Saturday, October 8, 2011

Gallery Show 2011

The Gallery Show this year was on September 1st, 2011. The night started in the Village, unveiling the finished sculpture. Then we traveled downtown to the Ward Theater to see all the other art on display. Click here to see the pictures from that night!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Glimpses of the sculpture

Here is a look at how the sculpture that Steve Prince created has been coming together as we've been painting it the past few weeks.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Gallery Show 2011! It's almost here!

The 3rd Annual Village Art Project Gallery Show!

Thursday, Sept. 1st, 6:30-8:30pm

We'll be meeting at the Mount Pleasant Mobile Home Village garden for the official unveiling of Steve Prince's completed sculpture "Good News," and then travelling to the Ward Theater in downtown Mount Pleasant at 7pm for the official Gallery event. Transportation will be provided from the MPMHV to the Ward for those who need it!

If you love art, love kids, need inspiration, need a good idea for a date, or are simply looking for a good reason to get out of the house, this event is for YOU!

This event is FREE and open to the public.  Light refreshments will be provided.

Come join us as we celebrate a summer full of creativity and community.  You won't leave the same!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Final Week: CREATE Community and Masks

We added one last art project to our schedule for the summer so that we could review what we had learned this summer about great communities, and to finish painting the masks that will be added to a sculpture designed by Steve Prince! To see the photos of the night, click HERE.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why Steve Prince week was so good...

After a whirlwind week of art and kids and community it's too easy for me to let my mind move to "the next thing" without deeply reflecting on the good that we've experienced together.  The gospels demonstrate over and over and over that God's Kingdom (the center and heart of Jesus' mission and message) is something that is easily overlooked.  It doesn't look like we thought it would, it doesn't accomplish what we assumed it might, it includes folks we had every good reason to write off as outsiders to its joyful, hopeful experience, and it shows up in small, cramped spaces we don't normally give the benefit of a second glance.

So I benefit from taking the time to consider where I might have seen signs of God's coming reign this week (and make no's coming and it's already here).

1.  I saw it in the joyful, regular presence of two girls that haven't been able to come on Thursday evenings.
2.  It was there in the fact that a group of incredibly diverse individuals were finding commonality and participating together in a way that began to minimize and deconstruct the boundaries that our "first impressions" so often erect...and doing that by creating beautiful things together.
3.  I saw it in the way a group of mostly-white folks, young and old, sat, listened and learned in respectful, appreciative awe of a black man because he was absolutely worth respecting (and this in a town where maybe 2% of the folks that teach anything are people of color).
4. I saw the kingdom in a diverse group of guys enduring with grace and love a very long, uncomfortable situation (full of drunken revelry and even loudly yelled racial epithets) to cheer on a struggling younger brother in a cage fight...something he'd been looking forward to like a kid at Christmas.
5.  It was there in the reality (no doubt hidden to some) that relatively wealthy, well-educated folks were coming to a trailer park to learn about beauty and creativity and the awe-inspiring love of Jesus.
6.  I saw it in the gracious willingness of brothers and sisters to stay home with kids, and watch the kids of others, so that other brothers and sisters could participate more fully in the weeks events.
7.  It was there in the way many adults from the neighborhood were courageous enough to come out and do art with us this week and (hopefully) felt welcomed, encouraged, and accepted as they were.
8.  It was there, and continues to be there, in the conviction of many of us that the ground we "consecrated" this week was holy before we set foot on it, because God has, in James words, chosen the poor to be rich in faith and heirs of his Kingdom.  We who live outside the Village are, in the way of Jesus, the indebted ones.  We are the learners.  We are the ones, as much as anyone else, being rescued by the work we're all doing there together.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Love and great thankfulness to you all in Jesus, the vagabond king.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Steve Prince Week! Day 1-Faces

Today was our first day with Steve Prince (! We did plaster casts of our faces as our first project. They will be used as part of a larger project that is still a surprise! The kids have to keep coming back and doing the projects to figure out each piece to the puzzle. Here and here are some pictures of the day.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Week 7 - Including "E"veryone

I went to Sam's Club a couple weeks ago with a friend to get some more flooring for our basement. When we arrived there were but a handful of people shopping. As we met the greeter she informed us that technically we can't purchase anything until 10 a.m. (and that she shouldn't even really let us in, but it was 9:45), because it was exclusive shopping time for "business plus" members. I couldn't believe the absurdity! Here we were coming to spend money at their store and not only that, but my friend had a membership! It just wasn't the "right membership" for the time of day I guess. It's such a small example of feeling excluded, but it did make me feel kind of bad - like I wasn't good enough to be shopping there at that time.  These kinds of experiences on a grander scale cause people to not reach out, to not attempt relationships, and to feel rejected .  The kingdom of heaven is about inclusion.  May we be about the kingdom of heaven.

This past week at the Village we talked with the kids about the final letter in the C.R.E.A.T.E. acronym. As the title says it stands for including "E"veryone. It sounds so simple and obvious a concept, but excluding others creeps into our daily lives in big ways and small, whether we conciously do it or not. Including everyone is a way to live, not just one aspect of life. Rob introduced the theme for the night by selecting 6 boys to sit around our community table. "What do you notice about this group?" he asked the kids. Jocelyn immediately raised her hand, "They're all boys," she said. Exactly! So the kids role-played a scenario where Jocelyn asked if she could sit down at the table with them and they told her no because she was a girl (even though Daniel's immediate response was ,"yes," until Rob told him he had to say "no." :) Seems juvenile right? Boys vs. girls, but gender inequality still pervades our churches and our societies worldwide, as does racial inequality, economic inequality, etc. The role-play ended with a diverse group sitting around the table: young and old, dark-skinned and fair-skinned, short hair and long hair, boys and girls, and various economic levels. It was a most appealing and most beautiful picture, and the group I wanted most to be a part of.

The projects for the night consisted of reductive monoprints (not as mysterious as it sounds) and simple sketching. For the reductive monoprints the kids each got their own piece of acrylic with yellow ink on it. They used cotton balls and q-tips to wipe off the ink in various shapes and squiggles, and then pressed their paper on top of the ink to make a print. They did this two more times with red and blue ink, but used the same paper. The results were multi-layered prints that were surprising and beautiful. The idea behind this project was that when we collaborate with people who are different than we are and combine our resources, energies, and ideas, we end up with something much more exciting and dynamic than if we only lived and worked in groups of people who are all the same and all think alike. For the second project of the night we divided into groups and went throughout the neighborhood with each group looking for one object to draw. Once the kids agreed upon an object, they sat down around it so that each person could draw if from a different angle. Every person saw the object differently, but the whole picture could only be seen when all of their perspectives were put together. Get the picture? :)

So let us not forget this day what the kingdom of heaven is about: including everyone, especially the excluded. The ones who live on the margins of society, the ones we tend to forget about, the ones we don't think to concern ourselves with until or unless it becomes personal. Let us go to the poor, the aging, the dying, the sick, the disabled, the orphans, the widows, the foreigners, the suffering, and tell them the good news! They haven't been forgotten! The the "kingdom of heaven is at hand" and to them it has been given! Let us examine our lives for the ways we live that exclude others, or maybe just simply don't include others - I take this to heart as much as I'm asking you to. Thanks for reading!


Saturday, August 6, 2011

An alternative vision: including Everyone

I've never been good at drawing.  Actually, it’s kind of comical how bad I am at it.  I draw about as well as an intoxicated hippopotamus with one of those really tiny #2 pencils that don’t have erasers and that are made exclusively for fill-in-the-bubble surveys and putt-putt golf score sheets.  And even then, my drawing displayed next to the Hippo’s would still earn me the label of “impressionist.”  I have this hypothesis that when I was a kid some adult must have taught me how to be bad at drawing as some kind of cruel joke.  I just can’t believe I could learn to be this bad all on my own.  This is precisely why I’m so glad drawing well isn’t a requisite to being part of the VAP community.  I’m not excluded because I can’t draw.  That would be ridiculous.  But the thing is: people have long excluded one another for reasons no less arbitrary.  And the Church is certainly not innocent.

Basic sociology tells us that simply by being a Church-goer we’re more likely to be anti-gay, racist and sexist.  And I guess that makes sense.  When we proof-text the snot out of the Bible we can make it say just about whatever we want.  It’s amazing what poorly contextualized exegesis can do.  But the story, when read as a canonical whole, seems surprisingly clear.  It was always the plan that through Israel the whole world would be blessed – would be brought into the covenant for the explicit purpose of making a “new covenant” including everyone.  It is in this new covenant and the ushering in of the kingdom that all things are being made new.  It is in the abolishment of division that we see God’s people being made into the image of Jesus.  It is by the church living as a community in which barriers of race, class, gender, and so forth are completely irrelevant to community inclusion that we live in an eschatological now.  A new way of being human is established as principalities and powers are informed in no uncertain terms that their time is up.  The walls have been torn down and smashed to pieces.  It is here that we share in the victory of Jesus and experience the kingdom as the people of God.

Of course, nobody ever taught me to draw poorly.  Nobody needed to because I can draw poorly all by myself.  The problem is nobody ever taught me differently.  In the same kind of way, our society (including the Christendom oriented Church), by not teaching us otherwise, teaches us to exclude others.  Division and separation is "just the way things are" and we end up being okay with it.  It will take a new vision, the provision of a different kind of story to subvert and destroy the old.

This new story was provided to a bunch of kids in a trailer park on Thursday for the VAP theme including Everyone. As an all boy group gathered together a girl approached and asked for a seat at the table.  “No,” they said, “This is for boys only.”  The girl misses out.  She is excluded from the community for a reason as arbitrary as not being able to draw well.  But the point of emphasis is that the boys miss out just as much.  They miss out because the girl has something to offer that is just as important and matters just as much as what the boys bring to the table.  Then, by way of continuing the illustration, a new group of people were established around the table.  A diversity of gender, age, skin color and class were represented.  This message is absolutely beautiful!  But it isn’t beautiful for beauty sake – it's beautiful because it's a glimpse of God’s plan for the future that we're invited to make real in our time.  

Jesus is the climax of the story.  He announced that the long awaited kingdom has arrived.  He celebrated it with all who would join him – sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and the like - welcoming them to table fellowship and telling them their sins are forgiven.  May we do likewise and create this kind of community – embracing values of the kingdom.  May we see commonly accepted boundaries and divisions for what they are, and may we have eyes to see an alternative vision.

The kids in the Mt. Pleasant Mobile Home Village get it.  Do we?

Watch and listen:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Week 6 - Time

I apologize for the tardiness of this week's VAP update.  As you may know, we took a camping trip with 24 of the VAP kids to PJ Hoffmaster State Park.  We had a fantastic TIME together.  In fact we have a fantastic time together every Thursday evening when we gather to create art.  During those times, we do much more than create art however, we are also creating community - building relationships with one another - becoming friends.  Without the gift of time, none of what we do would be possible.  Time involves commitment, time involves sacrifice, but time together is so life-giving that the sacrifice it involves becomes obsolete.  It's easy to get carried away with our busy day-to-day lives, and forget that time is what we have especially when we think we don't have any.  Aaron introduced the theme for the night by showing the kids an apple seed and an apple and a flower seed and a flower.  The idea being that it takes time to grow into something fruitful and something beautiful.  Individually and together.  And it's not always easy!

Once again this week we focused on one project for the night - collages.  These weren't just any collages though, they were collages done on old panel board, and had to represent growth.  The kids were instructed to use the bottom half of the panel board to display the roots of a plant, and the top half to display the plant, flower, tree, etc. they wanted to create.  They used fabrics, patterned paper, tissue paper, string, buttons, newspapers, magazines, and other materials and mod-podged the materials to the panel board.  Kids were spelling out words like "hard" and phrases like "takes time" to represent their understanding of what time is and does for relationships.  Maya's collage showed an orange tree in three different stages of growth.  Mary's collage was one big apple tree.  Mikel's collage was of a city with a small plant budding in the midst of all of the buildings.  Their art really showed their understanding of how it takes time to build a community.  I hope many of you will be able to make it to the gallery show in a couple of weeks to meet these artists and let them explain some of their art to you!

Now I know it's not easy to make time in our lives to be together.  Again, that involves sacrifice and commitment.  But when we value people, when we value eachother, the way Jesus valued people when he walked on earth, we grow just like the flowers and the trees.  We learn that it's ok to be inefficient, that life is messy, that just because relationships are hard it doesn't mean they're bad.  And if we persevere, we end up with something beautiful, something that offers a little bit of  relief from the rest of life the way a tree offers shade to the wearied traveler.  Let us take the gift of time and use it the way Jesus did - to love other people.  Love to each of you in the name of our humble Savior who always has time for us.

Christie (I forgot to sign out of Aaron's account :) )


Monday, August 1, 2011

Community takes TIME

This past week our theme was Time and how it takes time to develop strong and lasting communities. To see more pictures of the night, click here.

Grand Rapids/Camping Trip!

Our annual trip for the VAP was this past weekend. We traveled to downtown Grand Rapids, MI to visit Heartside Gallery, an art studio that invites everyone, especially the homeless, to express themselves through many forms of art. The art is then displayed and sold to benefit the artists. The kids were able to tour Heartside Minisitries and create some of their own art! Then we drove to PJ Hoffmaster State Park where we enjoyed beautiful Lake Michigan and spent the night camping. To see more pictures of the trip, click here.

A few pictures from the VAP trip to Grand Rapids

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Week 5 - Action

3 - 2 - 1 - ACTION!  Yes, action was the theme of this week's art project.  Whatever community we find ourselves a part of, we need to also find ourselves taking action - doing good - together.  Families, friends, roommates, neighbors, colleagues - bonds between people become strengthened when we work together for good.  Doing so allows us the opportunity to discover purpose, meaning, and the good in others and ourselves.  Taking action doesn't necessarily mean saving the world, rest assured that is in Jesus' hands , but we have the opportunity to join Him in the work of manifesting His kingdom here on earth.  What does that mean?  What does that look like?  You and your community have the freedom to decide the answers to those questions, but examining Jesus' life and the scriptures can get you thinking in the right direction - big ways and small!

