Kristi Bredeweg – Preparing for Casa Bernabe

I am about a week away from traveling to Guatemala with Athentikos for I AM ART Fall 2015. How did I get here? It’s already been a wild journey …

I was, sitting in my home church of Heritage CRC in Byron Center, Michigan. By the way, I am a charter member, which makes me: 1) boring, 2) blindly loyal, and/or 3) totally in love with my congregation and not wanting to leave. Pastor Joel VanDyke spoke to us in early May and mentioned this thing called “I Am Art” in Guatemala. I have been the “artist” at my church for over 23 years so that caught my attention. Perhaps there would be a place for a middle aged neurotic, artistic woman to go on this trip and use whatever God has gifted her with in reaching peoples of an entirely different culture. Painting? Tile murals? Set design for drama? Character roles in a play? Music? I’m comfortable in all areas. Many people came up to me after the service telling me I “need” to go. I told these people “I’ll think about it”, but I was busy. Right? We’re ALL busy. Is this my fearful excuse or is it legit?

More time went by in my ‘forgetful fear’ stage, and after 2 weeks, a good friend phones me and says she had been prompted to call me and urge me to go on this journey to Guatemala and use my gifts. Once again, fear takes over and this time it’s accompanied by an over-whelming sense of inadequacy. This is entirely foreign to me as I am about the least insecure, fearful, non-self confident person you’ll ever meet. I tell her I’d think about it and once again, I don’t take action. However, the opportunity lurks around in the back of my mind and I can’t shake it.

This has been, in the past, God’s way of getting my attention. I’ve learned to not let a lot of time pass when He does this, so I focus. As another few weeks go by, things start happening in my life that turn my attention to this trip, such as: my granddaughter asking me to learn Spanish, several art projects I am doing that involve international thinking, and imagining myself in scenarios that make me laugh out loud. Scenarios of being covered in paint with 20 kids who can’t understand what I’m saying! THAT’S funny! I guess when God allows Nebuchadnezzar to share his wall-writing experience with you, pay attention.

I sign up. I’m accepted. I pay my entrance fee. Yet, I am petrified.

Typically, I’m a daredevil and will try anything once or twice if it’s exciting! Why am I so afraid? I’ve always been the first-in-line kinda gal and I find myself even crying at times when I think about committing to this trip. I speak not one word of Spanish. The farthest “out-of-the-country” I’ve ever traveled is Canada and the Caribbean. I have a husband, 8 kids, seven grandkids, an overweight cat and a dog on Prozac for pity’s sake! They all need me here, right?

Suddenly I’m not so sure and I begin to entertain the idea of bridging a gap between my outlandish way of creating art and a dozen kids who can’t understand me! I again laugh out loud and begin to get a bit excited. Maybe part of the process can be in our resolution of a language barrier and how we’re all “one” with God understanding our hearts using the language of ‘art’.

At this point I download Duolingo at my team leaders request. It takes me four days to master “Mujer.” I begin to pray about mastering fear by giving it ALL to God; seriously giving it all. I think Christians do a great job of lip service when they say “I’ve given it all to God!” Not all. Perhaps most. For me at this juncture, it meant I’d enlist the support of some good friends in prayer, verbal encouragement, and take a good look at my finances.

Peculiar things started happening. I began talking to the Spanish family who just joined our church. Sketchy on my side, and they are gracious. I acquired several more clients and my bank account has a surplus. My friend tells me my passport picture is the “best she’s ever seen!” Okay. Okay. I’m also gently reminded of events in my life when I was forced to fall on my knees and simply let time play out. God’s timing. I have to just let go. Seriously, just like that. I did NOT pick up the fearful/inadequate thoughts again. I focused on not fretting! Overnight? No, but gradually EVERYTHING seemed to now be coated with a warm feeling of ease. I am no longer apprehensive when I talk about going on this trip. In fact, I’m so calm, I write a letter explaining my purpose and the Athentikos mission and am prepared to send it in early October to over 200 friends asking them to pray for me and my team. I’m geeked! Guess the “total surrender thing” works.

Probably the coolest thing that put me at ease was the formulation of my art project. At this point, I didn’t even know if my team leaders needed or wanted me to submit an idea. But if they did, the one that kept bouncing off my brain was one that had sprung from the death of my oldest child and the valley I had to walk through. I had shared it in several banners and projects for various areas of mine and other churches. Even a speaking engagement to a couple hundred people. I think I have something to share. God guide my mind….

I began to mess around in my studio with various forms of “fun-art-stuff” that I have done with kids for years. The things that make me smile are the ones I will move forward with as well as the pieces that came out of my personal tragedy.

As I share my early fears with my husband, he prays for me and we laugh at how things are answered in a timely manner. We laugh a lot! The months pass with very little contact from my team. I’m fretting again. Rats. Here I am, heading to a foreign country, eager and somewhat focused, and I have not had one iota of contact with one single soul going on this trip. It’s been weeks. Oh boy. Here comes my new neighbor Fear, closely followed by his brother Apprehension and cousin Inadequacy. I again concentrate on turning to timely-trust, as my husband and I have begun to call it.

