Archive for the ‘art’ Category

I will always remember kicking my fins along a coral wall off the coast of Kauai, excitedly pushing myself toward a large school of Achilles tangs. The sun pierced the water and illuminated the fish. I still remember the joy of their dark purple bodies, their bright orange tear drops and their blazing white highlights, the sudden and odd thrill of the unexpected combination of vibrant colors swimming together like some kind of underwater flock of geese painted by a madman.

Life is like this. You turn a corner, kick a couple of times in calm and quiet waters and there — a new school of something unexpectedly colored, swimming with you, sharp, well defined, clean lines. Then, as you approach, off they dart together into the deep, you in mad pursuit of something amazing. We pursue the good times and the feelings they evoke.

But at other times, swimming along, reality is not so calm and clear as that. Life does bring us excited, happy emotions but also wild, windy, stormy, clangorous ones as well.

Take Charles Burchfield’s painting, “Oncomming Spring,” the cold, white snow is melting on the ground and the brown, leafless trees are all a blur, wind-whipped-wild, wind-bent-curved, banging into one another.

The trees in “Oncoming” are noisy. The wind is too. The problem with paintings is that you can’t hear the noises they make. It’s often the same with humans — all creatures. We look at them, but remain outside the frame, the sick, disabled, the refugees, the immigrants, the marginalized, the racially discriminated against. We may not hear the storm inside another creature’s wooden picture frame, the banging silence there beneath the painted curve of distance between us. But our world suffers today, me too — swimming after sunshine and safety. Perhaps you too suffer, or you have. The suffering are pain brothers and sisters, a pandemicized world. We school together; we are a grove of bent trees.

So much pain is so often hidden behind walls of isolation, in impoverished neighborhoods, in shielding behaviors — the public smile that hides the grimace, the protective clichés we offer when we meet, the hiding behind words, the socially acceptable masks, the socially enforced keratoconjunctivitis sicca, dry eyes, the sere eyes that fear the bully judgements. Mostly only our babies and very young children cry in public.

And the Achilles tang, see too how they retreat from us, beautiful, but they are moving away. Where are they going as we pursue? A noise is hiding inside their purple and orange beauty. It’s alarm! They swim away from us toward safety. How often do we do the same.

But notice in Burchfield’s painting how windows open between the trees to blue skies and yellow warmth. The trees — whipped and jangled — also wait for life and safety in the oncoming spring, for bud, flower, green leaf. Burchfield knew this feeling and painted it — life’s longing wait for something safe and renewing, for spring, a watering. Like the deer we pant for running steams, for love, for the Devine. I know that labored-breathing wait and so do you. When will I again … ?

Oh life! You are a gorgeous schooling of purple tangs and you are brown, bent, wind-tossed groves of trees, both calm water and the raging storm, living inside us and outside us too — an advancing, a retreating, an oncoming, a storming, some sunlight peeking through the gaps.

Look and listen too. We are all schooling toward warmth and safety. We can at the very least understand that, listen for what isn’t voiced and attempt to swim together.

I love the work of Marc Chagall, his lovers floating through the sky.

Marc Chagall was a Russian-French 20th Century artist. He painted in the Jewish artistic tradition. I resonate with his bright colors and magical scenes.

He was influenced by surrealism, later by cubism. I’m enchanted by his people and animals, floating through the air, beautiful symbols of the romantic, magical and mystical in life.

His early paintings were of the Russian villages he grew up in.

Later he moved to Paris and was influenced by cubism. He expanded into stained glass and stage sets. He also did etchings of scenes in the Bible.

The painting above, “I and the Village,” is one of my favorites. “The flowing, merging life of animals and people, town and field, faith and mystery. Eye to eye, a green face, an intelligent animal, a glowing, flowering branch — I’m enchanted.

In the painting below, again we the magic mix, girl and window, field, sky and flower so tastefully juxtaposed — such wonderful colors.

Oh life!

Oh Chagall.

Thank you!

I love art. One of my earliest memories in school is of making copies of the great masters. As an adult, I like to read a favorite artist’s biography and watch an art history documentary.

Whenever we travel we visit art museums. My favorite is the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The building itself is art. My favorite artists are chronicled below, polished into pithy observations. Check them out. Look them up. Who is your favorite artist?

Rembrandt and Vermeer invented light; Monet and Seurat reinvented it.

