Tag Archives: Life

Flood Recovery and Archeological Findings

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“Today’s Rubble” DS Phone Photo

The flood recovery has turned into an archeological dig!  What was thought to be a bunker underground turns out to be a concrete platform of a former entrance.  The aggregate of the present entrance was just poured over top in making the patio.

The discovery of 14 vases along an underground wall gives the feeling of having fallen onto a midden site where the everyday artifacts of former occupants of the property placed their containers as a memory of their existence.  Perhaps it was a time capsule, or more cynically, a hope to catch any future drips down to the foundation.

Rotten and missing wood, black drywall, and insulation like spider webs peel off the walls like layers of an onion.  In place of geological stratification, man-made construction strata reveals its faults as the concrete saw and jackhammer descend the substratum of over a half century of renovations.  Stripes of asphalt, topsoil, soil, rocks, gravel, expose in brown and grey the passage of time.  Every difficult seam excavated adds cost to the final project.  This revelation, not having the hopeful expectation of a renovation, has added excitement to a banal flood recovery project.  It has turned into a walk back into the history of the land itself where our own footsteps fall.

The disruption continues day after day after day.  As the concrete saw and jack hammer slow and the dust settles inside and the soil and rubble are piled in 6-foot-high hills outside, this project feels spiritual.  The project is costly and the extent of the work is somewhat unknown.  There is a project manager who oversees the comings, goings and findings.  The work is restorative and messy and underground.  There is an element of mystery:

  • The copper pipe with the pin hole in an odd place had been leaking water for years unseen and out of reach.
  • The drainage pipe coming from and going to nowhere with no downward angle and 3 feet higher than the water table.

Is there a rhythm of fall and redemption in the pipes, drains and trenches?  The hose washes away the staining soil on the patio.  The project manager states: “I aim to have you dry and tucked up here this winter.”  In my fear of what will be found, I also trust in the expertise of the kind manager.  Can I also rely on God to keep the rest of my messy life in a semblance of order over the coming winter isolation of the pandemic?

My inner life’s layers of ossification have been laid bare.  The interruption brings spiritual repair too.  As the Spirit jackhammers and digs out what is decaying from my life, I wait for a renewal of hope to rise from the rubble as I listen in silence.

 

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“Archeological Find” DS Phone Photo

Renovations

IMG_2823“Scaffolding WVBC” phone photo DS

Perhaps the playing field is being relevelled

Perhaps postmodernism brings equality

After the fall of Christendom

A First among equals will re-emerge

 

Five hundred years after Luther

A new set of theses is on the door

Let my people go is top

Bottom reads my Spirit reigns

 

My house needs renovation

Cracks are on the walls

Nicks from the vacuum on baseboards

Leaks along the patio where

Water falls

 

My heart cries from the dug-up soil

Hardness is being enfleshed

Forgiveness is on my lips

A new thing rises

In its place

Gratitude for grace.

DS

Reading About Cultures

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“Pilgrimage (detail)” Acrylic on Canvas, DS

There will be all cultures in heaven.  Rah provides a history of challenges and a way forward to embrace humanity in all of our colours.

Readings from Soong-Chan Rah’s Book: “Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church:

Stories have the power to build and develop community on multiple levels. In Western approaches to communication, we tend to focus on facts and information. Truth is communicated through statistics, numbers, dates, and information based on cognitive knowledge and is usually expressed through logical rhetoric. In certain non-Western approaches to communication, stories that evoke feelings and draw out a more emotional response may be the norm. The difference between these cultural expressions is that effective storytelling may have different intentions and approaches arising out of these different cultural values.

Aristotle stated, “When storytelling goes bad, the result is decadence.” Society and culture cannot progress and be transformed without real, honest, and powerful stories. The church also loses its influence if it fails to engage in powerful storytelling.

A speaker will often close a sermon with a stirring and inspiring story. My earliest memory of public speaking was sharing my testimony before the entire church when I was a high school student since, like many American evangelicals, I was encouraged to share my personal testimony almost immediately after I became a Christian. Stories have the power to communicate elements of our faith in ways that a lecture cannot. When in doubt, share your story.

In our current American cultural context, some of our best storytellers are found through film. As a pastor, I found it fascinating that my congregants would connect to my referencing a movie more than a book.

Media have the power to transcend culture in ways that direct verbal communication cannot. Eric Law *explains the equalizing power of media by asserting that “verbal communication alone is a biased means of communication, favoring people who have a strong sense of individual power and verbal ability.

 It is important that a character undergoes credible and authentic change in the course of the narrative, keeping the setting in the forefront. A conversion story, for example, must not occur out of the blue—it must reveal the work and character of God, as well as the transformation that can take place in a man or woman. (3) Conflict Every worthwhile story needs an element of conflict. What difficulties is the character going through, and how do these affect change in him or her? As Christians, we are especially concerned about transformation. How is it accomplished? by a logical argument? through convincing rhetoric? No, true re-creation comes from the Spirit of God.

When Art is Not for Sale

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“Intolerance and Materialism” Acrylic and Ink on Canvas, DS

Recently my art was exhibited in a public alternative space.  It went mostly ignored until the last day of the show.  When I was taking down the paintings and carrying them out to be packed for transport, someone brought out the next one for me.  Someone insisted they take my picture in front of them. Four people grabbed my arm and attention and introduced themselves and asked if the art was for sale.  They seemed to like it without really looking at what it was.

As an introvert in a hurry to meet someone a few kilometres away, I said to the first: “I can carry them.” To the second, who wanted me to pose here and there and not where I wanted to, I blurted: “I am in a rush.” The last group, I fear, saw that I was very non-artist-like.  I said, nice to meet you, and quickly left, extricating myself from their kindly grip.

The display was installed to promote thinking and awakening to new ways to consider the Christmas story. The ideas visually presented were not heresy but they were alternative like imagining what Mary and Jesus would look like in today’s culture.  I dreamed one night that angels had meetings to discuss how they might help us with our issues.

The everyday person, educated but not in art, has probably been to European galleries exhibiting traditional, historical paintings.  The new, the avant-garde for them, is maybe Van Gogh or Picasso in extreme.  Perhaps anything contemporary does not register on their consciousness as art.  After all, as a non-musician uneducated in music appreciation, classical music has only appealed to me in the past decade.  My rhythms flow in the era of disco and ballad.  After all, I am a narrative painter.

We need more shows of art that is not for sale: art that can challenge our current ways of thinking and being in a changing world.  Lately most shows that offer art, not-for-sale, are self-funded by the increasingly silenced artist.  The arts used to be totally supported by the church.  Patrons paid artists to paint for the church.

Art reflects life. The way a society supports the arts reveals its inner health and outer vibrancy.  Perhaps we need venues for viewing and circles for discussion.  I like that ad I think it is for Levi’s jeans where everyone of many cultures just dance together to the great music.  Art is like that.  Art for art sake, not sale.

“Art Makes Us” Vancouver Art Gallery

http://vanartgallery.bc.ca/the_exhibitions/upcoming_exhibitions.html

Conflict and Confrontation

Knitted Tent Belkin Gallery

“Knitted Tent, ‘Material Obsessions’, Roth and Morton, Belkin Gallery, UBC”

Photo DS

Sometimes life can only be expressed in a nonet:

It was a week of conflict

A week of speaking my mind

A week of correcting paperwork

A week of calling people out

A week of phoning to say no

A week of advocating

A week of maneuvering a plan

A week of staying quiet

While I can

 

This summer week intended to be

A creative studio week

A week of picnicking with friends

A week of rest at the beach

A week of seeing what I need

A week of laughing with children

A week of sightseeing

And meal making

Together

 

Next week I will attend a festival

I will make the best of all

I will get back on the treadmill

And on the seawall

I will read Barbara Brown Taylor

I will paint the portraits that call me

The collages that long for me

The geranium baths eluding me

I will breathe and pray

This again is the only way

To sustain me other than

The gallery.

 

Nonet:

A group of nine people or things, especially musicians.