Within days, my team leader David schedules an individual meeting with me on Google Hangout. As I’m not very computer literate, my old buddies knock on the door. However, David is so totally welcoming and accepting of my computer shortcomings that once again, the gang-of-fearful-three run and hide. David also promptly sends me a link and I log-on and we chat. He is going to be my friend! I already love him and his gifts. He lets me ask a zillion questions and I’m sure some of them were redundant and rather silly. He doesn’t laugh and repeats his answers as frequently as I repeat my questions. I find out I’m necessary and am encouraged to formulate a lesson art plan for the kids. In his chatting, he mentions areas where I know I’ll be able to help others on my team. Drama, music, sports and games. All things that encourage me and he didn’t even know he was doing that. God is a complete kinda guy and had this conversation all covered before it even took place. Nice!

My prayers have been primarily with my husband as I prepare for this journey. As we do a devotional time over coffee each morning, I Am Art has become our focus. I know my prayer warrior friends are also praying for me and all of us. I find myself repeating these very simple yet powerful words:

“My Father who knows me completely: help me to know You and discern Your will. My thoughts are racing and my plans are many. Set me on your lap and and open my ears to hear your gentle voice guiding me on the perfect path You’ve already chosen. Your will be done throughout the entire earth. Help me as I branch out in trust and faith. Thank you, my faithful God.”

And by the way, Soy una mujer!!!

Paul Lowder: An Honest Introduction

I’m spending the winter here in the ash
house on the edge of the crinkly sea.
Darling I don’t usually say darling but I
want you to have everything behind my
eyes. In the darkness your dark flashlight
points out the room’s troubles. I’ll never
have the really important ideas: I see
only by the light of my skin.

Post Moxie by Julia Story

My name is Paul Lowder, and I have been involved with Athentikos and the I Am Art initiative since the summer of 2014. I jumped aboard for several reasons:

  1. I was going nowhere in Los Angeles,
  2. I needed a positive, creative outlet, and
  3. I wanted to see the world.

To be plainly honest, my desires to travel to Guatemala and to help run an art camp for at-risk youth grew from a selfish desire. This isn’t to say that volunteering and service are not close to my heart. They are. And they were, in many regards, responsible for getting me involved with Athentikos. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I wanted to go because I wanted to go.

Athentikos’ mission, broadly put, is authenticity. I would like to be authentic with you about who I am, what I believe, and how I am going to be involved.

Who?

You know my name. I am 26 years old. I am a father and a husband. I studied Religion and the Arts (Writing) at Belmont University from 2008 to 2013. Yes, it took me 5 years to finish. I wish it had taken me longer. I’m not sure I’ve figured out how to operate in the real world yet. But if I’ve figured anything out, it’s that no one else has any real clue as to what is going on out here. I cannot decide if that is comforting or discouraging–depends on the day.

What?

Athentikos is a non-profit organization that operates from a Christian worldview. My worldview is less grounded, and I hesitate to identify with any sort of religious title. I know how picky some people can be about other people’s identification, so I want to speak plainly and honestly about all of this.

I grew up in a Christian household and in the Church. I lived that life honestly and fully because it was the life set in front of me. I prayed the prayer. I prayed it again. I went to Christian athletic camps. I was baptized. I met with a small group every other Sunday from 7th grade until I graduated high school. I played in the youth group band. You get the idea. It wasn’t until I attended my Christian university that I began my departure (some would say descent) from the faith I was born into.

Now, I don’t want to make myself seem virtuous, enlightened, or anything like that. I don’t want to preach that this path is necessary for everyone or that I found a more real truth. I can only say that it was what I needed to do. The first step to self-discovery (in my case anyway) was complete abandonment.

“…if someone rejects religion in the name of the moral function of the human spirit, […] in the name of the cognitive function of the human spirit, […] in the name of the aesthetic function of the human spirit, he rejects religion in the name of religion. You cannot reject religion with ultimate seriousness, because ultimate seriousness, or the state of being ultimately concerned, is itself religion.”

Theology of CulturePaul Tillich

Isn’t it our parents’ wish for us to go out into the world and make our faith our own? Are we not taught to follow our heart? I believe we are. In doing this I stopped identify as a Christian. To this day, I remain with this un-identification. Yet I still find myself ultimately concerned with trying to live a compassionate life.

Some might be wondering; If you’re not a Christian, then what are you? A Buddhist? How do you coexist and help Athentikos in their mission that is largely Christian? How can we trust you?

No. I am not a Buddhist. Neither am I an Atheist. Or an Agnostic. Unfortunately, the answer to those questions are not going to be satisfying. They won’t resolve cleanly and nicely like a Hollywood movie or a best-selling novel. I believe life is far more complex and that language–despite being incredibly complex–is wholly inadequate for matters such as this. But in order to answer the question, I will say this:

My views on God are apophatic, which is just a fancy, theological/philosophical term meaning that I believe God is ineffable, which is just another fancy word for unspeakable and unsayable. In other words, Jehovah’s Witnesses rub me the wrong way. Ludwig Wittgenstein said it beautifully at the conclusion of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

Some people tend to be troubled by this. Not all people, but some. Human beings like for things to be identified, for things to be delineated and organized. I am not exempt from this. I’m peculiar like the rest of us. My room is messy, but my food must be orderly on my plate. My clothes are often dirty and disheveled, but I am sure to keep my napkins folded symmetrically before, during, and after I use them. But the human condition, as I see it, is far more complex than simply checking a box that says “Christian” or “Muslim” or “Buddhist” or “Atheist.” I find great contentment and fulfillment in leaving that box unchecked.

