*This is re-post of my summary from the Ministers to Artists Retreat I attended last year at Laity Lodge in Kerrville, TX. In about six hours I'm leaving to go again. I blogged the heck out of last year's event; you can see the other posts here.*
encaustic workshop palettes (most of the photos in this post are from the fabulous Erik Newby)
Twelve years ago -- and only six months after giving birth to my fourth beautiful, amazing, delightful child -- I left home for a spring break road trip with my sister and her friend. I was superfried, bonafide dog-tired. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and all other lly's, at the end of my rope. The funny thing about the request is that I was invited as a kind of chaperon -- as if I had anything left to offer in the way of oversight! It was I who was falling into a dangerous burn-out; a depression that feels something like dangling over a cavernous blackness, held by only a frayed diaper wipe.
We rolled southbound, swinging through my sister's Virginia campus long enough to sleep a short night before throwing her, her bathing suit and her roadtrip music into the girlfriend's Ford Taurus. Stereo blaring, we hit Florida like giggling bandits.
You need this back story to understand our behavior the night we hit Daytona Beach. First of all, it was night. Also, hot and stormy. The silent sky over the Atlantic held jagged, fluorescent bolts of lightening, a blinking marquee showing coming storm attractions. Kaley and Ellen ran the hardpacked sand -- fully clothed -- all the way into the frothing surf. I watched from the soft sand, vicariously living their delight.
It was an inebriated college student, tottering into my sandy reverie, that reminded me of my chaperon responsibilities. Oh, beautiful irony -- the drunk frat guy had more sense than the stay-at-home, mini-van-driving mom!
Excuse me, miss? But they're crazy, for one thing.
He continued his granular zig-zag toward Daytona's downtown strip before I could find out the other thing. An implausible guardian angel, he seemed to have much wisdom for us.
a blurry scan of our beach antics
For some reason, this is the story that came to mind while I was at the retreat. Stories do that sometimes. When my mind is stalling to explain new thoughts, experiences, feelings, it is often a metaphor that saves the day. Like the kingdom-proclaiming Messiah, sometimes the best way I know how to translate the intangible to the tangible is to start my sentences with: " It's like ...."
Without question, the artistic energy surrounding me at the retreat was an overwhelming force of beauty, breaking through my well-groomed reserves of exhaustion and ministry disillusionment. I've attended plenty of events with talented people. Other events where creative people from across the country wander campuses, huddling around steaming hot beverages, holding earnest conversations. Here, though, there was an arresting difference. I can only guess it was a difference of enterprise. A fearless, risk-taking way of life, art-making, and people-serving that brought to memory those two lightening-storm, surf dancers. When I tried to explain it to Brian, the best I could do (other than the drunken guardian story) was to sputter: "It's like these people have five or six sentence vocations."
What I mean by that is that almost no one at the retreat could describe what they did for a living in a predictable category, like you'd find in a survey scroll-down box. Even more astonishing was the complete lack of qualifiers these people felt obligated to give about their chosen way of wild living.
Example? Gen makes art and loves to travel. Her husband, Mat, is a theologian, loves to travel and has an ambition to know and serve Muslim people. Therefore, it made perfect sense to them to [in Gen's words]:
...work for this international non-profit missionagency. We look to connect visual artists around the globe to ways to serve by creating cultural exchange and community enhancement projects. We arrange these opportunities for artists and lead them on cross cultural excursions. I love my job and thank God He designed such a unique way for me to serve.
The Carsons have also founded an art collective, promoting artwork from the artists they've met around the world. A place where, they hope, by piecing together the images from individual artists making art in order to make sense of the world, a fuller vision of the world will be captured. A site to collect, promote and sell those works? Well, of course.
Shannon is an encaustic artist with a deep affection for beeswax and an uncommonly delightful outlook on art and life. Her husband Erik is about all things photography and web design. He is also a kind man with a standing high jump that would make any Olympian take notice. Also, he grew up in Germany with his missionary parents. Naturally, they've determined that all these pieces put together [intheir own words]:
We believe that God has called us to use our abilities in visual and media arts in full time missions work in southwest Germany. As we've travelled, we've witnessed firsthand how God is raising a generation of Christian creative people who want to engage culture in a new way.
