Church Sketch 14

We have been attending St. Thomas Episcopal Church for a few weeks, and it has taken some time to adjust to a different preacher’s sermon style. Fr. John reads fairly quickly and doesn’t dwell on any point for long, so there’s not a lot of time to sketch note much; perhaps with more practice I can capture more and get a better feel for how long a typical sermon of his might be and what kinds of structural cues he may give. One of my choirmates found the idea of sketch noting intriguing and enjoyed seeing some other pages from my sketch book.

I missed a few days of the Colossians study last week, but caught up today.

Church Sketch 13

Quotations from two of the songs.

There’s going to be a parenting class based on this book. Looking at reviews, it sounds fairly innocuous, maybe even good overall, but hardly revolutionary. We both question a) whether twenty-somethings are the best gauge of good parenting, b) what bias is involved in defining and identifying spiritual “champions,” and c) how many families who practice the recommended things have children who are not spiritual “champions”?

The sermon was the final one (I think) in the series on choices. Todd Stillson preached. I appreciated his emphasis on the Bible — that any time we think we should take a stand on something, we need to be sure it’s rooted in truth and in abiding in God. It’s so easy — whatever the cause, however holy and righteous — to get caught up in activity and service and rhetoric and to forget God himself and our need to sit at his feet. The “I choose to take a seat” bit, with Mary at the feet of Jesus, is my addition.

I started a dancer doodle and it fit nicely with a line from one of the closing songs.

Church sketch 12

I had a dream last night that, among other things, included me saying “I want to be in a boat on the edge of rough water.” It was one of those things highly invested with feeling and meaning, even though the words don’t seem to say much on their own. It might have to do with trepidation mixed with yearning — on the edge is safer than IN the rough water. In the dream, though, I seem to remember that the rough water did NOT stay safely near the boat — I think the waves crashed in, and perhaps even swept the boat away or overwhelmed it entirely.

The song lyrics in the water are from the first song in the service — I think — “One thing remains” by Jesus Culture Music on their Come Away album.

The sermon was another in the series on choices. It was based on 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter that talks about love as the top priority. There’s a clanging cymbal there, with a drum beside it, and a high horse for all sorts of arrogance and jealousy and rudeness and the like. For our pastor, Scott, the message seemed to especially hinge on prioritizing family over work. I think for other folks it might be about other things — it makes me think, for example, of the Chick-Fil-A controversy, and the way we can get so caught up in a cause that we stop seeing — and loving — people.

A bit of humor — family IS important, but not at all mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13, nor in the two greatest commandments. We do well to remember that our neighbor can be a family member and not just the objects of our ministry people we desire to reach in our ministry.

Random cat doodle that started with a lidded eye. It is interesting to consider where “random” doodles come from — what sparks the various ideas that pop up, what influences which we choose to follow, what influences how a doodle progresses from its beginning.

The last song was “Behold our God” — which brought to mind these other two songs. One by a local band in the 80s called Saved By Grace: “Here we are — standing by the throne; it’s so good to see you, Jesus.” The other, from college InterVarsity meetings, “Behold, bless the Lord, ye servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord…” I was singing this one on my way home from picking green beans in the dark at our CSA farm Friday evening.

Church sketch 11

Today we attended the church we belonged to when we lived in Virginia. It was encouraging and refreshing.

I think one of the first songs mentioned trees…

The fellow commissioning a short term team encouraged them to interact with people as Jesus would — with eye contact and a smile. A little cheesy, maybe, if it’s put on — but a good reminder that Jesus really SEES people.

From one of my most favorite hymns, Jesus Lover of My Soul — different tune than I’d heard before — a nice one.

Mercy. How good it is to be bathed in God’s mercy — in songs like Thy Mercy O God.

The sermon was about the Holy Spirit. The text was a verse — Matthew, I think — where Jesus tells his followers that when he leaves, the Father will send another helper to them.

The word for helper is “paraclete,” and it includes the idea of a legal helper, an advocate or friend in court. Also, Amy’s been enjoying playing Star Wars stuff with her friend JT, and when the pastor talked about the Spirit showing us Christ, pointing us to Christ, I thought of that scene where R2D2 shows Leia’s message to Obi-Wan.

I liked this point about not seeking the gifts of the Spirit — the miraculous and wonderful powers he gives — above the fruit of the Spirit — the character qualities he produces in believers. Not that there’s anything wrong about his gifts… but that it’s easy to get caught up in show.

Lovely song, including the lines “All will be well,” and another “All is well” and again “All must be well,” because of God’s loving sovereignty.

Another of my favorite hymns, O Love that will not let me go. Envisioning God as stay-listening, staying with me, the little child caught up in big feelings, holding a safe space and warm connection.

Church sketch 10

Today I wasn’t really in the mood to sketch in church. As the sermon went on, though, an image coalesced around a few bits I was thinking about.