“…Truth needs no label: it is neither Buddhist, Christian, Hindu nor Moslem. It is not the monopoly of anybody. Sectarian labels are a hinderance to the independent understanding of Truth, and they produce harmful prejudices in men’s minds.”

What the Buddha Taught

I enjoy quoting other people. I’m sure this is obvious by now, and like the Athentikos team, I love stories of all shapes and sizes. Walker Percy has a novel called The Moviegoer where the main character Binx Bolling is often pondering about God and questions about the universe. During an imaginary conversation, Binx is asked if he believes in God:

“I hesitate to answer, since all other Americans have settled the matter for themselves and to give such an answer would amount to setting myself a goal which everyone else has reached–and therefore raising a question in which no one has the slightest interest. Who wants to be dead last among one hundred and eighty million Americans? For, as everyone knows, the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics–which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker.”

Throughout the novel, Binx is constantly challenged to define himself in relation to friends, family, sweet-hearts, and colleagues despite his urge to remain vague and open to possibility.

“What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; at least for a fellow like me. So simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.”

What I desire more than anything else, is to live a fulfilled, compassionate life. This, I believe, is incredibly Christian. It’s also incredibly Buddhist and, believe it or not, Atheistic. It is through this compassion and a sense of what Tillich calls ultimate concern that I am able to coexist within Athentikos and their mission.

Despite everything I’ve said about religion and Christianity, I do not hate it nor do I think that those who believe it are fools with their heads in the sand. Sure, there are Christians who have forgotten compassion just as there are Buddhists who have forgotten. There are bad Atheists and good ones. And amongst all of them, there are some people who transcend social identities and come down to earth. That’s a funny picture, isn’t it? Transcend to come down. Transcend the self in order to truly come down to earth and be a compassionate servant to others. I would describe Scott and Amelia Moore in this way, and I long to help Athentikos grow and spread.

Now What?

This summer I am reading a few books about the old desert fathers and mothers. Specifically, I am going through Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers in preparation for the upcoming I Am Art camp in Guatemala. The book is incredibly short, but packed with wisdom (as it is with many of Nouwen’s works). It is split into three main parts: Solitude, Silence, and Prayer. These three attributes of the spiritual life intrigue me. They are difficult to obtain in this modern world, but I believe it’s possible and worth working toward. I am also reading Soul Making: The Desert Way of Spirituality by Alan Jones and Theology of Culture by Paul Tillich.

Aside from simply reading these texts, I plan on putting together a few written responses in the context of the Athentikos trips this fall.

Finally, if anything I’ve said has sparked some interest or at the very least a feeling, feel free to contact me directly at this address – plowder@athentikos.com

“Though it may alienate your family,
And blur the lines of your identity,
Let go of what you know,
And honor what exists.
Son, that’s what bearing witness is.
Daughter, that’s what bearing witness is.”

Bearing Witness by David Bazan

Don’t Worry

Do you ever worry about all the details that just seem to keep adding up out of control?

We’re three weeks away from our first Fall 2015 I AM ART trip to Guatemala … and there are tons of details swirling around us – things like lodging, background checks, flight itineraries, lesson plans, fundraising … trying to prep my brain for communicating in Spanish. I have to admit, I am a planner. I spend a lot of time observing and thinking. I evaluate to make sure things have potential to be the best they can be … and by association, I also worry. I wish it wasn’t true, but unfortunately … it is.

Sometimes worry keeps me up late at night. I know people who can fall asleep seconds after their heads hit the pillow. I wish I was one of those people! There are times that I just can’t seem to turn off my brain. This experience is especially true when I am producing film or music, and I watch or listen to the same thing over and over. I go to bed tired, but only a short while later, I’m wide awake thinking … worrying. It also happens when we’re planning logistics for things like our I AM ART camps. I can feel the adrenaline pumping through my brain as thoughts echo back and forth off my skull. Adrenaline is great when you’re playing a sport, but not so good when trying to fall asleep. If there was an olympic sport for tossing and turning in bed while trying to go to sleep, I’d probably take the Gold.

My alarm woke me this morning after another restless night, and I so wanted to just go back to sleep. “Just a few more hours of rest”, I told myself. I hit snooze … and then the alarm sounded again. I gathered myself, slowly climbed out of bed, woke up my sons, walked downstairs like a zombie, and began making breakfast for my sweet family. A few moments later, my youngest son Elliot walked into the kitchen with a smile. He caught me off guard. I was surprised he made it downstairs so quickly. He’s so much more of a morning person than me … LOL. We shared some laughter. I had a cup of coffee … and BAM … I forgot that I was tired and more importantly, WHY I was tired. But I was quickly reminded.

After breakfast, we read a morning devotion together and I had a major “lightbulb moment”. Today’s verse was Matthew 6:34 –

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

I realized that I often interpret the verse to mean, “don’t worry about tomorrow today … worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.” But that’s not the truth of the verse. It’s really saying, “don’t worry … period.”

