Art and Faith II

Slightly revised reflections from one of my first attempts, nearly 10 years ago, to craft a blog post.

Previously PUBLISHED ON April 11, 2010

I believe my faith has moved from “truth and principle” as the driving force to a picture of “God initiates; Ron responds.”  I’m leaving behind: Ron does A, B and C … so God will do D.

Love grows.  Strong initiator + eager responder.

We have serious questions about each other.  Why suffering?  Why unexpected death, illness, financial struggle, relational struggle?

Scripture looks less like truth and principle and more like paradox, irony, with beautiful relational interplay’s.  And Oh?  Did I mention mystery?

Communion shifted from somber reflection on sin and failure to:

What is it about bread?  So plain, ordinary, often accessible, that, when brought to Christ, yields a kiss, a healing, scales falling from my eyes?

“Hunger and thirst, O Christ, for sight of Thee

Came between me and all the feasts of the earth.

Give Thou Thyself the Bread, Thyself the Wine

Thou, sole provider for the unknown way.”

~Radbod of Utrecht~

I notice a shift from “I choose,” (that Arminian[1] shadow placing undo power and hubris in my hands) to “I respond.”  Response means I’m watching intently for God’s creative new initiations (do you hear the chimes dancing in the wind?) and readily responding, often secretly, to His whispers, crumbs, presence.  Hey!  The good news is not truth nor principle as much as the Person behind it all.

Now, that ushers in art!  Art is a way I can explore this person.  Art is the means of my discovering how wonderful I’ve found Christ to be.  The passions run deep and strong.  Passions that look like a Cellist weaving and swaying, eyes closed, as music fires like neuronal transmissions from his fingers and bow.

No more dulling my pain, suffering, confusion, or blasphemies.  I remember Christ, the suffering servant, I notice alongside me.  Art lets me catch the hints, the glimpses.  For the moment, that’s enough.

O, how can I write about this?

O, how can I praise with new words right for these moments?

Editors note 12/1/19: Ten years have passed since thinking this way and I’m not so sure “Ron responds” hasn’t shifted so sometimes it looks like: “God initiates; Ron squirms, questions, demands, screams, bawls, whines, shakes his fist, crosses his arms and stomps his feet, then comes to the end of himself, lays his deadly doing down, and learns to trust.”

[1] Arminianism, a theological movement in Christianity, a liberal reaction to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. The movement began early in the 17th century and asserted that God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are compatible.





Deep Breath of Remember – Barnyard Liturgy (Part 5)

God Communes with Us

In my desire to carry elements of God’s Liturgy out into the barnyard, beyond what we experience together corporately on a Sunday, I want to tread lightly with the element of God Communes with Us.  Taking part in Communion bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, sitting ‘at table with God’ belongs as a corporate feast.  It is made even more special to me as I anticipate and wait for Sunday’s to join in the family celebration of Communion.  However, that said, I also believe there are plenty of ways to participate in the fellowship of Trinity throughout my barnyard excursions.  Whether it be in the milking parlor, or using my imagination in a redemptive way, while abiding in the Dark Forest leaning on my Rock; communion opportunities abound.  As you know, practicing communion as you go about work, rest, or play requires focused attention.  It takes time, can yield beautiful rich fruit, but, if you’re like me, it can feel like waiting; enduring.  Let me tell you a story.

The "Balin' Twine Braid"
The “Balin’ Twine Braid”

Balin’ Twine Braid

What does it mean to wait?  I don’t mean wait for the bus or wait for supper.  I don’t even mean wait until you grow up.  The waiting I wish to show you will take lots of time because it involves lots of time.  As I explore what this means to me, I will try to use stories and pictures to grasp the meaning of the word “wait” used by the Psalmist and others.

The Hebrew language contains several words that get translated “wait” in English, so let me shine the light on the star of this show so as to distinguish it from what our English brain leads us to think when we hear the word wait.  Are you a pictorial learner, like me?  If so, look for the images in the following description taken from the Hebrew word “qavah.”


Bind together, perhaps by twisting


Tension of enduring

Be strong


Strand of rope



Spider’s threads, web

Wait or look eagerly for

Linger for

I’ll begin with this example to show waiting as something you might do all your life, like a relationship, maybe.

“Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.” (Psalms 25:5)

Here’s a story ‘bout when I was a little boy:

“My grandpa was too old, and I was too young

To buck hay bales in the hot July sun,

So we sat by the truck in a puddle of shade,

And he taught me to weave the balin’ twine braid.”

The ‘balin’ twine braid’ was simple.  You take three strands of baling twine, tie a knot in one end and start weaving the strands by crossing the outside one over the middle one, first left over middle, then right over middle, repeat.

What my grandpa imparted to me that day was a useful means for an 8-year old to craft a simple rope to be used as a bridle, a lasso, a lead rope, and other cool farm-boy, cowboy stuff.  But, somewhere along in years, probably mid-20’s, when I first got introduced to this biblical word for wait as a rope bound together by twisting, the lights came on and I latched onto the “balin’ twine braid” as the metaphor for my relationship with “Trinity.”  A relationship that involves a lot of time waiting, a lot of time not so much seeing, but engaging; entwining.  Just as the braiding process involves numerous repeated ‘wraps,’ so does my relationship with a triune God.

Who Does The Choosing?

You may raise your eyebrows and purse your lips, perhaps even bristle when I say God’s liturgy is less something you do and more something done in you.  Done to you.  Let me elaborate.  Early in my Christian experience I picked up the idea that I should proactively seek God.  Hunger and thirst for Him.    Drop my nets and follow Him.  All good things, no doubt.  But somehow like Christ’s disciples, James and John, my efforts got twisted up and became strivings to earn God’s favor.  “Where’s my reward?”  I thus interpreted my circumstances, whether pleasant or horrific, as evidence of my success or failure in my pursuit of an elusive God.  I took upon myself a quest to determine what my sanctification would like.  Discipline, study, service, endeavoring for holiness made up my language, but I found myself trapped in repeated cycles of habit and sin.  The pressure was intense; all up to me and my choices.  But Who really does the choosing?

In God’s liturgy:

God Calls Us

God Cleanses Us

God Consecrates Us

God Communes With Us

God Commissions Us

I still struggle and deeply long for remedy.

Return with me, in your imagination, to the Dark Forest.  In the darkness I found a worn scrap of paper with some poetry written out in song.  I now knew I wasn’t alone in here.  There were others who frequent the proximity of the Rock.  There have been countless more who have lived here and moved on.  The date on the poem was 1759.   The opening lines read:

“Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,

Weak and weary, sick and sore;

Jesus ready stands to save you,

Full of pity, love and power.”[1]

I felt at home in those words, and I felt the pressure of my self-induced, self-help, independent strivings lift with a whoosh.

The poem ended:

“Let not conscience make you linger,

Nor of fitness fondly dream;

All the fitness He requires

Is to feel your need for Him.

This He gives You.

This He gives You.

Listen to the Spirits’ voice.”

I felt it.  I felt my need for Him.  I was jubilant. Is that all?  Now what do I do?  Wrong question.  What I was hearing was God calling me to worship, step one of a gospel-driven liturgy.  The issue now was less what I was supposed to do, and more, ‘watch out’ for what God was going to do in me.  He’s the initiator and finisher of my salvation.  Of my sanctification.  Pressures off.  Remedy is underway.

“Cast your deadly “doing” down,

Down at Jesus’ feet.

Stand in Him, and Him alone;

Gloriously complete.”[2]


Flashback to the milking parlor.  I noticed a cow in early stages of labor.  Not uncommon.  There are about 350 calves born throughout a year on this dairy.  But I noticed as the calf’s feet appeared, they were upside down.  Upside down feet means the calf is coming backwards.  Dystocia.  Urgent; and if unassisted, will likely result in death of the calf by asphyxiation during the process.  Worse, the cow’s life may be threatened being physically unable to expel the calf.

Intervention was required.  I offered assistance and a chance for remedy, though the outcome might be life; might be death.

I thrilled at the mighty inward tug I felt when attempting to attach a chain to the calf’s legs.  He’s alive.  Resistant, but alive.  Game on.  A battle of wills.  I was determined for a live birth remedy.  The calf?  Not so cooperative.  Adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding drama ensued.  Could I dislodge the calf from the grave he clung too?  His strong leg-kicking reminded me of my determination to not parachute into the Dark Forest.