A musical composition for nine voices or instruments.

A poem with nine lines

Grocery Shopping with Seagulls

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“Treetops” Phone Photo DS

A seagull’s cry delighted me as I exited the grocery store. Perhaps it had found some food too. I felt a surge of gratitude that prefixed a breath of the wet winter soft air. It set me on a reverie of other shopping times from years past: as a mother with crying children, as a worker with a broken foot, as a painter prepping for an art show reception.

I had been feeling down, tired, overwhelmed with thoughts about:

A health blip

A new normal in my relationship

A family conflict

An empty gas tank

A paper-stacked dining table

What little things can change our moods. Just an hour ago, praying with friends, I was looking forward to my next workshop, my upcoming art show.

I can leave getting gas until tomorrow, I thought, caring for self as advised. I was hungry, had bags to carry, food to put away and an afternoon ahead of paperwork. In front of the Rav IV windshield sharp pinecones dropped on the debris messed road from windy trees high above.

Home again a newspaper was retrieved with a climb. My face was enlivened by the mild air. I stopped and breathed again. I remembered who I was and the collaged life I had been given. Suddenly the half empty glass of my soul was filling up again. I have always loved seagulls since my childhood summers spent in a caravan at the Scottish seaside.

Art Can Imitate Life

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Installation View “Holy Cups” DS

At some point during the week between Christmas and New Year I find myself reviewing the year and setting priorities.  Both the studio and the prayer are quiet, sporadic, ad hoc, and unfocused.  Self care is taking its turn, finally.

Since the summer, shredding papers has been my contemplative activity.  Many of those papers are articles kept for writing essays, the essays themselves, and images for collage. This morning I came across one of my papers about the life of faith as an artist.  A quote from philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorffe expresses both the temptation of an artist and, in my case, how faith and art practices co-exist so well:

The art lover, like the mystic, turns away from ordinary concerns to be caught up in the bliss of contemplation… art takes over the function of this worldly salvation, no matter how this may be interpreted.  It provides a salvation from the routines of everyday life… Picasso expresses [about art]: “I love it as the only end of my life.”… Thus works of art become surrogate gods, taking the place of God the Creator; aesthetic contemplation takes the place of religious adoration…  “Art in Action”

Choices must be made.  In the life of faith, art making serves God, not money.  The unpopular image is enfleshed when one knows it will not be well received.  One does not build a career so much as follow Jesus on an art journey that imitates real life.

A table painted with checkerboard circle and vines, a round glass mirror, with hand-built pottery cups with holes around the edge and butterfly handles, and a little brown basket.  Is there any meaning here?  One could never drink from such cups with rows of holes.  Even so I am impressed to display them as some kind of worship.  There is no doubt that these items in their hand-made imperfect form are no competitor for the worship on offer.  It seems to me that God is pleased with this offering of my talents, such as they are.  Will it be another year of creating work that does not sell?

Life of a Princess

We think of our own floods and fires and family challenges yet even the life of a princess can be difficult. Perhaps loved leaders have the most difficult lives of all.

Twenty years ago today Diana, Princess of Wales was killed in a tragic car accident in Paris. Uncertainty and intrigue were woven through her life and continue about her untimely death.

She was photogenic and articulate, perhaps an introvert thrown into the limelight. She chose to be a princess but had no idea of what it would cost: everything. Yet her sons and her humanitarian work remain.

Diana lives on also in our minds. She became a part of our daily lives. We both celebrated and swooned with her through the ups and downs of her life. We vicariously joined in her courageous work and in her painful break up. Her dresses, jewelry and latest hairstyle formed an opinion in us. We remember where we were when we watched her wedding on TV and where we were when we saw that infamous Paris tunnel over and over again.

We have lived high and low along with her. We cried and prayed for the boys. We are as proud as Diana would have been at how they have turned out.

Blessings to you dear William and Harry as you remember your beloved mother.

http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/tributes-laid-at-kensington-palace-for-diana-anniversary-1.3569664

 

John 16:33 

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

 

 

The Way to Publication

First publication is calming; my work has finally paid off, literally. As always, God leads me but in a zigzag line.

