He seeks us….part I

Since late fall a few friends and myself have been holding a series of meetings we have called “God: A conversation”.  The idea of these meetings is to have meaningful dialogue about all aspects of religion/faith/spirituality and what they mean.  So far they have been great.  We meet at a local coffee house frequented by hipsters and artists of all sorts.  Each adds their own spice to the conversation.

During our last discussion an atheist friend of mine said something that has stuck with me.  We were talking about the “why” behind religion.  We’re both in agreement that some early religious beliefs were to provide answers to various questions; “Why does it rain?  Who hung the stars? Why are we here?” and so on.  Then we also mentioned that beyond that belief seems to be a response to something deeper.  As we pondered this she said to me: “Most scriptures are either answers to those questions or they are a collection of ways to seek God, whomever he may be.”

This stuck with me and I very quickly responded that I agree, it seems to be so, that in most religions their scriptures provide a way of seeking God.  But, I believe the scriptures of Christianity (and likewise Judaism) are more than a collection of books that tell people how to seek God.  That the bible, while it does help us get closer to God, is primarily the story of God seeking out the love of His creation. She was a bit surprised by this statement and wondered what I meant.

As we work our way through the Christian and Jewish scriptures all we seem to find from day one (literally day one) is God seeking after a people who are continually fleeing Him.  It’s a love story, a pining lover seeking his bride, who seems to always cheat on Him.

In the beginning…

We all know this story well but let’s look at it again.  I think it’s first worth mentioning why man was created.  The typical Christian answer as found in various prayer books and confessionals is that man is made to glorify God.  I can’t totally disagree with that but I think there is something else.  It’s that God was seeking companionship.  Nature glorifies God and so do animals by just existing, it wasn’t necessary to create a being made in His “likeness” if all God wanted was glory.  Anything He created would have done that, no, God wanted a lover.

The lover’s folly…

So now that God has created man and woman in His likeness you would think they would do nothing but run towards Him.  He’s placed them in a perfect garden, given them charge of all He made.  There is only one rule they must obey.  But no, the God seeking man scenario happens almost right away!  It’s as if their first instinct was to run from His love.

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

 

Not even 3 chapters into the first book and God’s creation has hidden from Him!  God seeks His most prized creation, who now are hiding in the bushes.  God then utters words He would continue uttering to man throughout the ages: “Where are you?”

The call of Abram…

Moving on a few chapters in Genesis we encounter Abram, born to Terah, raised in present day Iraq.  When we first meet Abram it’s by way of introduction through a boring family tree.  When we get past that to Chapter 12 it is God calling Abram.

“The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”

The Lord said.  That is where our story of Abram begins, not with Abram asking “how can I get closer to God today?”  And it will continue this way even after his name is changed to Abraham.  Abram did not seek out the Lord first.  The Lord sought him.  God had a promise for him.  What did Abram do to deserve this honor?  What 8 easy steps did he follow to seek the Lord?  None.  God came to him first, then Abram, on faith, obeyed.

Later the Lord would come to Abraham again in the form of a man, with a message.  Just from these two stories alone we start to see a God who is actively seeking His creation.  Not the other way around.

A love song to His people…

Smack dab in the middle of the bible is an interesting little book. Its a long love poem written about two lovers, who travel from courtship to consummation.  Its a book that frankly most christians tend to ignore, mostly because its sexy!  But here we have a beautiful allegory about the love God has for His creation.  “Where has your beloved gone?”, is the phrase often repeated.  This is a poem about searching, about yearning. The woman seeks all over Jerusalem for her beloved, her beloved seeks to woo her as she runs about the town looking.  It’s the most beautiful book in the bible in my opinion, but not the only one that deals with God seeking His lover.

I’ll show you how I feel…

This pretty much sums up the book of Hosea, “I’ll show you what its like to be Me” , God says to Hosea.  Ok, that’s a bit of artistic liberty to be sure.  Here is what He actually says:

“Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.”

So off Hosea goes and marries a whore.  Well, it must work out because God planned it right?  No way!  Old habits die hard, especially with someone stuck in an adulterous way of life.  Hosea finds his wife cheating on him over and over again, selling herself into prostitution.  This is what God says we are like!  By our humanly wisdom we say “well, goodness, she keeps cheating on me!  I gotta end this! No more!”  But God has this to say:

“Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods..”

God does NOT say to Hosea. “ok, now you know this, do a, b and c to get to know me better.”  No, this isn’t the way of a lover.  God (as personified by Hosea in this story) comes back again and again to show His love to us.  Eventually in the story Hosea had to pay a ransom to buy his wife back from her pimp.  God too had to pay our ransom.

