Friday, April 18, 2014

new lenten collage: seventh, and final, in a series

"into your hands i commit my spirit"
mixed media collage on stretched canvas (found papers, acrylic paint, markers, glue)
8" by 10"
april 2014
gregory a. milinovich

and so we come to the end of lent, and of my lenten discipline to engage the Biblical texts that we are dealing with in church each week in a creative and expressive way.  this collage deals with what might have been the very last words uttered by the mouth of Jesus, words that are part of a prayer found in the 31st psalm.  it would seem that as he hung dying, Jesus was praying this prayer, not having his life taken from him so much as still offering it into the hands of God, whom he knew would embrace and redeem him.  on this good friday, let us remember that while we are good at pointing fingers at the ones who killed Jesus, whether you want to blame the religious leaders of the jews, or the roman authorities, or even ourselves because of our own sinfulness, the truth is that Jesus offered his life.  he gave it.  he could have stopped it at any point, but he chose not to.  the gift of salvation is really a gift of love.  offered by Jesus to you.

it has been a fascinating journey for me these last 7 weeks to reflect creatively on the seven last words of Christ before his resurrection.  i have really enjoyed the discipline of making a collage each week to respond to or live into the text.  here are all seven together:

and the sides of them:

i hope you have at least enjoyed seeing the idea of possibilities.  we are so used to approaching the Scriptures in one way:  listening to a sermon.  or maybe reading it at our desk and underlining some things.  maybe we've even grown into meditating and praying through certain texts, or using other resources to study particular passages more deeply.  all of those things are good.  but i want you to see  that there are other ways, too!  you can reflect.  you can respond.  you can create and interact.  you can draw a picture or write a story.  you can write God a letter to ask your questions.  you can find bits of paper and glue them together!  there are many ways for you to have a dialogue with God about this word, which is like the very breath of God.  how will you breathe it?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

maundy thursday, 2014

today is maundy thursday. maundy is a derivation of the latin word, mandatum, which means commandment.  today is so called "commandment thursday" because we remember the final supper jesus had with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion, and in particular, what happened at that meal.
it wasn't just any meal, of course.  it was the celebration of the passover.  a time when followers of YHWH looked back to remember how God delivered their ancestors from slavery in egypt, and how God had established a new covenant with the people.  the whole meal was full of sign and symbol of this covenant, this sacrificial system, in which the blood of a lamb had allowed the spirit of death to pass over those who put their faith in God.  the passover meal had become such a ritual, that there were certain words and prayers and routines that were part of it.  and on this night when Jesus ate the meal with this closest friends, he did it differently.  he basically told them that his own blood was going to be the lamb's blood that allowed death to pass over all of God's children.  he was remembering that ancient covenant God had made with the people, but he told them that he was doing something new.  "i am giving you a new commandment (mandatum)," he told them, "to love one another as i have loved you."

so in the old covenant, one had to obey the law, and then make sacrifices of animals and grains and so forth to compensate for the failures to obey the law.  but in this new covenant, we have a new commandment.  it isn't about making animal sacrifices, though one must admit that the sacrifices required in this new covenant, while less painful to the birds and animals, are perhaps much harder for us to make.  this covenant calls us to love each other.  this isn't a program or a system.  it is a calling and a commandment.

as if to get it through their thick heads, Jesus knelt down and washed the feet of his friends, and soon to be deserters.  i imagine he was sure to get in between their toes, and to scrub briskly on the bottoms of their feet, where the grime really gathered.  and he did this intimate gesture as a way of demonstrating the kind of love he was talking about.  his commandment (not a suggestion or a gentle persuasion) to love is not about being nice or even friendly, as great as those qualities are.  no, he is mandating that we get our fingers dirty; that we get up close and personal; and that we be quick about surrendering our attachments to titles and positions and entitlements.  instead of thinking about what we deserve, we are to lower ourselves, to kneel to the level of the dirt and grime of our neighbors (after all, how clean are your feet, really?), and love them right where they are.

that is our new commandment.  it is a new covenant.  it is marked by spilt blood and broken flesh.  it is remembered in ritual and sacrament.  and it is wonderfully and beautifully practiced by all those who are truly followers of the One who first demonstrated it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

new collage for lent (6th in a series)

"lent 2014: it is finished"
mixed media collage on stretched canvas (handmade paper, found papers, acrylic paint, marker, glue)
8" x 10"
april 2014
gregory a. milinovich

here is my sixth collage this lent, a reflection on Jesus words "it is finished."  we've been studying these final words from the "deathbed" of Christ in our church this lent, and i've been trying to express my own interpretations visually in these collages. this one is meant to be a bit messy and dark, to express the intense brokenness of Christ, that his body was literally broken, and that the temple curtain was split in two.  behind the curtain, of course, is the holy of holies, the mercy seat, and the very presence of God, and i wanted to illustrate that with something bright and glowing.  even in his death, he is victorious.  these words, "it is finished," are not meant to be heard as an acknowledgment of defeat, but rather as a victorious claim of completion.  he did it.  he did this unthinkable thing, and now the dark veil of death that separated humanity from God has been rendered useless.  it is finished.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

the bible on tape (jump, jump)

i've been sitting on this post for some time now, hemming and hawing about actually writing it, but, well, holy week seems about as good a time for a confession as any.  so here goes. 