A child at breakfast reads every word on the cereal box. That was me (not so much the French).

In my twenties I worked in a bank. One day I came out and tried to start my car. I looked and instead of the key I had attempted to put my pen in the ignition. Today my brain thinks a pen is an essential part of the body.

At meetings I have now disciplined myself to take notes on my iPhone. (My pen is ever ready in my bag for backup.) This summer my precious spare time has been spent shredding five years of note-taking files.

So, the other large percentage of effort this year has been about submitting work for publication: prose and poetry. Some had fees and some graciously accepted submissions gratis. After a ‘couple’ of rejections of my writing I decided to submit one of my painting images to Understorey Magazine, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. After a few weeks I was advised that “Taffeta Apron” was to be published paired with another woman’s story.

It took me a moment to review exactly what I had achieved. An editor, so personable, had praised my image. I would be paid by a university and had to phone them with my SIN.

The magazine is published online and my work is in the current issue together with a story called ‘Island Girl’. Although I had asked to read the story before my work was paired with it, I felt strange. I felt confused. Usually I self-publish my images with my own stories on a blog. This was an anomaly.

Issue 11 of Understorey Magazine is now published on the website! Look for “Taffeta Apron” (Acrylic on Linen, 36” x 24”) alongside the prose poem Island Girl by Susan Brigham. If you scroll to the end of the poem you can read our bios.

http://understoreymagazine.ca/

Mixed feelings are still with me. I am excited to have my visual work published. It is not the same as being juried into an art exhibition, which is a bit more ephemeral. A published work is always there for people to see. I am disappointed that it is not my writing to be published.

I have a resume for art and a CV for writing. Which is this then – a painting in a writing magazine? It is truly a mash-up, a crossover of genres – and a delight.

How did I do it?

  1. I prayed for help.
  2. I made work.
  3. I submitted work to any call that seemed to fit.
  4. I researched as a regular practice and kept making work.
  5. I accepted that not all of my work would be paid for and perhaps not even my most important work.
  6. I experimented a lot. Creative work is about process over product first.
  7. I calmly waited for some response from somewhere. Then celebrated.

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“Taffeta Apron” 36″ x 24″, Acrylic on Linen, Deborah Stephan

 

 

 

Wisdom of the Rose Trellis

 

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“Rose Trellis” iPhoto DS 2017

There was a time when the family bloomed full red roses with green leaves. Yes, there were thorns but they were hidden (albeit sharply felt here and there). The scent of the rose trellis sparked instant praise. It was never as perfect as envisioned but it was good, very good.

At some point a deconstruction process took over. Deaths devastated, divorces divided, misunderstandings abounded and confusion set in. Thorns were easily visible tearing all who went too near. Even surface beauty was interrupted with too many dead branches and dry leaves. Blight had attacked with its polka dots of black and aphids crawled in white. Drought had yellowed the surrounding landscape.

Gee it was ugly.

It was thought that the deaths should be forgotten, pruned out for new growth to form – but they held the live branches tall, and gave them strength to hold to the trellis. It was decided to leave these wild elders – ignored yes, but not forgotten memories. The fertilizer of counseling was applied here and there to undisciplined stems.

Soon buds appeared of cranberry, crimson and carmine, attached to vivid green shoots. A tall vine shot up beyond the highest part of the trellis arch. Graduations and new births graced the family. Forgiveness had been planted. Rains came.

Through it all the trellis made of prayer held it all together – dead, alive and bedraggled parts. Tangles are still there. Somewhere it was written that confusion precedes change. A construction site can look chaotic yet the site supervisor knows and implements the building plan. By faith I say that it must also be so with the family. Perhaps again others will enjoy its innate beauty and be stilled by its scent.  Selah.

“After you have suffered a little while … then the promise…” Book of First Peter

“A trellis is a support system for a vine or plant that enables it to grow upward and bear fruit… a vine must have a trellis to support and guide its growth or it will slump to the ground.” God in My Everything, Ken Shigematsu