Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Every Day

Culture is such that we observe special days and seasons. On a certain level, that's unavoidable, and I guess we can take advantage of the Christmas season by sharing Christ with people who normally aren't open to hearing about Him. I'm sending out our annual Christmas letter, buying gifts online (almost through with that), and am playing Christmas music on my computer as I type this post.

But during our morning devotions today, John read a passage from Galatians that arrested my attention. Paul, concerned that the Galatian believers were being influenced to depend on Jewish rituals for salvation, wrote:

But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. How is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?  You observe days and months and seasons and years.  I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain. ~~Galatians 4:8-11

My immediate reaction was to wonder if, by observing Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, I've bought into the same sort of religious legalism that threatened the Galatians. But the Lord reminded me of a passage in Romans that keeps Galatians 4:8-11 in perspective:

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord, and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. ~~Romans 14:5-6

 As John and I discussed the two passages, we realized that special days ultimately derive their specialness as they point to the Lord. Therefore, the more central He is in our lives, the more He makes every day a glorious celebration! We get Christmas every day!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Firm Foundation

For years, "How Firm A Foundation" has been my favorite hymn. It reminds me that the promises of God in the Bible are all I need, for they direct me to Jesus.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving: Directed Toward...?

Gratitude is chic these days, probably thanks to Oprah's "Attitude of Gratitude" campaign back in the 90s. America, by-and-large, considers itself to be a thankful nation, aware of its blessings and committed (at least during the third week of November) to expressing said thankfulness. Well, it is good that we realize how many wonderful things are at our disposal, especially if we realize that much of the world doesn't even have running water or three meals a day. I'm not knocking that type of thankfulness, really.

But as I see it, true thankfulness has two obvious implications, both of which are either ignored completely or receive noncommittal lip-service. Abraham Lincoln mentioned both implications in his October 3, 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation, which I'll quote in its entirety:

   The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of thhe United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

Firstly, notice that thanksgiving implies that Someone deserves thanks. No, not "lucky stars" or good fortune. Not even a nebulous "God" of whom we know little, and who really has little claim on anyone. Such thanksgiving becomes thinly veiled self-congratulation, failing to acknowledge any sense of indebtedness. To truly give thanks, a Person must be our Benefactor. Lincoln, without apology, identified that Benefactor as "our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens."  

Thanks, therefore, must be given to God in the Person of the Father, presupposing that He purposefully has bestowed blessing. It assumes that He cares for us, and therefore has a relationship with us (regardless of whether we embrace, reject, or remain indifferent toward that relationship). True thanksgiving directs us to praise and adore Him, knowing that He is the ultimate Source of everything we have.

Secondly (and consequently), gratitude implies that humans owe thanks to God, acknowledging dependence on Him. Those who are self-sufficient owe thanks only to themselves. Once again, any attempt at thanksgiving only amounts to self-congratulation under the veneer of humility, refusing to embrace true dependence on the Lord. But Lincoln pointed out that only God could have sustained our nation through the Civil War, and our thanks needs to be expressed in humility...and even penitence. 

Simply put, we remain indebted to Him. Thanksgiving confesses our constant need for His care, and praises Him for His willingness to meet our needs. As we confront His power to provide what (whether we admit it or not) we could never provide for ourselves, we ultimately face our indifference to His commandments, and our need to repent. Even in such humility, however, we end up adoring Him for giving us forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving, then is less about our blessings, and more about our generous Father. It's about praising and adoring Him, remembering His power and mercy. I can list many blessing I've received, and that would definitely be right and appropriate. But my primary focus must never deviate from the glorious One Who gives those blessings. That's the real point!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Open Spaces and Innocent Faces

Having enjoyed artwork representative of the American Revolution during our visit to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Wednesday, John and I decided to try the New American Cafe in the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Courtyard. Now, I understand that Angus Beef is high quality, but (I'm sorry) $14.55 (after member's discount) is (dare I say?) a bit hard to swallow.

The Shapiro Family Courtyard, designed to be a meeting place, is 12,184 square feet with a 63-foot high ceiling. If you'll enlarge John's photo by clicking on it, you'll get a glimpse of the New American Cafe on the lower left. You'll also get an idea of the courtyard's immensity!

