It was such a pleasure to collaborate with pastor Jeff Gardner this morning and paint as a member of the worship team at Threshold Church. Jeff’s message carried us through the story of an ancient Jewish betrothal: a noble Son of a loving Father chosen to marry a blemished and broken women under the dominion of a wicked father. In mockery of the Son’s request for his daughter’s hand, over the betrothal "cup of covenant”, the cruel father demands a dowry of the Son’s life- and to the surprise of all, the Son and his Father consent. On the appointed day, the Son lays down his life, yet beyond hope, he rises again from the dead. Following the custom, the Son leaves to prepare a place for His bride- now radiant in all of her beautiful new identity, free of her father’s wicked oppression, and preparing herself to be pure and spotless at her husband’s return.
I had the amazing privilege of painting during the city-wide gathering of pastors, NGO’s, business, and political leaders at Movement Day 2019 on March 16. For eight hours I was set up in the wings of a room with 1000 leaders, over 150 churches represented, acting as a visual scribe to document what the Lord was speaking to us collectively as a united Body of believers around the cause of seeing God’s Kingdom realized here in our city.
The video below is a summary of the major imagery of the painting. Even this Sunday, I was startled as a brother in Christ, Sanchez, read meaning from the painting that was crystal clear to him and unknown to me even as I painted it, so I will tread lightly, knowing and inviting the Spirit of God to speak to you uniquely and freshly through the image. I am not the sole interpreter, or perhaps even the primary one, of my own work. I will however share some of the amazing stories that unfolded during the painting, and the prayers I was stewarding and visualizing as I painted. (By the way, Sanchez saw the “Red Line” going horizontally through the city and said that he had come from a “red-lined” community in the low income sections of Charlotte, written off by government and schools, and how God’s seeds of growth seem to be flourishing MORE outside the uptown distractions of wealth and prestige. Another brother Larry saw the red line as the ribbon of Christ’s presence through time and history, weaving through the loom of history and our city. Wow!)
As some highlights from the video description:
Dandelions: A metaphor revealed in prayer that God has created “spiritually radioactive soil”, and that seeds would grow supernaturally through entire life cycles in an instant to multiply and bear 100 fold fruit. In a moment, God can do what would take 1000 years of human effort.
The cloud of Starlings: Murmuration is the term given to the amazing dance of giant flocks of starlings as they seem to float like mercury fluidly together through the sky. Without a leader or program, they are able to stay coordinated be being attuned to the 7 or 8 immediately surrounding neighbors, shifting in milliseconds to the actions of others. The Lord is calling us in the city, not to a massive program, but to actually love and respond to our real neighbors, the people next door, those we live in and among, and will release major Kingdom movement through our faithful, simple obedience to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The Charlotte and Dubai Skylines: The first global movement day in Dubai finished hours before our second Charlotte gathering, tying us to brothers and sisters around the world… financial capitals of diverse regions. While this is our prayer for God’s movement over the city of Charlotte, we recognize that we are part of a much bigger tapestry of God’s global activity.
The rebuilt Jericho Road: The Good Samaritan cared for a man abused along the Jericho road, but in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: there comes a time when it’s not enough to continue to help the repeatedly abused victims of an intrinsically broken system, but to rebuild the road with justice and truth.
The Loom: a major metaphor “weaving” the imagery of murmuration, seeds, the Jericho road, and the people of society together was the loom. God is at work weaving a much bigger story together. I particularly love that the hands are from one figure, but clearly bi-racial.
The man in the three piece suit: This came from an intercessor at the conference collaborating with me, and came to represent the spiritual authority of “white privilege” that has darkened our city’s history. Here, in the movement of murmuration, this “monopoly man” of elitist privilege and systematic entitlement is disintegrating. Those building the new Jericho Road are dismantling his golden structure and remaking it into a pathway of justice and equality. Faintly, to the careful eye, a second figure formed largely in the starlings can be seen kneeling down through the standing man, representing that it is in laying down our privilege, our grip on power and wealth, a mindset of lack and competition for limited resources… a death to self, that will ultimately dismantle this stronghold and make way for God’s Kingdom to thrive.
As always, the real medium I paint with is relationship. I so enjoyed meeting and fellowshipping with so many incredible people throughout the day, as the painting was a catalyst for rich discussion.
