beauty out of chaos

Beauty out of Chaos: The Art of Hospitality (Part 6)

CreativeWelcome to part 6 in this series in which some amazing artistic women are helping me explore the idea of creating being a sacred act. Our baseline is that the creation mandate is the beautification of raw materials and the inherent nature of art is a reflection of the work of the Creator. Though I know there are strict definitions of fine art, I have been liberal in my interpretation. Today we have the privilege of hearing from Kourtney Street, whose art is "Soul Hospitality." I first basked in the beauty of her creation 9 or 10 years ago, when my dry and weary soul stumbled to her little villa outside of Paris, craving something I had not identified. If there is a birthplace to my understanding of beauty coming out of chaos, it is in her dining room. She talks about holy ground, knowing the art that you've produced is sacred... does it by definition welcome the Holy? Mull this over with me today and enjoy Kourtney's offering of beauty to our world!

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1. Kourtney, first off, I'm so excited for you to share with us about your art of hospitality. Even though it's been years since we shared a meal, I have vivid memories of your home in France and how you brought to life my soul and senses in your attention to detail, extravagant food, and sacred space! Let's just start with hearing about your thoughts on creating a space like that, because I know it is intentional.

Beth, thank you for inviting me to share. How delightful that you’ve dubbed my hospitality an art form. Spending my first 23 years in Texas replete with hospitality, beauty, and good Mexican food laid a strong foundation. Our front door was constantly revolving, and my parents never hesitated to set extra places at the table on the spur of the moment. Holidays welcomed people with nowhere else to go, even during a Christmas season that was extremely financially lean. Mom infused beauty and meaning to occasions, no matter what was going on circumstantially. Dad helped with whatever Mom needed, and no task was off-limits for his heart of service. My art is truly part of my DNA.

2. This series is born out of my own exploration of bringing beauty out of chaos through art and how that is a reflection of our Creator. You have been all over the world and walked through some incredibly tough ministry challenges. Can you share a story of how you've seen the art of hospitality have that effect?

We lived in a small village outside of Paris for almost five years. We had one baby and then another son two years later. Rich, my husband, traveled in and out of the Middle East and Central Asia for at least a week each month. During those years, the number of overnight guests in our home frequently felt like we were running a bed and breakfast in addition to being missionaries. We hosted everyone from family members to global ministry leaders. There were also strangers. Lots of strangers. Friends of friends who would call and ask if they could stay with us. We rarely said no. Looking back, I know God provided people to bring life and learning to me in a season in which I otherwise would have crumbled in loneliness.

Christmas of 2004, we ended up with an unbelievable number of guests, even for us: a missionary family of four from Central Asia, their married son and his wife from the USA, a pair of college students who were traveling Europe—dating and sorting out their lives. A few other people came and went during those two weeks for just a night or two. There was always someone needing a ride, a meal or a shower. I was nursing a baby and caring for a toddler while cooking, cleaning, listening and praying. On the outside it might have looked chaotic. It probably was. But really it felt so life-giving. I imagined it was what the early church might have been like. Christmas without our families should have felt so empty, but we were so full. At one point, I looked at the faces around the room and knew that I was on holy ground. It was a privilege to sustain a home that could bless so many people with so many different needs.

3. I remember helping you prepare for a special event on a boat when we were in Istanbul. We still drink from the blue glasses we used for vases that night! Give us some tips on how you create a space that feels extravagant without the price tag and why that's important to you.

I loved that night, Beth, and I could not have pulled it off without your help. I remember that you drove me to a Turkish grocery store to grab last-minute things. I was so impressed by the beauty that you’d mined and cultivated in the midst of birthing babies and faithfully serving in ministry.

It was actually at a similar conference in Turkey where God solidified my desire to bring beauty to women no matter where I was in the world. One of my dear friends from Texas had given me a wooden tray for Christmas one year lined with fresh coffee beans on the bottom and three vanilla pillar candles in the middle. I went to an Ikea in France and created my own version for centerpieces for a women’s night at the conference. I loaded up the supplies in a suitcase with delicious chocolates and flew to Istanbul with Rich and our son.