Chagall painted magic animals; then he taught love how to levitate.

Artemisia Gentileschi gave women back their bodies.

Michelangelo turned a ceiling into the Bible.

We love Frida Kahlo; she painted our pain.

Renoir made paint party.

Charles Burchfield painted a cathedral using a forest.

Rembrandt van Rijn out-detailed reality.

Emily Carr turned trees into saints.

Matisse, Picasso, Duchamp, Kandinsky, Warhol and Pollock threw a geometricized, essentialized and energized reality in our faces; that somewhat frightened us.

Mary Cassatt sat down in a crowd of men and turned mothers and children into paint.

Giotto brought the icons to tears.

Kandinsky payed the piano with paint.

Monet gave the haystacks dignity.

Van Gogh — if only he could have known how much we would love him.

Jacob Lawrence painted a migration so he could teach us to see a people.

Modern art is life — with the arms knocked off.

The surface of our planet — which has existed for 4.5 billion of years — has never stopped changing shape. Great tectonic forces have sculpted our gorgeous blue oceans and green continents.

So it is with me — and you. We too change. I morph, you alter. We are always changing shape because of the great forces that are always ragung at our edges.

In the beginning of earth’s formation the land masses coalesced out of molten lava, came together over billions of years, united (as Pangea), drifted apart and crashed back into each other creating the map of earth we know today.

We, the people of the earth, have also risen from a set of collisions, for instance a collision between a mother and a father, a collisions between ourselves and a sibling, or perhaps a friends, colleague or community. Relational lava, and continental drift has churned and roiled our lives. Forces explode all around us and with Pyrrhic victories both subtract and add to who we are. We drift. We ram. We erupt.

I remember early in life being in unspoken competition with my two brothers, playing ping pong, baseball, basketball, wrestling with my dad and brothers on the family room floor. The wrestling was fun, but it often ended in tears, at least that is what I remember my mom saying. One brotherly basketball game I remember poignantly. It ended in a fight with me on top of my little brother. I hate that memory, that picture. One continent running over another, if even for a brief span. It wasn’t my best moment.

I’ve really never have liked playing competitive games — except when I win. The stress of proving oneself is unpleasant. I prefer games of chance. There’s no losing, just a variety of outcomes we can’t control. I have been competitive in my jobs, and I often ended up in the top level position, English Department chair, lead pastor because I wanted to be there, in part to control things, to avoid repeating the past in which I lost face or ego strength, to control the wrestling matches, and in part — and this is the positive face of power— to create a field-leveling egalitarianism, an intentional democratization that empowered others. In these efforts I transcended, perhaps for a bit, the sibling rivalry of my youth — maybe.

Life is sometimes in our control, often not.

The great collisions of Oceana, their attendant volcanoes and earthquakes, the uplift they caused, the erosion that followed created the continents we now ride on. We benefited; we in no way controlled it.

The amazing Himalayas were formed when India rushed north and crashed into Asia. The lengthy and precipitous Andes were created when South America collided with the Pacific plate.

I think of my own early years. Born in Long Beach California, raised in rural Missouri, I moved in my late teens to San Diego. The Midwest and West Coast ate like separate continents. I have lived in California through career, marriage, family and now retirement. In the Baptist church we attended in Missouri my parents were denied membership because they were baptized Presbyterian and would no submit to being rebaptized. The denominations — a continental smashup. That left a mark on me. I have never been a denominational fanboy.

In one church I helped lead I came into a competitive relationship with another leader that ended in me leaving. I witnessed the hidden and yet volcanic force of competition and jealousy. The other leader and I wrestled in the family floor to win the love of the congregation. I find that reality now sickening — human but ignoble. I left broken into continental pieces, again hating competition, especially with men.

But the next church I served in put me back together, and there I became the master at showing love to everyone, sharing power and avoiding ugly competitive power struggles. Together, carefully, with much mutual respect, we — myself and some people very different from me — totally renewed the place. I was greatly loved there, and I made sure that so were many others. We became a relational continent.

Sometimes after great damage and difficulty come great progress and accomplishment.

None of this is unique to me. We all come from cataclysmic events that dramatically change us. We ride our morphing continents toward transformation. We see this everywhere. Africa is now sliding north and will one day erase the Mediterranean Sea and crash into Europe. Amazing!

