Postcards from Babylon (Book Cover Design)

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A long-time favorite author of mine, Brian Zahnd, is releasing a really important book soon, and I have had the immense honor of designing the cover! The book is called Postcards from Babylon: The Church in American Exile, and it is set to release in January 2019. Stay tuned for more details and fun stuff like a giveaways :)

Artful Living : Curiosity > Passion

Curiosity has been neglected, even though there are few things in our arsenal that are so consistently and highly related to every facet of well-being — to needs for belonging, for meaning, for confidence, for autonomy, for spirituality, for achievement, for creativity. 
— Todd Kashdan, psychologist 

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People talk a lot about  finding and following your passion these days, but I have to side with Elizabeth Gilbert on this one. Liz – author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear – claims that curiosity, rather than passion, is the key to living an interesting, creative life. 

Following your passion is a romantic pursuit, and if you have a passion – particularly one that somehow easily translates into helping you pay your bills – then by all means go for it. But not everyone knows what their passion is, and even if you do know, passions aren’t really known for their powers of sustainability. I think I’ve had about 150 different passions in my short lifetime. Maybe a couple have been consistently present this whole time, but it’s taken me almost 30 years to really identify those.

Passion or no passion, everyone can be curious. Most of us came by this naturally as children. It’s a capacity we can and must recover in ourselves if we are to realize our creative potential as adults. Remember that game you could spontaneously launch into while riding in the car as a kid? The Why Game

Why is the sky blue, Mrs. Betty? 

Well Sarah, the blue light from the sun collides with molecules in the air and….

But why?

Well the Earth orbits around the sun, and …

But why?

The game could go on forever. It was a playful way to be a pain in the ass without getting in trouble, sure, but I was always somewhat genuinely curious about the answers to all those why questions. I’d surprise myself sometimes by how far the string of questioning could go, and sometimes it’d take me into territory I’d never previously thought to enter. The questions themselves were vehicles into new realms of ideas – and more questions.

Creativity isn’t only about expression. It’s just as much about discovery. And to discover, we must ask questions. Curiosity fuels the art of asking questions. It renders your experience of the world interesting and opens our eyes to the value, depth, and complexity of all that you encounter. It feeds into the art of paying attention, kicking our sense perceptions into high gear and prompting us to collect whatever new information we can about ourselves, another person, topic, place, or activity. 

Eventually, following the trail that your curiosity takes you on may lead to finding “your passion,” and that’s wonderful. Though even if it doesn’t or if it just takes a while, you’ll have had an engaging journey with tons of material for creativity, understanding, and maybe some new friends collected along the way. Even the great Albert Einstein claimed to have little in the way of talent, only passionate curiosity…and look where that got him.

Interesting people are interested people.  Conversely, bored people are boring people.

Are you interested in the world around you? What about the world within you? You never have to be bored again. Get a little curious, pay a little closer attention, and you’ll unlock layers of interesting realities that’ll keep you occupied for years to come. Really. I don’t think I’ve been bored in over 10 years.

Curiosity teaches us a few more things that are essential to artful living. First, curiosity requires humility. To readily seek out more information, you have to admit that you don’t have all the information. Saying “I don’t know” can be so liberating and can lead you into a rewarding process of investigative learning. Additionally, curiosity can form in us a habit of perceiving the unknown with positive regard rather than with fear or disdain. Our life can expand as we follow our curiosity rather than shrink around increasingly rigid boundaries of what’s right or wrong, safe or unsafe, for you or against you. The expert on this, Elizabeth Gilbert, even goes so far as to claim that a creative life is “any life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” Finally, curiosity forms us in the way of empathy – which begins with asking yourself what it might feel like to be another person. Connection through this curiosity about each other must start with curiosity about ourselves. We must have some honest grasp on our own felt experience to have something with which to relate to another’s experience.

So how do you cultivate curiosity?

