Category: Worship

The Strumbellas

Review of “Hope” by The Strumbellas [Six Shooter Records, 2016] As a middle-aged casual music listener I do not try to keep up with all the latest Canadian recordings. I recently added a few vintage Gordon Lightfoot and Guess Who records and I bought the latest releases from Blue Rodeo [1000 Arms] and the Great Lake Swimmers [A Forest of Arms]—What’s with the fixation on arms?—whom I discovered a few years ago. […]

Beauty (Part 2)

This Biblical motif of fruitful labor [see the previous post] shows the inherent longing of our hearts to be remembered, to do something which lasts, to create. We were, in fact, designed to mimic our Creator. My dad has speculated that two ways we are designed in God’s image are our abilities to “create and relate”. Humans unlike animals, are able to design computers and skyscrapers; and, unlike angels, they can marry.
Creating is Important.
Creating is important not only be God calls us to create, but because He Himself creates and delights in beauty (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Psalm 50:2; 96:6; Isaiah 28:5; 4:2). Dannah Gresh writes, “Beauty and fashion aren’t condemned by the Christian faith. On the contrary, beauty seems to be nearly synonymous with God’s glory....Beauty is one of God’s greatest expressions. I think it’s only fitting that we, created in His image, strive to express ourselves through beauty as well. So express it.” Margaret Clarkson calls this expressing our sexuality which God instilled in us (86).
To my practical mind, I don’t always prioritize the arts or value my inherent desire to create beauty. Decorating, painting, scrapbooking are trivial hobbies which get in the way of bills to pay, laundry to fold and even supposedly reading the Bible. I often find myself downplaying my creative pursuits to others, as if they’ll view it as wrong to write without huge audiences in mind or to enjoy my job enough to work during my summer vacation.
Often I assume that “work” can’t be beautiful, nor do I think that the arts can be spiritually successful. The truth is that everything we do should be worship; everything we do should mimic God’s beauty, glorify Him and produce fruit.
Ann Voskamp points out that God values artists: “Did you know that the first people that we know from Scripture to be filled with the Holy Spirit were not priests, not kings, not generals. The first two people to be filled with the Holy Spirit were — two artists, two craftsmen, two makers named Bezelel and Oholiab — who built Moses’ Tabernacle (Exodus 35:29-31)?”
Creating is Worship.
Creating is a natural response to beauty. Elaine Scarry in On Beauty and Being Just, argues that our two natural responses to beauty are gaping and imitating (1, 9). Beauty makes us long for more and to attempt to create our own beauty. The psalmist displays this response: “I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord and seeking Him in His temple” (27:4).
I've been amazed at how creating, working and seeking beauty have caused me to marvel at God, the Creator.
When I first started putting more energy into writing, I assumed it'd cause me to think about and describe God. I didn't realize that the very process would point me to Him.
Writing has caused me to study God’s creation (nature, stories and people) for analogies and His imprint and to rejoice that God is a storyteller and beauty creator.
Additionally, I've been dependent on God for inspiration, strength, direction and the right motivation. As Psalm 127 says my creative efforts are nonexistent without Him: “Unless the Lord builds a house, its builders labor over it in vain; unless the Lord watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain. In vain you get up early and stay up late, eating food earned by hard work: certainly He gives sleep to the one He loves.”
Isaiah 26 echoes this, saying in one verse “You [God] have also done all our work for us.” and Isaiah 49:4 states, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and futility; yet my vindication is with the Lord, and my reward is with my God.”
So when I seek to imitate God’s beauty, I find myself redirected back to Him. He is both the Vineyard Keeper and the Vine (John 15:1), the Giver and the Gift, the Painter and the Artwork.
Bibliography:
Clarkson, Margaret. So You’re Single! Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1978. Print.
Gresh, Dannah. Secret Keeper: The Delicate Power of Modesty. Chicago: Moody, 2002. Print.
Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Bible, 5th ed., Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2004. Print.
Voskamp, Ann. "What Is Success? Life in the Upside Down Kingdom." AnnVoskamp.com. N.p., 09 Nov. 2010. Web. 06 Nov. 2016. .
Creating Blogpost Series:
3. Femininity Expressed (This blog post, also titled "I Blame the Paint" will appear on 12/15/16.)

Taizé, Gratitude and Peace

Sirens and flashing lights interrupted the calm of my evening walk. A fire truck and two ambulances whizzed past me, too close for comfort. What is going on? Is there a fire or some other emergency in my neighborhood? My nerves were set on edge. They shattered my pensive mood and seemed to underscore a day of frustration and disillusionment. 
Facebook shouldn’t determine my mood, nor should I spend so much time following all the latest news on scandals and rebuttals currently afoot in our political scene. I thought I moved to Switzerland for a year to get away from all that commotion. Unlike the last year I spent here, where my only US news was through a 10-page printed newspaper, the Internet brings everything, both good and bad, right into my face. Trying to scroll through my news feed to only look at the pictures and engagement announcements only lasts so long. Avoidance is easier than carefully-planned moderation. 
I was on my way to a Taizé service at the local church when my reverie was interrupted by the sirens. Along the way there were also festivities taking place in local restaurants, with raucous laughter and revelry. As we approached the church, bells began to toll to announce the service to the surrounding villagers. A cacophony of sounds was echoing through my head as I entered the church. I had gone to still my soul, but my mind was racing far ahead. 
The altar centerpiece at our feet
Upon stepping into the church I was immediately confronted with a quiet dimness. Although it was already dark outside before entering the church, this dimness was different. The only light visible was street lights filtering through the stained glass window at the front of the church, and candle lights illuminating the altar. 
We gathered in a circle in complete silence, while the rest of the dozen or so people filtered in. On the floor in front of the semi-circle of worshipers was a circle formed by red and orange cloth. Inside the circle were two rows of tea candles which formed a cross. They formed the four cardinal points, fashioning a mandala symbol—a symbol of wholeness. 
We sang, “Jesus remember me, as you come into your kingdom.” Suddenly the day was put into perspective. Then the leader read a poem by German Detlef Kranzmann Ich bin dankbar für die Steuern (I am thankful for taxes). 
I am thankful: 
. . . for the taxes I pay, because they mean I have a job and an income. 
            . . . for the pants that are too tight, because it means I have enough to eat. 
. . . for the mess that I have to clean up after a party, because it means I’ve been surrounded by loving people. 
. . . for the grass that has to be mowed and the windows that have to be washed, because it means I have a place to call home. 
He continues on, listing seven more mundane and ordinary things that normally get us worked up, when in fact they should make us grateful for how blessed we are. 
We sang a few more contemplative songs and sat in silence for five minutes. The service ended with Moses’ benediction: “The Lord bless you and keep you. . . and give you peace.” 
I left the church a changed man. The hubbub of whatever was ricocheting through my head was stilled. I had been given peace. On the walk home we ran into a neighbor. We asked her what all the commotion was about with the fire engine and the ambulances. “It was only a drill,” she said. “They do this near the beginning of every month to be prepared for a real emergency.” More peace. My soul had caught up with the rest of me. 
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