All in Place

Sorting the clothes on the floor of our bedroom, piling them into the hamper, measuring out the detergent and tossing the pieces one by one into our washing machine: this is how I know I’m home. The jerks and thumps of the washing machine, the pause just before the spin cycle, even the obnoxious beep of the dryer: these noises sound like home to me. Doing laundry means I am back in the place where my soul rests, the place where I can marshal my forces, and also lie down and sleep in peace.
In one weekend, we virtually erased it all. We peeled back all of the layers and tossed them away to start fresh. It was the right thing to do, but I couldn’t help feeling a little sad. For every renovation and remodel we do to this house, we erase some of its story. This house has been through a lot — more than even the previous owner knows — and when we change it, we take something away.
I am a token here, an altar to mark the space where a dream was dreamed, a forest cleared, land reclaimed, a foundation laid, a hope hoped, a desire met. I sit upright on two front columns, regal, and alert, a king keeping watch over kingdom. My sides show their age, remorselessly and violently pierced by windblown shrapnel, by swirling apathy. Layers of cream-colored paint chip and peel revealing ever older storied layers. Sinewy mortar deteriorates in the space between bricks, and my lit soul wavers between the colorful future and the black-and-white past. Though riddled with exhaustion, I remain.
I did want to tell my story kindly. I love my family. It delights me that that is how it has come across. I see no benefit for myself or others if I tell a story filled with anger and bitterness. Frankly, I think if I am unable to extend mercy to the people in my story, and receive the gifts they have given, even ones that have caused suffering, then I should wait until I am able to process, to heal more deeply.
I took a photo after all, of the one thing of hers that I have asked for: her pencil cup, made of rolled magazine pages, pencils included. It came out blurry. Once I pulled the car up the drive and loaded my bags, she was ready for the customary parting hug on the front stoop. But I had one more task, to be completed indoors, so we returned to the kitchen.
Name is related to identity, and identity comes in part from story. When I learned more of our stories, I could see my family and myself in a new, larger context; I could enter into relationship — into community — with both the quick and the dead; I could inhabit a richer understanding of what community means. I could even “burst into poetry” and celebrate my heritage, my name.
So we enter the swim of people, words, laughter, a table laden with desserts, the dusky scent of coffee steaming from the cup in my hand as familiar faces sift through the crowd. And amid the lovely clamor, I’m reminded that what we’re experiencing is something artists desperately need — this coming together, this connection. All art is a conversation. The artist of faith negotiates a rich and multifaceted dialogue with God, the work, and community.
The liturgy suits people like me and Johnny, and many in the congregation — the artful-minded, craving visuals and symbols. We walk in the door to dip our fingertips in cold, holy water; trace a cross from our forehead to our chest; light a candle cupped in red glass to symbolize prayers weighing heavy on our hearts. I take a wooden pew under the St. Catherine of Alexandria stained glass. There is a still, sweet reverence under the wooden nave which looks like an upturned ark, drying out from a tragic flood. As we do “the people’s work” in peaceful repetition — kneeling, bowing, crossing — we embed Scripture and worship into our souls and movements.
When we moved away from Franklin, I said we’d never be able to return to such a small town with its small thoughts, but that was before I was so tired. I still wrestle with feeling like I sold out. I still don't know exactly how to live out the Isaiah 55 call in a small-town context. It's not as clear. The real dramatic, tension-filled moments of triumph or defeat are not as visible. Here, the beauty and affluence shadow the brokenness.
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.

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?

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 . . .”
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 went to one game, then another, and suddenly we were back to an old familiar rhythm, the liturgy of the ball field. Take a lawn chair and iced tea (preferably obtained at a gas station on the way to the game), have a chat with one eye on the field, scream wildly at good plays and bad, and take the game personally.
Give me a porch swing, a balmy night, and some fireflies buzzing around, and I’m a happy clam. From March to September, our turntable crackles with Louis Armstrong’s Louisiana jazz. On weekend evenings we go no farther than our front steps to hear the best local fiddle players; their songs echo through a field of oak trees between our house and our town’s local dive bar. And as much as I like to pretend I have a modern bent, a homespun aesthetic politely oozes from inside our home, too.

Creative Community for the Common Good

A few weeks back I was privileged to sit with trustworthy friends and wrestle, yet again, to find the smallest, most potent words to describe what Art House means. This kind of exercise has played out many times in the last twenty years. We’ve been trying to put our vision into words since we first imagined the place and purpose that became The Art House home in Nashville, and our non-profit, Art House America. As we like to say, the name Art House designates place, while Art House America is an organizational title.