The ultimate sacrifice…

 

Matthew 6:33

“…we should be perfectly clear about one thing:  Jesus never expected us to simply turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless those who persecute us, give unto them that ask, and so forth.  These responses, generally and rightly understood to be characteristic of Christlikeness, were set forth by him as illustrative of what might be expected of a new kind of person-one who intelligently and steadfastly seeks, above all else, to live within the rule of God and be possessed by the kind of righteousness that God himself has.  Instead, Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do.”

-Dallas Willard

“The Spirit of the Disciplines”

Idols and Iconography: Byzantine influence in my work

As an artist who is a Christian I get the chance to do what a lot of Christians don’t.  I get to work out spiritual issues in a visual way.  I find that these struggles of heart and soul, sin and redemption come out even when I don’t intend them to.  They are a part of me regardless of what I put down on canvas or where I point my camera.  There is a reason for it all.  In that sense my work becomes a form of prayer, a way for me to express to God the things I have no words for.  I’ve come to a realization recently about a body of work that has been in development for nearly three years.

From the moment I first “discovered” my taste for the mixed media in high school I was captivated by Byzantine Christian Icons.  Icons are religious works of art that are a sign or likeness of an object or person that represents it symbolically.  These are often seen in churches to enhance the experience of the worshipper.  Sometimes they have even been used to worship through.  There was something about the mystic nature of them, the elevation of a human to an icon, their age and patina, that I just couldn’t get enough of.  So my work often imitated (in the most superficial way) these ancient works.

Here are some great examples of actual icons:

Eventually I moved away from Iconic imagery and went else where with my work.  But recently I’ve found its influence creeping back in subtle, more serious ways.  I’ve come to see the following works are icons symbolizing things that I idolized and/or struggle with.

Sorry that the picture quality isn’t the highest quality but I think you can see how on the surface these are influenced.  For years I held high the status of marriage and the ideal of the “perfect” women or the “perfect” match.  These seem to be my way of working this out.  Trying to rectify so many failed relationships and many purely sexual flings and often then tension between the two.
Particularly evident in the last one is a piece dealing with sexual flings.  It was a point in my life where I was running away from things and trying to deal with failed love not living up to my expectations.  And so I sought solace in sex rather than in God.  This piece objectifies the women on purpose, focusing only on that which I was seeking.  It also serves the purpose of epitomizing a struggle between love and pure fleshly sexual gratification.  There is a push an pull for me between wanting that ideal love and just wanting to satisfy a sexual hunger.  Often a middle ground is hard to find.
The second of the three is actually the oldest of them.  This one is directly about the above mentioned failed love.  Its clearly about separation referencing not only the idol I turned the relationship into, but Adam and Eve (the ideal couple) who I also in a sense, idolized.  The man is walking away still carrying a piece of that ideal with him.  The canvas is covered with a shared bed sheet. You see where this is going.
The first piece is the most recent and the most hopeful.  There is some sort of delight on the girls face, a freedom in her nudity and movement.  This icon speaks to where I am now.  Not to imply I don’t still struggle with the sexual temptation of the latter piece or that I don’t still hold on to some pieces of where I’ve been before but now there is a certain acceptance.  I’ve moved on from those things a bit and am looking for something.  Something less idealized then I have been in the past, perhaps we can say something more real.  God will provide.

For God loves a cheerful giver: In which Sean learns about generosity in community

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

-2 Corinthians: 9:7

Nearly two months ago I decided that it would be a great idea to gather with friends to play capture the flag.  I loved this game as a child and thought it would be even more fun as an adult.  So gather we did.  About 8 of us on the most perfect field, on the most perfect day.  We quickly laid out our boundaries and set our teams in place, hiding out flags.  We yelled out go…..

10 mins later….

…..and so there I lay, a fallen hero.  Well, not quite.  10 minutes early I had gone to chase one of our “enemies”, slipped on some grass and now lay on the ground with what I would find out later was a broken collarbone.  Terrible.  See what I get for trying to be 12 at age 27?!

In all seriousness this was a terrible blow to me.  I am mostly self employed.  Earning my keep as a freelance photographer and artist.  Money can often times be few and far between.  The same with being able to afford health insurance.  But beyond the cash flow issue there was one more pressing matter.  I was now incapable of holding a camera and thus lost my ability to work.  I was crushed.

