Surrender

I have been thinking about the idea of surrender lately. Most of us think of it as defeat. Giving up. Giving in. Quitting. Actually, that’s exactly what the Oxford definition is…”cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority”. 

But what if it’s more than that? What if it’s not just an army realizing that they can’t win and saving themselves from death? What if it’s recognizing a truth and choosing not to resist it anymore? What if what we are actually fighting with is our own will, our own way, or a way of thinking that doesn’t work anymore?

Army’s don’t surrender too often in modern times. They seem to retreat and regroup. And I think that’s what we do too. We hang on to whatever it is we were fighting for and when we can’t get our way, we fall back and come up with another strategy. 

Jesus didn’t retreat and regroup when he was confronted with his own death. He could have. He also could have stopped his own execution and saved himself. But he didn’t. We hear him say what he actually wants in Luke 22:42, when he says, “take this cup from me”. But Jesus didn’t push for his own way. He didn’t barter with God. He surrendered. He surrendered to a truth he knew. He surrendered to love for all of mankind. 

And what would it look like if we accepted the truth of the thing we are fighting against…or maybe even fighting for? What if it’s time to surrender and stop fighting, and maybe let go of what we think is best?

Sometimes change, either external or internal, forces us to make a decision about the direction of our lives. Retreating and regrouping doesn’t always allow for God to step in and bring about the significant change in us that he desires. Sometimes only surrender can do that.

This will be my last blog for World Horizons. I am thankful to know and be a part of this community, but it’s time for me to surrender and see what God has for me next.

The Beauty In Between

When I was younger, so much of life was black and white to me. Right and wrong was as easy to discern as apples from oranges. But the problem with that kind of thinking is that all you ever get are those two things. It’s kind of like saying there’s only midnight and noon, when the time of day is either fully night or fully day. Arguably, the most beautiful parts of most days are the in- between times of sunrise and sunset. The day is not fully one thing or the other…and the sky bursts into colors that artists have been trying to capture for thousands of years.

Sadly, this kind of thinking carried into other parts of my life, too. A pursuit in life either was God’s will, or it wasn’t. People were Christians or they weren’t. Someone was: married or single, sick or healthy, a parent or not, family or not…and on and on. I limited myself to categories for situations and people. And this measure that I held up to things left no room for growth or change or even an appreciation of the in-between spaces where God shows up and does amazing things.

Jesus was never bound by this either/or thinking that we limit ourselves to. He was able to see and appreciate the in-between. For example, the woman at the well… She was a Samaritan, and a divorcee and/or a widow, and definitely felt the weight of her life experiences as she lived each day. But Jesus wasn’t limited by the labels that society put on her. He wasn’t bound by her past…and he wasn’t in a hurry for her to become who she’d be in the future. He embraced her in her in-between and she was arguably one of the more effective evangelists in the New Testament.

Sometimes I think we are so quick to be on one side or the other of a circumstance or idea or relationship…that we neglect to see the in-between as its own space. And perhaps the in-between is equally important with a potential and possibility all its own. Sometimes crises happen in that in between and character is revealed. Sometimes revelations happen in the in-between and minds are inspired and opportunities expand. And sometimes nothing happens in the in-between…and you get the beautiful gift of learning how to be alone and quiet. God is equally in all of that and I am beginning to think it’s where I see him the most clearly. When my mind is the most open and my heart is not fully in one place or the other. So I want to learn to acknowledge the in-between and look for it, the same way I look to see the sun when it’s not fully day and not fully night.

Getting Dirty

Jay sat on his teacher’s lap. His little four-year-old body was stiff and his arms were crossed. Jay goes to a preschool for kids who can’t get along in a regular preschool because his little life has already seen violence, or abuse, or addiction in the people who are supposed to protect and shield him from all of those things. And the tragedy of a world and systems of injustice that create and sustain these environments is a heartbreak.

I was visiting Jay’s class that day with some potter friends to give all these little people an opportunity to see and experience throwing a pot on a wheel. Last year, when my friend came to offer the same experience to another group of kids at this school, there was a little boy who became completely unglued about getting dirty. This year, the families and children were well-warned and prepared for what the experience entailed. However, some fears run deep and overcoming them is no small thing.

Clay is messy. It gets on your hands, under your nails, on your clothes and shoes. If you notice a small chunk of something in my hair, it’s probably clay. In order to fully experience it, you have to get messy.

