Spiritual renewal in unlikely places

The tiled image was of a rooster and a turtle fighting it out, the rooster in frozen “near victory.” The entire basilica floor was tiled in mosaic – one inch pieces or less – that brought spiritual truths out of normal scenes of life. Baskets of bread and wine. Peacocks. A lamb with staff. Even a hippogriff (for you HP fans.)

Aquileia was one of the largest cities in Europe around 100 AD. Christianity had already begun to thrive in the international milieu of this port (it may have been Mark the Gospel-writer who first came to this city across the Adriatic from the Balkan peninsula.)

But it wasn’t until 313, and the Edict of Milan, that Christians could worship legally. Within five years, the first worship center and baptism room (yes, a full set of rooms for baptism) began. Along with what is now the largest modern example Christian mosaic art. It was art, but they mainly needed a floor that would stand up to the baptism waters (yes, they immersed), and the foot traffic of fishermen, Roman home owners, street peddlers, and senators.

My wife (Susan) and I visited Aquileia for an anniversary day trip. In this ancient church, we found beauty. I found renewal.

Christianity remained simple in this town – it was just a couple of centuries after the last Apostle died – and the truths of the Gospel found life in the symbols. God’s Kingdom is bounty – baskets of bread and wine. God is a lamb who cares for his children like little lambs.

Even the rooster (a metaphor for the dawn and light) gets the victory over the turtle (who always hid himself in darkness). In the Kingdom, light prevails but with the threat of darkness at the ready.

Near the altar, embedded in the floor are the Greek letters I-X-T-H-Y-S. The tiles declare Jesus-Christ-God’s-Son-Savior – and also introduce an extended theme of fishing, casting nets, enjoying the bounty of the sea (and a three-part scene of Jonah tossed to the sea monster, puked back onto the shore, and naked and unashamed in the care of his God).

It’s no wonder the largest scene is fishing – I’m certainly a fan – but, this city drew it’s physical existence from the gifts God gave them from the deep.

The symbolism is even more important for Christ-followers. There are fish needing to be caught. We are fishermen. And the Kingdom is the net. Simple. No grey areas here. It’s what Christians do because it’s what we are.

Within 100 years, the church was remodeled (though they kept the mosaics) and dedicated to the adoration of the Virgin Mary and the exultation of two saints (who gave their lives in for the Good News under Nero.) Those who would have chosen, if they could, to remain off-stage and point the praise the Jesus, became central. And it got complicated.

“God chose the foolish things in the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things in the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised thing – and things that are not – to nullify the things are are, so that no one may boast before Him.”

The less sophisticated, the better. And I found renewal and beauty when faith was simpler.

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Day One – Architect: Foundations, Spans, and Lanterns

Mark 1 – “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah…”

Of all the forms of art and kinds of artist, the one that gets to “play big” most often is the Architect. He may start with pen and charts (or CAD-CAM.) But, the medium of choice is often big…very Big! Space, acreage, height, square footage all call for a grand imagination and vision. No matter how large the vision is or how tall the building designed by the architect grows, one feature remains essential. The Foundation.

In 1418, the city of Florence, or more specific the guilds, commissioned through competition the design and building of what was to become the largest dome to ever top a basilica. The cathedral building itself had been rising slowly over more than a century at the site of a crumbling and much smaller 5th Century church. The foundation had been set 118 years previously.

Filippo Brunelleschi, a watchmaker and goldsmith, won the commission. He beat out a dozen other architect plans and set in motion the building of a structure that called for scaffolding, machines, and techniques never before invented.

No matter the project, the architect as artist works with the same basic elements: lines, angles, curves. Brunelleschi faced the enormous challenge of spanning 143 feet diameter with an octagonal dome that reached twenty-seven stories high.

But, building high wasn’t the problem; concrete walls can go higher. He needed to be able to go high and curve inward; the pressure straight down was complicated by the weight of 37,000 tons pushing outward.

He had to account for hoop stress. Like the pressure of two hands pushing an inflated balloon, each level he completed had to distribute the weight of the next level, or it would “balloon” outward. He needed all of the weight above to sit on a strong foundation.

Out of the Comfort Zone:

1 Try this for a fun application. Hand out decks of cards and have a competition to build the biggest “house of cards” using the most cards. Give awards for the tallest and the one with the most cards.

2 What have you built in your lifetime? What was the foundation like?

3. If you were to name one main thing in your personal or family life that needs a good foundation to support its weight, what would that be? What presses you in this area and causes “hoop stress?”

4. What kinds of elements make up your spiritual foundation? Is it deep? Is it deeper or wider? What reinforces it?

Keep building what no one else can – your extraordinary life of faith!

Day One: Painter – Unlimited Beauty, Unlimited Palette

Piero lived in the 1400’s  and spent nearly every day at a desk writing contracts and signing off on legal documents in an obscure village outside of the city of Florence. He would not even have made the history books except that, instead of retiring to his home after work,  he spent his nights with a peasant girl named Catarina. She gave birth to a baby that she and Piero named Leonardo. The village was called Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci was given a general education in math and science in his early years. But, Piero came into a fortunate position with the di Medici family and connected his son with the best training possible through mentoring. He became the apprentice of a goldsmith of fame called Verrochio (meaning “true eye,” necessary for a master artist.) Leonardo was mentored in the arts and sciences, as well as the broad sweep of techniques in sculpting, casting, and painting. He soon surpassed his teachers, and began creating new ways to span rivers, irrigate fields, and do battle. But is passion was painting.

Mark 2:13-14 records that, “Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. 14As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him.”

A businessman with plenty of means like Levi (called Matthew in most places) would be content, satisfied with his good fortune. But, Levi was wondering, searching, and waiting for what would fill his inner emptiness. We know this by what he did soon after meeting Jesus.

Read Mark 2:15-18 Why did Levi think having a party with Jesus mattered to his friends? What did he hope to accomplish? How do  you think Jesus responded to this type of party?

We likely didn’t get a personal verbal invite from Jesus of Nazareth like Levi did. But, like his friends who got the party invite from their tax-collector friend, he uses those who know him to introduce others to Jesus. If you are his follower, someone introduced you to Jesus. He speaks to each of us through the compassionate invitation of others.

Out of the Comfort Zone:

1. Consider your place at the party table. Who invited you? Send him/her a letter or email. Better yet, make a phone call. If that’s not possible, journal a letter you would want to write to him/her.

2. At church this Sunday, be intentional about bringing people to the party table. Look for a person, couple or family who needs a personal invite into your life in Christ. Ask them to lunch or schedule a time to meet, just for the benefit of “hang out time.”

3. Find a neighbor in your circle of people who needs a party. If it’s someone who needs your forgiveness, extend it. If it’s someone who is hurting or without something, provide it. Do something for someone that builds a bridge you can send a party invitation across.

Come and get me, come and get me…

I’m not sure it’s exactly a mathematical formula, but the closer we get to “old-ness” the deeper is our longing for eternity. Things that taste like heaven remind me that’s where I’m supposed to dine some day. Things that hint of eternity nudge me to think how unsatisfying it is “down here.” When God’s Kingdom flashes through the dark and touches me or someone I pray for, I’m drawn toward that brilliance, if just for a moment.

Susan and I watched “City Slicker 2” a few days ago. Setting aside all the vignettes for the stars (Lovitz’s impersonation of Rainman, Crystal’s conversation with the cow on the jogging path, etc.) the whole story is Billy Crystal’s consummate self-centeredness set against the total focus of Jack Palance’s character toward “getting Curly’s gold.” At one point, Palance’s hungry gaze looks over the wilderness and hears the gold calling, “come and get me.” It’s a frightening look he gives to the character: a man possessed by the big fever for gold.

I need an impassioned longing for real treasure! Not “Curly’s gold” but the stuff of heaven. And I need to accept that God passionately loves me. His love for me is totally full-time – no momentary flash of “I like Rick.” He loves me (and you, if you’ve chosen to believe how far He stretched to rescue you) with unrestrained passion.

Jesus was moving on in his mission with his followers, heading for death, looking toward the resurrection and the new way of relating to those He calls. He says to his loved ones on the week of his execution:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:1-3)

So, if you are troubled by the trouble? Trust that God has you life in the safe cup of his hand. If you feel the wonder when His eternity flashed into our time-consumed existence? He has a place beyond time that fits you perfectly – it’s under construction just like you are. Do you have a longing for knowing Him more intimately? Trust me: your longing to be with Him is only a smattering compared to His longing to have you with Him always. He longs to “come and get you (and me.)”

Eternally for Him

Rick

Me and Zumba

We (my wife, Susan, and I) joined a Zumba class last week. For those of you who have yet to be swept off your feet by the “rhythms of the conga beat,” Zumba is a dance-aerobics workout that forces non-dancers to move feet, hips and arms all together in a semblance of organized pattern. At least, that’s my take on it’s main purpose.

Yesterday’s instructor was a “fill-in” in many ways. She has been doing Zumba a long, long time, yet still could in many ways “shake her groove thang.” She promised us all a fun time.

She also promised, as soon as she saw me (the man in the class) that we would do a special song for the men (read: man, singular, though a couple of others rescued me before that special song.)

By now, we had danced to a latin “rock around the clock,” smoozed through a mysterious song about eyes, jumped around to the copa cabana, and jiggled our way through a Spanish song that talked about shaking our “huppa-bubba-bubba” or something like that.

Then she called me (and the two other victims) up to the front. It should be clarified here that we are really not in a Zumba class. Ours is called Zumba Gold… I think because the members are in their golden years, or perhaps because more of our body parts are  made of metal (though that should be called Zumba Titanium.)

Our instructor had us face the crowd of, what looked like eager grannies (surreal) who seemed to know what was coming our way (we were clueless.) The beat started – a latin-india influenced song… and we moved side to side waving our arms in syncopation first beside and then in front of us. Then it happened. The full force of women danced toward us waving their arms seductively at us, closer and closer (like a Busby Berkley moment.) The last move was a punctuation of three side hip thrusts (with much force.)

It was a brief song that seemed to last forever. Some had fun, I am sure. For me, it was memorable. I even took a bow at the end. After all, I even got my feet, my hips, and my arms to move in the right syncopation, at least once. I deserved the moment.

I just can’t get the sound of titanium squeaks out of my mind from that last move. (I will let you draw your own spiritual applications if you can from this one!)

Rhythmically yours,

On the Journey

Rick

Telling the Greatest Story Through Art

Can the Arts take a significant place in global missions through OM? Field and area leaders from Europe invested a day discovering how professional artists are effectively declaring the Gospel through the Arts on the mission field.

Leaders from Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Central Europe and the Ships took part in the OM Arts Forum in Mosbach, Germany on November 23, 2009. The participants explores how the Arts can be integral to the mission of reaching the world for Christ and how artists can be effective colleagues and team members at the OM field level.

OM Arts Director Bill Drake led the forum and defined the vision and growth plans for the newly formed OM Arts International.

Drake addressed how an OM field can embrace Arts Ministry as a part of the field’s direction, how to best communicate Arts in the field’s vision, and how the field can lead, care for, and release the professional artist to fulfill their missions calling.

Consultant and Arts in mission catalyst Colin Harbinson led the forum participants through a Bible study of Bezalel, the artist chosen and called to work with Moses to create the tent and elements of worship commissioned by God on Mount Sinai.

Harbinson reminded forum participants that Bezalel was called and filled with the Spirit for the work of creating art for God’s glory.

Artists who are called to missions can be released to create art with excellence in the context of the OM field. Harbinson encouraged the need for professional artists in missions and warned that “art done poorly communicates poorly.”

Quoting writer A.W. Tozer, Harbinson affirmed that, “Christians are obligated to excellence because God is supremely excellent.”

OM Arts will work with field leaders to identify artists who are ready to serve in missions and help the fields and the artists to prepare to establish unique arts teams.

A leadership training seminar for artists preparing for missions will take place in Rome, Italy in conjunction with Transform 2010 in July. For more information about the training seminar or about OM Arts, contact info@arts.om.org.