when i was a young teenager, maybe 13 or 14, my grandparents asked me if i wanted a bible.  but not just any bible.  it was the bible recorded on audio tapes.  i guess they got it somehow and no longer wanted it, and wondered if i would like it.  now, let's be clear about one thing: i was a pretty good church kid.  i mean, i was a teenager like any other, and i had my junk, but in the grand scheme of things, my main form of rebellion was growing a curly mullet and listening to stryper.  when i listened to amy grant singing "baby baby," which was pretty clearly not about Jesus, i felt like a wild child.  

so, when my grandparents offered me the bible on cassette (oh, i nearly forgot:  kids, a cassette was a small plastic cartridge that contained a metallic tape substance inside it, wrapped around two reels.  you put it in a cassette or tape player and it would turn the reels and read what was recorded on the metallic tape, playing it for you to hear.  if you were really cool, you had a small cassette player called a "walkman" that you could carry around.) they had good reason to do so.  i was already a regular bible reader at that age, usually equipped with a set of colored pencils to underline and highlight any and everything that seemed underlinable.  
but when they opened that soft plastic case to show the audio bible to me, i have to admit that i didn't see the inspired or infallible word of God therein.  nope, i saw a blank canvas of some 16 cassettes being offered to me.  i'm quite sure i almost too enthusiastically received this offering, which probably caused no small delight for my grandparents (and maybe my parents, too?).  "What a good boy," they might have thought.  "How many teenagers want to listen to the Bible on tape while also reading it - AND underlining it too?  we are so proud of him."  

and i'm sure i did nothing to redirect any praise that might have come my way.  

but now it is time for my confession.  those tapes weren't about the bible for me.  they were about the tapes.  even though they weren't meant to be re-recordable tapes, i knew how to fix that.  just a little bit of chewing gum in the little open cubes at the top of the cassette, covered with some scotch tape, and that baby was ready to pop into my boom box.  and not only did i have one, but i had 16 of them!  at 90 minutes each that was 24 hours of blank tape at my disposal!  i was like a kid in a candy store, or a devout Christian in a bible store.  

and why did i so enjoy the idea of so much blank tape? 

because i loved the radio.  

even though my tapes were all of the christian ilk: petra, michal w. smith, stryper, whiteheart, whitecross, and pretty much white-anything, i spent plenty of time secretly listening to pop radio out of lexington, kentucky.  and i loved it.  there was something so different about the way it sounded from what had been deemed safe by (or for) me.  it was probably also the rush of knowing that i was doing something i felt was disapproved.  so i listened on.  but i didn't want to have to wait to hear "man in the mirror" by michael jackson or "jump jump" by kris kross, so i started recording these songs onto tape.  as a song would near its end on the radio, i would take my position next to the boom box, fingers poised and ready to pounce.  as soon as the next song began, if it was one i wanted to preserve, i would quickly press the record button, and then i would have "right now" by van halen to listen to anytime i want to.  

i still have them.  

when i was supposed to be listening to the book of james, and thinking about taming my tongue, i was instead nodding my head to the infectious rhythms of boyz II men, en vogue, and paula abdul.  i had the audacity to put labels over top of the factory labels on the cassettes, and call my own tapes "radio stuff."  in the picture below, you can see my blasphemy in full bloom.  you can see right through my "radio stuff" label to the king james-like script below it, like a finger of shame pointing right at me, proclaiming "The New Testament."  that may be all that is written on the cassette, but it is really saying, "this was the holy bible, you heretical little punk."

there, now i feel better.  i still have all those tapes, and every once in a while, for kicks and giggles, i pull one out and give it a listen.  and i am reminded of grandma, who is no longer with us, and who thought i was listening closely to the book of hebrews as i meditated on how Jesus is our new high priest.  i have a feeling she isn't too disappointed to know that it was really one of the ways that i was exploring the world through music.  i even think she'd be delighted to know that i became an ordained minister, and a father of 3 amazing boys.  i have studied the bible in pursuit of my own faith, and in pursuit of a masters degree.  and i have continued to listen to pop music, to world music, to gospel and bluegrass, opera and jazz, hip hop, rap, soul, funk, metal, blues, and anything else i can get my ears around.  i have discovered hope and truth and freedom and beauty in all this music, so it has served as part of God's revelation to me: a kind of scripture.  and it all started with grandma and papaw's bible on tape.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

new collage for lent (5th in a series)

