Saturday, September 08, 2012

Stilling Life

Some of my paintings are now on display at the Multnomah Friends Meetinghouse at 4312 SE Stark Street. (I’ve included images of three here.) Except for Sundays, the open hours at the building are pretty hit and miss.

I’ve written the requisite statement to go with the exhibit, but I won’t share it here. Instead I will offer other thoughts that occurred to me as I considered what to say.

As a Quaker who worships in silence, I find special meaning in the art term “still life.” The phrase from Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God” is at the heart of it. Painting a still life requires one to still one’s own life and, in so doing, “know God.” The painting invites the same of the viewer. Be still!

In that still state, the Art Spirit, to use Robert Henri's term, inhabits the canvas.

A still life has been defined as a painting of an inanimate object or objects. I include landscapes in the definition because they can be frozen and made still by photography. To me, the above seascape is a still life, a depiction of stillness as seen from an Oregon beach.

What is this “stillness”?

It is more than quiet, more than meditation. The stillness is not simply within you but at large and accessible when you turn to it.

It is the stillness depicted in a still-life painting.

Stillness conveys a purity of Truth, with a capital “T.” Words cannot describe it. An image, however, offers an opening by stilling life as experienced by artist and observer.

A still life is painting ... and being.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Jesus bombs as political convention keynoter

Republican convention organizers set up a special prayer room for the delegates. Presumably they were praying for victory in November. Not to be found lacking spiritually, the Democrats set up their own small sanctuaries.

As we well know, the invocation of God is standard fare in American politics.

But it was the selection of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey as the Republican convention’s keynote speaker that got me thinking the great political gatherings could use a little gravitas beyond your run-of-the-mill politician.

Why a mere Christie when you could have Jesus Christ himself? Well, not exactly a second coming, but perhaps Clint Eastwood could deliver a few choice gospel lines for the GOP. There wouldn't be an empty chair in the house.

The Democrats still have the chance to trot out a savior impersonator. George Clooney comes to mind.

The Good Book can get wild at times, but if the Republicans didn’t vet Eastwood, why should either party muzzle Jesus?

What might the famed Jewish rabbi say to Democrats and Republicans alike? I’m certain he wouldn’t want to take sides. How could he? From his perspective, they are pretty much the same.

But let's let him have his say....

There he is up there on the great national stage, partisan delegates range before him in awe. In hotel suites, millionaires, even billionaires, who’ve paid for the proceedings and the whole electoral process, monitor the great event on massive screens.

The crowd hushes in reverence, and the Savior gets down to cases about the economy and those who are “under water” or saddled with debt of all kinds.

“Forgive the debt owned by another as God forgives that owned by you.” The crowd's silence turns uneasy.

“Do not give your money to one who repays with interest. Give your money to one who won’t repay at all.”

As an aside, he reminds his audience, “It is easier for camels to enter the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

In the back of the hall, someone boos and yells, “Socialist!”

Pointing to the heckler, Jesus counters, “As you notice the speck in another’s eye, be aware of the tree in your own.”

Some begin to squirm as hissing, booing seep over the floor.

The voice of the young rabbi from Galilee rises above the tumult as he notes the homeless in the streets of American cities and invokes the deeds of the good Samaritan who came to the aid of the traveler, beaten and left for dead.

“Several stepped around the seemingly lifeless body, but the Samaritan stopped, he cleaned and disinfected the traveler’s wounds, he put him on his donkey and brought him to an inn, he gave the owner two denarii and promised to pay the rest when he returned.”

“He should have left him to die!” comes a voice from the crowd. Others chime in, “Let him die! Let him die!”

Then, as he looks out over the well-scrubbed and now outraged delegates, Jesus preaches, “Only the wretched are guiltless. The mighty will be brought down; the lowly will be raised up!”

Next he turns his speech to the hundreds of billions spent in "defense" of the great democracy. He tersely commands, “Love your enemies.”

Defense contractors head for the exits as the hall resounds with booing and anger. “Who is this nut?” someone yells. “He’s crazier than Eastwood!”

Jesus continues. “If someone strikes your right cheek, offer your left. If someone takes your coat, offer your suit. If someone forces you to go one mile, offer to go another.”

“Nut case!” “Idiot!”

Undeterred, Jesus turns next to the vicious partisan attacks that dominate the nation’s politics. “A nation divided is a nation defeated. A household divided is a household destroyed.”

No one knows where the chant begins, but suddenly the words are broadcast throughout the nation. “Remove him! Take him away! Security! Security!!”

And so the organizers, realizing their terrible mistake, escort Jesus off the stage. Outside he is hustled into a waiting patrol car.

He is charged with distrupting the peace.

The next day, the prayer rooms, sponsored by several large banks and oil companies, are closed. The wheels of the great democracy grind on. The parties choose their leaders by acclamation.

They are men in tune with the times and the will of the People.

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