This week the Village Art Project community worked together to pick up trash around the neighborhood.  Before we began "operation clean-up", the younger kids made cards for everyone to hand-out to our neighbors as we picked up trash.  One of the benefits of doing good together, especially picking up litter, is that it's actually fun!  The kids and adults enjoyed cleaning up the neighborhood.  One of the mom's I know well laughed as we picked up some things around her home and exclaimed, "I've tried to get my boys to do that many times before!"  (Well, mom, now you know how to get them to do it - just have them do it with friends!)  Cleaning up our neighborhoods is just one small way for a community to take action, and it benefits both the earth and the residents.  I've gotten ahead of myself though because that was the second part of our evening.  The first part of the night (while the younger kids painted cards) the older kids painted using "action" art.  The canvases of choice were two old wooden doors.  The paintbrushes of choice were raquetballs and tennis balls.  The kids each got a partner and one ball.  They took turns dipping/rolling the balls in paint and then rolled them across the first door, back and forth, to their partners.  It looked like a masterpiece by the end!  The second door was painted a little bit differently and the scene was a little more, shall we say, out of control :)  Once they dipped their ball in paint, they bounced the ball on the door - sometimes soft, sometimes hard - can you picture it?  As we wound up that project they all circled the door and on the count of three, simultaneously threw all of the balls at the door.  Let's just say some of the kids ended up with a bit of paint in their hair!

Now some of you may have noticed that picking up trash isn't exactly art (although we did arrange the bags at the end into a trash "sculpture" of a heart representing love for our communities).  We decided to lighten up the night a bit because of the heat wave that passed through last week, and that included a waterballoon fight.  Although we all love art, and we definitely did some, art in 98 degree weather with 80% humidity can be a bit challenging to focus on!  It was a fun night as usual, the kids didn't seem to mind the weather, and they loved the art and water balloons.  Let us all take some time this week to think about the different communities we're a part of, and consider doing some good together.  It's inside of each of us because it's inside of Jesus.  Let it out!


Friday, July 22, 2011

Action: Doing Good Together

This week our theme was ACTION! Check out the pictures here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Getting Real

Emotion Square in Progress
Courtesy Brooke Brown, 2011
Yesterday at Village Art Project, we talked about Empathy. What it looks like to really connect emotionally with other person with an experience of theirs, both good and bad. We started the time painting emotion squares. Basically, this involved the kids choosing an emotion (ex: love, anger, hopeful, ignored) that they possibly identified with and express it through painting on one half of a canvas. The other half of the canvas was reserved for their partner to paint on. Their objective was to copy the original painting with the exact colors and design. So both were challenged to pay attention to the details of their partner's painting so to "empathize" with them.

The kids ( and me) were then pushed out of their comfort zones a bit in the next project that required them to interview someone living in the park. Everyone, even us adults, got a chance to share our stories (one of the happiest moments in our life and something that we might have lost that caused us sadness). Like the kids, this in a way was a stretching/growing moment for me.

Week 4 - Empathy

Courageous. Content. Overwhelmed. Happy. Peaceful. Frustrated. How are you feeling today? More than that, who's the person you know you can go to when you're feeling however you're feeling and you know they'll totally get how you're feeling? Yesterday was the fourth week of the Village Art Project, and we focused on the first "E" of our C.R.E.A.T.E. Community theme - Empathy! Now I know it's easy to mix up sympathy and empathy, but after last night I'm sure that any of the kids there would be able to tell you for sure what empathy is (even if they could not tell you what sympathy is :P). Empathy is a vital part of community because it is at this point that we are able to experience deep connection with one another. When you get me and I get you - when you know how I feel because you've been there and you know how that situation made you feel so you can identify with me. Empathy is about learning to see life through another person's eyes; trying to understand what it's like to walk in another person's shoes. At the heart of empathy is opening up our minds and hearts, listening carefully to another person express their feelings, and validating that person by trying to understand how they feel. There isn't one person in this world who does not need empathy. When we let down our guards, let go of judgments, and step into another person's world, we learn a great deal about them as well as about ourselves. Empathy is so valuable to community because when we begin to learn about the ups and downs of someone's life, we are able to see them just like we see ourselves - as human! To see that there's more to them than meets the eye and maybe, just maybe, there's a reason that person that we dislike so much acts the way they do and maybe, just maybe, they need a little bit of love and a friend rather than judgment and rejection.
Thursday began with a lot of music - homemade, original music - as the kids played drums and other instruments brought in from CMU by our friend Mike List. Mike led the drum circle and kids and volunteers pounded on drums and played cowbells and other instruments that I don't even know the names of. There might have even been a little bit of dancing :) After the drum circle, the kids paired up and painted on one half of a divided canvas. The idea was to think about one specific feeling that you identify with often or that has been significant throughout your life and paint it using mostly colors and shapes. After that, the kids traded canvases with their partners who then had to try to enter in to what emotion their partner's painted and replicate their partner's painting on the other side of the canvas. We had an uneven number of kids so I ended up being partners with Skye, and let me tell you this was way harder than it sounded when Rob first explained it! The kids really did a spectacular job though! They really tried to focus on the detail in each other's paintings and to do justice to their partner's original work. At snack time some of the kids shared their art with the rest of the group. The feelings ranged from pain reflected with a darkened heart to feeling ignored and also loved. Check out the pictures to see some of the artwork!
The second half of the night we split up into groups of 4-5 and went to various houses throughout the Village to interview some of the residents about one of the happiest times in their lives and also one of the most disappointing times in their lives. With tape recorders in hand the kids and adults gathered on front porches and at kitchen tables to share their stories with each other and to practice empathy. In my group we only got through the "happiest" stories, but it was a valuable time for me and I'm pretty sure for the kids as well. We focused on listening so well to one another that we were able to repeat the other person's story and understand how they were feeling. I didn't realize there were so many different kinds of happy, but the stories reflected a "relieved" sense of happy, a "just being with friends" sense of happy, a "having fun" happy, a "never thought this would ever happen" sort of happy, and a "fulfilled" sense of happy. Afterwards, the kids took a portrait shot of the person(s) they interviewed, and then took turns taking a picture of each other in the same pose as the person they interviewed, so they actually got to sit or stand in someone else's life for a moment.
It was a beautiful, joyful night focused on empathy and as always the kids were amazing! May the God who understands us give us the willingness and the ability to enter into the lives of those we love and those we have a hard time loving, into the joy and into the pain. Thanks for reading!