I was familiar with the verse. I’ve heard and read it over and over. I’ve been challenged by it over and over again. I’ve even written songs about it (one of them is below). Why is it so difficult to live out these words of truth??? The answer: because I am human, and I don’t know what tomorrow brings … Because I am not in control. I could blame my current anxieties on the difficulties of running a small non-profit with limited funding. But, if I’m honest with myself, I realize that my worry is rooted in a desire for things to go my way. It’s an issue of will and of trust.

This morning, as I read through this devotion with my children, I realized that I’m often exhausted because I am thinking (aka worrying) about tomorrow. I’m chasing something that I will never obtain – control. In the process, I’m missing the intimate and beautiful details of life that bring joy every day – the morning’s purple glow shifting to orange and blue, the glimmer in my sons’ eyes, the smile of my beautiful wife … the peace I feel when I focus on these gifts, take a deep breath, and accept and trust that God is in control.

Here’s a remake of a song I wrote in 1997 called Crumbling Down about the truth of letting go … “my will is crumbling down, tumbling down, because You are more than I can hope to be …”

 

What do you worry about? What are the gifts each day that bring you joy and peace?

Gratitude – Tina Beede

I heard it would happen. That feeling of uncomfortable gratitude that comes from fundraising for a cause that means something to you. It’s been a jam-packed month of finishing summer, planning for my new year of preschool, getting my own kids ready for their new year (middle school and 3rd grade – how did that happen?), and then starting the fast-paced routine of getting acquainted and feeling the excitement of the new school year ahead.

In the middle of all that, I reached my fundraising goal for my trip in November. I actually exceeded it! When I logged in and saw that my goal had been met, I immediately had butterflies of joy, relief, and this overwhelming humility. Close to forty people helped me get there. Forty of you generously gave money, and a sea of others have asked me about the trip, prayed for me, encouraged me, and shared their own stories of mission work that shifted the focus of their life.

The Athentikos team has been so encouraging and have been giving us a lot to consider and think about in preparation for our trip. We’ve had a few Google Hangout meetings to introduce us to each other, help us ask questions, and hear more about what to expect at the Oasis Home. I am still unsure about the logistics of my kids’ schedule meshing with David’s. I’m also still unsure what exactly I’ll be teaching these sweet girls once I get to Guatemala, but I have no doubt it will work out. The closer November gets, the more I’m feeling this underlying feeling of something big happening. I can’t put my finger on it, but it feels like the start of something different and exciting.

I’m a big fan of opening myself up to relationships and have learned (more than once) that when things get hard or uncomfortable or unpredictable, the people engaged in your life want to help. They want to be part of your story to help ease the burden and influence you in a positive way. I’ve learned to ask for what I need. It’s not easy for me, but I do ask when I know I must. Along with asking, I’ve learned that “no” is a fine answer to receive so it doesn’t offend or keep me from asking someone else, or at another time. And I’ve learned to cut people some slack. We aren’t created to do it all for everyone all the time. And because I have a hard time not being able to do it all for everyone all the time, I’ve learned to trust that people are cutting me some slack too. I’ll be reminding myself of this before I set off in November–the day after Thanksgiving–for a week and a half, right before Christmas.

Enjoy some pictures of an art-day fundraiser my sis-in-law hosted. Isn’t amazing what a few canvases, lots of fun paint, creative kids, and generous families can produce? It was a really fun day filled with faces I love and in just four hours, the kids and their parents donated $300!

Happy 10th Birthday Micah!

Micah Moore

Today, our oldest son Micah turns 10 and we are celebrating the blessing of his life! Amelia and I were not with him on the day he was born. We didn’t even know he had been born until a few weeks later when we received a referral for his adoption. We met him for the first time in January 2006 when he was four months old and spent four wonderful days with him in Guatemala City. It was hard to say goodbye but we knew we would return soon to bring him home with us. Finally, on Friday, May 12, 2006, God filled a hole in our hearts. After a decade of wrestling with infertility, Micah became our first son and changed our lives forever! Athentikos was born through our adoptions and we’re so grateful to continue our relationship with Guatemala!

As I reminisce about our journey, I want to share a blog I wrote right before we received Micah.

___________________________________________________

The Day We Have Been Waiting For

Friday, May 12, 2006 – 12 PM

Amelia and I ate breakfast by the pool this morning.  I dove right into the black beans and traditional Guatemalan breakfast.  Wow, that stuff is just too good.  It brought back a lot of good memories of our last visit.  On our way to the restaurant, we noticed several families with Guatemalan babies.  Honestly, I had to do everything I could to stop bursting into tears.  This is such an other-worldly experience.  I wasn’t on the verge of tears because of sadness.  I was welling up with joy.  In only a matter of hours, we would have our precious Micah.

It is now 11:50 on Friday, May 12, 2006.  Amelia and I are sitting in our hotel room in Guatemala City, trying to stay calm.  We received a phone call a short while ago telling us that Micah will be here at the hotel between 11:30 and 12:00.  Having learned our lesson before, we are remain patient knowing that delays are a part of life in Guatemala.  Micah will be here when he is here.  Right now, we are just breathing…..