"lent 2014: i thirst"
mixed media collage on stretched canvas
acrylic paint, pages from a bible, marker, glue
8" x 10"
gregory a. milinovich

here is the latest effort to result from my lenten discipline this year.  as in recent years, i committed to making something rather than giving something up during lent, and it happens to be that i am making a collage each week to correspond with each of the seven last sayings of Christ (which also happens to be what our sermon series is at catawissa avenue umc).  it is, of course, extra work for me during lent, but it is good for my spirit to carve out some space (time) each week for this form of expression.  i have to make it part of my to-do list, but once i'm there, in my art room, with paint all over my hands and glue all over everything, with limitless possibilities, i'm filled with peace.  

this week, i did something very different for me....i painted!  i mean, i often use paint in my work, but usually in an abstract way.  for this particular saying, i wanted something simple that conveyed the idea i was looking for, and i wasn't figuring out how to do it with bits of paper. so i decided to try and and paint an empty glass.  it is one of our glasses, from our house.  i am not overly pleased with the way it turned out, but at least you can tell what it is!  

in worship we discusses some various possibilities for what Jesus might have been saying when he said, "i thirst," including the most obvious one: he was simply thirsty.  but he also may have been referring to psalm 22, or 69, both of which are referenced in this collage.  or, he may have been referring to something he commonly talked about: his cup of suffering.  several times in the stories about his life, his biographers have him talking about his cup of suffering, including that famous scene in the garden when he is sweating blood about his impending crucifixion, and he nearly begs God to take this cup from him.  but on the cross, when all the suffering is finally about to end, he cries out, "i thirst."  was he simply thirsty?  or was he indicating that his cup of suffering had finally been drained?  it is, at least, an interesting question.  

regardless, though, there are many who are still thirsting all around us everyday.  neighbors and coworkers.  people walking down the street.  people waiting with us in the waiting room.  in line.  in traffic.  everywhere.  and they are dying of thirst.  Jesus had talked about this, too, when he said that when you offer a drink to one of these thirsty people, you are actually offering a drink to him.  that's how it works.  physically and spiritually.  we are called to be thirst-quenchers: to offer real, clean, fresh water to those who don't have it, and to show that there is a living water that flows from a deeper well.  that water fills your soul and truly quenches your truest, deepest thirst.  

jesus is thirsty.  in the faces of your day.  how will you offer him a drink?  

Monday, April 07, 2014

incontrovertible evidence of my insanity

since i am certain that you're all just dying to know more about the inner workings of my psyche (please read that sentence with the appropriate level of sarcasm.  i suggest level: dripping), i thought i would share with you one of my OCD tendencies.

actually, i have no idea if it makes me partially OCD, or just weird, but it is certainly a compulsion that i feel little control over.  if a normal person is going to put a plate of food in the microwave, they might type in a reasonable amount of time for the cooking, such as 1:30, or something like that.

but not me.

it's not that i think 1:30 isn't sufficient.  nor is it that i think 1:30 will make my food too hot.  if that were the case, i would simply make the time 1:15 or 1:20, or if i wanted it warmer, 1:45 or even 1:50, if i was feeling brave.

but, you see, none of those times will work for me.  you will NEVER see me type any of those numbers into a microwave.  no, i will go for 1:31.  or maybe 1:37.  or 1:29.  usually it is an odd number, but occasionally i will throw in an even number, just to keep the microwave guessing.


i have no idea.  perhaps it goes back to that whole underdog thing that i've written about before.  i feel bad that certain numbers never get typed into the microwave display.  how is that fair?  so i try to represent those neglected numbers.  i even enjoy using two digit numbers for times between a minute and a minute-and-a-half.  for example.  when you might put your spaghetti in for 1:30, i may very well put mine in for :91, or :86. it works.

so there you have it: exhibit "m" in the long list of incontrovertible evidence demonstrating my twisted psyche.  please just move along, and don't stare at the freak.  have a great day, and excuse me while i go and make sure i use enough words with q's, x's and z's, so that those keys don't feel left out.


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

new collage for lent (fourth in a series)

"my god, my god, why have you forsaken me?"
mixed media collage on stretched canvas (vintage papers, marker, photocopy, glue)
8" x 10"
april 2014
gregory a. milinovich

here is my fourth collage in this lenten series on the final words of Christ. i wanted to express both the god-forsakenness of these words, as well as the hope latent in them as Jesus is quoting from a song. that's rights from his deathbed, Jesus quotes the first line of a song his listeners would have known well: the 22nd psalm. that psalm, while it begins with those excruciatingly lonely words, ends with expectation and hope. and so one wonders just what Jesus was really saying from his deathbed. my suspicion, since he was a human, after all, is that he was feeling quite a bit of both: crushing abandonment, and wild hope.

as the color left his skin and the blood dripped from his body, he believed, he hurt, he cried out, he ached, he faded, he tore, he questioned, and he held to hope. but remember this: he did it all for and with love, so you would never be forsaken.