After getting through the initial physical shock, the hospital visits and getting used to a sling.  I begun to wrap my mind around my financial situation.  It was (is a bit still) quick bleak.  My money was running out and the medical bills would eventually total nearly $2000.00.  I’m used to worrying about money a bit but now that I couldnt even work for my money ,what would I do?

Turn to God.

Being a freelancer leaves you quite dry some months.  And I’ve always seen God do miracles.  Things just often work out.  I get through them.  God provides more jobs.  I guess my question was this time: “how can I work more jobs if I can’t use my arm?  How can You possibly provide for me now?”, “can You really make a money tree?”  I was starting to get scared….

enter the church

After a few days of praying and nursing myself I began to see out pouring in a way I have never seen in all my life.  Members of my church (The Garden) began to offer their time and their money to help support me for the first month.  I was puzzled at first having not even asked for help.  But then my puzzling turned to joy as I saw their hearts leading them to just hand me money with out expecting anything in return.  My financial needs that month were now going to be met!  What a burden to be lifted from me!

I guess what had so impressed me was that the giving wasn’t asked for specifically, it was prayed for, and I was surprised how freely they gave to me.  This was giving from genuine love.  And it seems to me that giving of that sort is what we ought to be doing.  Its just I have rarely seen it in action before.  My past experience with Church told me to expect many “I will be praying for you”‘s and “I’m sure God will provide”‘s but very little action on the part of the members.  Often times we forget that WE are the church.  And if God is to move through the church WE have to take action rather than sit around and just pray.  The purpose of a community goes beyond simply meeting together to worship and pray.  We are to take on a supportive role with each other.  Hold each other up where we cannot.  Give where there is need.  My brothers and sisters at the Garden were actually living out the principle set out in scripture.

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

-Romans 12-10-13

And I will be eternally grateful for the radical generosity they have shown me during my time of need, by actually practicing principles of church and community that are far too rare in our society.

Predestination – A New Perspective

The battle over the precise nature and/or existence of predestination has been one of the most contentious debates in the history of Christianity.  In no way do I expect my post to change that or completely answer it, but rather I seek to offer a new perspective on the subject for your consideration.  I want to also want to remind the reader that a stance or lack of stance on this issue is not an issue of one’s salvation.

I think the problem with the common arguments is one of perspective. Often the arguments in support or denial of predestination are argued from our standpoint here on earth, in our universe, experiencing time.  We often say that either God wills everything to happen or that we have the free will to decide things and God just knows it because He is God.  But any discussion should begin with what we know of God’s perspective.

When Moses was confronted with the burning bush, God said to him:

“I am the God of your father; the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  -Exodus 3:6

A few verses later Moses asks what to tell his people when they asked who sent him.  God replies:

“I AM WHO I AM .” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.”

Reading this passage for years always struck me as odd.  God’s name is I AM?  Well yes, and not exactly.  Traditionally the purpose of a name is to describe the person to whom it is assigned.  “I AM” is meant to describe God’s nature to us.  What does “I Am” say about God?  “I Am” is a present tense state of being (to be).  It’s a peculiar choice for us because we are beings with a past, present and future.  And so our names carry with them a past, who we are now (which is fleeting) and a future.  We were, are, and will be.  God’s descriptor (name) is simply the present form of “to be”.  He simply is, not was or will be.

God doesn’t stop there however, we note that earlier He uses “I am” as well in another mysterious way.  This time to confirm that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Wait.  He is?  Weren’t Abraham, Isaac and Jacob dead by the time of Moses?  Shouldn’t God have said “I was the God of…”.  How can He currently be the God of the dead? Is He talking about them living with Him in Paradise?

Jesus says quoting His Father: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

If God is not the God of the dead then He can’t have meant paradise, as you must die to get there. Did He mean to say that the Patriarchs are still living?  No, that would be inaccurate, they had died.  The resurrection hasn’t happened yet…so what then?  It must have something to do with the state of being that God is.

Since God created this world He is not subject to this world, though he interacts with it.  That includes the bounds of time.  We are bound by time, the universe is bound by time.  Space is linked essentially to time.  But God is not coming from that perspective.  God exists in what we can call the “eternal present”.  That is to say, being outside of time (which He created) God merely is.  There is not past or future outside of time, just the present, always.  This is hard for us to talk about since it is wholly outside of our experience.  Augustine of Hippo tackled this very thing centuries ago:

“Who shall lay hold upon the mind of man, that it may stand and see that time with its past and future must be determined by eternity, which stands and does not pass, which has in itself no past or future.”

