The thing that I have is probably what I need

index_cardThis morning I reached in my pocket and pulled out a tattered index card.   I give these cards to my students so they can write down and remember vocabulary words.  Without thinking, I took it to the trash and tossed it in.   I then began my next task which was writing my ‘to do’ list for the day.   As I wandered off to find a suitable sheet, it occurred to me that the paper I had just tossed was exactly what was needed.   This unremarkable event is representative of how my mind works these days.   I wandered back to the trash and fished out my tattered index card.   On it, I wrote out my list of things to do, writing this blog entry at top of the list.

Lately I challenge myself to look at things for what they might become rather than what they are.   I take a lot of joy in visiting our local thrift store “Dig and Save” to wander through the aisles and wonder how this or that item might be repurposed.

Consumer society wants us to covet the latest product.  The unique and extremely desirable qualities of such products are meant to lure us into stores, and dig deep into our pockets.   Sadly, products are the object of someone else’s imagination and we get none of the fun creative part that draws us in.   Instead, our role is limited to covet and savor it at least until it’s appeal has faded and it is time to buy another one.

Yesterday I went off to the stores right after Thanksgiving.   Yes, I had barely said goodbye to my guests when my family and I decided to venture out into the dangerous world of Black Friday shopping.   Needless to say I gave my daughter a guilt trip about running out to the stores on Thanksgiving.   When we got home, I told her that my receipt contained a request to evaluate my experience at the store.   She dismissed it saying “You’re not really going to fill it out are you?”   To her surprise I sat her down and gave her a two minute lecture the essence of which was “The old testament says that when we have a day of rest, even slaves and animals are included in that rest.   The least we can do for the cashier who took time out of his holiday to help us would be to sit down and write a glowing review for his personnel file.”

My thought in lecturing my daughter or in writing this blog for that matter is not to ruin everybody’s day with guilt, but to transform thinking.    If this challenge I give to myself is going to be transformative, I really need to look, not only at things for what they might become, but also to look at people for who they may become rather than what they are.


A show worth viewing: Elizabeth Palay


Horizons , 2013 Oil on Canvas, 12″ x 48″ by Elizabeth Palay

This afternoon I took a long postponed trip to visit an art exhibition of Madison artist Elizabeth Palay.    I was glad I went.   Palay paints vibrant abstract paintings which drew me.  Since the show is a retrospective of work spanning decades from the 1970’s to the present, it made me wonder why I had never encountered her work before

The striking aspect of her work is the way she sets colors next to one another.   In many of her pieces there is active movement across the entire surface, but the result is not unbroken uniformity.   Instead there are often subtle variations that move the eyes across the image.   I had many favorites, but I especially liked some of the horizontal works near the second floor entry.  Palay’s is distributed on the first two floors of a medical building at 800 University Bay Dr.  The show is open Mondays – Friday 9am – 6pm.     If there was one disappointment it would be my desire to see more clearly the works that suffered unflattering light.  Palay’s work can also be seen at

An Old Problem with the Church


Recently I stumbled on a passage from Acts that I had not read before.   Acts 20:7-12 tells of a time Paul is preaching a lengthy sermon in a crowded upper room.   As the sermon drones on and on one of the congregation who was perched precariously in a in a window falls asleep and tumbles to apparent death in the street below.

I was struck by this story in a “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming kind of way.”   I decided to sketch an image of it.  I have been sketching biblical passages for about five years and find it useful to explore a text visually.      As I sketched I thought about being sleepy in church and wondered how the author or subsequent church leaders wanted this passage to be read(*see footnote below).  Was it a cautionary tale?    Regardless of how others wanted this to be read, to me what I took from it was that boring preaching was deadly.  I began to think about how the church might learn to move beyond overreliance on the spoken word.   There are multiple ways to connect with God.   However more often than not the church is still stuck in this mode of preaching long winded sermons.    One can see evidence in church payrolls where the preacher takes the lion’s share and the roles of youth minister, music director and organist follow far behind.   To the extent that they exist at all, roles such as liturgical dance director or visual art coordinator tend to be volunteer positions.

So how can the church move beyond being a church where spoken word is the primary means of encountering God?    I wish I had an easy answer. Things have not changed too much since Paul.   The image of a preacher putting his congregation to sleep is sadly familiar.  It is probably not a coincidence that I have not encountered this passage over the years.   Who can expect a pastor to share such an unflattering passage.  However I do remember an artist who was willing to broach this topic.  When I was growing up the artwork of Robert O. Hodgell was widely collected by churches and faithful in our region.    Hodgell depicts this theme in his print “Words, Words Words.”


This site has more information on the life and work of Hodgell

Before you damn me all to hell,  I should clarify my stance.  I would not go so far as to advocate a ban preaching or anything like that.   The bible is an amazing text that is worth reading and preaching about.    And of course I have read the gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.“  My point is that the church has some very old and unproductive habits that bear scrutiny.

Even as I outline my concerns, I hope that the arts might be a way for Christianity to find a new vitality in the future. A church that empowers sculptors, singers, filmmakers, dancers, painters and poets could bring out the best of us.   It might be possible that a new paradigm could be forged to awaken people, but so far the most interesting developments in this area seem to be happening at the fringes.   One might point to contemporary music services as a push to shake things up, but in my view contemporary music services are not the answer.    The contemporary formats I have encountered embraced rather old fashioned theology and did not have a lot to offer musically. In other settings I have seen church art committees make an effort to make art a part of the church.   These committees often seem to encounter brick walls and are encouraged only to the extent that they do not get in the way of what has always been done.

The story of the congregant that Paul put to sleep concludes on a happy note as miraculously the sleeper is resurrected.   I would hope the health of the arts in the church could come alive in a similarly miraculous manner.  I fear that I will take a lot of effort, but in God all things are possible.  Lets pray for the best.

*In researching this blog entry, I came upon another interesting interpretation of the origin of this story, which predicates that Luke used a literary strategy called hypertextual transvaluation to base this on an episode from Homer.    The full essay by Dennis R. MacDonald is posted here:

Doug Haynes is a painter, writer and the spouse of a pastor.