Here are two practices that might be helpful:

  • Midrash. I borrow this term respectfully from the Jewish tradition. One type of midrash in Judaism includes investigating a scriptural text by asking every possible question one can come up with about it. This process inspires theological creativity, often resulting in the rabbis writing additional parables and stories to fill in the gaps  of a text or to shed new light on it. No questions are prohibited and no one right answer is expected to surface. The text is the beginning of generative conversation in this tradition, unlike in Christianity where it tends to be the end of conversation, purported as the final word. I find this approach fascinating and invaluable not only in relation to sacred texts. I think this is a practice with which we can engage many things. Are you confused about a situation? Sit down and write out as many questions as you possibly can about it. See where it takes you. Working on a project? Don’t understand a pattern of behavior you keep repeating? Not sure what to believe about something? Making a big life decision? Don’t understand a friend or family member? Midrash it. It takes some practice to build up these curiosity muscles. Sometimes I’m appalled by how few questions I can come up with initially, but stick with it. It’s worth the effort. 

 

  • Beginner’s Mind. The great Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, once said, “Be willing to be a beginner every morning.” This wise instruction is an echo of the Zen Buddhist concept of beginner’s mind. Think about how you approach subjects or activities when you are a beginner versus when you feel like an expert. What’s different about the two postures? A beginner’s mind lacks preconceived notions, prejudices, and judgements. It is present to the moment, open to the experience, and ready to learn. This mindset breeds curiosity, creativity, and forming deeper connections with those around you. An expert’s mind is fixed. Its perceptions are not easily altered, and it is all but shut down to change, novel observations, or new lines of questioning. Where in your life would you benefit from a renewal of this beginner’s mindset? Perhaps write Meister Eckhart’s quote on a notecard and place it somewhere you will see it each morning reminding you to approach your day as a beginner. See what opens up for you! I'll be doing the same.

*offer good through Jan. 28, 2018


The above text is an excerpt from my in-progress manuscript of a book about artful living through lenses of creativity, connection, and community. More excerpts to follow in this blog series titled Artful Living.

Influences: Lisa Congdon / Art Inc.

 Lisa Congdon's new book has officially been added to my  Arts & Creatvity Bookshelf .

Lisa Congdon's new book has officially been added to my Arts & Creatvity Bookshelf.

 Visit Lisa's website:  lisacongdon.com

Visit Lisa's website: lisacongdon.com

I've recently discovered Lisa Congdon, fine artist, illustrator, and author, and she's quickly becoming a big influence on my work. Lisa found her identity as an artist in her 30's and has built an amazingly successful career in the last 10-15 years or so through smart, hard, and dedicated work. 

She shares in-depth details of how you can make a living by making visual art in the book Art, Inc. (The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist)There is more practical guidance in this book than in most resources of a similar sort, which I expect I'll go back to and reference as needed. The design of the book is also excellent, which I appreciate as the book is indeed about art/design. (It only makes sense I suppose, but this is not always a given.) There are other books in the "Inc." series including Creative, Inc. , Blog, Inc. , Craft Inc. , and Mom, Inc.

Hear/see more about Lisa Congdon's life and work in the videos below:

Influences: The Bookshelf (Part 2)

I appreciate when other artists give us glimpses into the influences that undergird the work they're making, so I've decided to periodically offer you those glimpses of the things that comprise my creative process. Hope it's interesting or helpful to you in some way! Read the Influences series in full here.

This is part 2 of a mini-series within my Influences series here on the blog. Series could be my middle name...clearly. 

In compiling the list of books that make up the core of my bookshelf and highly influence how I work/who I am, I've realized that we're working with a pretty large bookshelf...so I'm breaking this up into a few posts divided by category. (Click each cover image to learn more &/or add each book to your own library...)