This week's theme was "Empathy" and how seeking to understand each other can help CREATE COMMUNITY!
Check out the photos here!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Collage Monoprints

Week 3 of the Village Art Project was about Respect and how it is essential for building community. Our project was trying to communicate the importance of Respect through the art of collage monoprinting. The kids first planned out their pieces by sketching on pads of paper. Then they selected different types of textured paper, leaves, cut outs and items, arranging them on a piece of glass. Each item had to be coated with ink before going through a press. They also had to write a description of their piece and how it related to Respect. The kids worked hard and were very patient through the whole process! And the monoprints came out great. To see them click here.

A special thanks to the folks at Akua Waterbased Inks for the consistent help in selecting the right tools for the project! (

Friday, July 8, 2011

Even attempts are respectable.

In thriving communities, RESPECT for each individual's uniqueness is essential. Tonight, we talked about this theme, the R of our acronym C.R.E.A.T.E. Kids created mono-print collages, putting cut-out scrap paper together to form an image on a plexi-glass surface. In each image, kids were instructed to create something that represented the idea of RESPECT. I had to laugh because in almost every image displaying RESPECT, a sun could be seen shining. :)

After cutting the scrap pieces of paper, kids waited SO PATIENTLY (and I am serious when I say that) to have their plexi-glass background coated in black ink, and every scrap cut-out coated with another ink color of their choosing. The plexi-glass surface acted as a plate, and paper was gently placed on top and then put through a hand-driven press. You will have to look at pictures of each print, 'cause I am really failing at finding the right words to describe the awesomeness that was produced. And I like to describe things.

It seems whenever we discuss the theme RESPECT, I think of one of my parents. This week, I brought my mom to the Village.

My mom ... doesn't like art. She never really has. As we talked on Tuesday night over making dinner, she told me the horror stories of her failed art projects in grade school. "My 1st grade teacher once yelled at me for not cutting straight," she tells me, and I laugh. "Seriously?" Her face is solemn. "Yes she did, Jessie. I was 6 ... Did she really expect straight lines?" she ponders aloud. Mom also tells me of the clay figure of a mouse she tried to make in the 7th grade. "It didn't look like a mouse at all," she says, and then smiles, "so I told everyone I tried to make a made-up animal no one had ever heard of." She says this and I can't help but imagine Napoleon's "Liger," from Napoleon Dynamite ... her mouse turning out to be some three-legged, winged creation with one eye and tail.

Growing up, however, her lack of artistic talent never stopped her from supporting mine. Well, at least I like to think I had (and have) some artistic talent. I remember when photography became my obsession in high school. One day, out of the blue, she came home with a photo album. She had seen it in a catalog (you know, one of those fundraiser ones that kids tote to their parent's job, hoping to sell enough stuff to earn points for some really cool prize, like a t-shirt) and bought it, just for me. It was, for lack of a better word, ugly. It was covered in big, gaudy-looking orange flowers, and only held 5x7's, but it is probably one of the best gifts I have ever received. I hadn't even realized she noticed I liked to take pictures.

So tonight, for her to come, despite her knowledge of any kind of printmaking, and help with the Village Art Project, meant a lot. She knows how much it means to me to be there and I couldn't help but respect her willingness to try, just because she loves me.

Now if only she would stop trying to marry me off ...

