As I walked past the line of garbage cans that always posted sentry duty on Sunday nights, I scanned idly for any interesting abandonments — books or furniture whose owner had left them out for neighborhood salvagers to claim. I had learned in my last two years in New York that while the city might be stingy with space, its residents were a bit more laissez-faire with belongings they could no longer use. (In fact, I once heard a five-minute presentation on the best times of the month and neighborhoods to go looking for things.)

Fun Facts About Art House America

. . . Sent co-founders Andi Ashworth and Charlie Peacock all over America for twenty years to speak on the core ideas behind an imaginative, creative life to Art House America advocates.

Heard U2 frontman Bono sing three verses of “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love” while sitting at the fireplace in 2002, after he encouraged a room full of artists to engage with the AIDS community and the extreme poverty emergency in Africa. . . .

Rembrandt was no dummy. He knew he was a great artist, no question. But he also knew he wasn’t limitless. And one of his apparent limits was his inability to satisfy what people sometimes wanted him to be. This must have been very frustrating at times. Surely there must have been days when he would’ve loved more than anything else in the world to be for another person exactly who they wanted him to be.

Perseverance, Anxiety, and the Greatness of Small Things

So, after twenty plus years of an open door, we declared a sabbatical.

It was the start of something good. In the press of always taking care of others, we hadn't been taking care of ourselves. Without extra people to feed, we could eat smaller and healthier meals. We also returned to something we love — ending many of our days with a vigorous walk in the trails of a nearby wooded park.

We had to be honest or risk sitting in awkward silence over tea or the next meal, or, God forbid, be reduced to mere small talk while cleaning bathrooms together. Because of these interpersonal hurdles that could only be cleared with grace and mercy, I felt a quiet confidence growing in me, and my ability to listen and tend to the needs of others broke away from my need to have control or be independent. This, we found in the end, is the real bread and butter of communal life — forced honesty and a corporate desire to do more than merely share space and chores kept gossip at bay and challenged us to speak truth in love.
At home, I sifted through condolence cards and made half-hearted attempts to focus on good things. I wrote and I cooked; I brought flowers into the house. On seventy-degree days, I wandered around our Nashville neighborhood like someone’s lost pet, trying to convince my skin to absorb the beauty of my favorite season. I bought smooth white pumpkins and sugar-dusted loaves of banana bread, anything to bring my senses back to life. For weeks, all I could seem to see was the horrible beige of those hospital walls.

In essence, this was why we met that day in my living room: because beauty matters to God and because, as the body of Christ, we testify to one another that God sees us, that our work matters.

There was some venting, yes; there was philosophy; but above all, there was connection. In the sprawling Dallas metroplex lined with suburban brick homes, school zones, and shopping centers, visual artists, musicians, and writers assembled. We peeked into the crevices of our landscaped society and found wildflowers.

Nobody seems to know where the foolish word came from — a portmanteau of breakfast and lunch, obviously, but we don’t say lupper or dunch. Someone claims a reporter for the New York Morning Sun coined it in the early twentieth century as a way to describe the way a morning newspaper man ate: frenzied, I suppose, too busy to eat breakfast.

I gave up breakfast a long time ago, when I realized it just makes me hungry for lunch hours too early, but I think that portmanteau-inventing reporter and I, teaching college freshmen to wrangle words in the early mornings, are kindred souls.

I look forward every year now to the Glen Workshop for much the same reason, knowing that it will heal me in ways I didn’t even know I was broken. Knowing that I become more like the person I want to be after a week there. I know that the whole week will serve as a call to pay attention, that we will be offered continual reminders that maybe, just maybe, beauty will save the world.
My hope is to spend my waking hours working on something I’m connected to — something that is excellent and meets needs beyond myself. I want to work alongside creative people who are making a larger impact on the world around them. I want to help them thrive. My desire is to have the freedom to invest my waking hours exhausting all of my faculties — my strengths, my skills, my passions — on behalf of a cause I'm passionate about. And yes, even a cause that needs me.

Justice and the Pivotal Moment

History is watching. The story of how we are reacting to disease and extreme poverty and hunger is being written. How are you using your imaginative and creative abilities to tell a good story? Art is about making, but it is never better than when it accompanies a life well made. Set your compass toward living a seamless creative life where the full weight of your gifts are offered to the great needs of the world, from the need for beauty to the need for vaccines for the poorest children. This is the just and artful life.

Tangled Up in Green

Pulling English Ivy is back-breaking work. . . . You are sweaty, thirsty, and exhausted. You use words not part of your common vocabulary. You want to scream. You want to give up. You look back at the sailboat rounding the bend, the stars and stripes flapping in the breeze. WHY are we doing this?

I am too early on this journey to say what will come of it — whether or not my artistic insecurities or competitive aspirations will show up again and steal my joy, or if I can reconcile the fact that there will be days when I read nothing of worth, when all I do is play pat-a-cake and write grocery lists, and days when I read well and with purpose, when I write (even if it is just a sentence) something that makes me proud and reminds me who I am.

Letter to a Young Musician

You've chosen a noble vocation. Or, perhaps music has chosen you? That's even better. An invitation is preferable to a cold call.

At all times and in all ways, you must relentlessly pursue success. That is, as long as success is defined as increased skill and ability, imagination, humility, generosity of spirit, good humor, gratitude, innovation, love, and empathy, and becoming more like Jesus, not less. Your life as a musician is an invitation to become one kind of person in the world and not another, while leaving the world a better place than when you first arrived. It is a unique calling to live a seamless, integrated, creative life before God and the world, cultivating and enjoying the gift of music. Take it seriously . . .

A bit heart-numb and recovering from new-artist-itis, I remember the surge of joy I felt at first seeing the Art House — church and gardens — place cultivated.

Our initial conversations there left us feeling challenged and validated at the same time. It was as if something in the air transformed our weary stories of life on the road into stories of the blessing and stewardship of storytelling. I remember walking to the car after our first visit saying, ”I get it, I get it, I get it . . .”
My parents almost never went out alone together. They smiled giddily as they gave Jane instructions about dinner and bedtime. I paid attention. My father put his hand on my mother’s back as he opened the front door and ushered her out. Something important was happening in this moment, and it had everything to do with two fuzzy looking singers, one strumming a guitar worn high across his chest.
Every sports team, professional and amateur alike, goes through peaks and valleys of success and failure, and what my Astros are going through is not unique or even unusual. Even in my childhood memory, I recall the last doldrums of the franchise in the late 80s and early 90s, but those losses and frustrations washed off as easily as grass-stained knees and grubby hands. In adulthood, in the time when you’re supposed to outgrow such things in a fit of sudden maturity, I find myself defending my fandom not only to denizens of other cities, but even to my own neighbors. That’s what happens when you love the worst team in the league.
We drove an hour through clusters of adobe buildings to the college in Santa Fe. As we caught up on our lives over the past five years, I was paying attention to my friend, but also staring slightly slack-jawed at the Sangre de Cristo mountains as we pulled up to campus, fragrant with piñon, sage, juniper, and lavender — some of my favorite smells in the world. Those mountains were painted with hues of brown, gray, pink, orange; others in rich, brick red. The land offered a bleak, stark beauty; it cleansed the palette of my busy mind. Hummingbirds flitted about, and the New Mexico sky and clouds took my breath away.
We create art to communicate, to be known and to make known. Art may begin with self-expression, but it doesn’t stop there. We discover, we respond, and we offer it up to the world. In this, art creates community. It collects the misfits of the world and gives them a home.