Saturday, February 27, 2016

New Life for Dry Bones

I sat down at the table.  The man next to me muttered, “Might as well hang me now.”  The woman to the right of me picked up the block of clay in front of her and started kneading it enthusiastically.  I looked at my block of clay and waited for instructions, like a proper Presbyterian.  Yep, that’s the gamut of likely responses in an “Arts in Worship” workshop at the Next Church national gathering.

I was eager to attend this workshop, thinking it would give us ideas on how to incorporate various kinds of art into our worship service.  It turns out we were going to make art ourselves!  How fun!  Or how threatening!  Or both!

Despite the fear, I immensely enjoyed responding to scripture through painting, even though I have zero artistic skill.  I feel a great longing to be creative in connection with worship. I think that I am the only one who feels this way.  To paraphrase the prophet Ezekiel, ‘my bones are dried up, my hope is lost, I am cut off completely.’  God’s creative breath of life is in our worship, mostly through music, but perhaps we are missing out in not exploring other forms of creativity.

A longer description of the workshop is below, for those who are interested.

How do you like to express your creativity?  If you are part of a worshiping community, would you be willing to participate in an art project as part of worship?  Or would you make sure you had to be out of town that day?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As the workshop started, we were encouraged to fiddle around with the block of clay in front of us.  We had no instructions regarding the clay.  We continued to work with it if we wished, as we started the discussion.  There were two tables, with about 8 people at each table.
Some of our clay creations.
Mine is that thing in the forefront that is supposed to
 be "spilt milk".  It is not spiritually significant, but just
sort of ended up that way.

First we discussed how non-artistic adults generally feel about doing art.  Art (and any creativity, really) is viewed as fine for kids, but adults just don’t go there.  This workshop was about why adults should go there.

The workshop leader must have had a time machine on my life.  She described exactly what happened to me in second grade art class, when we painted a scene on a tile.  I was quite pleased with my scene of ducks and grass.  The art teacher denigrated it; the words are long forgotten, but the feeling is not.  Almost all of us encounter something similar on the way to adulthood.  Our human capacity for judgment and comparison takes over, and those of us who don’t have artistic talent stop making art at all.  It’s just too scary and painful to endure the judgment from others and ourselves.
At the crossroads of fear and creativity
Then we talked about confronting that fear and leaping into creativity. Making art unleashes freedom, joy, and wholeness, and that’s just for starters.  If you believe that you are created in the image of God (the original creativity maven) then exercising your creativity is an excellent way of showing it.  Why should only kids be able to do this?!  Why should only those with innate artistic talent be able to do this?!

In our workshop it turned out that the clay was just a warm-up to our main activity – painting a large banner.  Like most art, our painting was to be based on other art, and was to follow rules.  We were instructed to base our painting on our response to the Bible passage about Ezekiel’s vision of God breathing life into dry bones (Ezekiel 37). 

The blank canvas for the banner

We had a few minutes to discuss what images the passage evoked in us.  I think this discussion helped a lot, when it came time to start painting.  But before starting to paint, the rules: 

- First, paint on the space in front of you.  Paint your own response to the passage.

- After a few minutes, everyone is to move two spaces to the left and continue painting.  You may not erase, obliterate, or cover up what the person before painted in their spot.  You may embellish and extend their painting, or start painting in a new spot.  After a few minutes, go two more spaces to the left and extend that person’s painting.  Finally, return to your original spot and fill in spaces as you see fit.

- No talking!  This meant we could not collaborate. We could not form a committee to plan what to paint, or where.  (That is extremely unPresbyterian.)  It also meant we could not offer any evaluation of each others’ art.  We could not issue comments on our own efforts.  This was crucial – no compliments, no criticisms.  A compliment of one person’s art could be construed by someone else as an implicit criticism of their own art.  (“You liked her art, but didn’t say anything about mine.”)

- The workshop leader told us where the top of the banner would be.  She also said that there were pieces of tape running across the canvas, and she had prepared our canvas by painting blue over the whole canvas. After our art expressions had dried she would be pulling off the tape, creating bold lines across our art work.

We started painting.  At first I felt that familiar sense of self-criticism.   I started by drawing a kindergartenish slab of grass, thinking of "the fruitful land" from the passage.  Being more of a “words” person than a “drawing” person, I wondered if I could dare to write a word instead of just painting shapes and colors. I dared.  But which word?  I chose "fruitful".  I felt I should paint it upside down (my area was at the top of the canvas) so that the word would be displayed right side up. This was challenging.
Someone else enhanced my painting by outlining the words in gold
and adding other colors to the green part.

After a bit it was time to switch spots. I was perplexed after switching. It felt wrong to mess with what someone else had painted. It almost felt as if that spot was now sacred.  Instead of painting within that person’s area, I tried to extend from that area, reaching more into the middle of the canvas. 