This morning, St. Patrick’s day, 3/17/2019… I was invited to do a live painting at Threshold Church. This was a surprise gift for a visitor and church planter Jon Gibson and family, friends of our pastor Jeff Gardner, as they found “The Branch” church in Ashland VA. I had planned to paint John 15 (the Vine and the branches), and the text of the day in our series was Matthew 13 (including the parable of the mustard seed). Pastor Jeff and I met that morning wrestling over which passage to use (he’s is so docile to the Lord’s leading that he was willing to switch sermon passages moments before the service began!) Then I shared, “strangely enough, as I was driving in this morning and praying for this painting, I had a vision of raising a sail up into the wind of an eternal night sky full of stars. I felt that it was about learning to pray in the Spirit… that God is already at work praying, groaning, in perfect harmony with his will for us (Romans 8), and our role in prayer is really to simply raise the sail and catch what he is doing. Perhaps that is for our church, or for today…. I’m up for whatever.” Then we looked again at the first verse of Matthew 13, where it tells that Jesus got into a boat to preach all these parables- I guess ALL of this morning is connected to the boat.
The work came together very quickly during worship, within about 40 minutes, and featured a windy sky over the waters with silver background, a hand holding a fleck of 23 ct. gold mustard seed/ yeast/ seed that fell on the fertile soil, and the boat with Jesus in the bow, Jon raising the sail, his wife at the helm, and their three children between them. The way the Holy Spirit wove together our worship, painting, sermon, Jon’s address, and the surprise presentation of the gift was nothing short of miraculous. Needless to say, everyone present was amazed to witness how lovingly coordinated the morning unfolded with the Spirit’s leading… it couldn’t have been planned, so in our humble praise we simply stepped back and said: “That just happened!”.
To speak of this painting is to tell the story of my dear brother in the Lord Tim (and his journey to meet and marry Phanuelle). Tim and I began working as teachers at Trinity Pawling School the same year together in 2010. Tim had been brought up in a strong spiritual heritage of Christ and had deep roots, but 4 years of Hamilton College had stretch and torn him, and he was earnestly seeking to become the man God had called him to become. It was a pleasure to walk beside him for the next 7 years as we started a Thursday morning Bible study at Dunkin Donuts, visited Haiti twice together, and prayed over one another as we ministered to our colleagues and students at the school day by day. Tim was “in the trenches” as he lived on campus, working 70+ hours a week, and his desire to become a husband and father seemed far out of reach. I watched my brother refined and healed by the Lord over these years, and it was a privilege to walk beside him through the ups and downs of self discovery, longing, heartache, and hope.
Our final year together at Trinity-Pawling in 2016 began with both of us knowing we would leave, Tim to Wellspring Church in NH and me to what I would come to discover was to be Charlotte, NC. We met even more regularly to build one another up as we knew our regular time together was drawing to a close, and the Lord deepened our bond as brothers and the sweetness of our fellowship as its time was limited. We prayed earnestly that God would fulfill Tim’s longing for a wife and family in the future, and during one of our final gatherings, I had a vision of the Lord holding up a veil, hiding behind it a stunning bride for Tim, and the Father beaming at him from His vantage as if to say “This is going to be SO wonderful Tim - just you wait!”. I caught a glimpse of the bride at the very end, her back turned to me and looking over her shoulder. The above image of “Lausanne Pillar 2” was based on that revelation, the “Bride” as the Bride of Christ- the Global/eternal Church, holding the light of the gospel which is going out into all the world. Little did I know that the specifics of this image would play out in Tim shortly thereafter meeting Phanuelle, his soon-to-be Haitian bride.
I was honored to be commissioned by Tim and Phanuelle to craft an image of blessing for them as a couple to tell God’s story of their partnership, and we prayerfully designed a new hybrid of my practices to include a combination of commission studio painting ahead of time mixed with live painting during the wedding weekend. In the above photo, you see the work as it was prepared before my journey north with my wife Kirsten for the wedding. Here I am in my groomsman’s tuxedo painting (that’s a first) prophetic images given during the rehearsal dinner: Phanuelle as a bird in her freedom and as a wellspring of life for Tim. Later, when we went to the reception and multiple fountains surrounded us in the ponds next to our venue, I could feel the Spirit winking at us.
Scripture compares the global Church to a Bride and Christ like the perfect Groom eagerly awaiting marriage. In the last few hours leading up to the Tim and Phanuelle’s marriage, emotions reached fever pitch (as all of us who have experienced this can remember- brides and grooms can seldom sleep the night before). It felt like a waking dream to be with Tim in the final moments before the wedding ceremony after so many years of prayer and longing, and I posed Tim as though he were lifting his bride’s veil, and painted him into the image during our final moments of the wait.