First of all, the shut door — was not in the mood to engage much with anyone about anything.

Second, the dad walking the baby around — a lovely older lady was asking the husbands in the congregation to do a little extra around the house so that the wives could be sure to go to a particular church event this week. Friends, dads are not babysitters — being involved with their kids is just plain part of being a dad. Or should be. Or, as Hand in Hand puts it, “fathers are primary parents.”

Third, the “Limitless” doormat — and the meat of my visceral response to a good sermon about forgiveness. There is really nothing I have to say against anything in the sermon — it was good. The problem was with something that was not really said — a hint at the end, but not enough. And I get that sermon time is limited — perhaps he’ll be able to address my concern in another sermon, or one of his emails to the church.

Here’s the problem. For certain kinds of folks, sermons about forgiveness sound like mandates to be doormats — limitless doormats. They hear “forgive seventy-seven times” as if it means the same thing as “let him hit you seventy-seven times” or “stay in that house despite the verbal abuse” or any number of other obligations to do nothing but forgive when others hurt them.

Yes, they hear the pastor say that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, and that they might still have emotions about the hurtful thing. Yes, they hear him say that forgiveness begins a process toward reconciliation, but does not constitute reconciliation itself. And they hear him say that forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences.

And yet… more is needed. They need to hear that the wrongs they have suffered are real wrongs and worth being upset about — worth months, years, of grieving and raging and bitterness and whatever else comes up from it.

And here is where I get in trouble, because some folks are going to think I want people to have permission to just wallow in it and feed their bitterness and resentment forever on end. The thing is, no one can define for anyone else where that line is, the line between healthy healing acceptance of and experience of and metabolism of feelings on the one hand, and unhealthy, morbid, festering, faithless clinging to and wringing out of feelings on the other hand. Maybe for one person, it really does take fifty years to faithfully work through a big hurt. Maybe for another person, they can metabolize an upsetting experience in three minutes. Maybe for one person, the emotional work of healing is loud and messy and dramatic and full of “I” and full of unpleasantness. Maybe for someone else, it is quiet and interior.

It’s tricky to define that line for yourself, too. You don’t come to emotional work neutral, unbiased, and objective anymore than you come to anything neutral, unbiased, and objective. You have a whole host of inborn and internalized ideas about what is healthy emotionally and what is permitted and all that. One thing I learned in therapy, though, is that it often gets worse before it gets better — just like having an incorrectly healed bone broken and reset feels a lot worse — but will result in better functioning and ease later.

They also need to hear about boundaries — to have fleshed out more how forgiveness does not mean no consequences. That no one need stay in an abusive marriage. That no one need bare their soul to anyone who is not safe to bare their soul to. That people can put a safe distance, physically or psychologically, in any relationship.

It’s another very tricky topic. In order to be available for real relationship, we have to be open to risk — everyone will hurt us. And yet… I really don’t think we’re called to absolute vulnerability to everyone all the time. The middle ground is for each individual, with God, to negotiate.

This drawing is dedicated to my friend Beautiful Dreamer.

Church sketch 9

This week I experimented more with just starting a doodle, and developing it according to something in the service if something came up that seemed to fit. One of the songs we sang in the beginning included the phrase “When we see you, we find strength to face the day”; the first part of the phrase reminded me of the beautiful essay “We would see Jesus” that I can’t find online right now — there’s understandably a lot of materials with the same title, coming from a passage in John 12.

Aha — it’s this one — the first chapter, I suppose. We read it as part of our training for a short term mission. Here’s a quotation:

Two emphases stand out today.

First of all, instead of stressing holiness in order to see God, the emphasis is on service for God. We have come to think of the Christian life as consisting in serving God as fully and as efficiently as we can. Techniques and methods, by which we hope to make God’s message known, have become the important thing. To carry out this service we need power, and so instead of a longing for God, our longing is for power to serve Him more effectively. So much has service become the centre of our thinking that very often a man’s rightness with God is judged by his success or otherwise in his Christian work.

Then there tends to be today an emphasis on the seeking of inner spiritual experiences. While so many Christians are content to live at a very low level, it is good that some do become concerned about their Christian lives, and it is right that they should. However, the concern arises not so much from a hunger for God, but from a longing to find an inner experience of happiness, joy, and power, and we find ourselves looking for “it,” rather than God Himself.

Both these ends fall utterly short of the great end that God has designed for man, that of glorifying Him and enjoying Him for ever. They fail to satisfy God’s heart and they fail to satisfy ours.

She doesn’t have any connection with any part of the service, and she shows my woeful lack of anatomical knowledge, but I like her anyway.