As Shannon shares in a recent interview, once she completes her master's degree at Regent College, they will leave for a small town near the Black Forest in Germany. Part of their team is already at work there, renovating a 25,000 square foot abandoned building into a community art center where Shannon will serve as a studio artist and teacher. Erik will continue working with GemStone Media, creating resources like print material, websites, and short videos for churches and missionaries in Europe. By all means.
Vito Aiuto is a Presbyterian pastor in Brooklyn (and a proud Sicilian). When he married his wife Monique, they decided they'd like to be, among other things, a musical family. So he taught himself to play guitar and she the glockenspiel (yes, indeed). They played together in their living room using old hymnals and shape note songbooks. Sometimes their friend and Brooklyn neighbor Sufjan Stevenswould play with them. Indubitably, this partnership grew into recordings and musical tours as The Welcome Wagon. Still, Vito is a pastor, Monique is a mother of their toddler son and they keep playing around with songs and notes and lyrics in their living room.
The [utterly delightful] Welcome Wagon
For crying out loud, Charlie Peacock's own wikipedia page says that he is "difficult to categorize." His job title includes singer/songwriter, pianist, record producer, session musician, music industry consultant, co-founder of artist development and music publishing company, mentor, author and social justice advocate. His wife Andi loves to write, garden, cook, study theology, and show hospitality. Naturally, the two have worked side by side over the years mentoring young artists through their non-profit organization, Art House America.
The Art House America mission is to contribute to the making of artists and artful people who become highly imaginative and creative culture makers, who continue to mature spiritually, love well, and make known the kingdom of God. Andi and Charlie's home, the Art House, a one-hundred-year-old, renovated country church provides the setting for their work, which includes owning and operating a recording studio, and running award-winning music/film production and publishing companies. (Cardus audio, March 2010)
But, of course.
Miriam Jones and Charlie Peacock
Miriam and Jez Carr are shining examples of ministry at Charlie and Andi's Art House. Actually, Miriam Jones is the recording name. And she can sing and share her heart with nitty-gritty honesty. She told the story of a recent recording she made with Charlie Peacock. And how, after recording all her best stuff, CP congratulated her and then challenged her to go write some more. That she had more to offer the project. She followed his lead and came up with this tune. If, for no other reason, this makes me glad for the ministry of Art House.
I also met Brian who teaches at a classical school, Jeff Guy who paints and runs an arts ministry, Terri who is an arts pastor at a church in Austin (also, of her four children, two of them currently working in film in LA) and Brie , an NYU theatre grad, arts pastor and new mama. These are the names and stories of just a few. The more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense that this would be the group gathered at a retreat dreamed up by the ambitious and passionate David and Phaedra Taylor.
To conclude this series as a witness to those who were gathered at Laity Lodge in the early breezes of a Texas March, this post speaks to us as those scattered. As I pulled out of the camp and back onto Route 41 toward San Antonio, I was caught by the sign at the entrance: Road Work Ahead.
I shared this story about the spring break and the lightening storm and the crazy for one thingstatement. I shared it during Sunday morning Eucharist. I told the group:
You guys are crazy, for one thing...
... but this time, I know the second thing. In addition to an your almost reckless pursuit of God's purposes for your lives, you and the work you do is also beautiful. I told them that. And I told them how hard it was for me to come to this event. How small and insignificant my life experiences, education and talents feel in comparison to the stories I heard. I told them how before the retreat when David solicited our prayer needs I replied that I felt like a little kid at the big kids table. And how David had left a message in my voice mail telling me that was not true. That, in the best sense of the word, I had every right to be at this table. The common table. And that when I'm thinking otherwise I needed to tell Jesus so He could help me.
All weekend long, this table motif showed up. When we sat at breakfast, lunch and dinner tables -- discoursing on themes of art, ministry, books, family, wounds and please, pass the bread. It showed up one lunch time when I sat in the wrong seat; I took my seat too soon, not knowing if the seat was free. This resulted in me spending the rest of the afternoon in my cabin crying for some crazy, junior-high flashback reason. Most of all, it showed up at the bread and wine Sunday morning. All my life, I've not been sure which seat at the table was open for me. I'm still not entirely certain, but I do know that there is a place for me. It is a good seat and a good fellowship and I hold a common place there. Now and forever.
There is work ahead for sure. Brian and I are entering a new season. Starting January 2011, he will have a new job. It will be a perfect job for this time in our lives. We just don't know what it is yet. We do know that we have a fellowship among crazy, beautiful people who make common look exceptional. Naturally.