Jay and many of his classmates live in situations that are precarious. Social Services visits these families regularly to make sure the children are safe and well-cared for. In my middle-class, white, suburban life, dirty clothes on kids are a sign of a day well spent. However, in these families, dirty clothes and dirty children are seen as a sign of neglect and the consequences are sometimes severe.

But the ironic thing is that these kids needed to get dirty to fully experience all that the pottery wheel has to offer. They needed to be close enough for the clay to spit off the wheel and on to their pants and shoes. They needed to step in close to feel their hands glide across the wet clay as it turned and calmed their little hearts with the hum of the motor. They needed to take the risk of stepping into an unknown space and experience something new for it to have an impact on them.

It’s risky. I get it. So I reached out my clay covered finger to Jay as he sat stiffly on his teacher’s lap a few feet away from me. He wiped the clay off my finger the way you wipe frosting off of a knife. Jay squeezed the wet clay between his index finger and thumb. Mesmerized, he slowly slid off of her legs and inched his way towards me and my wheel. Before long, he surrendered to the mess of the wheel and all it had to offer. And I was happy to make the mess a little less scary for him. Because in that mess, he learned that you can make something from what seems like nothing.

I think sometimes we have to get messy to experience all that life has to offer. We have to be willing to leave our safe places and risk disappointment, failure, and maybe heartbreak. The safe places are clean and predictable, but they might not be where you grow, or heal, or find God. With clay, the mess is where the magic and mystery happen. And I’m pretty sure that’s where God is, too.

A Potter’s Look at Jeremiah 18

I’m a fan of first-hand knowledge. If possible, I like to get advice or insight from people who have lived, done, or seen the thing in question. Sometimes I don’t have that luxury. Sometimes I have to take an observer’s word for it.


Currently, I’m spending time in the book of Jeremiah. Eugene Peterson’s book, Running With The Horses has been my companion on this journey. Jeremiah was a prophet who began his ministry around 627 BC. He had the poor fortune of being a prophet to the Jews during a troubled time in their history. He was constantly the bearer of news they didn’t want to hear…and people did not like him.


(Some scholars say that he complained more than any other prophet. Which I find oddly endearing.)


I came across a Jeremiah 18 and realized that I have firsthand knowledge on this part of the account. Looking at it through my own eyes, as a potter, made it new and rich.


At this point in Jeremiah’s ministry, the Israelites have only made surface level attempts to change. Jeremiah is frustrated. This time around, God tells Jeremiah to go to the Potter’s house and he’ll give him his word there. (In this time, every village had a potter. The birth of Pottery thousands of years before, allowed people groups to settle down, farm and store food…not roam around in pursuit of their food sources. Communities were born.) Jeremiah sees the potter throwing a pot, but it’s not quite right. I imagine that maybe it was off-center, or perhaps he raised the wall too fast and it had thin sections…or maybe he didn’t trim his fingernails and he gouged his pot with them. At any rate it wasn’t an acceptable pot, so the potter formed it into another pot. (Jeremiah 18:3-4 paraphrased)


Jeremiah’s takeaway from this is what God says to him next. “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?…Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6). God is telling him -I can bring down your people and I can remake them…but I can’t tolerate the disobedience…I’m not going to throw a bad pot and put my name on it.


This potter’s takeaway is slightly different than Jeremiah’s. I certainly have had many a ruined pot on the wheel. And I am aware of how long clay that has been fired will rattle around this earth. I don’t want to make things and put my name on them if they are not an accurate reflection of me as the maker. So, I understand why the potter in Jeremiah took the marred pot and collapsed it in on itself to make another one. What the story doesn’t say is that most skilled potters don’t do that. Usually the clay is too wet to re-throw it right away. It most likely would have to be taken off the wheel, dried a bit, re-wedged (like kneading dough, but to get the air out) and then it could be thrown again. It’s basically recycling the clay and it’s a time-consuming process. It is a common practice among beginner potters or in studios with systems in place to aid in the process. However, master potters usually look at the value of their time compared to the cost of the clay (which is not much). And most choose to use their time in ways that will yield more of a profit. In other words, their time is worth more throwing, trimming, or glazing than it is recycling. Some say that recycled clay is the most expensive clay a potter will use.


Arguably, it would have been easier for God to ditch the Israelites and start over with a new group of people. I am certain it would be easier for God to ditch me, any one of the many times I have strayed, and start over with a new person who is trying to follow him. But he doesn’t do that. We cost him his son and we are expensive to God.


“The life of faith is very physical. Being a Christian is very much a matter of flesh—of space and time and things. It means being thrown down on the potter’s wheel and shaped, our entire selves, into something useful and beautiful. And when we are not useful or beautiful we are reshaped. Painful, but worth it.” Eugene Peterson


The Israelites, you, me…we are expensive clay that the master potter won’t give up on.

The Gift of Darkness

“An empty room is silent. A room where people are not speaking or moving is quiet. Silence is a given, quiet a gift. Silence is the absence of sound and quiet the stilling of sound. Silence can’t be anything but silent. Quiet chooses to be silent. It holds its breath to listen. It waits and is still. “In returning and rest you shall be saved,” says God through the prophet Isaiah, “in quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). They are all parts of each other. We return to our deep strength and to the confidence that lies beneath all our misgiving. The quiet there, the rest, is beyond the reach of the world to disturb. It is how being saved sounds.” -Frederick Buechner


Perhaps it’s a natural reaction to the over-stimulation and over-scheduling of Christmas, but this time of year has me longing for quiet, simplicity, and order. Ironically, I don’t have many of those things right now…and I never seem to have all three of them at the same time.


My favorite time of day has become the first moments after I wake up. (If I wake up before my alarm.) Somehow in those first moments of being awake, all things seem possible, and my connection to God seems direct and unencumbered by my lack of trust and penchant for self-sufficiency. My dreams are literally just a few moments in the past and the thin space between me and another world still feels navigable.


It’s ironic to me that the time where I feel the closest to God is in actual darkness. However, it’s not the darkness of the middle of the night. That is a different animal. That place magnifies problems, replays conversations, and hashes out “what if” scenarios on a never ending loop in my mind. But the end of the night/beginning of the morning is where I find the quiet that Isaiah talks about in 30:15 of his book. It’s where my soul breaths in and out the holiness of God.


I can say the same about the dark seasons of my life. The seasons of sickness, despair, and confusion all feel like a spiritual darkness to me. Cameron Anderson (former Director of CIVA) said that “…in order to be spiritually formed, you have to be willing to draw near to the darkness.” For me, this metaphorical darkness served the same purpose as the actual darkness of the end of the night. It stripped away everything that was unimportant, temporary, and out of my control. As a result, the turmoil of the metaphorical darkness created the same space as the actual darkness for my soul to breath in and out the holiness of God.


While my body longs for the sunshine and warmth of spring, my soul seems to rest in the quiet and dark end of a winter’s night. Maybe it’s because I know that morning is promised and close. Maybe it’s because God is about to make all things new and the reality of that is enough to rest in momentarily. Whatever the reason, it’s a gift from my creator when I get a few minutes in the quiet, thin space to start my day.

Merry Messy Christmas

So much of our story is in how we remember it. How we choose to frame things can completely alter our perspective. We have cameras with us 24/7 to capture every moment of our lives, but to remember things from over 100+ years ago, we rely on art for our images. The art shapes our perspective of history.

There has been a lot of art created about the birth of Jesus. Some of it is beautiful. Most of it is grand. Historically, it is all clean and tidy. But that’s not really how it happened, is it? Jesus’ birth was bloody and painful…like all human births.

On the left is Carravagio’s “The Nativity with Sts Francis and Lawrence”. It was the most human portrayal I could find in my quick search of Nativity art by the masters. It was scandalous in 1609 when he painted it. He shows Mary in a tired (but clean) slump after giving birth. For some reason, we want Jesus to be all wrapped up in blankets with a halo of light. We want Mary to be serenely looking on. We want the farm animals to be quietly cooing. We want Joseph to be steadfastly attentive. This is how our art portrays the scene.

I went to a live nativity last night at our local zoo. I winced watching the young “Mary” ride in on a donkey, remembering how terribly uncomfortable pregnancy is. We chuckled as the goats fought with each other and the sheep ate the straw from the manger where they had put “baby Jesus.” Even in this modest attempt to recreate the scene, we were reminded of the humanity of the event. It was a far cry from the Carravagio painting.

There is an artist I really like named Scott Erickson. Pictured on the right is one of his new works. It is part of a series on the birth of Jesus. I find it interesting that this series has been met with mixed reactions from his fans. Some people found the work graphic and even pornographic. I really like these paintings because they make me a little bit uncomfortable. They remind me of Jesus’ humanity. They remind me that he got messy to come to us. So often we think we need to be neat and tidy to go before the God of the universe…but look at how his son came to us. Messy.