By the time we switched again, I was feeling more bold, and reached into the middle to start a new shape. I painted the words "new life" in the middle of the canvas. Then I decided to paint a cell to represent a form of life and honor my sweet Younger Daughter and her interest in cells.

That greenish blob above the word "spirit" is my cell

When we were finished we had a great sense of ownership and accomplishment at having created a work of art together.  I do not know or care if it is beautiful in the eyes of the world, but it is ours, our expression of the scripture.  When our canvas was displayed in the worship space the next day, I again felt like a kindergartner, proud to have my work up on the refrigerator.
Our banner hanging in the sanctuary

Another group's banner

I just have to add that I believe that it is good and right to have beautiful art, created by truly talented professional artists, in our worship spaces.  It can be appropriate to evaluate sacred art and display what is inspiring.  In fact, if we non-artists are to do art, we need the professional artists, who figure out things like how big the canvas should be, what kind of paint is best, how long to let it dry, how to display it.

Professional art: Abraham
Tiffany stained glass window
Professional art (close up).
We amateurs just can't do this.

Professional art: wood carving

Our workshop group did not create our banner in order for it to be evaluated or compared to professional art.  It is valuable in that we ourselves made it as an expression of our connection to holiness.  For me personally, it felt like new life for my dry bones which are longing, aching, yearning to be creative in worship.

The third and fourth groups' banners

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cold with hints of warmth

Carmi, over at Written, Inc. has challenged bloggers to publish photos of cold.  We got some o' that here!
Our street, last week.
(Click to embiggen for a more intense cold effect.)

But there is hope.  Ten days ago (but not today, alas), we could see the grass, and I noticed one foolhardy hyacinth peeking through the soil (sorry, no photo).  The forsythia, the lilacs, and the Kwanzan cherry are showing their buds.

Buds on the Kwanzan cherry tree
After getting my shoes all wet to take photos of snow on buds, I retreated to take some snow photos from inside the house.  This was a photographic challenge for this novice.
This photography method keeps the camera and
photographer warm and dry.

The best activity for a cold, snowy day?  Making soup.  It's also helpful if you have a cold, which I do.
Aerial cell phone photo of self making
 soup in slow cooker.  This was a
difficult photo to take, because I feared
dropping my phone in the soup.
Also because I had to clean out the sink.
For those few of you who need to see more photos of cold, here are three recent past posts which include photos of cold.

Icicles We Have Known and Loved, March 2015

A Lord's Prayer for a Snowy Day, March 2015

Avalanche Manor, March 2015

Apparently I was really sick of winter in March 2015. If you need even more photos and stories of winter (but why would you?) check the blog labels for the words cold, ice, snow, and winter.  There are a lot of them.  I guess I am always impressed with winter.

I encourage you to stop by Written, Inc and follow the links to the other entries for "Cold."

Sunday, February 14, 2016

I Heart My Drain Cover

Here is what I received from my dear husband today in celebration of St Valentine’s Day.  It was just what I wanted!

A new drain cover for the drain in the garage!  Score!

I must quickly add that he also gave me orchids, chocolate covered pretzels and Cuties (clementines) for his cutie.

For the past 6 months, every time I parked the car in the garage, I saw the rusting drain cover that had served faithfully since the Revolutionary War, and imagined myself dropping my keys, my phone, my glasses into that hole, which clearly led to the first circle of hell.  A week before Valentine’s Day, I thought, I know! I’ll ask my Dear Husband for a new drain cover for Valentine’s Day.

And then I promptly forgot to mention it at all.  On Friday I was just about to bring it up, when he said, “I went to two big box hardware stores and couldn’t find a new drain cover.  They told me to go to Tiny Independently Owned and Operated Hardware.  The guy there told me he was out of that size.  I had to order it from ‘Hard to Find Items’.”

My Valentine’s Day gift to you, Dear Reader, is to tell you that Hard to Find Items is a business that actually exists.  I don’t know if they can sell you Aunt Rose’s necklace that fell behind the radiator twenty years ago, or a signed copy of the Gutenberg Bible, or my older daughter’s passport*, or the mustard bottle that was last used in July, but if you want a cast-iron drain cover for your True Love, this is the business for you.

In fact there are several such businesses.  But only online.  Gone are the days when you can hold the drain cover in your own hand and consider its weight, color, and beauty before you purchase.    

Family valentine's gifts.  

My gifts to DH and to Younger Daughter included dark chocolate, Dictator Valentine cards,  homemade Lobster Bisque soup (recipe at the end of my post for Valentine's Day 2011), and Scottish-style smoked salmon (a celebration of both my ethnic heritage and my husband's).  

