Tent Making

“… and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them”

Acts 18:3

There is a tide of fabric that rises to cover our living room floor regularly at the moment. I am mid-project and it is the largest, flattest surface in our basement suite, so it has assumed the role of ‘cutting-out table’. Some days there has been room to walk through and avoid fabric underfoot, at other times, not.

A la Paul, I am in the business of making a series of tents. Five tents as soft-sculpture, an art installation for my ‘final project’ at Regent College. The IPIAT, Integrated Project in the Arts and Theology, is a chance for me to explore a theological concept raised for me during my course and respond creatively. Another project I did allowed me to explore a theology of textiles and ‘clothing’ in the Bible – and I remember being fascinated that the first big textiles ‘moment’ of the Bible was God’s commissioning the tabernacle. It was such an important demonstration of God’s commitment to His people, to dwell with them, to travel with them, to be their God, and it was made of fabric. Artisans of all stripes were involved in its production. It was this especially holy place, home to the localised presence of God, and yet, was made of yarn spun, woven and embroidered by the Israelite people. The language of John 1 picks up a similar theme – although there is no actual tent this time – we are introduced to the Word, the Word “who became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1:14) as Eugene Peterson puts it in the Message. In Greek, the words we read as ‘made his dwelling among us’ in say the NIV, mean more literally ‘set up His tent’ among us. We continue on, further into the New Testament and see Peter referring to our bodies as ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’ and Paul using the tent as a metaphor for our own earthly lives. He himself is a tentmaker – along side his kingdom work.

There is something profound here I think. Two things perhaps. Firstly, the material and the mundane are the place of God’s presence. From desert-worship-space to Son to our Spirit-indwelled lives, God is not afraid of turning up in this material world He has made. Our earthiness does not bother Him or offend Him. He has made His home here, with us. Secondly, God is relentless in pursuing closer and closer relationship with His people. Each move is more intimate, till He is within us – filling us with His own Spirit, and then, finally, a face-to-face-forever relationship.

And so, as I try to wrap my head round this Immanuel-Dwelling-Material mystery, I’m making some tents. They will tell the story of ‘everydays’ that are at once both mundane and miraculous, spiritual and physical, in a word, integrated. That is the plan.

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Material expression: the Lamb slain

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The following reflection was written to accompany one of my creative projects at Regent College. The class is called Christian Imagination and focuses on the connection between Christianity and the Arts. As well as reflect on art work and write a theological paper, we were asked to produce something, to ‘make art’. This piece was made for that assignment.

A Heritage: Covered by the Lamb, Slain
“… the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” Revelation 13:8

“If you offer a lamb, you are to present it before the Lord” Leviticus 3:7 … as sin offering (Leviticus 4:32) and friendship offering (4:35) for guilt (14:21) and atonement (5:6) … (among other references)

“… the lambs will provide you with clothing”  Proverbs 27:26

“… he was led like a lamb to the slaughter” Isaiah 53:7

“the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” John 1:29

“… with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect”  1 Peter 1:19

” ‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool’ ” Isaiah 1:18

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony … ” Revelation 12:11

“And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’” Revelation 7:14

“For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'” Revelation 7:17

My grand mother made woolen cot blankets for my younger cousins, heirlooms embroidered in wool thread. Flowers, furry critters, their initials – often in a wreath shape – a little bit of their story, stitched in time.

A few years ago Loren Wilkinson, one of my lecturers at Regent, brought that verse, Revelation 13:8 to my attention. The lamb slain – for forever, from the beginning. There was something deeply poignant and almost poetic about the phrase that has kept it coming to mind.

As a lover of textiles, I began to wonder about the different metaphors we use in describing salvation and sanctification. Many of them seemed to me rather closely associated with the textile medium. We talk about washing, wool, whitening, having stains removed in a manner similar to the way we would speak regarding clothing. While I realise that the discussion is far deeper than a lesson in doing the laundry well, there seemed to be a way of speaking to the physicality implied in these words by engaging this especially tactile medium. I wanted to tell this story, our story, in textiles, in wool.