I don’t even know how I feel, it is incomparable from anything I have ever experienced.  My stomach is in knots like when I was standing at the alter waiting for Amelia to walk down and marry me.  It is that combined with what I felt like in high school when my football team won the championship, the butterflies of the time when we bought our first house and didn’t know what to expect, the excitement first time I rode the bus to school as a child – stepping into that big yellow machine and watching the world go by from a new “higher perspective” than I ever saw in a car….The exhilaration of the first time I rode my bicycle without training wheels, the joy and uncertainty of graduating high school and knowing that life was somehow never going to be the same…..it is all of this and more.

Yes, in only a matter of minutes, our lives are about to change forever…for the better.  Amelia is so wonderful.  I really am thankful to be able to ride through this with her by my side….

___________________________________________________

Amelia and I receiving Micah as our son in May 2006.

Some photos of our journey back home with our son Micah in 2006.

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Thank you God for our precious son, and for family and friends who have supported and encouraged us in this precious journey!

Building a Desert in a City

In grade school an English teacher taught me that a desert has only one ‘s’ and dessert has two because people want more than one dessert but no one wants the desert. My school teacher didn’t mean anything significant by this. It was only a joke to teach us grammar, but it’s interesting to note society’s natural aversion to the desert, a place that is historically rich with spiritual transformation. With Henri Nouwen as my guide, I begin my journey in the way of the heart of the desert fathers and mothers with solitude.

Like many people, I can imagine a desert. I’ve been in the vastness. It’s a place so empty that one can begin to feel and touch the nothingness. It’s no wonder the ancient mothers and fathers of Christianity (and many others of all sorts of religious backgrounds) sought refuge in the solitude of the desert. But that was long ago and not all people are called to the monastic life. How can I find the desert again: in Nashville, in Los Angeles, in Guatemala City?

First, like many great teachers, Nouwen must unpack this word solitude and explain the common misconceptions created by the modern world. To grasp what something is, it’s best to start with what it is not. Solitude is not:

  • A right to privacy
  • A place of therapy
  • A confirmation of self

Solitude is struggle. In solitude Nouwen talks about “getting rid of his scaffolding” and reducing his self (or ego) to nothing. “It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something.” My life is busy and filled with responsibilities. I try to entertain myself. When I enter into solitude, it must resemble letting go. This is the struggle. Since infancy, we are taught to control. We are taught to hold on. Solitude is an unnatural setting for a human being, but I might argue that it only appears to be unnatural due to our estrangement from ourselves. Solitude, from this point of view, might be the most natural thing that a human being can do. Yet, despite knowing this, I will always try “…to run from the dark abyss of my nothingness and restore my false self in all its vainglory.”

This is not easy and it takes deliberate practice. The culture in which one is born greatly affects one’s identity of self. Living in a capitalist society that over values materialism and consumerism, one gains a sense of self that reflects those ideals. And those ideals are fruitless and fleeting. “Whether I am a pianist, a businessman or a minister, what matters is how I am perceived by my world. If being busy is a good thing, then I must be busy. If having money is a sign of real freedom, then I must claim my money. If knowing many people proves my importance, I will have to make the necessary contacts. The compulsion manifests itself in the lurking fear of failing and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same–more work, more money, more friends.” This inevitably leads to what Nouwen describes as the two main enemies of the spiritual life: anger and greed.

So how do I persevere? How can I overcome anger and greed? Nouwen would simply say, begin with solitude. In embracing solitude, my nothingness, I can truly express compassion. Putting all doctrines and beliefs aside, there is one thing that everyone at Athentikos wants to bring to the youth of Guatemala: compassion. Our greatest service this fall will be shown through genuine compassion and love. And while those are wonderful words that most everyone can get behind and support, it’s much more difficult to enact.

“…In order to be of service to others we have to die to them. […] To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgement because judgement creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other.” Solitude, as Nouwen has described it, is this act of dying. It is a practical and concrete practice that can be easily incorporated into a daily routine. “In solitude we realize that nothing human is alien to us, that the roots of all conflict, war, injustice, cruelty, hatred, jealousy, and envy are deeply anchored in our own heart.”

In an attempt to breakdown all of this theological and philosophical jargon, I want to simplify these concepts into two words: let go. I have to tell myself this everyday and often more than once. It becomes what the desert monks might call a mantra or a prayer. Not everyone has access to a desert but true solitude is not restricted by place. Letting go can (and should) happen anywhere, but it needs to happen deliberately. Here are some good first steps:

  • Establish a mantra; find a few words that resonate your nothingness. This can be anything (let go, a short Bible verse, a repetitive prayer, or your own name).
  • Repeat this mantra several times a day. When you wake up, tell yourself to let go. When you eat lunch, tell yourself. When your boss yells at you, tell yourself. Over time, you won’t have to tell yourself as much. You will instead begin to let go. The words will sink into your heart and will speak through your entire body and life, not only through your mouth or mind.
  • Find some quiet space each day. As I said earlier, solitude is not limited to a place, but taking the time to physically separate yourself from your daily routine can be incredibly powerful and helpful in your spiritual growth.

