took a civil war to correct the error of the three fifths compromise. It took the civil rights movement to correct the error of Jim Crow and the real question is what will it take to right our course in the current dark night of our nation's soul? One good thing about all of the turmoil we are currently experiencing is that it is bringing the poison of racism (and hopefully all the other “isms”) to light, so that we can be, once and for all purged of it and the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, so that we can truly be that shining city on a hill Winthrop envisioned.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Seeking "Church"

This past April, I celebrated my 49th birthday. Not quite the big “50” but significant none the less and I wanted to do something special so I decided to take myself to London. It was my first trip abroad and I was really excited... excited for the adventure I was about to embark on... excited for seeing a new and different county, excited because I was traveling alone, something I love to do... to meander the streets finding new treasures... taking my time to take in the city.

One of my “must” stops was the Temple Church, which is the knight's Templar church that was featured in the DaVinci Code. I wanted to go there because I was looking for a connection to the early church... the first century church... because this church grew under such tremendously challenging circumstances. Crucifixion, being fed to the lions, mass murders and persecutions were par for the course for the early christian community. This is the reason the sign of the fish, the Ichthus, is used today to represent Christianity, because the ichthus was a sign used by persecuted believers to identify each other.

Drawing the sign of the fish in the dirt was a secret signal, known only to believers, that stood for Christ. It was a visual reference to Christ's miracles, Him multiplying two fish and five loaves, feeding five thousand [Jn. 6:10-13]... and then four thousand [Mark 8:1-9]... it was the only way for believers to safely reveal themselves to each other, and although I changed the spelling (someone else was using it) the ichthus, was the inspiration for this blog, “Ikthos”... a way for believers in The Way, believers in Christ, to identify one another and share their faith with one another in a safe space, where we can engage one another, nurture one another and truly be that “body fitly joined together, joint supplying joint” [Ephesians 4:16]

What I found among the effigies and stone and stain glass was a living church steeped in tradition. The majority of the service was sung, as the early church and even the Latin Roman Catholic mass was sung. The Temple Church was consecrated in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary on February 10, 1185AD by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem and has existed continuously. The feeling of history was palpable, however, I believe the service I attended, was very different than the services attended by the early christian believer.

The early church during Roman oppression, met in private homes, catacombs and as Justin Martyr replies to his interrogator Rusticus, the Roman Prefect, “Wherever it is each one’s preference or opportunity....” 1 This was a church under seige... where being revealed as a member could get you put in prison, tortured, interrogated and ultimately killed... and yet it grew.

After Constantine “converted” (I'm not sure he converted to Christianity or if he converted Christianity for his own purposes), the reverse became true. If you didn't accept Christ, join the church (and at that time there was only one) and worship exactly as they said, you could be tortured and/or killed. If you dare have a difference of opinion or a unique experience that differed from what was taught to be the norm, you could literally loose your life. One would think we've come a long way... or have we?

There's much to be learned from the past. And although events and circumstances have changed our society... what we know and in many cases, what we as modern believers find important, the truth of the Gospel, the Good News, never really changes because people, the one constant throughout history, never change. We never loose the need to be loved, unconditionally. We have never and will never be perfect so we will always have a need to be perfected, and that is what the love of God, in the person of Christ Jesus does. He perfects that which concerns us. [Psalms 138:] In every way. In our body He heals, for he is the balm of Gilead. He gives sight to the blind and raises the dead. In our hearts, for he heals the brokenhearted and in our mind He frees us from fear by giving us the spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind” 2 Tim 1:7. And yet we have movements within modern Christendom, that want to make the church be more “seeker friendly” as if those who seek Christ today are really any different than those who sought Him when He walked the streets of Galilee. Zacchaeus, the short tax collector in Jericho who climbed the tree so he could see Jesus, didn't have any greater need to “see Jesus” than any other vertically challenged person would today, except Zacchaeus made the effort... he labored to “see”. And I don't believe Jesus responds to us today with any less graciousness or love than he did to Zacchaeus. If we make the effort, Jesus shows up, and He dines with us... he heals our hearts, stills our minds and nourishes our spirit... or at least that has been my experience.

Although, my visit to the Temple Church was special, something I'll remember, it was my experience at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle that moved me to tears. I was there the week after Easter, and there was a very simple, very large cross with a large crown of thorns draped over the top, hanging over the alter. It looked like it had been created with builder's lumber, not artistic or polished or “beautiful” by any modern aesthetic, but more beautiful than anything in either church because it represented the love... what Christ was willing to do for us... what God was willing to sacrifice for us... God's labor of love for us. There is no need to make our faith any more “seeker friendly” because Christ has sought us. The work to get us to God is done. It is finished.


1Christianity Today, “Where Did Christians Worship?” by Christopher Haas. Issue 37