Love in the King Jesus,

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Week 1 - C.R.E.A.T.E. Community

"Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared." This quote is from a book I've been reading lately, and I appreciate the author's recognition of how good art is for our souls. Not only is art good for the soul, but community is as well! Combine those two and what have you got? A blessed, soulful experience that can bring joy and healing. You've also got the Village Art Project! This past week we kicked off the summer by introducing this year's theme. Drum roll please...C.R.E.A.T.E. Community. If you followed us last year you'll notice this is a recycled theme. There are various reasons for that, but one reason is to really help the kids grasp the concepts we talked about last year. The acronym goes like this: C - celebrate, R - respect, E - empathy, A - action, T - time, E - including "e"veryone. These are important aspects of creating community and the kids remembered them all!
One of the best and most simple ways to create community is by sharing good food and conversation around a table. If you wondered why there's a picture of a table and chairs on the blog, that's why - it's a strong symbol of community. The older kids (7-15) took their turn painting the furniture first, while the younger kids (6 and under) painted self-portraits. We gathered under large canopy tents to stay dry from the soggy weather, divided the kids into smaller groups and assigned them a chair. One group, my group, got to paint the table. As we started I was instantly reminded of how good it is to create something beautiful together. All of the furniture turned out different. All of it a collaboration of ideas and an expression of individuals at the same time. Swirls, mixed colors, straight lines, crooked lines, circles, rainbows, brush strokes this way and that - beautiful! The younger kids took their turn next and painted the final two chairs - again, beautiful! Each week we will paint one letter of the acronym on one chair. When we are finished, the table and chairs will remain as a beautiful reminder of what community can be when we work together for good.
The second project that the older kids did was a non-figurative, watercolor self-portrait on paper attached to a wire frame. They created it all (with just a little help on the frames) by themselves. Some of the pictures are posted for you to see. They were asked to use colors, lines, and shapes to create a painting representing who they are. Without hesitation, they jumped right in! Dallas's self-portrait included small orange dots to represent his love of basketball - if you know Dallas, you know he loves basketball! Skye went with a splatter paint type of portrait that was as amazing as she is. Many of the kids used vibrant colors to represent their "hyper" selves. I'm sure they are hyper at times, but during this week's event they were focused, excited, and creative! When the portraits are dry, we will hook them all together at the corner of the frames in order to demonstrate the idea that community is made up of many different individuals.
It was a chilly, soggy evening and the rain didn't seem to mind that we had art to do, but plenty of kids of all ages showed up to participate. It was so good to be together again. This is the third year of the VAP and it has been a privilege to watch the kids grow up a little bit and to be a part of their stories as much as they have become a part of ours. It was especially fun to have those who "graduated" from the 6 and unders join the older kids. We are looking forward to what God has in store for us and them as individuals and as a community this summer! Now off you go - create something beautiful today!
In the name of the Risen King,

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Calling All (Kid) Artists!

The Village Art Project is starting Thursday, June 23rd!
For kids 3-15 years
Thursday nights, 6:30-8:30pm
We're meeting at Lot 92

There will be snacks and prizes, and also many chances to create amazing things and have fun!
If you have questions, please email:  rob at thenewgrace dot org

Monday, May 23, 2011

A different kind of Story for a different kind of King(dom)

Stories have a way of making us who we are.  The stories we live by influencing how we view ourselves, the world, and where we decide to place our allegiance.  Input is constantly taking place; we’re constantly receiving messages, competing stories, seeking to shape who we are and what we think about.

Let us introduce, for example, 8-year-old Suzie.  Suzie has white skin and so do her parents, and she lives on a particular side of town where she doesn’t really see anyone with dark skin.  Suzie’s parents don’t really monitor what she watches on TV, and she spends a lot of time watching Cops.  She can’t help but notice that most of the people getting chased down and arrested have dark skin.  One day, Suzie asks her parents why she doesn’t ever see anybody with dark skin in “real life,” and why the people getting tackled by police officers on Cops so often have dark skin.  Suzie’s parents reply to her inquiry with, “That’s just the way things are.”  A narrative is established as part of Suzie’s worldview, it goes something like this:  “People with dark skin don’t live by people with white skin because my family has white skin and people with dark skin don’t live around here.  And people with dark skin do bad things, because people with dark skin are always getting arrested on Cops.”  We could reproduce examples of narrative development like this with anything from mental health status, physical abilities and limitations, sexual orientation, economic status, gender, age, anything.  This happens all the time.  Stories, or narratives, intermingle and entwine, most often without us even realizing it, and produce in us a lens through which we see the world and our place in it