The sermon continued the series on choices. This one emphasized choosing the Bible as God’s Word. It was mostly the standard evangelical view — that any apparent contradictions can be reconciled, that the biblical authors agree in everything, that archaeological finds have only confirmed Bible stories, that in order to have a sufficiently high view of Scripture as the Word of God you can’t think any of it is mythological in genre, that it satisfies, gives power against temptation, convicts of sin, and changes our direction. One statement we especially appreciated was that we need to be mindful of context — verses in context of a whole book, books in context of the whole Bible, the Bible in context of culture and history.

I thought it was a little interesting to hear the phrase “as it really is” — for the speaker, that means “as the Word of God,” something decided ahead of time, a presupposition or premise or axiom — leaning on church tradition and past scholarly research and such. For me, “as it really is” is more and more meaning “the way it is as I read it, complete with troublesome bits of all kinds, and with as much recognition of my own biases and presuppositions and prior experience as I can manage,” and including a respectful questioning of church tradition and a wider reading of scholarly work.

Here’s two interesting articles I’ve read recently on the topic of what the Bible is.

This furry thing, influenced no doubt by years of Ranger Rick magazine among other things, got a Bible in its paws as the sermon began. Hardly a profound reflection on or representation of the sermon.

She has no Bible, but I like her better. I like her looking over her shoulder, unconcerned about her wind-whipped hair.

I like drawing figures.

And eyes. Again only a rudimentary understanding of the eye’s actual structure, but hey.

We sang a modernized version of “Jesus paid it all,” which includes the puzzling line about changing the leper’s spots. I guess lepers do have spots — but not this kind. And it seems likely that originally it was mishearing or misremembering Jeremiah asking “Can the leopard change his spots?” (13:23)

Church sketch 8

Disclaimer: Yucky feelings that challenging parenting moments dredge up are more about my baggage and less about my kid. Every honest parent has such moments.

Amy’s hammer is a joke; she doesn’t really wield that kind of power, nor is she some cold-blooded monster. Sometimes I feel as small and vulnerable as if she did and was. Art can be a good tool in metabolizing those yucky feelings and finding a path to reconnection with Amy. Here’s the sketches from my journal last night that started the hammer image.

Amy’s not demonstrative about whatever remorse she may feel — sometimes it is tempting to think she feels nothing at all about the ways her words and actions can hurt or provoke other people. During a stay-listening session this afternoon, though, I got a glimpse of just how deeply she may indeed feel that remorse. I was assuring her she would have a good day, and she was denying it and crying, and I started kissing her arm — she cried harder and said, “I don’t deserve a kiss.” She has such strong feelings in general, that I shouldn’t be surprised that painful feelings like remorse might overwhelm her to the point that she uses defensive laughing and impulsive rudeness to keep it at a safe distance.

Even if I didn’t get that valuable glimpse, though, it’s so important to remind myself that it is not my job and not in my power to make anyone feel remorse. That means it’s not fair to withdraw and disconnect, waiting until she shows the remorse before reconnecting. God loved me before I showed any hint of repentance, and still loves me at my coldest moments; the more I understand that, the more I can love others that way.

Now — on to the sermon.

The current sermon series is about choices. Today was about choosing God’s forgiveness. The first text was Deuteronomy 30:1-20. One thing that’s interesting in this passage is that God tells Israel that the commandment he is giving them is not difficult — he goes on to talk about it not being out of reach, far away, impossible to grasp, but the word is near. These are clues that the “difficult” bit is not regarding the possibility of perfectly obeying the commandments, but is about the possibility of understanding the commandments. God isn’t making us guess — he tells us what he expects and what will provide for and protect us best. He isn’t asking us to do anything weird or outrageous, but only what is in line with our own God-given consciences. (For now, let’s stick with the ten, not any more obscure laws elsewhere in Scripture.)

The second text was the story of the paralytic whose friends lowered him through a hole in a roof so that he could get to Jesus. Instead of immediately healing his paralysis, or even asking him what he wants Jesus to do for him, Jesus declares that his sins are forgiven. And THEN heals his paralysis, telling him to get up and walk.

I’m not sure I would have chosen this passage for a sermon on choosing forgiveness — this fellow was given it without asking or choosing — out loud, at least.

Still thinking a lot about unconditional parenting, both sermon texts got me thinking about other verses about how forgiveness received leads — or should lead — to forgiveness given. And as it is received without anyone meriting it, so it can be given regardless of merit.

Scott was talking about how, for many folks, Jesus’ claim to be the only way to heaven is offensive. It brought to mind the old song, although I remembered the verse about the woman at the well instead of the one about the blind man.

One of the closing songs begins, “Bless the Lord, O my soul — O my soul!” The Psalmists often addressed themselves in this way, reminding themselves of what they knew to be true, a good solace. I kept trying for a doodle of someone looking down at their heart, hands parting the robe, in a “sacred heart” sort of image, and it wasn’t working; next best was a yoga pose.

For good measure, here are a couple more from my journal — these are from late May.