The night of the event, when the women walked into the room and saw the lighted candles and smelled the vanilla laced with coffee beans, they were visibly moved. They offered their hearts and words to each other in that makeshift beautiful space. Again, I was walking on holy ground. When the night was over, many asked if they could take the centerpieces back to their countries. And then one of the women said the words that I’ll never forget, “When the electricity goes out, we will have candles to burn.”

4. Tell us a little about your ministry now and some of your joys and struggles when it comes to your art.

This year marks our ninth back in America and my sixteenth with Cru. Our boys are almost 13, 10, and 8. Like my parents, ours is a revolving door. I am joyfully refining the practice of what I’ve dubbed “Soul Hospitality.” If you come to our home, there will inevitably be a huge pile of unfolded laundry on our couch, but you will hopefully leave with a full stomach and a soul that felt seen and heard.

My greatest struggle is wrapped around the health challenges of our kids. One has a life-threatening milk allergy and we also have Celiac Disease in addition to some other biggies. I ache for their lives to be as normal as possible despite an ongoing below the water line awareness of the dangers that eating can pose for them. It’s so interesting to live in the tension of one of our greatest joys also containing one of our greatest sorrows.

The good news is that our boys are showing a propensity for practicing hospitality. All three roll up their sleeves and can get our house ready for a gathering in record time. They are learning to ask good questions and are becoming increasingly inquisitive about people’s stories. When the fear of their futures starts creeping in, I am learning to offer it to the Lord and practicing trust that He has a plan for them that is good. Realistically, they are going to have to be excellent chefs and know how to cook well for themselves. Thankfully, we are heading in the right direction.

We recently took the boys on a ministry trip with us in Western Europe. We stayed in places where we could cook as there were not safe eating out options. It took a lot of planning, but we had two of the most meaningful weeks of our lives. And we visited that little house in France where God met you, too, Beth…

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Kourtney Street is a native Texan, turned global nomad thanks to Rich, her husband of 16 years. Kourtney and Rich joyfully serve on staff with Cru in Global Digital Strategies. Her days start with good coffee and are infused with life and laughter via her three sons. She reads voraciously, blogs sporadically, and loves with her whole heart. Find her at www.hearditonthestreet.com/kourtney.

Beauty Out of Chaos: The Art of Writing (Part 5)

Welcome to Part 5 of "Beauty Out of Chaos and the Sacredness of Art" where we have been exploring the imprint of God in us which leads to the creation of beauty out of nothing, out of chaos. I am reading Beauty Will Save the World by Brian Zahnd and happened upon this last night, "The artist doesn't give us a journalistic photograph of an event, but an artistic interpretation of an event. The great masters of sacred art were both artists and theologians; through their work they have given us an artistic interpretation that reveals the inherent, but hidden, beauty of the cross." As I read Shauna's words today, I am struck by the writer's artistic interpretation of pain and sorrow or hope and joy as a means of revealing the beauty of the cross. As a writer reflects on life, are they not naming the work of Christ and the presence of God? Shauna Gauthier is a kindred soul, seeking goodness and glory in others, focused intently on story, and mothering women, including, but not limited to 4 biological daughters. I appreciate the struggle of embracing the art and calling of writing in her life and her thoughts on process she shares today. May I ask you, in what ways were you called to create?

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I never really thought of myself as a writer, let alone an artist. Perhaps it's because when I was young, my writing was most familiar with the genre of survival. In the midst of the heartache of a broken home furnished primarily with the chaos of shame and abuse, I often retreated to the safety and sacredness of journaling. I had discovered a way to get the heaviness of those formative experiences onto those precious pages and pages, easing the burden of all I was being asked to carry through life.

I remember briefly entertaining the idea of embracing writing as a future career when I was a sophomore in high school, but that fleeting thought dissipated when my English teacher delivered the difficult blow of a B- on a creative writing piece I had worked so hard to craft. My fragile soul was no match for Ms. Meeker’s judgment, but I never entirely gave up the practice of writing. It was the faithful friend I carried with me everywhere I went in the years of adventure that followed.