It takes a different story, a more powerful story, a story full of emotion and meaning, to subvert, shift, and otherwise destroy the allegiance given to a previous story.  When Suzie turns 12-years-old she meets Ann.  Suzie knows though, that she can’t be around Ann, because Ann has dark skin, and Suzie knows about people with dark skin.  Nonetheless, Suzie is intrigued because Ann is beautiful and wonderful, kind and full of joy and so much fun to be around…….something is happening here.  Suzie finds herself wanting to be Ann’s friend, but she hesitates because she still has this pesky narrative telling her Ann is not good.  Suzie meets Ann’s parents and thinks this could be her chance to find a reason not to be Ann’s friend.  Ann is, of course, probably just an exception.  But then, Ann’s parents are beautiful and wonderful, kind and full of joy and so much fun to be around…….how confusing, and yet, how right.  This narrative about people with dark skin becomes a thing of the past, subverted and destroyed by a relational narrative; a different more powerful story, full of emotion and meaning.  One story comes to an end and another, more appropriate story, a story born of actual experience, becomes the story that establishes a new worldview.  People with white skin and people with dark skin should live together, how wonderful that would be.  And now the only explanation left for Cops is that it’s a crap show that gives structural inequalities and racism a subtle stage, rather than it being a projection of reality (ever seen a CEO that stole a bunch of money arrested on Cops).  Because of this new story, Suzie begins to see the world differently. 

I wonder sometimes if the bible is intended to be read this way.  What would happen if we abandoned proof-texting and read the bible like a story?  A different kind of story, a meta-narrative for the whole world about what God has been doing and is still doing today.  What if there was a way to write ourselves into this story?  What would that look like?

The story of God revealed in the biblical narrative beckons us to re-imagine what it means to be the people of God.  The story is and has always been the same.  It is our place in the story that can sometimes be hard to understand.  Throughout the course of human history we’ve been attracted to empire values of power, prestige, a need to rule over and be better than others.  From the very beginning of our story a brother destroys brother and men degrade women taking them as they please, like objects.  God’s people even went as far as to reject God as their king, asking instead for a human king to “fight our battles for us” so they could “be like all the other nations.”  Even during the pinnacle of Israel’s history, with Solomon as king, we see the values of empire.  He amassed a standing army, oppressed his neighbors and his own people to build a temple, stored up innumerable amounts of wealth, and took many women as his wives.  All the while the cry of the prophets echoed in the background: 

“For if you would only amend your ways, if you truly practice justice between a person and their neighbor, if you do not oppress the orphan, the widow and the stranger, and do not shed innocent blood,” and “Your fasts, sitting in sackcloth and ashes, is this not the fast which I choose?  To loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your home, when you see the naked cover him, and not to ignore the plight of your brothers and sisters?” 

We try and tell ourselves today that we’re different.  And yet, the subtlety of exclusionary and oppressive societal practice does little but mask the same empire values that are alive and well today.  We can acknowledge it or delude ourselves by conveniently looking the other way.  We too, need a different story.  We too, need a different kind of kingdom with a different kind of king in whom to place our allegiance.  This is a story Jesus tells us about His kingdom:  

"What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches."  And again he said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?  It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." 

When Jesus tells this story, like all stories, the hearers are invited to partake, to take upon themselves, the identity of the characters.  The hearers are required to identify with first century peasant life in order to understand the kingdom.  Where are the images associated with royalty and kingdom-making?  Where’s the gold and silver?  Where’s the crown and thrown?  Already we’re seeing a different story.  This kingdom is not like the Roman Empire ruling during Jesus day.  And it isn’t like the heyday of the nation of Israel during the reign of Solomon.  Understanding this kingdom requires entrance into the life of a common man, planting seeds small and hidden under the ground, emerging slowly and gently.  It requires entrance into the life of a servant woman making bread, the yeast hidden away in the dough; pervasive, and unstoppable now that it’s already present.

This is what the Story of God does.  It subverts and stories of the world, the stories of empire, and lays before its hearers the claim that the new kingdom has been inaugurated and is breaking into this present age.  When we live in anticipation of God’s kingdom, as if it were already fully and completely here, we insert ourselves into the Story.  For me, and I dare say for us, this is part of what the Village Art Project has been about.  It has been about exposing and seeing the difference between empire values and kingdom values, and then making the choice to live according to the values of the kingdom as much as we know how.  We’re still learning.  But I think we’re seeing that as we do this, as we’re faithful to the Story and committed to living it together, we start to become part of the very Story we’re learning about.  I leave you with the words of Jesus as he begins his ministry.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

One of the things we can glean from this story is his refusal to recognize socially determined boundaries between people; people considered of low status shall no longer be subject to exclusion based on ridiculous canons of status-making.

I am looking forward to this summer.  I am looking forward to learning more about the Story – more about what it means to be the people of God together.  And more about what it means to give allegiance to Jesus.  May the Story of God continue to subvert and overthrow the other stories we find ourselves living by (even if it makes us super weird). Love,


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Really Beautiful

Spring is in the air...and in my friend's flooded basement...and in the obscenely aromatic lilies sitting on my coffee table...and in the Mount Pleasant Mobile Home Village.  The return of growth and growing things, of torrential rains and flowers that reek like a middle school boy experimenting with cologne reminds me that life is messy.  It is good and it is messy.