Before I go, I have one word of warning and it comes from personal experience. I have let go many times, but mostly in the wrong way. I turned my solitude into escapism, clouding myself in entitlement and the illusion of compassion and virtue. This, at least for me, is too easy to do. Our greatest and most deeply seeded vices appear to us as virtues. To think our demons conquered is to submit to their will. Solitude should lead me to my lack of virtue, to my nothingness, my humanity.

We owe it to ourselves and to everyone else to build a desert in a city.

Kerrah Pyper

As we continue to raise funds and awareness for the upcoming 2015 I AM ART camps, we would like to introduce our team members. The first team member we will introduce is Kerrah Pyper, a recent graduate who has decided to take a leap of faith with Athentikos and CTM, contributing her skills and time to the fulfillment of the I AM ART initiative. Kerrah will be a part-time intern with Athentikos for the next year. During her time in Guatemala, she will assist to facilitate four of our I AM ART camps. So if you are on one of our teams this next year, you will get to meet her! Here’s what she has to say:

Pyper_Kerrah_Athentikos_Intern

Where are you from? What do you love about this area?

I am from Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is a small city in southwestern Michigan. I love that I have the freedom and opportunities to live out my Christian faith in this community and I love that this city is filled with people I love, including my friends and my family.

Where did you go to school? What was your major(s)? Why did you choose this? What is one fun memory from college?

I graduated from Calvin College this past spring (May 2015) with two majors: Spanish Education and Art Education. I choose to study both art and Spanish because I have been intrigued by both my whole life. I love the process of making art and also enjoy the process of learning new languages and cultures.

A great memory from my time at Calvin was spent abroad on month-long education trip last January to Mérida, México. In Mérida, I lived with an amazing host family that treated me like their own daughter. I had a wonderful time, learning about Mexican culture, forming relationships with my host parents and siblings, and practicing my Spanish.

What is your art focus or favorite form of art?

I am primarily focused on ceramics and painting. I especially love to make pottery on the wheel. But honestly, I love all forms of creative art.

You have been in Guatemala a week now, what has been the most interesting thing you have seen? What have you enjoyed most about Guatemala? Where do you hope to travel while you are there?

After being in Guatemala for a week, the most interesting and conflicting thing I have seen are the slums in and outside of the garbage dump. I have never seen anything like them before in my life, and it was definitely and new perspective for me of how many people in Guatemala live and survive.

I have enjoyed learning about the Guatemalan culture and exploring the beauty of Lake Atitlan which is situated in the middle of three large volcanos.

I hope to travel to Antigua because I have heard that it is a beautiful city.

Where is the most unique place you have traveled other then Guatemala?

Costa Rica would [be] one of the many unique places I have traveled. I spent a month with a group trekking through the jungle and white water kayaking. Costa Rica is unique in its beauty. Never have I been to a place so beautiful.

What drew you to serve in Guatemala? How will you be using your gifts/ passion/ talents in Guatemala?

A few months ago I was asking God to show me what He wanted me to do with my college degree in Spanish and art after graduation. This past February I received my answer. A missionary from Guatemala, Joel Van Dyke, came to speak at our church. He shared a need for someone who is passionate about art, speaks Spanish, and who is graduating this year to work with the I AM ART camps in Guatemala. When I heard this, I felt that God was calling me to join Him in this new initiative. In Guatemala, I will be using my artistic and Spanish language abilities to help work for the I AM ART camps provided by Athentikos and I will also be working for an organization called Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios in Zone 3 in Guatemala.

You will be an intern connected to the CTM ministry. What are you looking forward to learning and growing through CTM?

I am looking forward to learning more about what it means to serve in another country. CTM will provide me with theological training every Friday and through this I will have the ability to question and eventually solidify my own theological beliefs. I am excited to grow as a Christian leader and servant through my time at CTM.

You will be serving in Zone 3. Tell us a little of the program there and how you will be serving?

I will be working for an organization called Guatemaltecos Extraordinarios (GE) in Zone 3 that is situated in the slums right next to the large garbage dump of the city. GE provides a school for the kids of the community that have been expelled from the other schools in the area. This school works at providing an education for these at-risk youth so that they can overcome the situation they have been born into. Since violence, crime, abandonment and abuse are very present in this area, GE works to allow the youth to express their pain, but also have a place to come where they will always be loved and accepted. I will be serving this organization in any way that they see fit and I also look forward to teaching the youth how to use visual art as a form of expressing emotions, feelings, and ideas.


 

Kerrah Pyper will be volunteering on both I Am Art camps this fall (Casa Bernabe & Oasis). We look forward to getting to know Kerrah in person and having her on board this amazing and wonderful journey!

Through the eyes of my Guatemalan sons.

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After years of producing films in Guatemala,

I saw the country through the eyes of my Guatemalan sons,

during our 1st family trip to their birth country.

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Born through adoption

After 15 trips to Guatemala, I was able to see Guatemala through the eyes of my sons, a mirror to my soul. It was like pointing a camera at a television and getting an infinite feedback loop, reminding me why Guatemala is so very precious to our family.