Instead of becoming a writer, my vocational journey lead me down the path of youth ministry, on to international non-profit work and ultimately toward becoming a psychotherapist. I guess I never really ventured very far from the deep waters of chaos. It was the landscape I was most familiar with, but it was also where I was able to grow the capacity to see beauty underneath the brokenness, to glimpse the goodness distorted by sin, and to illuminate meaning in the midst of the complexities of life. Writing was the way in which I catalogued all that I came to see and understand along the way.

When I was in graduate school pursuing a degree in counseling psychology, I somehow found the courage to share my writing with an audience for the first time. It began as a joint blog endeavor meant to create a space to ponder lessons learned through the journey of graduate school, but it soon became far more than an online journal. My writing process began to shift. I was no longer simply journaling in the privacy of my own home where I could dump thoughts, fears, desires, and frustrations without the context of relationship. I wrestled with this new frame. It required a level of vulnerability and authenticity I wasn’t even yet able to offer directly in relationships, but it was in this process that I discovered how the writing and sharing of our stories can lead to healing.

Today I have come to understand that I do psychotherapy, but I am a writer. Early on, writing was a coping strategy and my saving grace, but in this stage of life it has matured and is serving an even greater purpose. I take some of the difficult and painful snap shots from this grand narrative we all live and move and exist within, and I run that gritty and messy material through the uniqueness of my own mind, sifting and sorting and searching for the beauty. It is always there. It is waiting to be discovered, extracted and molded into a gift of words for anyone willing to behold it. It is always there...in each and every one of our stories.

It still feels vulnerable and risky to share stories of trauma and healing, brokenness and beauty, death and life. But ultimately it is how I embody and embrace the Imago Dei.

The artist in each of us is uniquely designed to create in some way. For most, I presume our capacity to create was born out of some form of chaos. I’ll say it again, we are all meant to create.

bio-photo-300x288 Shauna Gauthier, MA is a writer currently blogging regularly at 3therapistswalkintoablog.com. She also works as a psychotherapist in her private practice located in Greenwood Village, Colorado. She most delights, however, in her role as mom to her four daughters and partner to her husband of 15 years.

Beauty Out of Chaos: The Art of Photography (Part 4)

Creative Welcome to the blog series, Beauty out of Chaos and the Sacredness of Art. If you're new, check out the last 3 weeks where I talked about mimicking God in creating, Connie Jakab shared about the art of movement, and Sandy Hopkins shared about the art of fiber. Today we are privileged to hear from Dorothy Greco about the art of photography. Dorothy is wildly talented in her writing and image making, seeking to "bring out and respond to inherent beauty."

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1. Dorothy, you say you feel equally at home speaking, writing, and hiding behind the lens. Obviously, each of those require a creative soul. Was there a time when you embraced your artistic self? Did you ever wrestle with accepting your eclectic interests (journalist, pastor, homeschooling mom, photographer?)

I definitely have an eclectic palette. From time to time I have wondered if would be wise for me to prune off some of the things I feel passionate about—but those thoughts generally pass. I actually find my interests expanding and deepening as I age. (I wish God had designed us to only need four hours of sleep each night.)

I started making photos with my Kodak Instamatic when I was about six years old. As an early teen, I knew I wanted to work as a photographer. The other passion that existed ever since I can remember has been my connection to nature. The trees, animals, oceans, rivers, etc. all pointed to the existence of something greater, more powerful, and infinitely more beautiful than anything else on the earth. Wedding these two loves give me great joy. That said, I still tend to talk about myself in terms of being creative rather than being an artist. I respond to what’s in front of me where a “true artist” creates something ex nihilo.

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2. Can you describe what you're looking for when you photograph your subjects? How do you uncover and tell stories through images? I also love your eye for nature. Tell us about the internal workings of your soul for those shots. 