Timing was critical.  The umbilical cord would snap during the process when the calf was half-way extracted, stimulating his first gasp; a gasp that could fill his lungs with placental fluid.  There was also a chance the cow, who was standing, would collapse making the final heave difficult.  She did.

I, Junior Veterinarian, spent my fortitude in the delivery process, then found another ounce of strength to lift the 80-pound calf upside down allowing some of the placental fluid to drain out.  No breathing.  I scrambled to grab a few handfuls of fluid from his mouth and throat, then jabbed a section of bedding straw into his nostrils trying to stimulate an inhale.  The calf’s ribs heaved filling his lungs with oxygen.  His eyes glinted with light and life.

Did the calf do life?  Or, was life done to the calf?

“Rescue us from a life in which the wonder has leaked out.”

Eugene Peterson

God Cleanses Us

More on the Liturgy of Breathing

We take our everyday respiration for granted, mostly.  We shouldn’t.  It’s a beautiful picture of what liturgy looks like.  When asked by my college professor, “What stimulates us to inhale?”  I answered, “Why our need for oxygen, our craving for life, of course.”  I was partly right.  To my amazement, the fuller answer is “the accumulation of chemicals in the bloodstream; chemicals resulting from healthy cellular work like carbon dioxide and hydrogen ions; chemicals that will kill you if not exhaled.”

There’s a nerve center in your brainstem that monitors the blood concentration of those “death” chemicals.  Once they reach a threshold level, you will inhale life-giving oxygen.

The beauty of this liturgical rhythm equates to, ‘death out, life in.’ Repeat.

In a gospel-driven liturgy.  God cleanses us.  He helps us recognize the sin-unto-death accumulating in our blood.  We exhale in repentance.  We inhale and draw in the life-giving assurance found in His promise of forgiveness.  Is there power in the blood?  Yes, most certainly, a flood of power.  Our Father’s forgiveness infuses us with a life-giving power that cost Christ His blood-flooding life.  Delivering, saving, sanctifying, cleansing, and redeeming life.

“There is a fountain filled with blood,

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;

And sinner’s, plunged beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains…”[3]

[1] Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy, Joseph Hart, 1959

[2] It is Finished, James Proctor.

[3] There is a Fountain Filled with Blood, William Cowper, 1771.

Deep Breath of Remember-Barnyard Liturgy (Part 4)

The Good Life in the Black Forest

Crisis at 13,000 feet.  You know the feeling.  Life’s relatively smooth.  You’ve got dreams and your trajectory is upward.  Then, suddenly you’re in free-fall thanks to a little circumstantial shove out the airplane’s door.  You’ve been through these challenging times.  A company downsize.  Divorce papers delivered by the sheriff.  Your 16-year old daughter moves in with the 29-year old tattooed drifter.  The biopsy result is positive.  Maybe you are in one of those challenging circumstances now.

If you’re like me, you pull the parachute rip cord and quickly survey the landscape below.  Upper right quadrant, a verdant meadow with peaceful stream and a flock of sheep ready for shearing.  Lower right quadrant, a wheat field with rolling hills of golden, full heads of grain, ripe-for-harvest, swaying in gentle breezes.  You’re descending slowly, also swaying in mild currents allowing you to recover from the sudden shock of change.  You tell yourself, ‘everything’s going to be alright’ even if you drift into the less desirable left quadrants below.  A deep canyon.  A cactus-filled desert, maybe.

But smack in the middle is the Black Forest.  A small, acre-sized, dense patch of trees and thorns definitely to be avoided.  It’s the place that makes you shudder because it’s unknown and you sense your worst fears reside there.  Don’t go there.  Too much risk, danger, threat to your reputation.  ‘No worries’, you mutter as you tug on the steering toggles and contemplate your options.  A different job.  A new partner.  A grandchild.  Treatments promising remission.

The toggles seem unresponsive.  The ground rushes upward at you.  Your intent and efforts amount to futile kicks and screams.  Nooooo, not there.  Not the Black Forest!

When you awake, you realize the landing was brutal.  You’re bleeding and bruised from the tree limbs and undergrowth thorns.  Your head hurts.  Your butt hurts.  The parachute is in shreds.  Full adrenaline heightens a few senses but panic makes you numb, stunned.  One sense that is lost completely is sight.  It’s dark.  The same felt darkness you learned to fear as a toddler in a crib.  You don’t know what to do.