This year has been a bit messy. It has also been great in a lot of ways. But this Christmas, I am reminded by the art of Scott Erickson, that God is not only the God of beauty…he’s the God of mess too. Mine and yours. Merry Messy Christmas!

Seek. Listen. Wonder.

Below is the gallery statement that I have written for an upcoming show in Richmond, VA.

Observation is the most important skill all artists have. There are things to be seen not with our eyes, but with our heart, and our mind, and our spirit. The artist can capture and communicate a mood or a feeling, or an idea that is at the same time as big as a mountain and as small as a grain of sand. By observing, listening, and quieting their own internal dialog, the artist can see beyond what’s in front of them and hear what’s behind the words. Artists can sometimes see the unseen things of faith and wonder and communicate them in a tangible way, bringing themselves and their viewers a little bit closer to worlds unknown. The Russian philosopher, Nikolai Berdyaev said, “Creative experience foreshadows a new Heaven and a new Earth.”

This show is a collection of work of five resident artists from Gallery Edit in Richmond, VA. Their work spans several disciplines, perspectives, and lexicons of life experiences, but they are all seers of life and listeners of God. Each artist is seeking to communicate truths that may be limited by language but have no limits in their imagination. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3

This time of year is a celebration for all of Christendom. Our long-promised savior was born. The seers of this event were not the educated religious elite. In the Old Testament it was the prophets who saw the coming of Christ. The prophets were the unpopular truth-tellers who were on the margins of society. And in Jesus’ day, it was the blue-collared shepherds and  the angels who attended the greatest birthday in the history of mankind. They were the quiet listeners, the obedient followers, and the faithful wonderers.

In this show, we invite you to become seers of the artists’ wonder and interpreters of their language. As you view the art, you are invited to not only look with your eyes, but also with your heart, and your spirit. Enter in to the space each artist has created and offered to you. It’s an invitation into quiet conversations with the Creator.

Hope and Doubt

Sometimes when I make things, I try to tell a story. Other times, I am trying to show a familiar idea from a completely new perspective. In the piece “Hope and Doubt” I am trying to show an emotion…create a feeling…take the viewer to a place in their heart that maybe they have been before.

I am generally a “glass half full” kind of person. I do have skeptical thoughts about people and situations, but I generally act in hopeful ways. There is a path forward for everyone. I believe that. And for me, moving forward is moving towards God. There are no material promises in that. But what there is, is peace.

Sometimes doubt creeps in like a wave and washes over me, breaking apart my hope. Doubt reminds me of all the times that people have let me down before, and tells me that this time will be no different. Doubt overwhelms me with my own inadequacies, and paralyzes me with indecision. Doubt whispers to me that perhaps God is not really there, not really listening, not really caring.

For me, hope seems to be able to bounce back from the bar-age of doubt waves. I eventually find my feet and am able to stand. The more I practice getting back up, the easier it is to do. However, hope is a very vulnerable place to be. Hope is risky. Hope makes you take a chance at getting hurt, or being wrong, or letting go of someone or something that you have been holding on to. Hope requires you to believe in things outside of yourself and surrender people and situations to God that you really couldn’t control anyway. Hope is not blind, it chooses to trust. Trust in God and trust in people. And to trust that God loves people and that sometimes the path to move closer to Him is hard and potentially painful. Hope requires a soft, malleable, teachable heart. A friend once told me that trust is a more intimate expression than love.

These two ideas of trust and hope are becoming intertwined for me. And they are definitely a choice that I make. Almost like an act of defiance towards doubt and  this fallen world, I am choosing to take the next step that will bring me closer to my Creator. Choosing to stand in the light and see what is there…beautiful and ugly…and trust that God loves all of me and will not leave me. And choosing to want that for the people around me as well.

In The Magician’s Nephew (from the Chronicles of Narnia) C.S. Lewis says, “What you see and hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. ” I want to be standing closer to God, that’s where the hope is. And I want you to be there with me.

Community

We all cringe when we chase the channels and stumble across the show where the young girl is confronting her boyfriend to tell him that the baby she is carrying isn’t his. You know, Jerry Springer, Maury Povich…or any one of the cringeworthy shows on MTV.

Human tragedy, on display for our entertainment.

I don’t stick around to find out the outcome of those horrible spectacles on TV, but sometimes I wonder what happens after the lights turn off, the cameras stop rolling, and the audience goes home. Who is there to dress the wounds and sort through the carnage? Because what happened was nothing short of an emotional massacre.