There’s two components to any type of photography: the relational and the technical. When I photograph a person, I am aiming to bring out and respond to their inherent beauty. Nine times out of ten, when I meet someone I’m going to photograph, the first words out of his/her mouth are, “I hate having my photograph taken!” I get the forced vulnerability that’s part of the process but I do wince when I hear this. Folks tend to judge themselves harshly (especially women) and any self-hatred will pop up when someone points a camera in your face. My hope is that in the process of making these images, I will help them see themselves through a different filter—one that’s more gracious, and dare I say, more accurate.

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Though it might seem like a stretch to talk about a relationship with an object (be it a flower, landscape, or animal), the impulse to photograph anything rises up in me because of how I relate to, or respond to it. Making images of nature connects me to myself and to God in a profound and mysterious fashion. I really get lost in time and become part of something that’s larger than the sum of it’s parts. For me, it’s definitely worship.

The other component of photography is the technical. I’m always searching for and following the light. As I’m shooting, I am continually asking myself questions such as, How can I use my gear to make the highest quality image of my subject? Or What’s the best perspective for the shot?

3. You have quite the resume! I'm curious about your work with youth experiencing homelessness in Hollywood. How did that come about, what was the process like, and can you share a story that was particularly meaningful to you?

I have been working in journalism since 1985—almost 30 years now. I have had the privilege of traveling all over and meeting heads of state, famous artists and athletes, as well as the poorest of the poor, the marginalized, and those who are often unseen. The Hollywood project started as a series of photographs I had taken while working for a magazine based in Los Angeles. An art director saw them and connected me to a church that was working with these kids. Over the course of two years, I spent about four months with them.

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Though the kids appear dangerous and anti-social, they actually had a very tight community where they all looked out for and cared for one another. Once they decided that they could trust me, I became part of their family. Most of them lived in a squat under the Hollywood Blvd/101 Freeway overpass. I actually stayed with them for a few nights—the longest and most miserable nights of my life! Many of them experienced broken family relationships and saw running away as the best option. Dave, the teenager in the photograph with the huge scar, had been shot by his father. He died a few years after this photograph was taken from hepatitis.

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4. I'm exploring this idea of beauty coming from chaos or existing despite chaos, particularly in the artist's world. I wonder at the spiritual implications and how we're imitating God the Creator. Have you experienced this firsthand and can you reflect on this idea?

One of the most common lines I hear when folks see my work is, “I wish I was creative!” To which I always respond, “You are!” If we are created in God’s image and He is creative, then we are too. Part of the problem is that folks define creativity too narrowly. They limit creativity to painting, or writing music, or playing an instrument. When we stop and think about it, all day, every day, all of us are being creative. How does one put together a meal, decide how to arrange the living room, or resolve conflicts that arise in parenting or on the job? When we use our gifts and abilities to solve problems and reveal a perspective or understanding to others, we are creating.

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I hope when we get to heaven, we get to see a time lapse of how God created the universe. The idea of all of this beauty, all of this astounding creation—from the human eye to the Hawaiian Islands to watermelons—all starting out as nothing brings me to my knees. Even now as I’m writing I can’t help but weep as the wonder of it all. It’s almost too much to bear.

Not only do I think we all are creative, but I believe that He invites and calls us to create with Him, alongside of Him, and experience His goodness in the process.

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Dorothy is a storyteller, equally at home behind the lens, speaking, or writing. Her photography clients have included National Geographic, The Boston Globe, LA Times, The New York Times, and more. Her writing has been published in Relevant Magazine, Christianity Today (Her.meneutics, Gifted for Leadership, main site, and Today’s Christian Woman), and more. She is a member of Redbud Writer's Guild. You can find her at www.dorothygreco.com.

Beauty out of Chaos: The Art of Movement (Part 2)

Creative Welcome to Part 2 of the series, Beauty out of Chaos and the Sacredness of Art. We're exploring the idea of how we mimic God in our creativity (see part 1) and today I'm interviewing Connie Jakab, founder of Mpact Dance Company and author of Culture Rebel. Connie has some powerful things to share about identity and beauty (of one's self?) coming about through community. The dance actually creates and births that identity formation. Question #4 is still stirring in me...