My gift to Older Daughter was to send her a photo of her passport, which she needed in order to apply to go overseas after graduation, because why get a job right away?  Alas, I did not give my son anything for Valentine's Day.  I will have to bake him a pie when he comes home.

I also want to ask, Dear Reader, if there is any item which you have discovered is hard to find.  What causes you to raise your lamp, like Diogenes in search of an honest man?

*I found the passport, because I have the superpower of finding things belonging to my family which they have misplaced.  That includes the mustard which was last used in July.

And Happy Chinese New Year, too!
I am not sure it is pointed in the right direction.  

Saturday, February 6, 2016

In The House Stew

Kristy at The Crislers has asked for crock pot recipes.  If you’ve got one, you can go to her blog and help her out by leaving your recipe there.  If you don't have a recipe, you should go there anyway and read her blog.

I love my crock pot (slow cooker, for those of you who call kleenex “tissue”).  A few days ago I made this recipe for the first time.  It was very well received by the clientele here in the Common Household, all three of us.  It doesn't quite meet Kristy's request for "tried and true" recipes, but I think it's a good one.

I also have two other crockpot recipes on this blog, here (Peanut Chicken) and here (Financial Crisis Soup).  (But my all-time favorite “soup recipe” is here.)

I am calling this “In the House Stew” because I changed the original recipe in major ways, based on what I did or didn’t have in the house.  (Sometimes I simply can’t face the grocery store.)  My husband always wants me to change my recipes by adding cream of mushroom soup, but the very idea disgusts me.  Even thought I didn’t make that change, he truly enjoyed this stew. 

The whole reason I decided to make this in the first place was because I had a sweet potato (okay, actually, it was a yam) in the house.  My husband usually calls such a yam The Ornamental Sweet Potato.  I am prone to buy a yam for some recipe or other, and then not have the enthusiasm to make that recipe, so that the yam sits on display forever, looking nutritious.  This time the yam was fresh and I did not want it to become ornamental.

Here are the changes I made.  I would bet the original recipe would be even more delicious.

- I used beef instead of pork, because I had beef in the house.  Major shift in taste.

- I used half a can of plain diced tomatoes, because that’s the amount that was leftover in the fridge.  The stew was quite thick, probably because it had only half the liquid it was supposed to have.  Next time I will use a whole can.

- because the tomatoes didn’t have green chilis in them, I added 1/16 tsp red pepper. 

- On a whim I decided to throw in a stick of cinnamon.  Yum! Took it out about half-way through cooking, when it had unfurled and the house was smelling nice and cinnamony.

- I used regular yellow onions instead of scallions, because I had onions in the house, but no scallions.  Also, are scallions the same as green onions?  Either way, I didn’t have them in the house.

- I never got around to putting in the lime juice, although I did have it in the house.  I think lime juice would go better with pork than with beef.

- I did not put in cilantro, because I didn’t have any in the house.

- I cooked it for about 6 hours.

- I fully intended to serve it as suggested, with a salad of black beans, orange, and red onions, but got engrossed in actual paid work, so I never got around to making the salad.

Cuban-Style Pork and Sweet Potato Slow Cooker Stew
A Weight Watchers recipe

7 SmartPoints per 1 ½ cup serving.
Prep Time: 15 min    Cook Time: 7 hr 5 min          Serves: 4        Difficulty: Easy

This stew's both a little spicy and a little sweet. Serve with a salad of black beans, orange and red onion tossed with low-fat vinaigrette.


1 pound uncooked sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
(I used one large yam.  I have no idea how many pounds it was.)
1 pound uncooked lean only pork loin, cut into 1-inch pieces
14 ½ oz canned diced tomatoes, with green chiles
1 clove garlic clove, minced
1⁄4 cup unsweetened orange juice
2 medium uncooked scallion, chopped (green parts only)
½ tsp table salt
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp cilantro, fresh, chopped


1. Place potatoes, pork, tomatoes, garlic, orange juice, scallions, salt, cumin and pepper in a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker; cover and cook on low setting for 7 hours.

2 .Stir in lime juice and cilantro; cover slow cooker and cook for 5 minutes more. Yields about 1 1/2 cups per serving (including some cooking liquid).

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Just in case you want to exactly replicate my stew protocol, here is my revised recipe.

In The House Stew

1 large uncooked yam, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound uncooked lean beef stewing meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
half of a 14 ½ oz canned diced tomatoes
large dollop of minced garlic – probably about 1 ½ tsp
1⁄4 cup unsweetened orange juice
2 small yellow onions, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp table salt
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp black pepper
1/16 to 1/8 tsp red pepper


1. Place all ingredients in a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker; cover and cook on low setting for 5-6 hours.

2 .Remove cinnamon stick after a few hours.


Sweet Potato Rolls is another delicious way to use a yam,
Ornamental or Not.