In fact life, real life, is utterly uncontrollable.  Only dead things are completely predictable.  Only dead things can be precisely managed in such a way that all outcomes are assured ahead of time.  Life is risky.  It is dangerous.  It is a mixture of good and bad, easy and hard and just plain boring.  And that is precisely what makes it beautiful.

This is something I know with my head but that I struggle to know truly in my heart.  I, along with the rest of the human race, am bent on control, on the extinction of risk, on the gradual homogenization of all things.  And so we create things like Disney's "Animal Kingdom"...designed to look, feel and smell just like a variety of wondrous, exotic locales--minus any possible way of dying or being injured (unless you choke on your $10 serving of Frozen-Space-Age-Ice-Cream-Pellets, of course).

Want to know something that's weird about places like that?  Places where we've totally managed all risk and ugliness and difficulty out of the environment?  Pictures taken there aren't as beautiful.  Something inside us knows--just knows--it's not real.  Yes, there are real lions and gazelles and kookaburras.  But I will never in good conscience be able to hang any of the "nature shots" I took at the Animal Kingdom on my wall.  Not because the pictures aren't well composed, but because (I mean this mysteriously and seriously) they're not truly beautiful.

They're not beautiful like the pictures that are on my wall. David, the pastor from a secret church in Laos, simply sitting in a chair by himself, but obviously deeply concerned about friends he's just learned are missing.  My friend Liz and another friend Skye sitting on a stoop at the Village in the sun sharing a peaceful smile.  A shot from the side of a Thai mountain looking down on a massive tangle of wooden huts and jungle canopy...taken from inside the heavily guarded fence.  Granted, most of these photographs aren't as exciting or exotic as the shots I took at Disney featuring gigantic gorillas and spider monkey's swinging on the "lost ruins of a South American jungle civiliation", but they are infinitely more beautiful. Their beauty comes from the fact that they're real...really real.  In each one, if I look close enough, I can see hope.  But I can also see fear.  In each one there is a story of rescue, and in each one another story of pain and loss.  The good and the bad, the easy and the hard, the realities of life in a fallen world are exactly what make these pictures worth hanging on my wall.

I think that Christians get off track when they start to believe that God wants them to fix the world's problems.  Now hear me out...I am as firm a believer as anyone that followers of Jesus ought to be acting in the world to undo injustice, to help the helpless, to bring hope to the hopeless, and to do all of this through practical, hands-on activity.  That's a non-negotiable.  What I'm getting at is the "fix-it" mentality that leads, however gradually, to anger and bitterness and isolation from things (and people) that will not "be fixed".  Taken too far, it seems like this perspective on "mission" leads us to put "results" before relationships, to value some people more than others because they are more "compliant", to legitimize a hyper-mobility that rips us from real rootedness and from opportunities to let God's word and work seep down to the places of our deepest motivations.

When's the last time you read the book of Revelation?  (Reading the Left Behind series definitely doesn't count!)  I think this kind of perspective on mission--this "fix it" mentality--would be unrecognizable as a Christian attitude to the author of this much-misunderstood biblical book.  For one, the folks he was writing to were so despised (and likely, so generally poor) that any thought of "transforming the world" would have been utterly unrealistic for them.  What is the message of John to these scattered folks whose lives are wracked with pain and uncertainty and loss and dishonor?  Maybe it's best to spell out first what it is not.  It is NOT a message to get busy fixing the broken, immoral, unjust Roman empire.  Conversely, it is NOT a message about self-defense and self-protection.  What it IS is a message about endurance in identity.  Keep being the faithful, peculiar people of Jesus!  It will not keep you safe, and it will not "fix" the world.  But it is what is most necessary, because it is what is most real.  Jesus is the Savior.  Jesus is the Protector.  Jesus is the vindicator of the mistreated.  Jesus is the gardener tending the Tree of Life whose leaves bring healing to the nations.  The surprising message of Revelation is that what God wants most is a people who are truly and wholly His...He's got the rest of it under control.

That's what, at its core, the Village Art Project is about.  It's not really about art.  It's not really about "fixing a neighborhood".  It is about being a certain kind of people...together.  The kind of people who look and smell and talk and think and befriend and spend and pray and act and see like Jesus.  And for all its brokenness, the Mount Pleasant Mobile Home Village helps us down that path.  If we realign our views of what God wants from us, we realize that this TRULY is a mutual experience.  If we will be patient and open and prayerful, we will all be changed.

But we will all--always--be alive.  And that means risk.  That means pain.  That means laughter and surprise.  It means really good days, and really, really bad days.  But the pictures that result hang on my walls...and on the walls of heaven.

Because they are truly beautiful.

Love to you in Jesus, and with growing anticipation for a truly beautiful summer,