1. Connie, this series is born out of my own exploration of beauty coming out of chaos and how artists imitate God's creative work. I think it's vital to humanity and has more power than we've yet to uncover. Can you speak into this a bit?

I couldn't agree more! The art of storytelling through writing, dance, theatre, visual art, photography has a way of engaging people, bringing them into the story to be experienced with their senses. Creator God works through creation! He loves seeing something come from nothing that tells of His glory! When we can use these mediums to reveal who He is to our world I believe His beauty can shine. Ironically, His beauty in us shines brighter as well. The one who is most impacted by the message is the artist, the choreographer, the author. That is beautiful.

2. I've loved following your work with Mpact! I want to hear everything about it! Can you start by sharing about your own story of movement and how you experienced transformation and beauty through it?

I started dancing at the age of 22 for two reasons: One, I had just finished Bible College and hadn't been in contact with the "outside" world for four years. Two, I was struggling with some serious weight issues and was afraid to go to the gym. Being overweight made me very insecure. Dance class was fun and a place to connect with society. I started teaching movement to the youth I was working with in East Vancouver. Eventually this would lead to me opening my own dance space in East Vancouver that hosted battles and classes for lower-income, at risk youth. You could say that much of my calling to reach the broken has manifested through dance. I've also found a journey to health and wellness through it as well.

3. Tell us about how the youth culture intersects with movement and community building. What are you creating together at Mpact?

Hip Hop Culture is empowering for youth. With Mpact we are creating and redefining community through igniting courage and compassion into the hearts of youth. Youth are longing for identity and belonging. This is what we seek to bring them through what hip hop calls, "The Cypher" which I've explained more in my next answer. Why is identity important?

It is the foundation that drives one forward into destiny. In contrast, a lack of revelation of one's identity will lead to despair. Identity is the understanding of the great value we have and who we belong to. It comes to us not by education, but revelation. It's more caught than it is taught. The heart has to embrace it. It's not something we can just "know" in our minds.

People are told to "believe in themselves" by mass marketing, educators, motivational speakers and even preachers. "You can do it! Just believe you can!" This is something everyone deserves to have; an encounter with the beauty within that comes from the very image of the Creator. However, identity and belief in oneself was never meant to be an individual process. You can wake up in the morning determined to believe in your personal value all you want, but the minute you step out your door, that belief will be tried, tested and come directly against by:

- your own doubts and assumptions about yourself - mis-reading (or correctly reading) someone's negative body language or look towards you - opposition - sometimes downright cruelty - discouraging words - trauma - the list could go on

By the time you arrive home in the evening, every ounce of determination you had to "believe in yourself" has been sucked out, leaving you feeling defeated. Clearly, we can't do this on our own, can we?

It's because we were never meant to have identity reinforced by our own selves. We were born for community.

The intention we have at Mpact for community is to reinforce and strengthen identity and value in one another. It was meant to become a shelter, a safe place for those who've had a rough day. When haters come in droves, the community protects, builds up and provides rest for the crushed soul. Courage floods a heart when 20 others speak words of life into your spirit. Who doesn't thrive in an atmosphere of safety and belonging?

However, there are many who are struggling in this fight alone. All you have to do is scroll through a news feed on Facebook to see numerous status updates stating something along the lines of; "When haters hate, it only makes me stronger" type of statements. Somehow, we've taken on the role of self-protection which has driven us all into isolated caves with protective walls so high no one could ever see in.

Ironically, our self-protection keeps the greatness inside caged in us as well.

Greatness is released fully in community. It's released when others call out my destiny. When they hold me accountable not to "shouldn'ts" but to my identity, I thrive. When I can fail and not be shamed, but applauded for trying, I'm more likely to try again. When my community doesn't let me sit on my arse because they are just as committed to my success as I am, I push past my own limitations faster.

I see this reality as I reflect back on where I would be if it weren't for the people who invested into me, spoke words of life into my heart and told me to stop being so lazy and get moving. In myself, I don't have what it takes to move me the way they were able to. God used them in ways I will never forget.