This next photo, taken from the opposite side (though the same end) of the courtyard, gives an idea of its width. I'm not thrilled with that "sculpture," but I suppose it's consistent with the architecture, so I can accept it. All-in-all, it's a beautiful courtyard...just not our preferred dining venue,

After lunch, while enjoying the At Home in the New Nation gallery, I spotted a charming portrait of an adorable little girl and her kitty (who apparently didn't appreciate being wrapped in a baby blanket). 
When I read that the artist was Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph and Morse Code, I was both surprised and amused. Isaac Horne, an affluent auctioneer in New York, commissioned Morse to paint his five-year-old daughter Susan. Little Miss Horne is, to me, especially enchanting because I'd never thought of "Dot-dash-dash-dot" as an artist who would paint such sweet, tender subject matter.

John and I progressed to the Second Level, and immediately saw John Singer Sargent's best-loved piece, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit
Notice that the Japanese porcelain vases on either side of the painting are the same vases that Sargent painted. We'd seen the painting and vases a few years ago when we attended the Americans in Paris exhibit. At that time, for reasons I frankly don't recall, we didn't take a picture, but I'm glad we waited until Wednesday. It just seems right to share it in its new home!

In the At Home and Abroad gallery, John called my attention to a painting he knew would interest me. As he started to share its title, Boston Common at Twilight, I simultaneously recognized the Tremont Street side of my beloved Boston Common. Although I've never seen it at twilight, nor blanketed in snow, nor in the 19th Century, Childe Hassam painted it so well that I knew it!

As I gazed it, both missing the Common and rejoicing that I could experience it through art, I heard a man introduce himself to John as Malcolm Rogers, the director of the museum. John was able to tell him how much we love the museum, as well as offer a suggestion for improving accessibility for wheelchair users. (His assistant agreed with me that the New American Cafe is overpriced.)

Before leaving, I spotted a sweet painting of a little girl among vases of hydrangeas.

It was John Singer Sargent's portrait of Helen Sears, daughter of Boston photographer Sarah Choate Sears. I'm still deciding which captivates me more: little Helen or the hydrangeas.

John and I are already looking forward to our next visit to the Museum of Fine Arts. So much to see! And another reason I'm thankful to live near Boston. We'll still visit the older wings of the museum (I'm interested in the Scaasi: American Couturier exhibit), but this new Art of the Americas wing has won my heart.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

American Revolution In Brushstrokes

For our last anniversary, John gave me (and himself) a 12-month dual membership to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He did so, knowing that the new Art of the Americas wing would open in November. Indeed, the 53 new galleries, devoted to the art of North, Central and South America, opens its doors to the general public this coming Saturday, but this week the museum has allowed members to preview the collections. So yesterday, we went, very excited.
John Singleton Copley's famous portrait of Paul Revere greeted us as we entered the first gallery, making me feel quite at home with my beloved 18th Century Boston. Winter may keep me away from Freedom Trail walking tours, but I can still visit the Patriots who, over the past few years, have almost become my friends.

You can see silver pieces on either side of the portrait, cast by him and his father, Paul Revere Sr. On the wall to the left, however, was something even more exciting: an early copy of his Boston Massacre engraving, which he circulated to inflame Colonists against England.
Propaganda? Unquestionably! Alas, that's a topic for its own blog post. But it reminds me of some of the more amusing aspects of our nation's struggle for independence (i.e., that killing five people could be seriously called a "massacre," and that Paul Revere and Samuel Adams would use this quite embellished depiction of the event to start a Revolution). As I looked at it, a sense of awe tempered my amusement as I realized that this engraving, propaganda though it was, helped create the country that I love!

We entered an adjoining gallery, finding as its centerpiece Thomas Sully's 1819 "The Passage Of The Delaware." We got to hear a "Spotlight Talk" (ten minute lecture) on the painting, which again would really demand its own blog post. Let me bypass the historic event it depicts (for now) to explain that the 1,000 pound painting is 12 feet tall and 17 feet wide. The  gallery put an extra niche in the ceiling, just above it, to accommodate its height, and a ledge beneath it to hold its weight. It has recently been reunited with its original frame, which is freshly gilded.

That gallery also holds Gilbert Stuart's portrait of 90-year-old John Adams. His son, John Quincy Adams, commissioned this portrait so he could remember his father "as he was." I don't agree with a few things Adams did as president for (particularly the Alien and Sedition Acts), but for the most part I greatly admire both him and Abigail for the multitude and depth of sacrifices they made for our country. Indeed, he is under appreciated. So I gazed at the portrait, feeling as if I could actually talk to him. And I felt thankful to him!

Next time, I'll post other photos from yesterday's excursion, but I've shared the photos John took of paintings that directly narrate early American history. There are, of course, more portraits of American patriots that we'll photograph during future visits to the museum, which means I don't need to wait until spring to have close encounters with my favorite period of American history. 

John sure gave me a great anniversary gift, didn't he?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Becoming The Person

While my Personal Care Attendant put away the laundry this afternoon, I killed time by giving my portrait facial highlights and shadows. I'd originally intended to skip those details (mostly due to laziness), but when I opened the file Saturday night, it was clear that I really needed them in order to shape the lady's face. So, wishing I could progress to the hair (the most interesting part of a drawing for me), I obediently matched the color to her dimple, and proceeded to define her face.

I varied opacity and blend modes. I rearranged layers. Digital art, remember, employs different tools and techniques than traditional artists use. I adjusted blurs, and again adjusted layer opacity. Suddenly, my heart skipped a beat, and I recognized my friend! I'd begun to capture, not just her face, but her personality! As I looked at what I'd accomplished, my excitement about the project returned. At last, the portrait is more than blobs of color on my computer screen, and I'm interacting with a woman I've known since I was in high school and she was one of the few "adults" in our fellowship group. Now as I work, I hear her voice and recall scattered incidents over the 32 or 33 years I knew her (she went to heaven a few years ago).

As shadows and highlights brought her personality to my portrait today, so the Lord uses shadows and highlights to give us personality and dimension. That's something to think about, huh?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lighten Up. I'm Serious!

Lately, serious topics have preoccupied my thoughts, and I really want to write about them. That's fine; it obviously means this old broad is still using that brain, thinking analytically, and using the Internet to research various issues. (Much more productive than posting Status Updates on Facebook about what I had for lunch).

Sometimes, though, my reflective nature can get me in trouble, especially since I'm a Christian and a Republican. So, I'll post my opinions (admittedly not always as gently or diplomatically as I should), creating a firestorm. As I've recently done on Facebook, actually. Even when I apologize for stating my beliefs too brutally, I'm still reprimanded for having those beliefs. I'm judged for being judgmental, and labeled intolerant by those who don't  tolerate opposition to their beliefs.

Nothing novel about people reacting to conservative views with anger, though. Jesus promised such reactions (John 15:18-25). So I'm not surprised, and I try to remember that their outrage is more about them than about me. Not easy, and really uncomfortable, but once I let the Lord deal with me about any sinful attitudes I might have exhibited regarding my presentation (and all to often, I do need to repent on points of attitude), it ceases to be my problem. Those hearing me are, from that point, responsible for accepting or rejecting my perspective.

And then I approach my blog, longing to defuse the tension by posting something fun. During summer months, that's easy. There's always a Boston Adventure to share, with videos of squirrels and photos of odd buildings and stories learned from Freedom Trail Tour Guides. Now, however, it's cold outside, making less opportunities to go out and play. So I have more time to think about what I believe.

Those thoughts come out when I'm staring at the blinking cursor,despite my fervent attempts to think of funny stories or write in the style of Dave Berry and Erma Bombeck. I want to be funny and light-hearted, and maybe I'll succeed next time I post. But if I'm again serious...well, that's where my mind will have been. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

If You Love Me, Hate My Sin Part III

Sin, although it's now inherently embedded in human nature, grieves the Lord so deeply that He came to earth as a Man (while not ceasing to be God) and died as a substitute for us, thus atoning for our sin. He rose again, breaking the power sin has over us. If you think seriously about His action, you'll realize that He doesn't gloss over our disobedience.

God created us in His image. I'm not skilled enough in theology to fully understand all that being created in His image means, but much of it centers on reflecting His character. He created us to be holy, as He is Holy. When we sin, of course, our thoughts, attitudes and actions are anything but holy, and therefore we pervert His image. In other words, we become soiled...we obscure any resemblance to His character. And because His holiness can't accommodate our unholiness, we separate ourselves from Him. Even when we accept Jesus, thus receiving His mercy and wonderful forgiveness, sin still distorts His image in us.

The good news is that the Holy Spirit gives us power to refrain from sin. We have the responsibility to appropriate that power, certainly, and that's what I'm getting at in this series of blog posts. We can obey Him, showing the world that He really does transform lives! We can live in holiness, reflecting Him to a world that desperately needs hope. What we, in our self-absorption, call "responsibility" (heaving a weary sigh of martyrdom) is actually a glorious privilege, and we should rejoice that God allows us the honor of representing Him to experience Him. As 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, we are Christ's ambassadors, showing others that, through Jesus, human beings can be reconciled to God.

When I give into anger, or when you give in to whatever sin that seems to be part of "who you are," God's reputation is maligned by those who reject Him. Thus, we grossly distort His image. Frankly, I hate sin when I see it locking people away from the blessings of God. Often, I'm accused of being judgmental, bigoted, legalistic and (most recently, to my amusement) toxic. But I love people enough to hate the sin that imprisons them.

I hope you'll love me enough to hate my sin.

Monday, November 8, 2010

If You Love Me, Hate My Sin Part II

Yesterday, I argued that anger is, in essence, a sin I commit (all too frequently, I'm ashamed to admit) rather than an unavoidable part of my personality. Perhaps I can't help feeling the emotion, but I very well can help my response to it! In that respect, therefore, anger is not "who I am." It's a choice to act on my impulses in disobedience to the Lord.

In another sense, however, anger is an expression of my sinful composition, which is  innate in all humans. Rather than explaining the doctrine of original sin in this post, I'll refer you to a short article about it at Got Questions? (a nifty little website explaining various aspects of the Bible). One popular catch-phrase says: "We aren't sinners because we sin; we sin because we're sinners."

At that point, the wonderful grace of God, granted through Christ's death and resurrection, breaks into the picture. When I committed my life to Jesus almost 40 years ago, He placed His Holy Spirit in me, giving me the power to resist sin. I am  born again, no longer a slave to the sin that was inherent to my being until I gave myself to the Lord. Jesus has given me the ability, through His Spirit, to choose not to sin.

Sadly, I don't always appropriate the power He's given me. I'm learning, much later than I should have learned, and I grieve that I so often conform to this world instead of being transformed into His image (see Romans 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18).  By the grace of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, I am free to turn away from my natural inclinations in order to reflect my heavenly Father's character and values! I pray that I'll use that freedom more consistently, rejoicing in the power He's given me.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

If You Love Me, Hate My Sin Part I

My husband loves me. That's why he hates my besetting sin of anger. He knows, as do I, that while I may not choose to feel anger as often as I do, and while my Cerebral Palsy makes it really difficult for me to compose my physical responses when I feel irritated or angry, what I do with my anger is very much up to me. If I fly into a rage, bullying people with verbal abuse, threats and belaboring my arguments long after they've apologized, I'm sinning. If I refuse to forgive, browbeating someone over a real or perceived offense, I'm sinning. Yes, sarcasm, name-calling and character assassination all constitute sin too. Sulking? Check! Whining and self-pity? Undeniably! Yelling? Oh please!

And I've used all these tactics, in various combinations and degrees of intensity, since I was a small child. Not because of childhood trauma (as one pastor once suggested), but because it generally worked! Early in life, I apparently discovered that temper tantrums controlled people around me, so that they eventually caved in to whatever demands I had at the time.

Although I became a Christian at age 17, it's only been in the last 13 years that I've acknowledged my anger as a sinful attitude. I'm still learning to control it rather than trying to use it to control people, and my progress has been embarrassingly slow.

But 13 years ago, I took the first step by recognizing that anger is not "who I am." Yes, I'm Irish, and come from a family that yells, pouts and punishes with anger. At times, I used that heritage to excuse my sin of anger, claiming, "I'm an O'Conner." Additionally, I internalized an observation that a friend of mine once made. He said, "It seems like those of us with Cerebral Palsy have explosive tempers." (Looking back, a few of us in the school for disabled kids indeed had volatile tempers, but others did not. I suspect my friend made his comment to rationalize his own outbursts.) As I aged, I saw myself as inevitably given to fits of anger because I was an O'Conner with Cerebral Palsy!

But God sees my angry outbursts as sinful behavior, and He takes neither my Irish heritage nor my disability into account. Jesus indeed paid the penalty for my anger when He hung on the cross, but He also gave me victory over it when He rose from the dead. When I offered Him my life as a high school student, He gave me His Holy Spirit---the Spirit who expresses Himself by (among other things) giving me self-control. I've been slow to appropriate that self-control, granted. All I can say about that spiritual retardation is: Praise God for His mercy!

My husband reminds me of Jesus. Like Jesus, he hates my sin of anger. In fact, it fills him with righteous anger! He sees my anger quench God's Spirit in me, distorting me from someone who reflects His values and seeks His honor into a self-absorbed tyrant. It keeps me from being the woman God desires me to be. In short, my husband, like Jesus, hates my anger because he loves me!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Playing With Paint Shop Pro

Last April, I joined PSPFamily. No, it's not a cult. Actually, it's an online forum for digital artists (like me) who use Paint Shop Pro. Summer is gone, and it's been too cold and/or rainy for Boston I'm getting more interested in Paint Shop Pro.

Yesterday, while perusing the forum's topics, I noticed they had a challenge on making background patterns (something I have difficulty doing) and then using the pattern to make a "signature tag." Why not? So, after a few mistakes in understanding the tutorial they supplied, I managed to design a background:

My user name for the forum is Bride48, symbolizing the fact that I finally became a bride at age 48, so I decided to tag that name using the pattern. I really like my results:

Monday, November 1, 2010

An Unenthusiastic Artist and Her Squirrel

Drawing portraits has been successful for me, which is why I'll keep drawing them. I love making the emotions spring to life. I'm not sure why I'm so pleased with my final results. I suppose I could wax theological about men (and, since I primarily draw them, women) being made in the image of God, impressing people with my "deep spirituality," and many would believe me. If that's part of my fascination with portraiture, I am humbled that the Holy Spirit would give me such an attitude. But mostly, to be honest, I'm just amazed that I can actually draw portraits that well. So I'll keep doing them...including the challenging lady that I wrote about in The Hows.

The process, however, is almost inevitably tedious, and I'm afraid I must admit I usually lose my enthusiasm midway through a project...if not sooner. So yes, I'm in that dawdling point of my present portrait, drawing maybe just a bit once or twice a week and feeling quite daunted by all the elements yet to put into the picture. Of course, those very elements capture the woman's 80 years of life, and her joyous (though tiring) decades of serving the Lord. They show both her weariness (indeed, she went Home to Jesus three years after the photo I'm drawing from was taken) and her love for Christ. Obviously, for me to omit them, simply because I'm tired, would disrespect her memory.

But this past weekend, I needed to shift gears in order to write and illustrate one of my Church Mouse Parables for the bi-monthly newsletter that our church publishes. Once the newsletter is published, I'll link to the online version here so you can read the story. The point today, though, is that drawing the mouse and the squirrel taught me that I have spent too much time on serious drawings, and have my playfulness.

Drawing that squirrel took just a couple hours, and I put him together simple by manipulating seven circles and a triangle. Flatten a curve here, make a bend there...use a  cut-out to blend gray fur into brown sheen. Blur that white tummy. And presto: a New England squirrel named Eddie appeared!

Eddie taught Mousie a lesson on thankfulness that I'll share in a couple of weeks, but he also taught me to once again play with Paint Shop Pro. Drawing portraits rewards me in one way, and it's important that I persevere when the work gets uninspiring and tries my patience. I will finish the portrait that I began in September, and I will email it to the woman's daughter as a surprise. But I'll once again draw fun, whimsical things that take less time and more imagination. Such projects remind me to keep my artwork fun. And they restore my enthusiasm for drawing portraits.


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