Instead of a wreath, I used the circle of a Celtic cross. The ‘cross at the centre of the world’ is the central piece of our heritage as children of God. First there were the fiery sacrifices teaching us that though sin brings death, death can bring life. God designs atonement. Then there was the language of God as shepherd, teaching us what true, costly love can mean. God makes a way, protecting and providing. Then there was the perfect, unblemished Lamb, Jesus, slain and risen. He was crowned with thorns in death, but is now enthroned in Heaven. His death made a way for our stained lives to be washed, fresh and new. Instead of staining, His blood was the most effective whitener the world has ever seen. His innocence has renewed our own. This is our heritage as His children, for “this is what we are” (1 John 3:1).

Marking and Measuring Time : in grace and gratitude

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This summer I attended a course at college called The Meaning of the Sacraments – which I really enjoyed. Mostly we talked about what baptism and communion mean – the two common sacraments the church celebrates all over the world. However, one of the texts we read was For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann – who is an orthodox priest. His theology has a whole-of-the-cosmos-focus and he works hard to challenge the modern separation of the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’ realms of human life. After reading his chapter ‘The Time of Mission’, I felt invited to conduct my own reflections on the sacramental nature of time.

What followed was my major paper*. I followed the line that rather than seeing time as a wearisome burden, perhaps we are invited to understand the times and seasons given to us by God as gift. If so, perhaps there are ways we can ‘mark’ time regularly and cyclically – using repeated rhythms and rituals as well as moments of special attention and celebration.

These photos are of homemade lavender cake – a late birthday gift for a lovely (and patient!) friend. I know I have written about cake so many times but I after researching my paper a few years ago they seem so important as a way of marking a special day with special food. We put the best of our ingredients together to make something beyond basic fare because the people we have been given to walk with are gifts to us, we want to mark their milestones, to party with them, to be thankful for them.

Writing this paper was such a gift to me – I had always had a hunch that there was more to birthdays than what met the eye – the cake, the presents, the balloons – these matter because they are a way of delighting in God’s gifts to us – in particular, the person we love and are celebrating.

If you too would like a theological reason for partying – or if you have always felt called by the mountains on your horizon to look to God for help – this paper may also interest you.

*A pdf of my paper is below:
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Mist and Mountain Views

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“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

The Blue Mountains, the Moresby Ranges and now the Coast Mountains in Vancouver – each of my homes has had a ‘mountain’ view. As the pattern began to reoccur I remembered these verses from Psalm 121, and I often think of them now as I look out the window, sitting at my desk in the lounge room, still in awe of the privilege of being so close to Canada’s snow covered majesties.

But the thing about Vancouver in winter is, sometimes you can’t see the mountains. The rain clouds or fog descends, and when you look up the view has gone. There have been times in this season when that seems to ring true both climatically and emotionally. Sometimes when we look up to the hills, needing their strength, needing them to direct our gaze to the God who made heaven and earth – all we see is a fog, clouds blocking the horizon. Indefinite, transient, they softly (but firmly) block the view, taking with it our perspective and wonder.

In that moment it is hard to remember that which is beyond our vision – it is hard to have “assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Behind what we can see, beyond the limits of our vision, there are still mountains. On these cloudy days it takes faith just to believe in them, let alone believe we can move them … but they are there. Solid, foundational, just like the One who promises that we can look to them and seek His help. We turn and wrestle to remember His past faithfulnesses.

And then, one day, the cloud lifts. The sun (Son?) shines and we are again overwhelmed with their glory, reminded of their testimony, given renewed hope. Sometimes we can even carve out time for mountain top experiences. We leave town, take a day and immerse ourselves in their heights and glories. We are restored to the truth of the mountains, their beauty helps to make us whole again as they witness to the One who makes both them and us. Although they outstrip our tiny frames completely – they enlargen us, telling the bigness of a God who makes wide, spacious places and calls us to into them, to dwell, to rest.

It seems that this is the season for lifting my eyes and trying to live in the spacious places. A season for wondering at the view.