“Welcome to the good life.”

“But”, you protest, “it doesn’t look like the good life.”

“Deep breath.”

“Good.  Now let me show you around the place.  I’ve been here awhile and there’s Someone I want you to meet.”

“Use your hands to push away the thorns and crawl along beside me.”

“Okay, extend your right hand.  There he is.  He’s called Rock.”

You feel the Rock.  It’s large.  About your same height, and maybe six feet long or so.  Your fingers discern jagged edges.

“Those are good hand holds.”  “Good for clinging to when the waves of panic strike again, and again.”

“Touch here.”  “Those are my favorite gripping edges worn smooth over the years.”  “You’ll create your own, I promise.”  “Clinging, tears and time will serve you well in here.”  “Familiarity creates fondness.”

“Touch your tongue right here.  Taste the water from this morning’s dew.”

“And just over here.  Those seeds that drifted in on evening breezes, that’s your bread.”

“Now, carefully look at this hole in the side of the Rock.  That’s your cup.”

“You can only see it with ‘those other eyes’ you have.  Those eyes He gives you light to see.”

“Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve known!?”

“It will nourish you.  Can you drink of it?”

Listen to what the poet says,

“Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,

                Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.”[1]

“It’s a good cup, really.”

“Not that I haven’t felt like the meadow or the wheat field offer better sustenance, it’s just, I’ve tried crawling out of this Black Forest many times.”  “I haven’t found my way out yet, plus, I’m not sure I want to.”  “I tell myself, in my best moments, that I don’t want to leave unless the Rock comes along.”  “So far, he hasn’t budged.”

“It’s that cup that keeps me here.”  “It seems to me, since it’s what the Rock has given me, it’s a good cup.”  “It’s a good life.”

A Picture of “To Cling” Or “Watch Out For That Creek!”

Let me share a word picture illustrating the act of clinging.  Clinging like there’s no tomorrow.  Clinging to something bigger than yourself.

In my early twenties I was insecure and shy.  I had few female relationships and I blame it on the “party-line” phone system ensuring any attempt of asking a girl on a date would be heard (and repeated) by at least 3 housewives and by my Uncle Harold, guaranteed.   To overcome this intimidation I did the manly thing.  I waited for a girl to ask me out.  Any girl.

But this time, it was not just any girl.  I’d made it to the early phase of a dating relationship with a blonde beauty who’d recently whooped me in a game of tether-ball.  Ever encounter a professional tether-ball player?  Turns out, in her youth, she’d work her way to the pole during middle-school recesses and never relinquish the victor’s position until the bell rang.  I hit the ball once.  Kinda gentle like as if you were playing against a girl.  When it reached her side of the pole, she interlocked her fingers making a two-fisted sort of club and launched the ball into orbit above my head.  I just watched the ball twirl into tight loops at the top of the pole.  No use even jumping.

I picked my cowboy hat out of the dust and asked her to join me in the Fall roundup.  She joined me and my family as we sought to fetch the cattle from dry pastures and haul them back home for winter care.  We warmed ourselves on the cold day around the campfire, watching our breath mingle with the steam from cowboy coffee my dad perked over the coals, and listened to tall tales told by Uncle Harold.  He was a great story-teller.  Some parts were true.  At least as true as truth can be stretched.  Some parts may have been gleaned from overheard party-line conversations.

We mounted our horses, gave out the traditional cattle call, “Come Bos!” and discovered there was little work to do but open the corral gate and watch eager cattle stream in.

It was over too quick.  So, the pony-tailed gorgeous blonde and I went for a leisurely ride to absorb the scenery of the North Idaho mountains and meadows.  Here I was, in my cowboy shyness, swapping stories with not just any girl while we meandered on gentle horses back towards the corrals.  I’m thinking, “Gosh, if she enjoys this, perhaps I’ll step up into cowboy confidence and ask her out again someday.  Don’t blow this one, buddy.”

“Hey, wanna gallop these ol’ cayuses?”  I asked, glancing at the corrals down over a few hillsides about a mile away.

She said, “Sure.”  It may have been the last word she ever uttered if she’d been just any girl.

I’d expected the horses to hit a gentle loping stride as we nudged them with our heels.  Instead, the horse interpretation for seeing corrals in the distance equates to, “Whaaa Hoooo!  Let’s fly!  Last one to the corral’s an ol’nag!”