Previous categories:

Upcoming categories: 

  • SPIRITUALITY/PERSONAL GROWTH
  • INTENTIONAL COMMUNITY
  • BIOGRAPHY/AUTOBIOGRAPHY
  • FICTION

Today's category: 

SOCIAL-PSYCHOLOGY, PERSONALITY & CONNECTION

Influences: The Bookshelf (Part 1)

I appreciate when other artists give us glimpses into the influences that undergird the work they're making, so I've decided to periodically offer you those glimpses of the things that comprise my creative process. Hope it's interesting or helpful to you in some way!

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There's no way around it. What I read highly influences the way I'm thinking and whatever work I'm making. Whether the content is directly related to art and the creative process or it seems like it's from somewhere out in left field...in some way or another I'd say just about all of it makes it into the work I'm doing (or will eventually). Because nothing is actually out in left field when we're talking about art and creativity. Everything is fair game for material, and some people even land on a definition for creativity as something like: making connections between things previously unrelated to create something new...

Of course, the reading material doesn't only affect my tangible work, but it also & just as much influences my conversations & relationships. I had a couple of friends ask for book recommendations last week, and I realized that those are some of my absolute favorite questions to answer! So I thought hey, why not "answer" those questions for anybody who might be curious?! If you're one of the curious, AWESOME! I hope getting a glimpse of my bookshelf might point you to some valuable reading of your own. 

In compiling the list, I've realized that we're working with a pretty large bookshelf...so I'll break this up into a few posts divided by category. Today's: Art & Creativity. Upcoming categories will be: 

  • SOCIAL-PSYCHOLOGY, PERSONALITY & CONNECTION
  • SPIRITUALITY/PERSONAL GROWTH
  • INTENTIONAL COMMUNITY
  • BIOGRAPHY/AUTOBIOGRAPHY
  • FICTION


ARTS & CREATIVITY

Hope this points you in the direction of some good information and inspiration to undergird your work and relationships! Next in cue for part 2 of this mini-series, Influences: The Bookshelf, will be a list of books roughly centered on Social-Psychology, Personality, & Connection...

Until next time,

sd.

St. Francis of Assisi

I love learning about the lives of the saints in church history. Their stories can be so valuable as encouragement, inspiration, and motivation for us on how to shape our lives today. One of my favorites is St. Francis of Assisi, coincidentally the namesake of the current Catholic pope–appropriately I think, as Francis was one of the first to critique and warn against the dangers of capitalism, lived with a deep value and care for the environment/all of Creation, and was actively non-violent and doing the work of peacemaking in a time of war and crusades. We can benefit greatly from the wisdom of Francis, and today is the day the Church remembers him collectively...

 This is a copy of an "icon" of St. Francis that I made for a friend's birthday present! (I'm considering illustrating more icons of saints and sharing their stories in a series here on the blog. Is this something anyone would be interested in? Comment below to let me know? :)

This is a copy of an "icon" of St. Francis that I made for a friend's birthday present! (I'm considering illustrating more icons of saints and sharing their stories in a series here on the blog. Is this something anyone would be interested in? Comment below to let me know? :)

Shane Claiborne wrote today in regards to St. Francis...

"Today is one of the great holy-days of the year. Happy St. Francis Day!!!

Christians around the world remember one of the great heroes of our faith, and the Pope’s namesake – Francis of Assisi. But Francesco Bernadone (Francis of Assisi), who died on October 3, 1226 must be laughing at the irony of it all. 

He was one of the first critics of capitalism, one of the earliest Christian environmentalists, a sassy reformer of the church, and one of the classic conscientious objectors to war. Even though it’s hard to imagine a saint whose life is more relevant to the world we live in today, Francis was not always so popular. 

Legend has it, the first time he preached at the Vatican, the pope told him to go preach to the pigs. But later the pope had a vision: the corner of the church was collapsing, and little Francis and the youth of Assisi were holding it up. Arguably that youth movement was one of the most powerful restorations of church history. While he did not hold back on his relentless critique of the church, he remained humbly and hopeful. He stopped complaining about the church as it was and started dreaming of the church as it could be. As Francis said, he heard God whisper: “Repair my Church, which is in ruins.” 
So perhaps it’s Providential that 800 years later the Pope is named after him.

Francis was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, born into a society where the gap between the rich and the poor was increasingly unacceptable. It was an age of religious crusades, where Christians and Muslims were killing each other in the name of God. The Church and the world were in chaos… Sound familiar?

Francis did something simple and wonderful. He read the Gospels where Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor,” “Consider the lilies and the sparrows and do not worry about tomorrow,” “Love your enemies,” and he decided to live as if Jesus meant the stuff he said. Francis turned his back on the materialism and militarism of his world, and said yes to Jesus.

One of the quotes attributed to Francis is a simple and poignant critique of our world, just as it was to his: “The more stuff we have, the more clubs we need to protect it. Be free like the lilies and the sparrows.” 

With a childlike innocence, Francis literally stripped naked and walked out of Assisi to live like the lilies and the sparrows. He lived among the outcasts and ostracized. He lived close to the earth and, like Jesus, became a friend of the birds and creatures, whom he fondly called brother and sister. In light of that, many a birdbath wears his iconic image. But his life is worthy of more than a lawn statue. His life was a powerful critique of the demons of his day, which are very similar to the demons of our day.

One of my favorite stories about Francis was when he decided to meet with the Muslim sultan during the Fifth Crusade – in Syria of all places. It was a tumultuous time. War had become a necessity and a habit, and was sanctioned by much of the church. Francis was sent off as a soldier, but he could not reconcile the violence of war with the grace of Christ . . . and so he got off his warhorse and put down his sword. He pleaded with the military commander, Cardinal-Legate Pelagius, to end the fighting. Pelagius refused. Instead, Pelagius broke off all diplomatic relations with the sultan of Egypt. The sultan in turn decreed that anyone who brought him the head of a Christian would be rewarded with a Byzantine gold piece. Francis, however, pursued his vision in steadfast faith, surmounting all dangers in a journey to see the sultan. He traveled through fierce fighting in Syria and inevitably was met by soldiers of the sultan’s army, who beat him savagely and put him in chains, dragging him before the sultan himself. Francis spoke to the sultan of God’s love and grace. The sultan listened intensely and was so moved that he offered Francis gifts and money. Francis, of course, had no desire for the money, but he gladly accepted one gift, an ivory horn used in the Muslim call to prayer. He took it back with him and used it to summon his own community for prayer. Both Francis and the sultan were transformed by that encounter, offering much hope to our world of troubled interfaith relations.

Although the church is prone to forget his witness or to make a monument of his movement, we can still celebrate his critique of an economy that left masses of people in poverty, so that a handful of people can live as they wish. We still rejoice in his love for the earth as we work to end the ravaging of our world. We remember his witness that there is a better way to bring peace than with a sword. 
These are the words of the famous prayer attributed to Francis. May they inspire us to become better people and to build a better world, right alongside Francesco Bernadone of Assisi and Pope Francis of Argentina.

Lord, Make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon, 
Where there is discord, union,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is error, truth,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is sadness, joy,
Where there is darkness, light.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive,it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

NOTE: FOR A GOOD FLICK ON FRANCIS, CHECK OUT THE CLASSIC BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON"

Influences: Scott Erickson

I appreciate when other artists give us glimpses into the influences that undergird the work they're making, so I've decided to periodically offer you those glimpses of the things that comprise my creative process. Hope it's interesting or helpful to you in some way!

If we've talked for any length of time about art and what artists I'm learning from, then I expect you've heard the name Scott Erickson. If we haven't gotten to have that conversation yet...well here it is! In brief anyway...

Scott Erickson is a visual artist who is currently living and working in Portland, OR, with his family. I first heard of Scott when he was in Houston working as the Artist-in-Residence at Ecclesia Church, where he was helping to create a visual culture largely through live-painting. And I was convinced of his brilliance when he did a series of abstract studio paintings to accompany Derek Webb's Feedback project–an instrumental, electronic, classically composed interpretation of the Lord's Prayer.