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Our connection to Guatemala began in 2005 when we adopted our son Micah. Amelia and I wrestled with infertility for over a decade, so Micah was an enormous blessing. Shortly after adopting Micah, we adopted Elliot from Guatemala, because we wanted Micah to have a brother who could share his story and heritage. It was during that trip to Guatemala to receive Elliot that my identity was challenged in a way that changed my life forever. I visited a prison with a friend and saw the country through the eyes of an incarcerated gang member … a young man who didn’t have options and made decisions based on survival. He challenged my authenticity as a Christ follower, saying that I had the luxury of being a hypocrite, and that if he was inauthentic to his gang, they would kill him.

I had to respond … but how?

We wanted to do something that would bless the country that gave us our sons. After much thought and prayer, we decided to authentically use our talents in mission. We formed Athentikos, a non-profit that empowers at-risk communities through creative arts and story.

We had no financial resources, but we were too passionate (or too naive) to care. We produced Reparando. We toured Reparando. We produced Becoming Fools. We toured Becoming Fools. We developed the I Am Art initiative to connect creatives with at-risk children and empower both with new vision and purpose. We were caught up in a raging current of activity, and in the blink of an eye, a decade had passed. It was in this calm after the storm that we decided it was time to re-introduce our sons to Guatemala where they were born. It was an opportunity to fall in love with the country all over again.

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A monumental homecoming

To be honest, I was nervous before the trip. I was fearful that somehow my sons would view me differently – as some man who cared for them, but not as their father. I anticipated all sorts of questions from our sons about their stories and birth families — questions that would be painful to answer — if we could answer them at all. It was a reminder of the pain that brought us all together: parents unable to birth children, and children unable to be cared for by their parents.

History and future intertwined when we stepped on a plane together and turned the page to new chapter. We journeyed together to a foreign land with eyes and hearts wide open … and realized that it was home, because it is the place where our tragedies were transformed into comedy – not just for our Guatemalan sons, but also this Scottish-Irish-American, and his Mexican-American bride.

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Our trip was beyond epic …

Every day we embraced new adventure as a family. We explored Antigua, a 500 year old city filled with Spanish Colonial architecture. We climbed Pacaya, an active volcano, and roasted marshmallows on the lava. We watched a Lent procession in which Guatemalans carry floats weighing over a metric ton for over twelve hours, marching over meticulously crafted carpets made of colored sawdust, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. We rented a car and drove through winding mountains and crossed the border into Honduras to explore ancient Mayan ruins of Copan, a city famous for art and culture. We slept next to the beautiful Rio Dulce and sailed down river to the port town of Livingston to see where Guatemala meets the Caribbean, and ate lunch at an isolated restaurant surrounded by jungle. We swam in hot springs with cascading waterfalls, hidden caves, and covered our bodies with rich mineral mud that could easily be sold in the most luxurious spas around the world. We made new friends and reconnected with old friends who are like family. Each day we witnessed the beauty of Guatemala through the eyes of our sons. They soaked it up like sponges, and we relished every moment. It was quite possibly the richest experience we have ever encountered as a family …

we simply did not want it to end.

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Beautifully, Fearfully New

I remember sitting in the airport preparing to board the plan back to the USA, and welling up with emotion. Everything had once again changed, and it would never be the same. We crossed over into uncharted territory together and found it both frightening and beautiful – a maelstrom of paradox. I wished I could reach into their souls, caress their gentle hearts, and apologize for the loss of their birth families. At the same time, I wanted them to understand how profoundly Amelia and I love them – how complete we are because God wove their stories into ours. The filmmaker in me wanted stop everything, point the camera at my sons, and ask them countless questions: What was your favorite thing? Do you feel or think of yourselves differently now than before the journey? Where did you see pain? Where did you see beauty? How does this trip change the way you you experience life at home in Nashville? Who are you? Do you still see me as your father? Do you love us???

I held Micah’s hand as the plane roared down the runway, taking off into the sky above Guatemala City. I remembered the first time we flew together from Guatemala. He was just a baby, with huge brown eyes and a head full of crazy, curly black hair. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Nine years later, he still has those big brown eyes and crazy curly hair, and like before, I stared at him for the duration of the flight, with a heart full of gratefulness.

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Bright opportunity

I used to look into the eyes of my sons, and was transported into the past, when a gang member in a Guatemalan prison challenged my faith and identity. But this trip changed my vision. Now, when I look in my sons’ eyes, I see the future, and the future is bright with opportunity!

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Athentikos has the opportunity to expand our I Am Art initiative around the globe, and empower at-risk youth and creative artists with new vision, hope, and purpose. We’re currently in discussion with 6 organizational partners in Guatemala alone. We also have the opportunity to bring I Am Art to South Africa in 2015. Organizations in Egypt, Nigeria, India, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Nicaragua have expressed interest in collaborating in I Am Art. We’re thrilled with the interest … But we’re faced with a great paradox. We need additional financial support to embrace these wonderful opportunities.

Will you help us by giving a monthly donation or volunteering your time?

If our story inspires you, we’d love to invite you into it to share your time, talents, and treasure.  We hold our mission with open hands and ask you to join us to shape it as we walk forward in faith. We are not the author.

We are beautiful art of the Great I Am ….

