Unreasonable Expectations

The T-Shirt Design

This week I've been working on a design for our project t-shirt and newsletter. One phrase that we wanted to feature is "Unreasonable Expectations." Our director, Ross, used this phrase when we first arrived, saying that we shouldn't put unreasonable expectations on ourselves for our 6 weeks here. I'm not expecting much from myself, but in this City of unreasonable expectations I've come to trust the Creator for unreasonable things. The drawing is meant to capture the busy hum of the Metropolis, and features N.Y.C. essentials like a bagel, a taxi, and pigeons. The three paintbrushes represent the tracks of the project: Bridges, Campus, and Arts. In the center of the image, it says "Seek the welfare of the city to which I called you." This comes from Jeremiah 29.

While working on the design, I had a pigeon visitor at my studio window.

Cameron has a fully equipped darkroom all to himself in Midtown Manhattan!

Nick, Travis, and Scoops in the studio

Sarah is immortalizing me as an icon in her series...

Amen for NYC...

In addition to the various aspects of ministry that we're doing here, we've been able to have some really fun New York experiences. Last week, the entire project saw "The Drowsy Chaperone," a Broadway musical that harkens back to Vaudeville shows of the 1920s. It was an excellent performance, with great music. I especially enjoyed hearing the tenor banjo in the orchestra.

[Winthrop kids at "The Drowsy Chaperone"]

On Saturday, the Arts Track staff drove out to Greeenport, which is a tiny village out on the end of Long Island. Our relaxing escape from the city started with a harbor tour on a small boat that was built for the World's Fair in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. Our captain's name was Dave. He once sailed bigger ships in the Hudson River, but left the City to have a quieter life. We talked art and music, and had several common interests. As is turns out, he has played with R. Crumb, a famous Illustrator/Musician. Here's the kicker - he played with Laurens native Rev. Gary Davis in the 1960s. We've been working on a memorial for Davis in Laurens, and Captain Dave was very interested to help out.

This is Captain Dave, aboard "Glory"

The rest of the day was spent in small bookshops and laying in the grass by the water. Also, I followed the sweet familiar scent of coal to a small historic forge, where I watched the blacksmith work for a while.

The blacksmith in Greenport

Coming through the Midtown Tunnel as we returned to Manhattan

This week at our weekly celebration, Brandon began playing a worship song and then sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Then he announced to the everyone that we all had tickets to the Mets game! So we loaded up on the train and went out to Shea Stadium for a major league evening.

Me with my roommates and Winthrop friend Charlotte

It's been really great to experience more of this wonderful city and watch others experience it for the first time.

Campus Days

A view of Midtown from Hunter College

Two days per week, we go on campuses around the city to do our image survey, called Soularium, with college students. I lead a discipleship group, and I go with the guys from that group to do the surveys. Nick, Scoops, and I have been to NYU, City College, and Hunter College a few times. Some conversations have been brief, but we've found many people to be very open to sharing. Last week, one girl said "It's very interesting that you came up to me, because I've been processing what I believe lately." Most people are happy to have someone they can just talk to.

A couple of weeks ago, one of our groups did an image survey with a student at Columbia University. Later in the day, some folks from the Campus Track of our project happened to approach the same guy. He told them that it couldn't be coincidence, and that he felt like something greater was at work in the situation. After a longer conversation with our students, he told them he wanted to trust Christ.

My roommates are both on the Campus Track, and get to spend even more time in conversations on campus. It has been very encouraging to hear their stories. My roommate Mark is very gifted in initiating conversation and communicating the Gospel with people. Last week, I did some image surveys with him. When one girl explained her views questions about life using pictures, he connected the ideas that she presented and explained how the Gospel begins to answer her questions. She was very interested and we met her again yesterday to talk more.

Scoops doing an image survey with a German student at NYU

A collection of faces from my sketchbook


first critique

On Saturday afternoon, we had our first critique. For the first round of art-making, the group paired up to collaborate on square boards. We also have two dancers, who performed what they have already choreographed. The theme was centered around a question from the survey we've been doing: "What image would you choose to describe God?" Thank Him, none of the paintings have a literal picture of God in them.

The students haven't fallen ill to what some call the Cross-Dove-Fish Syndrome. This describes the tendency within the Church to fall back on the overly ripe symbols we're so used to. This isn't to say that crosses and doves and fish don't have their place - they certainly carry important meaning within our tradition, but they also carry bad connotations for many people that will be seeing our work.

The pieces that have been created so far represent a variety of viewpoints on the image of God. They are personal, they are real, they are done well - that will carry the meaning much farther than a shopworn phrase or bumper sticker image.

Some of our girls collaborating on a painting

Our first critique



Friday afternoon I could feel the weight of the week piling up quick, especially as I was helping direct a large group to another part of the city - down the street, into the subway, switching trains, out to the street... It is hard to stay together in the first place, plus different people walk at different paces. I began adding up the negative things, and then my roommate called.

I am immensely thankful for my roommates. Kevin and Mark were both here on the Campus Track of the project last year. They are back, like me, as summer staff interns on their track. After our responsibilities were done on Friday, we got dressed up and went down to Tribeca for dinner. We met our friend Jacques at a wonderful Argentine restaurant. Kevin and Mark had been planning this "roommate date night" for us all week (including the plan to eat cheap so we could have steak on the weekend). We all unwound from the busy week over flavors of Argentina cooked into the steak, lamb, and sausage that we shared. Afterwards, we walked a few blocks west to the Hudson River.

I always forget I'm on an island when I'm here. It is quite easy to get caught up among the advertisements and car-horns in the concrete jungle and completely neglect that fresh air and relief is always a few blocks in either direction.

We walked along the Hudson and talked about the past, our futures, relationships, New Jersey... We happened up on a group of Chinese guys fishing. After a nearly ten minute struggle, one guy reeled in a huge striper. When he finally understood what we were asking him, he said "thirty six inches." There were not many words we could share, but laughter and applause made up for it - all with the Statue of Liberty shining behind us.

When we begin to add up the negatives in life and shift the focus from others to ourselves, we must find a way to clear our head and think objectively. Often this comes from friends inviting us out of our selfishness, back to the community to which we're called.

Whatever the case, if we're willing to step out and look for it, we may find that that relief and Liberty are only a few blocks away.


First Two Weeks

The past two weeks have featured all that one would expect from New York City: good & bad smells, 3 million Puerto Ricans lining the streets for a parade, and seeing the Easter Bunny on the subway. After arriving, I immediately felt that this year's Summer Project would be much different from the last one. For starters, the Project directors have spent a lot of time working out the kinks from the previous Art Projects. We have an incredibly talented group of student artists here (including 3 others from Winthrop), with a broad spectrum of artistic gifting. In addition to visual artists, we have performing artists and writers as well.

Yep, that's the Easter Bunny on the Subway...

For myself, the pressure I felt last year is gone. My first summer here was like taking huge gulp after huge gulp of a big drink, and trying to take deep breaths in between sips. There was just so much to take in - and I wanted to take it ALL in. While just getting to know your way around can be a daunting task, I wanted to see everything too. In the midst of trying to live like a New Yorker, I was also faced with new ideas about theology and art, and I had to figure out how to fit that into my personal walk. Oh yes, and then there was the whole point of the trip - sharing the Gospel. All of those tasks can be incredibly heavy, and sometimes it can be hard to remember that we were not meant to carry them alone. This year, my perspective is much different. Along with Laurens and Winthrop University, I feel comfortable listing Manhattan as somewhere I feel very at home (don't hear me wrong, Carolina is captial "H" Home until death do us part...) What I mean is I can see that this is where the Lord wants me in this season, and I love being here. As far as learning about theology, art, and sharing my faith, I don't feel like I have to figure it all out immediately. In her book "Plan B," Anne Lamott says "This is how we make important changes - barely, poorly, slowly. Still Jesus raises his fist in triumph." One difference from last year is that I beginning to see my lack and my limitations lost in the limitlessness of the Creator. Here's the deal: We're never going to figure it all out, and He loves us already anyway. The sooner all of us begin to deal with those two facts, the sooner "on Earth as it is in Heaven" happens.

3 other Winthrop Art students came with me this year for the Project! (Cameron, Courtney, & Courtney)

Courtney B and me viewing Central Park from atop Rockefeller Center

My roomies, Kevin and Mark

This week, we have been spending time on college campuses engaging students in conversation about their hopes in life and ideas about God by using pictures and questions. In some cases, we've already had the chance to explain what Scripture says about human desires and how God intends to meet them. When not on campus, we've spent time together discussing and sketching ideas about our exhibition. This year's show will have a strong focus on collaboration, which to me beautifully captures the essence of the New Testament. Also, this year part of my responsibility is to lead a discipleship group of guys on the project. I have been looking forward to meeting them, and it has been encouraging to hear how God brought them here this summer. We're looking forward to helping each other meet personal goals in our individual walks during our time here.

Didn't our mothers tell us not to draw at the dinner table? Nope!

Despite a stronger reliance on the Almighty and a decent memorization of the Subway map, the City can still be overwhelming if time is not intentionally taken to meditate, process, and pray. I haven't felt taken over by stress or anything, but my head has been kind of full the past few days. While processing my time here so far, I came to a somewhat unsuspected conclusion this afternoon. Basically, I realized that my bewilderment is rooted in the fact that my fantasy world and my reality are beginning to look oddly similar. There's not much I'd rather be doing than this, and not really a setting I'd rather be doing it in (not on this side of the New Jerusalem). This is one of those rare moments where the story I might write for myself reads much like the one that the Author has written for me.


good to be back...

Hello, and Greetings from Manhattan!

I arrived early this week, and it has been wonderful to settle back in to City living (if one ever really settles in).

Most of this week has been meeting the other staff and getting closer to the people I'll be living and working with. I'm in an apartment with two other student staff interns who were participants in last year's project. Our apartment has already become a place where people show up at night to unwind and hang out. It has been affectionately named "The Swank Tank."

In addition to catching up with friends and doing staff orientation, I've been able to do a bit of exploring. Wednesday, I had a tour of the graduate Illustration program at School of Visual Arts. It was an exciting experience, and has me thinking more about possibilities for the future.

More soon...