I am retired now and I like Africa am migrated north, to a colder, harsher clime and I smash up against time, aging and the chilling power of illness. I am experiencing uplift, I hope, but a the very least I am morphing again by means of collision, heat and fire.

Our world is in motion. It always has been. We run into one thing. We bounce off another. Then we are different.

Someone told me recently of a childhood trauma that has shaped their entire life, an harmful event surrounded by a family code of silence. It was a harm and a harm that needed a help and a talk, openness, acknowledgement, attention, love, healing. That didn’t happen. I hate that kind of damaging inattention. It’s like subduction, when one continental plate dives under another, and someone is hidden, and someone else is lifted up.

Here’s the thing. To go back and look honestly and clear eyed at what has happened to us is to finally begin to understand our core desires and our intrinsic and extrinsic motives, to see ourselves for who we really were, to see what went awry and what went well and to see how it changed us, perhaps for better, perhaps for worse. We live on sea beds that may become a mountaintops.

My current illness and it’s debilitating effects is keeping me home, dependent, less active. For a person who had spent his whole life justifying his existence by doing, writing, speaking, leading, building, investing this new reality is painful. I can see what I have been, a doing, and now I am becoming, through pressure, pain and fire — a being. I am learning to love myself nonactive, to live in the moment, to stop pressing so much, to let go of achievement as a way to gain value in others eyes. It’s hard.

One the most ancient continents is Oceana, formerly Australia in the seven continent model. Oceania is our modern, knowledgeable way of designating what we now know as a wider geographical sense of the Australian continent, one which includes Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. In fact Oceana is really a continent archipelago and includes the islands of Australia, New Guinea, Tasmania, Seram and more than 25,000 of islands throughout the South Pacific Ocean. Much of its mass is under water.

Again, it is the same with us. We are more connected to others that we know. We are each holons, a whole and a part, and as a part we are defined by the whole. I am a individual and I exist as part of a society. I am an island that is also a continent. The people in my life have made me more of who I am than the choices that I have made.

To live is to live in tension between an individual and a collective. I am free to be me, to chose an identity, one different than I had as a child or different than the one I was given by conflict, and yet bound by musical strings strung to you I am always plural. I am always a chord. I can delocalize. I am not one geographical note or simple song. I am not a simple melody line. I am a symphony. How should I manage, us?

Ancient crystals called Zircons, have been found in Australia and are among the oldest existing matter on earth. They are are the earth’s first historical record. They reveal that as early as 4 billion years ago the continents were formed out of the glowing magna that covered the earth.

The same with us. We too have ancient magna at our core and ancient crystals, personality Zircons and soul diamonds are extruded from us.

Consider the formation of diamonds. Diamonds formed deep in the earth by pressure and heat are brought to the surface from the mantle in a rare type of magma called kimberlite and erupted in a rare type of volcanic vent called a diatreme or diamond pipe.

Ah, how fascinating! This is so applicable to us. The heat and pressure of life shape the soul, and cataclysmic events in our lives may create diamond pipes which funnel the best in us, what is intrinsic to us, to the surface.

We each contain jewel as a part of our own stories. Every experience we have been through remains with us, informs our choices, Has a potential to create beauty

I ask myself, what is intrinsic within me, what did God put there, what are the diamonds? And I ask what are the diamonds formed in you? And I see that these often don’t appear until we have gone through the fire.

Three billion years ago when these Zircons and diamonds were formed, our earth looked very different. The sky was orange, the sea green, the new landscape fiery red and volcanic. A strange, strange world preceded us, but it created the beauty we see today, our sculpted, snowy peaks, our great plains, our blue skies, our green earth.

For me and you it is the same. The colors of our lives have also changed from when we were born and when we were young. Perhaps the color of jealousy has changed to compassion. Perhaps the reds of competition have changed to the greens that empowers others.

So I ask this: what are the colors of the modern world and what lovelies and beauties formed in fire might we add to the modern palate?

I encouraged a friend this week to paint again. She has been on hold. Perhaps if the previous restraints of fear and competition were removed, if the previous control of others was removed, she could in a kind of mental angiogenesis — much like in the formation of new blood vessels — pipe diamonds to us all.

I think that I myself might yet add love to the world, by preferring others, resourcing others, putting others first, by moving from competition with others to empowerment of others. And just possibly I might bring a handful of word-gems to the surface. Perhaps the pain, the fire and pressure in me may yet create my own pipe to the surface, a diamond pipe that might carry ancient, glowing symphonic beauties to a few of the creatures that makeup my current relational continent.

Last week, we hung art in our new REFINERY Church and Center For Enriching Relationships Counseling Center.

It was the end of a process.

First we prepared the walls — dusting, wiping, sanding, re-texturing, applying primer. Next, we installed new French doors in every room, black wood with gorgeous etched glass squares. Then, in went the floors — unifying, lightening, pulling the rooms together from below with a warm, clean, modern look. After that, we went after the application of wall color — a beautiful warm grey, perfectly matching the flooring — then a second coat, then touching up, installing white baseboards, caulking the baseboards, more touching up.

After all that, we choose the art. That was a wild boar hunt and more — a hunt for color, content, matting, framing, cost, size, style, feel. It had dead ends, stone walls, frustrating web searches, super-vetoes from our passionate decor team members.  Too small, too cliched, too expensive, too cheap, too orange, too realistic, too abstract — too not just the right blue.

We finally bought some gorgeous stuff, just the right colors and lines and splashes of creativity for a place dedicated to healing.

Then there was the measuring-of-the-wall, the establishing-of-an-attractive-hang-point —  not to low, not to high, midway between to lateral points. Borrow a hammer-drill, buy a masonry bit  — the walls are solid concrete! — drill a hole, drill deeper, put in an insert, pull it out, drill again, insert, screw in the screw, adjust the screw, adjust again.

Hang the picture off one side while holding the other side up, put a level on top, mark a second hole, drill, insert, screw, hang, check with the level, right on  — “Ah!”


It was all work, it was all plan; it took more steps and more time than expected; it wasn’t exciting; it was! This will be sacred, healing space.

Wow, that art, on that wall, it’s subtle, just the right feel, medicinal, except for that one on that wall — that one just pops with curative warmth!

Fitting, restorative, salutary, soothing, perfect. “I love it!”  I knew we would get to this point, this end-of-the-line, this excitification, exultifaction, soothosity, satismongering.

Life — it is a series of steps.  Life is a process, life is preparing, finding, drilling, hanging, finishing. Life is pushing through, pounding through, so we can get to solid, to good, to admiration, to satisfaction, to gratitude, to beauty. God himself knows that, and he himself took steps, many steps, to get to beautiful earth, to very good, to just right, for us.

Sometimes we want instant. Instant money, instant status, instant skill, instant comfort, instant art, instant food, instant healing. We want to take step one — and be there.

Not so, not reality, not how things work, not how the good life gets hung. Everyone healed from psyche wounds in the new counseling center will themselves engage in a process, will heal over time, will heal step-by-step.

Do this.

Do this to thrive.

Take the first, second, fifth and tenths steps that you need to take toward the exultant good surging within you. Step, and step again over the crumbling sea wall of your own immediophila, your single-stepiditude, your skulking sloth.

Resistance to hard work —  and to process, and to steps — has for too long been restraining the swelling passion for healing, and for beauty surging within us all.

Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.”

Ecc. 4:6

I sat in the backyard today listening to the waterfall, watching the green summer leaves fall out of my Ficus tree, pondering the white waterlilies in my pond and  reveling in quietness. It took some time, to get quiet. I had to wait, and let the wind come to me, and it eventually did, off the ocean, San Diegoesque, the way I like it.

Thus and so I slothified, lazificated and specifically and intentionally settlified on a handful of quietness. Later I made up some fresh food, sat out back again, and firmly and resolutely decided not to sort the bills or paint the wall in the family room — both on the docket for someday.

Better a handful of quietness on a holiday at home than the hard-driving, high-output, hyper-accomplishification of my everyday life.  Sure, I love that too, my — work — but rest, home, garden, reflection, “Ahh, so very good. ”

I think of my artists, the ones I love, my beauty makers, Pizzaro, Monet, Chagall, Pollock.

Pizzaro estblishished a family home outside of Paris in Pontoise and later in Louveciennes, both inspired many of his paintings including scenes of village life, along with rivers, woods, and people at work.

Monet had Giverny, his lily pond and garden, and you know what came of that amplitude of quietness. Visit the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

Marc Chagall had his Vitebsk in Russia, and it remained for life his little Jewish town, steeped in floating donkeys and flying Rabbi’s and levitating angels.

Jackson Pollock had his wood-frame house in East Hampton on the south shore of Long Island. For Jackson, that wasn’t enough. He tried, I’ll give him that but quietness wasn’t to be his.  Home may heal some insanity; it doesn’t heal it all.

A handful of quietness is a choice, to heal and to recover and to chew a bit too.  It’s better than chasing wind —  thus sayeth the seer — better than chasing accounts and awards and titles and fame, and if we chose it, if we stop doing and spend more time being, dawdling in patio chairs, lollygagging on lawns, lazing in poolside lounges then we just might, out of reverie, live more wisely — and also, eventually get up and go out and paint something wonderful.

I stood in the Georges Pompidou in Paris today, fifth floor, modern art exhibition.

Loved it!

Matisse, Picasso, Duchamp, Kandinsky, Kupka, Warhol, Pollock — all there and much more, lurking in the galleries, going nonrepresentational on me, splattered, shattered and re-mattered.

As I looked them over and through, I thought about how modern art has re-imaged our world. It has lifted our mental bed covers, peeped us beneath the surface of our lives and looked us into the strange, improvisatory forms and shapes of things sleeping in our psyches.

The exhibition in the Pompidou is so different from what is in the Louvre where we find the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the raft of the Medusa, the winged bulls.

As I stroll-gawked through the Pompidou exhibit, I thought about how modern art, over time, grew increasingly abstract — and increasingly inclusive. It was the impressionists who started this.

Monet begat Picasso.

With modern art, art became form, and everything became art.

Subjects became increasingly unrecognizable. Form and content merged and became colored lines, circles, curves, arrows, triangles, boxes, parallels, randoms.

Modern art threw reality in our faces — geometricized, essentialized, energized.

I love it, well some of it.

I’ve heard some people don’t

An elitist explanation for this would be that they simply don’t understand it.

I don’t think so. I think we all understand it all too well, and this is actually what disturbs us and either drives us away from it our pulls us into it.

Reality, stopped down to it’s essentials, frightens us, stuff like atoms, electrons, lines, dots, emotions, instincts, body parts, chaos, non-rational reality, the stuff that dreams are made of, the stuff that we are made of.

Modern art hasn’t made a life of it’s own; it is our life, and is unnerving, too real, too ugly, too beautiful and so we turn away from it, just as we do from reality.

Consider Kandinsky. His paintings are life untethered, parts and pieces, horizontals and verticals, color contrasts, essential spiritualities, floating through the flotsam and jetsam of sentience.

Perhaps a Kandinsky is more like a Venus de Milo than we suspect. Modern art is life — with the arms knocked off.

I’m for embracing it, all of it — what flies and what floats, what is rational, what is not, what is recognizable and also what lurks just below that but is that.

To appreciate modern art, any art, one must come out of denial and into acceptance.

It’s that simple.

It’s about you; it’s about accepting youself.


I’ve seen it in the rainforest north of Juneau, where the fluffy moss puffs up like thick cat fur on the rotting logs, growing toward the sun, and I’ve seen it in Sequoia where the dark, thick redwoods just keep flinging their massive trunks upward. I love how the great ancient forests all leap upwards.

A raft of our greatest artists noted this — Van Gogh, Burchfield, Carr, Chagall.

In my office, a Van Gogh — one of his Olive trees — churns, surges and tendrils up above my desk. Likewise, the Northern symbolist Charles Burchfield paid attention to such movement with his cathedral forests, where all the branches and leaves coil and curl skyward in church-window like arches — the energy of up, the vibrating sky, as in  September Wind and Rain. Chagall took this tack too, and his donkeys, his angels, his lovers all leave the ground to float and drift in the sky, or wherever, as in Over the Town or I and The Village

Emily Carr, the Canadian arboreal savant saw it too. I like how with Emily her sacred trees are all rushing upward, for instance her Among the Firs and Sombreness Sunlight.

Carr respects the trees; her’s twirl and whorl and shout and shoot to the sky. She graces them with dark rich blues and greens — yellows and oranges and whites peaking through them — black trunk and limb pushing heavenward through fire.

I love how Emily’s paint, her broad brush strokes move up, the sweeping branches, the upsweeping skies, except for this — those gorgeous lateral slashes of paint and wind rushing through her trees. Burchfield did this too in Oncoming Spring.

This is the motion of life. Life is heliotropic — with the occasional slash —  it is ascendant, for me it is praise.