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Photo credit: Asher Graieg-Morrison

On Apple Tea Cake, art making and embodiment

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I made this pretty cake a week or so ago for the lovely couple who couriered my electric scales from Sydney to Vancouver. It is an old recipe from a church community cookbook that my mum has had in our family collection since I was tiny. Simple but pretty with the cinnamon crusted apple slice topping, it has graced many an Election Day school cake stall. I doubled it – the original recipe fits one of those tiny 50s style cake tins you may recall from older Home Economics classrooms – and added the alternative apple stripe pattern. I also swapped milk for milk powder – otherwise it remains true to the version Margaret Lack shared with the St Mattew’s Anglican church community in my childhood. I was glad mum could find the recipe for me and imagine that it will be making a few more appearances in the next little while.

One of my classes at the moment is called ‘Christian Imagination’ – it is the first of the Arts courses at Regent. We have been reflecting on the Ash Wednesday call to ‘Remember that you are dust’ – considering the nature of our dusty-‘flesh’-clothed humanity. We are makers of art, collectors of ideas, broadcasters of beauty, fixers and joiners of ‘stuff’ – because first and foremost we ourselves are ‘stuff’. Embodied, we ‘do life’ in this world, interacting and engaging with other bodies, other things, other stuff. Food is just one aspect of our everyday-walking-around-lives, and this recipe is just one example of gratuitous* human creation … but I hope that you’ll try it and that it will bring you (and those you share it with!) nourishment and delight in all senses of the words! .

Ingredients:
2 cups plain or all-purpose flour (300g)
4 tsp baking powder
1 cup castor or fine granulated sugar (240g)
4 tablespoons of milk (80ml)
50g butter
2/3 cup water (170ml)
2 eggs
1 green apple (granny smith)
1 red apple (try and choose a variety similar in size to the green)

For Finishing:
20g butter
1 1/2 tbs castor or fine granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbs cinnamon

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180oC (350F).
2. Combine the flour, baking powder and sugar.
3. Melt the butter, and once cooled slightly, combine with milk, water and egg. Whisk to combine.
4. Gently mix the wet ingredients though the dry.
5. Grease (and line if that is your preference) a 23cm (9 inch) round cake tin. Pour the batter in.
6. Slice the apple very thinly (I quartered mine then sliced the quarters so they were still fine wedges but each slice was of a similar width). Arrange the slices on top of the cake alternating red and green slices.
7. Bake for 50-60 minutes or till golden and ‘done’ when tested.
8. Melt extra butter and paint over the surface of the cooked cake while it is still warm.
9. Combine the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the cake.

*things that are non-necessary, we do them ‘just because’

 

Of much worth

A friend (kindly) remarked today that she found my previous post encouraging. To be honest, it was a timely comment. I need the same truth I wrote about a few week ago just as much today as I did then. I think I am a slow learner – sometimes it takes a long time for the truth to sink in. But maybe we all need to hear these truths more than once, repeatedly even. Thankfully this Truth stays the same, yesterday, today and forever! Over and over, day after day, the same reminder that we are so loved, that He has done it all well. That we can breath easy in the wide open spaces of His grace. I gear up, face my to-do list, and struggle through it … till I am reminded to look up. Reminded of words I have said, truths I have known for such a long time. No matter, I still need to hear them over and over, I still need to be reminded less me, more  Him, less fear, more joy. So here I am writing again. Mostly for me, but maybe these words will encourage you too!

Advent : the season of waiting.

In the Northern Hemisphere the images of waiting for light in a dark season ring true. This year, having been transplanted from the Southern Hemisphere into the North, I have been thinking about what we wait for in our warm Australian Christmas season. Rest comes to mind, as the busyness of another school year winds up in a whirlwind. Refreshment, as the waves and sunshine of the beach calls us tired students and workers toward the summer holidays. Maybe even shade and shelter, from the fiery southern sun! Despite the differences that geography makes to our theology, some of our deeper longings may draw us together instead.