In addition to the paintings he makes, Scott writes and speaks vulnerably about life not only as an artist, but as a person in the world who wrestles with very real experiences of doubt & faith, depression, community & family life, finding a vocation & making a living, embracing the value of the mundane, making meaning of suffering, and more. I've encountered so much of myself in what Scott shares and makes, as have many other folks. It has been a formative, encouraging gift to engage what he shares of himself and I'm grateful in advance for all that is yet to come! You can see his work and read/hear his words by perusing scottericksonart.com.

One of my absolute favorite things Scott has put out is his recent one-man play called We Are Not Troubled Guests. I've watched it twice now, laughing and crying in equal doses. Both times just as grateful for his honesty and in awe of how quickly he can transition from flippant, irreverent humor to raw vulnerability and the deep kind of human insight. Watch it by clicking on the video thumbnail below and entering the password: guests. And read more about the process of creating it here.

It's a private video...(Password: guests)

We are not troubled guests in this world, and our journey isn’t to try to figure out how we belong. But to realize we’ve always belonged.
— Scott Erickson, We Are Not Troubled Guests

A heartfelt "thank you" to Scott for all you've shared and all you will in the future. In your own words, "Be brave & keep going." We'll all be better for it...

sd.

Influences: Sandra McCracken & Jordan Brooke Hamlin

I appreciate when other artists give us glimpses into the influences that undergird the work they're making, so I've decided to periodically offer you those glimpses of the things that comprise my creative process. Hope it's interesting or helpful to you in some way!

I can't deny the immense influence Sandra McCracken has had on my music and my development as an artist––and as a person for that matter. For almost 10 years now, I've followed her career closely and have gleaned wisdom, solace, challenge, and courage at each turn. I'm indebted and surely grateful to Sandra for all she's shared with us. Now in her mid-late 30s, Sandra is only making better and better work, and that is such a sign of hope to me as I go forward into the next decade of art-making and sharing. In fact, I thought just the other day that I have no idea how she'll top her last record, "Desire Like Dynamite," but the momentum would suggest that she will, and I can't wait to hear whatever form the next record takes.

Sandra is a calm, gentle presence (I've had the slightly-intimidating privilege of meeting her) with a subtle strength and energy that seems to pulse under the surface and come forth so clearly in the depth and richness of her songs. I appreciate the honesty and innovation that she's been brave enough to bring to the table. It's a gift to all of us who get to receive it. If you haven't heard Sandra's work, or if you have and are ready for more, check out the video above! I found it recently on Vimeo, and it's a high-quality, 25-minute concert documentary complete with live song performances and brief interviews in between.

Jordan Brooke Hamlin backs Sandra in the video. Jordan has also been a huge influence of mine, as she not only produces records and plays auxiliary instruments/vocals with numerous artists, but also does visual art & graphic design for album covers and other projects. Charting her growth as a successful multimedia artist has been quite empowering to me. I'd love to meet her and pick her brain someday.

In addition to the music, Sandra does some writing for the Art House America blog. Check out her latest piece here. Sandra's artist bio on the blog reads as follows:

Sandra McCracken is a singer, songwriter, and producer from Nashville, TN. Over the course of eight critically acclaimed studio albums, Sandra has developed a body of work that encompasses hook-driven melodic pop, No Depression-style Americana, contemporary recastings of classic hymns, and even children’s music as part of the Nashville alt-folk super-group Rain For Roots. Her music has been featured on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy; her 2013 solo record, Desire Like Dynamite, charted as one of Billboard’s Top 50 Heatseekers; and she is currently at work on a new album for 2014.
— Art House America Blog

Sandra is also a part of A Rocha international's work in Nashville––a community seeking to integrate faith, creation care and hospitality.

Thanks for reading! (And hopefully for listening/watching the video;)

sd.