What about when it’s your family? What happens when a disease drains your bank account and leaves your family stumbling around doing a new sort of mathematical juggling act of figuring out which bills to pay? Or when there’s an addiction that keeps pulling someone you love back into its black hole where more is never enough? How about the fog of depression and mental illness? That one is harder to understand and harder to name because that person is looking at the world through glasses that remove all hope. Your family? Your community? Will it survive?

When I made my ceramic quilt called “Community”, I spent an inordinate amount of time carefully crafting each colored tile and the bordering solid colored tiles. Each piece was lovely on its own, but I then took great care to attach them to each other with copper wire. They are connected and bound to each other in sort of an unspoken commitment to my vision of what community looks like. They contrast and they complement. The thing about communities and families, when they are committed to God’s vision for them, is that they are more beautiful when they are connected to each other then they are individually. And if one of the tiles fail, or one of the people struggles, the rest of them are strong enough to keep it all together…because they are connected.

Sometimes families fall apart and sometimes people let you down. It’s tragic. It’s heartbreaking. It’s not what God wants for us. I have to believe that it grieves God when his people get this part of life wrong. Jesus was relentless about pursuing the broken, the outcast, the ones running away from him. He didn’t ignore indiscretions or injustices…he exchanged them for reconciliation and redemption. That’s why he came.

My family, my community…We are more beautiful together than we are apart. Together, we are strong enough to hold each other up.

If You Want Freedom…

If You Want Freedom…

Jennifer Chetelat

2018

Ceramic Plates

~10” diameter each

First Row from Left to Right

Have no other gods

Don’t make any thing more important than God

Don’t disrespect God’s name

Rest one day each week

Respect your parents

Second Row from Left to Right

Don’t murder

No adultery

No stealing

No lies about your neighbor

Be content with what you have

God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments because he loved them. Because he loves us. I think they could use some rebranding. Maybe a better marketing campaign with a catchy slogan and a memorable spokesperson. We got them from an old guy with a speech impediment on some clay tablets.

To the person who isn’t sure if God is real or if he actually loves them, they are a hard sell.

All organized societies have rules. Sometimes they are written down and decided on by a group of leaders, and sometimes they spring up more organically from mistakes made and lessons learned. But they generally keep peace. And they keep people’s behaviors from getting in the way of their progress as a society.

That’s how I view the Ten Commandments. Following them keeps my behaviors from getting in the way of my progress of not just growing in my faith, but growing as a person.

It would be easy (but lengthy) to take a deep dive into each commandment. However, I don’t think most people struggle with all of them. I would guess that most people only get stuck on two or three of them.

The other day, I took a sabbath. For the whole day. I spent time with my husband, I spent time with God, and I spent time with myself. I didn’t work in my studio. I didn’t answer any emails. I didn’t do any ministry work either. I went out to breakfast with my husband. I napped. I prayed. I read. I checked in on a friend. I watched dumb movies. I ran errands. I felt like a normal person who wasn’t trying to squeeze my to do list in to an impossible number of hours.

Disclaimer- I did spend an hour in a Verizon store which definitely was an interruption in my sabbath and a descent into one of the levels of hell from Dante’s Inferno…but when I left, I was back to my Sabbath.

This whole sabbath idea of creating space in my schedule for a pause is a hard one for me. I’m a doer. Resting happens when I sleep. But it’s not a good way to live. It’s mostly not good for my heart. While my body and mind may be able to accomplish all of these tasks, my heart needs a minute to disengage from the list and the expectations. God knew that and that’s why he warned against living the way I often do.

When I made my “If You Want Freedom…” piece of art, I was trying to reimagine the Ten Commandments. It was based on a sermon I heard at church and a new way of thinking about this list of rules, I wanted to give them a new physical representation as well. I guess it’s my attempt at rebranding. These ten ideas lead to a simpler life. One with less drama, heartache, and exhaustion. The kind of life where it’s easier to stay connected with God and people.

While I do struggle with a few of the other commandments, building a sabbath pause in to my schedule is my current challenge.

Makoto Fujimura is one of my favorite artists. He’s a Japanese painter, writer, and advocate of the arts. He’s also a Christian. Recently in an interview he said, “Schedule an hour every week to waste time with people and you will be amazed at how much it will rejuvenate you and end up speaking of the gospel because essentially the gospel is God wasting time with us”.

If I want freedom, I will make space for a pause in my schedule. I will purposely waste time with people. I will take a minute to enjoy the privilege of God wasting time with me.

What do you need to do for freedom?