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The Sound of the Rain Needs No Translation

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Between November 10th and November 15th, I taught a creative writing and painting workshop at Athentikos’ I Am Art camp in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Several artists from the United States banded together, left the comfort of their homes and family, and journeyed into the heart of Zone 18, an area of Guatemala City riddled with violence, poverty, and oppression.

In my creative writing workshop, we explored the relationship between writing and prayer. There is an obvious connection in which both are expressive, a relationship between a speaker/writer and a listener/reader. Prayer can often be thought of as a letter. Above all else, writing, like prayer, is a form of communication. And to truly communicate, one must not only speak or write, one must also listen.

This side of prayer and writing is often overlooked, because when we think about prayer and writing we think about words, content, message. Even when we listen, we imagine or think in words. The words will often get in the way of listening. I don’t know how many times I’ve forgotten something my wife told me get at the store.

“You don’t listen to me,” she says.

“I just forgot. I heard you. I’m sorry.”

Hearing and listening are two separate entities. When we write, we may hear the world around us but never truly listen to it. This, I believe, is what separates great writers from good writers. Listening goes beyond the ears and into the heart. Listening transcends words and language. The sound of rain needs no translation.

Contemporary poetry aims to listen. It accepts the flaws of humankind and of language, and learns to dance and sing amidst it all. It is the music underneath and beyond. I was hesitant about doing a creative writing workshop for the Guatemalan youth due to their age and the language barrier, but I was pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm and interest; everything fell into place.

On the first day, I was dealing with a fever. I took my class out into the forest behind the main complex and asked them to sit in silence and to listen for something that they would normally overlook or disregard as unimportant. My illness played a significant role in this decision, but it was the perfect way to begin. Writing arises first from true silence, from sitting within the world. Goethe says that “poetry is a secular gospel.” Religious groups, especially Christians, shy away from this word: secular.  But the secular and the sacred go hand-in-hand. They cannot be separated.

“[Religion] makes itself the ultimate and despises the secular realm. It makes its myths and doctrines, its rites and laws into ultimates and persecutes those who do not subject themselves to it. … This is the reason for a passionate reaction of the secular world against religion, a reaction which has tragic consequences for the secular realm itself. For the religious and the secular realm are in the same predicament. Neither of them should be in separation from the other, and both should realize that their very existence as separated is an emergency, that both of them are rooted in the experience of ultimate concern.”

Theology of Culture, Paul Tillich

This idea of opposites-in-harmony has been on my mind over the past few months. I’ve been criticized by family and friends for taking an apophatic stance on God and religion, because people tend to prefer answers and clarity, shying away from the abstract and the obscure. But clarity and obscurity need each other, just as the light needs the darkness. Where else could it shine into?

I do not want to say that we brought light into the darkness of Zone 18. The light was already there. Children are the sparks that will shine through any darkness. What was our purpose being there? If nothing else, to bring kindling, to fan the flames, to ignite another spark.

“Put ragged clothes upon your back and sleep upon the ground,
And tell police about your rights as they drag you down,
And ask them as they lead you to some deserted door,
Yes, I know you’re set for fightin’, but what are you fightin’ for?

But the hardest thing I’ll ask you, if you will only try
Is take your children by their hands and look into their eyes
And there you’ll see the answer you should have seen before
If you’ll win the wars at home, there’ll be no fighting anymore.”

What Are You Fighting For? by Phil Ochs

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Hope for Guatemala

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On Sunday, November 9, 2014 we drove from Antigua to Zone 18 and found hope for Guatemala.

Driving from Antigua to Zone 18 is like driving from Brentwood to East Nashville. Antigua is a tourist town full of ancient history and beauty, while Zone 18 is a crowded slum with traffic, diesel fumes, gangs, murder.  Zone 18 is listed as one of the places NOT to go while visiting Guatemala.  We were driving in the crowded slum for a while when we turned into a driveway … to our surprise we had arrived at Hope for Guatemala.  We were told it was at a farm “una finca” near Zone 18.  We didn’t see farmland anywhere.  But, this was it.  The gate and wall were painted with a fabulous mural that reads, “the place were dreams are planted …”

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The gate opened, we drove in, and found we have come to an oasis in the middle of the city.  There were lush green trees and plants, bright orange flowers in the trees, and a view of mountains in the distance.  There were no stores, no crowded streets, nothing but the farm house, a few outbuildings, and rolling hills with tall trees as far as the eye could see. How could THIS be in the middle of THAT??

Jose, the director of Hope for Guatemala, told us the story behind this place. This finca was the largest egg farm in the country back in the 80s and early 90’s, and has been in the family for 140 years. His daughter was kidnapped and the family fled the country. The house has been abandoned since the mid 90’s.  A year and a half ago Hope for Guatemala discovered this place and God opened the door for them to move their ministry here.

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So now, kids who live with three families in a one room shack with no water or electricity can come to this beautiful oasis in the middle of the slum. They can play on awesome playground equipment and with the goats, horses and chickens. They learn to work the land and produce a crop. There is a lake to jump in and catch tilapia. None of these things would not even be possible in their “neighborhood.”

There is peace here. There is freedom here. There is safety, love, and family here. Who would have guessed we’d find a place like this in the middle of the slum. God has planted Hope for Guatemala here to provide such an oasis for this community. What a blessing!

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