In a flash, our horses were tearing down a steep hillside like an avalanche.  Blondie’s ponytail bobbed and fluttered, marking each hurtling stride.  From a few paces behind her, too far behind to rescue her, I shuddered as the sudden startle caused her feet to come out of the stirrups.  Worse, she dropped the reins.

My memory now shifts into slow motion.  The next moments unfold frame by frame as if dreamed.  It wasn’t a dream.  With panic in my voice I screamed, “Watch out for that Creek!”  The Creek was about 6 feet across by 3 feet deep.  It held no water this time of year, but any horseman knows the paralyzing dilemma it presented.  The mad dashing steeds allowed themselves two options.  Maintain full blinding speed and leap to clear the obstacle.  Or, apply horse brakes, sliding to the edge of the Creek in rapid deceleration effectively launching any saddle occupant without their feet in the stirrups like a catapult.

Meanwhile, facing the inevitable onrushing catastrophe, I thought, “Either way the horse chooses, Blondie’s dead.”  “I killed her and she wasn’t just any girl.”  I imagined sitting in the dirt holding her head on my lap, stroking her hair to comfort her toward her last breath.

But Blondie assessed her predicament and notice the saddle horn.  Two tether-ball-honed hands interlocked their fingers around that stout piece of leather-covered metal, and clung.  Clung for dear life.  That’s the picture I want you to put in your mind.  What brash option did the horse choose?  The “don’t-slow-down and leap” option.  Up. Up as if it were a cow jumping over the moon.  As the horse descended toward earth, I could see the sunset twixt the saddle and Blondie’s jeans.  But oh she did cling.  The landing was rough, but she stayed in the saddle.  She clung.  There will be a tomorrow.

In a most welcome moment of relief, I absorbed the glorious outcome and made note of a deep inner voice whispering, “She stayed in the saddle.  I’ve got to marry that girl.”  She gave me a picture of clinging that’s lasted 35 years.  She also gave me a ring that’s now the same age.

Projected Image vs. Core Image

My Dad was a cowboy stud.  He would have been selected as the Marlboro Man if he wasn’t isolated on a rural Idaho cattle ranch/wheat farm 10 miles from the hometown of 289 city folks.  Dad was so bow-legged, he made bow-legged men look like their legs came out of the same socket.  He had no lazy-boy recliner.  To ease his aching back muscles after a hard day’s labor he’d climb in his saddle and ride off the pain.  He dressed like a cowboy should, not with duds bought from the catalogs catering to pretenders, but with whatever was available at the local feed/implement/clothing store.  I had nearly identical boots, jeans, straw hat and snap-up shirt.  I have a memory of him tying me into the saddle, when I was four-years old, with the straps you’d use to tie your raincoat or woolen blanket to, so I wouldn’t fall off.  We’d ride a circuit of 10 miles to visit neighbors and in between stops he’d sing “I love to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.”  I was awed by the way he could roll a cigarette holding a bag of tobacco in his teeth, reins in one hand, cigarette paper in the other.

The clinching event occurred a few years later when I was probably nine.  I no longer needed to be tied into the saddle.  I’d become a decent horseman.  We had ridden the pasture to gather some cattle to take to the sale barn located 30 miles away.  On the way, we passed through our hometown in the cattle truck and he stopped so we could get a burger at the local café.  As we walked through the door I realized neither of had taken our spurs off.  That thought puffed out my chest.  I noticed some of my classmates who didn’t live and work on farms and, therefore, swam most summer days, goofing off in the cafe, playing pinball, dressed in their swim trunks and wearing flip flops.  I stepped in a way that exaggerated the bend of my ankles so my heels struck the floor hard, making the spurs jingle as we strode to our booth.  I noticed their envious glances from the corner of my eye.  I remember the wave of superiority wash over me.  Junior-cowboy-stud.

So many of my stories center on this cowboy theme.  I enjoy telling them because I enjoy giving you the perception that I’m a tough cowboy capable of handling any challenge.  I can’t help it.  My experiences have shaped me.  They’re part of my identity and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  But it can only remain a good thing if I guard against “I’m a tough cowboy” becoming a pose.  If I can guard against it becoming my core identity.

[1] George Herbert, The Agony, lines 17, 18.