The ceremony was magical… and during the reading of an original poem, it struck me that the marriage of these two people was metaphorically embodying the reconciliation of races, the healing of America’s broken history of racism, and a parallel of Christ returning for his perfected Bride. In tribute to so many African Americans who were denied the right to legally marry until 1967, the newly married couple “jumped the stick” and leapt over a broomstick to proclaim their allegiance and solidarity to those in their heritage who had fought to make this day possible. With Phanuelle’s calling to go into law and public service, this was especially poignant. I took a twig from the broom, and embedded it onto the service of the painting under the feet of the couple, painting the broom into the final painting.
During the reception I had Tim and Phanuelle pose to complete Tim raising her veil. Between photos, drinks, conversations, and festivities, I snuck away to the patio to paint in the broom and Phanuelle as the Bride having her veil lifted… a tribute to the original revelation I had praying for Tim at Trinity Pawling- the image of Lausanne Pillar 2. As my gift that afternoon, I gave a print of Lausanne Pillar 2 to the couple. The day ended with me having the incredible privilege to conclude the speeches with a meditation on and description of the painting. As I brought the attendants through the painting, I was able, layer by layer, to tell the miraculous story of God’s goodness to this new couple, to awaken us to the prophetic elements we were experience in real time of God’s interaction with us through the wedding ceremony, and of the future hopes and desires for their life. This was a moment of sheer joy, as I am most fully alive when my creativity allows me to synthesize how this particular moment fits into God’s Metanarrative (eternity past to eternity future of God’s Story), and I knew it was the story Tim and Phanuelle most wanted to share that day. What a thrill to be a conduit of that story! What a joy to know that this will hang in their home as a permanent monument to God’s goodness; a catalyst of conversation and retelling of their story!
For those interested, here are a few more of the elements we chose to include in the painting as part of their story:
Tim has Mt. Washington of NH behind him, his New England heritage.
Phanuelle has a image of storm tossed Haitian palm trees behind her, the Caribbean queen that she is. These specific trees came from a painting I did live with Tim in watercolor while he and I sat on a roof watching an approaching rain storm in Port Au Prince, Haiti during our summer trip in 2016; a painting he owns and is already hanging in his home.
There are scenes from a construction zone in tribute to Tim’s proposal to Phanuelle in a construction zone where he pulled the car over to obey a prompt by the Holy Spirit that “Now” is the time and place to propose. Radical obedience as well as a wonderful symbol that the couple feels like their lives are wonderfully in flux and “under construction”.
Blueprints- as the Lord is architect of their life together and that their three central principles of “Love, Serve, and Give” be built into everything they do. The blueprints culminate in a castle- the coming Kingdom, and a reference to Tim’s great love: Tolkien and the white citadel of Gondor!
The Bird of Phanuelle’s free spirit and the well, a metaphor given by her father’s blessing during the rehearsal dinner.
The couple have their arms spread wide for their expansive and growing “Family”, and in red you can just make out silhouettes of the LARGE wedding party/ friends/ family members… “Family” of their wide arms of love.
I am so proud of the investment my students made this year in their patriotic artwork in response to the prompt ‘honor above all’. Their work was profound, personal, beautiful, and honoring to those who serve our country. See their images in the link below.
I am in the process of renovating a portion of our two story garage into a lofted studio, a long-time dream of mine to have sufficient space to paint on a large scale. Mako Fujimura had admonished me to work large and find ample space back in 2009, so this is truly delayed gratification. My next goal is to begin the first large scale series since my 12 Haiti doors, an in depth visual meditation on “Mental Health” based on modern and ancient Psalms; a theme dear to my heart as I near my 20th anniversary of Bi-Polar.
I must say as well that I am now set up and working on commissions in the new space, unfinished as it is, so if you have a vision I can visualize for you, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
Through this special sale of prints I have in overstock, I am hoping to help fund the material costs of the renovations, as my children, friends, and I take on the work. Some are familiar prints now at 30%+ off, and some are brand new prints that are available for the first time. Thank you for your support of my artistic ministry and this strategic investment in the growth of what I do.
It’s been a week of weddings! From Saturday to Saturday, I presented three different gifts/commissions to three couples, driving with family from Charlotte, NC up to Hartford, CT the first weekend and then down near Atlanta, Georgia the following weekend (with a full work week teaching in between). Despite 2000 miles and 40 hours on the road, my kids never once asked “are we there yet”! God bless the inventors of car DVD players. It was such a joy to serve these families and patrons with my artistic gift. (I apologize for the poor color in these photographs… the lighting in the wedding events was limited).