The ramifications for this are amazing.  This means that from God’s point of view in the “eternal present” all moments are as one moment for Him  (though He has the power to interact within any given moment).  This means that in ultimate reality (God’s perspective rather than that of His creation) Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are at once alive and dead while He speaks to Moses.  He is able to say then that He IS the God of the living, because from his view they are.

Jesus says it perfectly in his claim to be God:

“..before Abraham was, I AM”

John 5:8

He is saying that even before Abraham had a present, past or future He is in the present time.  That’s powerful stuff!  But how does this inform our thoughts on predestination?

If God exists in the eternal present and all moments are at once present to Him, then God knows everything that has happened, that is happening and that (from our point of view) will happen.  He knows this because from His point of view we already made those choices, we already did those things!  He doesn’t merely know them just because He wills every moment into being, or because He is magic and can “see into the future”.  No, He knows it because it’s intricately linked to who He is and His state of being in the “eternal present”.

Of course we know that God does interact “in time” to accomplish things, and He does lay out paths for his prophets and apostles along the way.  Scripture is clear on that.  I don’t mean to imply otherwise.  But I do wish to point out that it is not as simple as saying “God predestines things according to his wishes” (were that the case the fall wouldn’t have happened) or “God lets free will do everything” (were that the case there would be no prophets).  Rather it is a “this, that and the other” type scenario.

We then look forward to the day when God’s space (Heaven, the eternal present) is combined with a renewed creation and our resurrection.  Thus allowing us to live for eternity, not time never ending, but the eternal present.

So ends my thoughts on predestination.  I opt for a change in perspective to gain what I believe is a more accurate view on the issue.

—————————————————————————————————————————-

I want to go one step further simply as a fun exercise in thought.  This is something that I can’t say is supported or not supported by scripture but merely is an extension of this line of thinking.  We know that the world is terribly broken by the fall, all of creation moans and feels the pangs of birth leading to the new creation.  Since all of creation was damaged by the fall we must conclude that space and time were as well.  They both being part of that created order.  Perhaps then this explains why some are able to see into the future or why we have deja vu?  Perhaps we are glimpsing rips, holes if you will in the fabric of time allowing us access into the “eternal perspective” that God sees.  We are then seeing it as it happens even though it is the future for us “in time”.  We know, according to scripture that it is possible to “speak to the dead” (Saul does that) and we know that people can gaze into the future, all because these things are specifically banned.  Why?  Because, I postulate that it is a sin to purposely create one of these rips, or holes in time in order to see.  It is a sin to partake in the destruction of creation.  Though at times we accidentally “see” through existing ones.

What are your thoughts on predestination?

Wear Purple today?

This wasn’t intended to be my first posting but I really have some thoughts on the matter.  Today, as you may or may not know is “wear purple to support bullied teens and teens who have committed suicide in the gay community” day.  Noble cause indeed, but wearing purple really?  What does this accomplish?

I am a regular blogger on Tumblr and I see everyone blogging/reblogging/changing their profiles to be purple. Everyone wants you to know that they support this issue and are proud of it.  I’m progressive, dagnabit!  To be clear, I am not against solidarity on an issue but we have to be careful not to stop at mere symbol.  Is posting a color and wearing a shirt really an adequate sacrifice to stand up to something we believe in?  No way!!  Rather than wear a color, wouldn’t our time be better spent engaging the community?  Rather than just wear purple, take time out of your day to approach a friend who has been bullied, a homosexual you know who suffers for this, or anyone else who is downtrodden, to remind them that you love them.  Take time to pray for the gay community, or any teens you know.  Love and support MUST be active like this in the community!  Show those closest to you, or those you don’t bother to talk to often that you love and support them, and most importantly, are there for them.  Get off of Tumblr for a moment, stop posting, and talk to a friend you know is in need.  I could go on but Jesus says it best:

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:3-4

He is not saying that giving to the needy is wrong (or wearing purple) if you announce it, but the right, Christian way to approach it, is to just integrate it into your lifestyle.  He wants it to be so ingrained in us that we don’t have to announce it!  The religious do that!  He wants us to live a life where giving, where loving are the ONLY options.  We are to just be that way.  And when we are that way by nature we dont parade it around to garner attention for it.  We are to do it in real love.  Plain and simple.  Otherwise its not effective and not community based.

So get off the blogs, stop wasting time by change your dashboard to purple, if thats all you plan on doing.  Rather, everyday, in every way, in every moment, love and support those around you.  Both in the immediate community and in our larger, human community.

🙂

Sean