When we build communities that become safe places that speak life, people thrive and become courageous. It produces something that individuals cannot do, and were never meant to be able to produce on their own.

4. I'm super excited about The Cypher: A show about Belonging and wish I could road trip to Canada. Can you explain the concept of the cypher, this show, and maybe share about a particular youth who has participated?

"What makes a youth resilient?" "Why do some in this life overcome incredible odds, while others flounder?" These are questions that stir inside me. I'm hungry for answers. I long for all to see resilience; for none to fall through the cracks. The question is, "how"?

After experiencing bullying as a teen, one of the scariest experiences of my life has been going into what hip hop culture calls, "The Cypher". Being heavier and having past experiences of bullying makes the centre of the cypher the LAST place I ever wanted to find myself. In a world of judgment, hatred, and ridicule, it's a vulnerable place to dance on your own with a circle of eyes staring you down, yet I was surprised to find the centre of the cypher to be a game changer for me in terms of reclaiming my identity and finding out how powerful community really is.

This is where I discovered a powerful truth: "We" have the power to create identity in one another. Inside each of us is the power to either create an atmosphere around us where "we" are for one another, calling out one another's strengths and beauty, or disabling and shaming one another to isolation, depression and hopelessness. That's a lot of power.

We have the ability to create resilience in one another. What if Pink Shirt Day became a historical event, rather than an annual plea to "stop bullying"? We have the capacity to make that kind of change if we understand the power of "we". Belonging creates resilience inside of people. The potential is limitless together. It's absurdly simple.

Connie headshotConnie Jakab is the author of the book, Culture Rebel, released fall 2012. Connie is passionate about rebelling against status quo living and encouraging others to branch out. Connie is an active member of poverty reduction in her city, the founder of WILD (women impacting lives daily) as well as Mpact (www.mpactdance.com), a dance company that produces shows based on social justice issues, Connie drives her passion outward into the arms of those wanting something more radical and meaningful in life. Connie is an active speaker and lives with her husband and two boys in Calgary, Alberta Canada. She can be found on twitter and instagram. @ConnieJakab.

Connie is honoured to be a part of the Redbud Writers Guild

Beauty out of Chaos and the Sacredness of Art: Part 1

Creative Nearly one year ago I watched with fascination as a Turkish uprising spread across the secular, albeit oppressed, country. As the protestors gained momentum and numbers, they acquired a more dangerous and powerful asset - confidence in their voice. Within weeks, out of the chaos and amidst banging pots, water cannons, and even death, a creative expression emerged that was beautiful in its strength, commentary, and solidarity. It was the time of the artist. I ventured to call it a Turkish Renaissance.

Recently, I happened upon a story of the longest mosaic mural in the world... made out of recycled objects in war-torn Syria! A professor who helped with the project was quoted as saying, "Creating something beautiful from rubbish means that we can rebuild despite the destruction." It gives them hope. It reminds their children that beauty still exists. It infuses joy into all that pass.

Consider urban renewal projects: the gorilla weavers in Philadelphia who, in the dark of night, weave lovely fabric pieces into chain link fences surrounding abandoned lots; community gardens and place making art intended to beautify an ugly location and serve to educate, involve, and gather a community; public park projects... even Central Park's design meant to inspire, gather, and nurture people's souls.

As a creative myself, I am drawn to this idea of making something beautiful out of chaos. But as a believer, I am even more intrigued by how this action reflects a creator God. Did he not also create something beautiful out of chaos? Gungor's lyrics are never far, "You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of dust. You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us." The act of making something beautiful out of dust is sacred.

I believe there is within us an innate need to create. Our mandate: take raw materials and make cities, tones and chords and make symphonies, plants and fruits and make delicate feasts, multiply and make families, build legacies, construct culture and tradition. Create! Why? Because it is a sacred act.

All of art is sacred.

To help us explore this idea, I've invited some wonderfully creative artists and fabulous women to share their journey with us. I'm curious about their creative process, the musings and mullings that go into the work of their hands, and the insight they can share about the sacredness of art. Follow on Tuesdays as we hear from: