Don’t be THAT girl…

When I DJ, I’m always trying to please a room full of people – it’s quite a feat I tell ya. You’ve got kids asking to hear Justin Bieber and grandparents requesting Ella Fitzgerald all the while the bride has told you not to play any country or anything by Beyonce or the Black Eyed Peas or U2…

So I am like the Wizard of Oz sitting behind my DJ booth literally making magic happen for two, three and sometimes even six hours straight and I always seem to get one girl that thinks she is the DJ and that she really knows what is best. “Play some Kendrick Lamar” she says… “Kendrick Lamar?” It’s not a name I know, I’ve heard it in passing, but it’s not something that is ever requested and definitely not something that everyone is going to know. “Will everyone dance to Kendrick Lamar?” I say in response slowly transferring the responsibility to their shoulders. “Yes, everyone will LOVE IT! It’s going to be so great!!”

I’ve heard this line now probably 100 times. There is always that person that thinks they have their finger on the pulse of society. They think that their personal playlist is what everyone is grooving too and they are oblivious to the fact that I get PAID 100’s of dollars per hour because I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING. I’ve DJ’d so many parties and worked so many crowds that I actually do know how to read people. I give you what you want before you even know that you want it. You will find yourself swaying your butt to my beats even when you didn’t think that was going to happen. I go slow when you want fast because I know that you can only handle so much fast. I speed it back up right when you are hungry for speed and I keep the party ebbing and flowing all night like a well choreographed dance routine.

“This song is a sleeper!” Another girl whines as she huffs by the DJ booth. C+C Music Factory is blasting from my Bose speakers and the crowd behind her is singing every word and dancing away and LOVING it. She grabs her friend and storms off in a tizzy as if my song choice is a personal insult to her. Yes, the song was before her time, but the rest of us can only handle so much Ke$ha, Bieber and Britney.

“Can I sing a song?” This time the lady is thin and attractive and I’ve got a good feeling about it so I say, “Sure.” She does a great job singing a song and the crowd really loves it. I think that she is happy, the crowd is happy, she got her 5 minutes of fame… but that is never enough. Being in the spotlight is very addictive. Once you get a little taste you can’t help but want more. “Can I sing another song? Please?” I’m not sure why a person’s tone goes to begging so quickly, but it does when someone is desperate. It’s like they are feening for another hit of crack. “Okay, I’ll let you do another one.”  Eventually I have to cut them off. They start thinking that the reception is their personal time to shine and suddenly it is about them and their vocal talents, not the bride and groom or the rest of the crowd.

Lastly, there is that girl that not only wants to have you play their requests all night, but she brings in her iPod and insists that you play her song that is going to be a hit. “What, you don’t have it? No problem, can’t you just plug in my iPhone/iPod/Shuffle/Android/Walkman?” Ugh. It’s not enough that I’m juggling singers and lighting and dancing on the dance floor myself but now you want to plug in your device and integrate it seamlessly into everything else that I’m doing. Okay. I can do this… and I do, and normally the song is an EPIC FAIL. My assistant will often say, “Cut it” people will even come over to the booth and say, “can you change the song” but no, I force them to endure the lameness that way, the person that requested that I play the song knows that they are responsible for clearing the dance floor. I want them to go away hanging their head in shame so that they NEVER request another song again, or, at least not one that is on their playlist because if I don’t have it, it’s probably not a hit.

And ladies, I’m sorry to pick on you cause I do love you… but, it does always seem to be a gal that storms off in a fit if she doesn’t like what I play. It’s always a woman who gets drunk and causes a big scene dropping glasses of wine on the dance floor and it’s almost always a lady that gropes me inappropriately or flashes me in hopes that I will play their song or let them sing on the mic. Really, it doesn’t take all of that, it just takes being nice and flashing a smile…

Group Therapy

It seems that lately my life revolves around going to groups. Home group, accountability group, group therapy, group projects… It is something that I cannot escape, nor do I want to. Recently I’ve been attending an in-depth redemption recovery group that has been so cathartic and… well, hilarious. Sin can be ridiculous sometimes especially when viewed in the light of day. In the moment sometimes it seems so overwhelming and burdensome, but when you look at it through the grace that Christ gives us then it is marginal.

As much as it pains me I’ll admit that I still struggle with sin. Yep. I do. I struggle with gluttony and the inability to tell myself no. I love pleasure, who doesn’t? I love to eat and spend money and masturbate just as much as most men and maybe a little more. I don’t like to admit that, but I think it’s time we all stop pretending that we don’t sin.  Over the years I’ve gotten better, but it’s a constant battle that I often lose.

There were seven of us in the group last night. We meet in empty rooms at a church. The hard metal chairs are cold and uncomfortable but the conversation is easy.  “How has your week been?” Paul, our group leader, asks. He has gray hair and looks like he just stepped out of a Gap magazine but he’s extremely genuine and that puts everyone at ease. “I’ve been struggling with meeting random guys off and on for the past year and it is getting out of hand.” The man that says this looks like a baseball player. He’s a seminary graduate. He has the kind of personality and demeanor that would make him instantly popular in any setting and the things that he confesses are shocking because they are such a juxtaposition to the image that he presents. The more he talks the more I can see how our thought patterns are similar. We open the door just a tiny bit to sin and then suddenly it’s wide own and we can’t pull it back shut. At this point it is normally fear and self-loathing that force us to reach out for help to get the door shut.

I’m always surprised at the transparency of the men seated around me. It’s a privilege to sit next to them and hear about their lives. We rarely see behind the masks of people we are around every day.

One guy in the group talks about how he wants to be a better husband and father and in comparison to the rest of us his struggle seemed almost minor. In my head I sit their thinking, “Do you really need to be here?” The reason I think this is because I feel that his sin is small in comparison to many of the rest of us, but that’s foolish thinking.  It is easy to add weight to certain sins and even rate them on a scale of “Sort of Bad” to “Your about to burn in hell!” I was blessed that this man had put aside his pride and joined up with a bunch or serious derelicts to overcome his sin. He said, “I’ve been to other groups, but here, people are real.” I couldn’t agree more.

All of us in group want to be free of sexual sin in some capacity. Maybe it is pornography or maybe it is something more, but what bonds us together is not our sin, but our desire to be more like Christ. Everyone struggles with sin, but it takes a lot of courage to sit in a room and divulge your darkest secrets. Digging up those sins, laying them at the foot of the cross, asking for help – that is when the healing begins. Unfortunately, fear of rejection and fear of what other people will think holds us back from telling the truth. This fear is unwarranted and irrational.  At the end of the day I don’t love people less because they struggle, I love them more. Those people are my brothers. Those men I “get” and they “get” me. At group we are all broken. We’ve been stripped bare of our pride and we stand raw and exposed. We have become a blank canvas awaiting the brush stoke of the master’s hand awaiting to see what he will paint next.

When I left last night from our group session I couldn’t help but feel like I was walking on air. The truth does indeed set you free and the bonus of that is the deeper understanding of who you are in Christ and the great love that he has for you. It’s humbling and overwhelming. I literally swim in a sea of grace and for that I’m truly thankful…


And then my heart exploded…

For most of my life I’ve wondered if God really did indeed keep his promises… I’d heard a thousand sermons. I’d read the entire Bible, but still, I felt that somehow I was being overlooked. Where are you God? It was a question I asked often.

For most of my life I’ve been consumed with myself. I spent hours thinking about me, wallowing ins self-pity and often self-loathing. Insecurity, shame, low self-esteem – these were adjectives that were graffitied on the walls of my life.

But last year I joined a community group and God brought a few other people into my life and I was shown so much love and grace through them that my blinders were removed. God was there all along. He was carefully guiding my steps, growing me, shaping me according to his will and to make me ready for his purposes. For years the very things that I thought were keeping me apart from God were the very things that actually made me see how much he really loves me.

It’s easy as Christians to think that the church and people and even God are going to let you down. It’s easy to find yourself stuck and despairing, but God is always there even when no one else is around. Those lonely moments are quiet opportunities to cry out to him, to listen, to pray, and to wait. Psalm 40:1 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord, He inclined and heard my cry.” I know there is truth in that verse.

This year I have been consumed by the love of God so much so that my heart that was once hardened to the truth – and to the Love of God – has now exploded. I have been shattered by the outpouring of love and grace that has been shown to me by others and by God. I have a new hunger and thirst for righteousness that I never had before and like Paul I boast in my weakness, because it is in my weakness that God is made strong.

For most of my life I was consumed by shame and fear, but now that is all gone. I am consumed by the love of Christ and I pray that you have the opportunity to experience that in your life.

The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith and the Christian Community by Robin M. Jensen

Where Has All the Art Gone?
Yes, Yes, YES! Kept popping in my head as I read the words of Robin Jensen in her book The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith and the Christian Community. From the first chapter I found myself drawn in as she talked about the place of art in the church – or rather it’s absence altogether. Where has all the art gone? What happened to chapels with painted ceilings? When did beauty and design become frivolous and unnecessary in the church?

As a graphic artist I’ve often felt “hushed” by the church, silenced like a small child that should know when to keep quiet. “Excuse me!” I would say eagerly. If I were in a classroom my hand would be raised and I’d be stretching my fingers wildly and rocking about to get attention, but this isn’t a classroom, just a drab conference room that once again is stripped bare of any personality or design. “What if we added a bit of color to this wall?” I would ask sincerely, my imaginative mind rife and overflowing with possibilities. My question would be met with blank stares and incredulity. “Who is the new kid?” their expressions would say. Then audibly they would respond, “Well, that’s a nice idea (read: bless your heart), but that’s not in the budget.” I quickly learned that the old Japanese Proverb, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”, was indeed quite true. Thwack! I felt the hammer often as my ideas were slammed down. It hurt. It stung on the inside as much, if not more, than a literal pounding on the outside.

At the church where I worked my creative skills were seen as a “nice-to-have” but definitely not a “must-have”. What I thought was just as necessary as a bathroom and chairs; the church thought was superfluous and at times laughable. However, in my experience, budgetary constraints were not the only limitations to church beautification. Even if the artwork could be done for free it was still not valued. Sure it may have looked nice, but did it really function any better? The feeling that I felt most often was dismissed. “Please go away with your creative ideas, we have more important projects to attend to.” While my experiences at this church might have been unique, from what I gathered from Jensen’s book, they were and still are quite common.

Art is Critical, Not an Afterthought
To the artist, art is the foundational element, not an afterthought. It is step one in the planning process, a crucial cornerstone. Art is the heart and soul, the core, not the icing on the cake.

What Jensen seemed to highlight in her book is that Instead of leading with beauty and art, the church has led with form and function. Sterility is a virtue. Boring is synonymous with spiritual. Being forced to worship in a room that is as barren as a cave or a monastery is the only way to truly communicate with God, as if art and beauty are distractions, not something that could incite passion, love, desire or faith. Besides, beauty is not to be elevated or worshipped. No, that is idolatry. Art should know it’s place and it is not in the church, especially not in the sanctuary.

So what has the treatment of art by the church communicated to the artist? That their skills are of limited worth and value – which communicates that they are of limited value. Each artist considers their work part of who they are, a reflection of themselves just as creation is a reflection of God. To not see our art is to not see us.

Art and the church often don’t mesh well because art is controversial. Art elicits a response. It asks a question. It stirs emotion. It causes riots. It causes splits. The church doesn’t have time for that.

Christianity and the arts used to have a great marriage. It was a love affair, a partnership that allowed artists to make a living by doing what God created them to do. But for the most part art and church have been divorced and there seems to be no simple path to reconciliation. Why did church and art become two things that couldn’t coexist in wonderful harmony where each elevated each other? The reasons are many but the most simple are money and then tension that exists between the church and the artist. Art is a form of self-expression; it can be beautiful, abstract, ugly, and awe-inspiring. It is often hated and misinterpreted, but it cannot be ignored. True art speaks. It cannot be silenced. Since the creation of time art has been speaking. “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” (Rom 1:20 NLT)

It is through art that the world was created. It is through visual imagery that ideas are reinforced and it may be for this very reason that art has been removed from the church. Art causes us to feel and feelings are complex. Instead of living in a world of logic and fact, art lives in a world of fantasy and “What if?” This can be frightening.
Art and Entertainment
In very recent times there does seem to be a shift toward an entertainment model of church. Big screens and flashy media along with graphic backgrounds and other “art” are often used in large churches. However, even these uses of graphic design are often met with criticism. “Couldn’t that money be spent on missions?” “Shouldn’t we spend that money on the poor?” Where does the church draw the line between sensational production and misappropriation of resources? As a church should we be trying to compete with a rock concert or multimedia conference? The questions are endless and there seems that there needs to be some balance between marketing, creativity and the purpose behind our “art.” As a graphic artist I know that sometimes resources are very limited, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be creative and find other ways of implementing art without spending a lot of money.

Offensive Art
In chapter six of Jensen’s book she mentions some artists whose art can be extremely offensive to some people. An excerpt from the book, which is talking about an art exhibit called Sensation, reads:

One object in the exhibit got special attention in the press, becoming notorious as the “Virgin Mary with Elephant Dung” painting (otherwise known as The Holy Virgin Mary) by African artist Chris Ofili. During the time of the show’s run, the media gave so much attention to discussion of the exhibit in general and this painting in particular that the show became a kind of blockbuster, a result primarily of its deliberate intent to be shocking and even offensive (hence its name).

When we hear about art that is shocking or offensive we have to run it through our own personal and cultural filter. What might induce apoplexy in America may be mundane in Milan. Artists whose work features religious items mixed with feces, blood, or urine, like Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ”, are sure to elicit a response – most likely anger, from anyone who has been raised in a religious household or who loves Christ. However, because art is a form of self-expression it is hard to define what exactly is “true” art and what is just an attempt to infuriate a religious group or organization merely as a publicity stunt. So where does that leave churches and religious organizations that want to incorporate art into their buildings and sanctuaries? It seems that the best approach to this is to create a guide for artists to follow as well as educating their congregation and church members about the purpose of the art in the church. As an artist my clients request specific artwork and while I get to input my own creative stamp on it, I understand that if they ask for a picture of Jesus I better not paint him to look like Satan. When it comes to artwork that is done on commission then there is a balance, a push and pull that happen between the client and the artist. For me, it is in that struggle that some of my most creative work happens. I believe the same is true for the church. There will be conflict, there will be times when we disagree, but we must fight, and fight fair, in order to progress, otherwise we stagnate.

WORK. With a Purpose.

“If you are working 29 hours, it’s 29 hours, it shouldn’t matter what you are doing during that time.”

This was a statement from my boss at a church where I used to work. I was a bit annoyed and exhausted with my position there because I signed up to do ministry and I felt like I was doing manual labor, babysitting and web design. Eventually I quit because I never felt like that role was a good fit for me. It was a good decision for both me and the church.

“They both pay the same, so what’s the difference?” Amy said this to me when I told her that I no longer do computer support. I was working with a client doing a design project and she was like, “My husband needs help setting up his office, some basic computer networking, etc. She was right, the hourly rate was the same. Most guys would love to make $65 an hour to simple tasks as setup a few computers and do a little networking, but I didn’t really have the time or the interest in doing that work, even if it paid more than what I was currently making.

If time is time and money is money, why should it matter what I’m doing?

At the very core of who I am, I am a designer. I don’t care about sports, or construction projects, or programming, or car engines. I care about how uniforms look during sporting events. I care about what a construction project looks like when it is finished and I care about how cars look, but as far as the inner workings, I’m not all that concerned. The reason is that for me the only thing that really matters is how it looks. So what’s my point?

My point is this… even if shoveling dirt paid $100 an hour it is not fulfilling, nor does it make me better at what I love. I love design and every single project I work on is an opportunity to hone my craft. I don’t want to just be good at design, I want to be the best. I spent 33 years of my life not knowing what I wanted to do for a career. I had no real passion. I was a ship without a destination or a captain. But now, I have a course plotted for my life and I am the captain of this ship. I do not have time to stop along the way and learn how to shovel better, or repair a car engine, or re-tile a floor. No. I leave those jobs to people who are passionate about them. That doesn’t mean I’m not self-sufficient taking care of some projects, but if I have the ability to make hourly money doing something I love, then I will gladly work 2 hours and make $130 and then pay someone else to mow my lawn, fix my car or tile my floor. The satisfaction I get from a job well done is not received when I try to do a good job with home projects or something else that I’m not good at and I just don’t have time to learn how to be awesome at everything. No one does.

At the end of the time I’m like Sweet Brown, “I ain’t got no time for bronchitis…” and I ain’t got time to do work that doesn’t make me better at what I love.