 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Even though we stand in a long line of those who have not valued God for who He is and what He does, the story of Christmas is the story of ‘Immanuel’, literally the story of ‘God-with-us’ in the Hebrew. The story of Christmas is, as Eugene Petterson puts it in the Message, the story of God “move[ing] right into the neighborhood”. We may not have listened to His prophets, we may not have understood His plans and purposes, we may not have even wanted too, but that did not deter Him. This is a God who loves the fragile, stubborn, dusty earthlings He has made with a “never-stopping-never-giving-up-always-and-forever-love” (with thanks to John Mustol and Sally Lloyd Jones). Perhaps you have been avoiding His voice and call, are struggling to hear it over the loud, demanding voices of the world or don’t feel you are worthy of it, painfully aware as you are of your brokenness. Whichever is closest to your story, John tells us that the Word itself, Himself, God-in-Action, came near that first Christmas.

You don’t come near if you don’t care.
You don’t come near if you are indifferent.
You come near when you can’t help yourself any longer.
You come near when being far away a moment more will break you.

The first Christmas marked the beginning of a life that was not glamorous or guarded. He did not hold Himself back, He was not disengaged.  He moved right into our mess because He cared. He wanted us to know that we were worth more than the mess, worth the more than the brokenness, worth coming near. Worth knowing, worth loving and worth saving. He let coming near break Him, His life and death showing, beyond a sceric of a doubt, that He thought we were worth it, worth it all. The whole glorious complex creation, now-broken-but-waiting-breath-bated project was and is still worthwhile to Him.

It is worth knowing then, that while we do wait in eager expectation to see His final (re-)creative handiwork in the full renewal of His creation project, we do not have to wait to know what He thinks of us. Jesus came near, reached out, held hands, partied, mourned, ate and drank with people just like us. Each one “precious and honored” Isaiah 43:4, and of much worth in His sight. So when a dark moment or mood unmoors you, remember Immanuel. Remember that Christmas is the story of God drawing near, of Him moving into the neighbourhood (even when it was not a very ‘nice’ one). Of God giving us “His son, His only Son, whom He loved” (my rewording of Genesis 22:2), showing us how much we are worth to Him.

Fear not

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” Luke 2:10

Over and against the dark, anxiety, problems too big to carry and crumbling hopes, perhaps this is the call of Christmas. The first Christmas was not a moment for the faint of heart, there were visions, angels, social scandal and political upheaval. The wounds of dashed familial dreams were rubbed with salt – Elizabeth long barren and Mary an unwed mother. The national and geographical skies of Israel were heavy with unrest; God’s special people felt forgotten and abused. The stakes were high and there was much to be afraid of.  It should perhaps be unsurprising then that early in the story Zechariah (Luke 1:13), Mary (Luke 1:30) and Joseph (Matt 1:20) are each called to put away fear.

A quick word search shows that they stand in a long line of those called by God not to fear. Abraham to Revelation, the story of God’s people is the story of hearing those words; do not be afraid. And the reason, the follow up statement, the ‘why’? It begins with God Himself, His character and inclination toward them. They don’t need to be afraid because they have a God who promises to fight for His people (Deuteronomy 3:22) and deliver them (Exodus 14:13). A God who promises never to leave His people (Deuteronomy 31:6) and who promises to do good to them (Zechariah 8:15). He will be their shield and reward (Genesis 15:1). He will hear the cries of even the small and weak (Genesis 21:17). They do not need to fear great battles, great nations, doubt or discouragement because there is no other God besides their God (Isaiah 44:8) and He has determined to help them (Isaiah 41:14).

And the most incredible ‘help’ came one Holy Night in an unexpected way, a tiny baby, “a thrill of hope” in a desperate situation. The wonder of birth and new life bringing so much potential into the world. The angels herald the good news and again, call the shepherds from darkness and fear into something new that God is doing, great joy for all. At last, God among us. At last, face-to-face yet we live. At last, reconciled. At last, peace and rest.

This Christmas I am trying to let joy unseat fear. 1 John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love drives out fear” and Jesus came to demonstrate God’s perfect love for us, bringing peace for troubled hearts (John 14:27). Jesus Himself acknowledges that “in this world [we] will have trouble” but calls us to “take heart! [because] I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The One who is First and Last (Revelation 1:17) calls us to lay down our fear and rather to look to Him, the conduit of cosmic Love, Joy and Peace. Yes, Advent calls us to wait, but to wait with confidence knowing that “the hopes and fears of all the years” have indeed been met in the One who came and overcame, and “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 ESV).