Posts Tagged ‘religion’


Sometimes it’s easy to find joy in the journey, other times it takes the journey to find some joy.  During this summer break it has been a bit of both of these ideas.


Martin Luther expresses that “God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars.”  I think that’s why I continue to seek the refuge of a bike ride on our local nature trail.


We had a brief cleansing of snow from the lake this morning.  The snow slowly and steadily covered the mid-winter darkness that seems to overwhelm me at times.  This morning reminded me of the verse in Isaiah that states, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”  What a glorious promise on a cold mid-winter morning!


Vincent van Gogh,1889, Half Figure of an Angel (after Rembrandt).

The fourth week of advent is over and has seemingly retreated into our collective forgetfulness.  The Christmas music has ended, the wrapping paper is gone, most of the lights have been turned off. What are we left with?


The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1609, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

Christmas is really the celebration of a spectacular event where Heaven invaded a quiet, remote village to a rather poor couple in a barn/cave housing animals.

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The Nativity, William Bell Scott, 1872.

The coming of the Christ, born in a rural area and visited by shepherds smelling of animals, is so very unlike the glitter, lights, wrapping papers, food, shopping and presents that we in the United States have come to associate with the celebration of the season.


John Giuliani, Guatemalan Nativity, 1990s.

Can you remember what you received for Christmas? Do you remember what you were given last year?  Did it fulfill you?


Nativity, Marc Chagall, 1950.

So the word of God became a human being and lived among us. We saw his splendour (the splendour as of a father’s only son), full of grace and truth. And it was about him that John stood up and testified, exclaiming: “Here is the one I was speaking about when I said that although he would come after me he would always be in front of me; for he existed before I was born!” Indeed, every one of us has shared in his riches—there is a grace in our lives because of his grace. For while the Law was given by Moses, love and truth came through Jesus Christ. It is true that no one has ever seen God at any time. Yet the divine and only Son, who lives in the closest intimacy with the Father, has made him known. -Book of John, Phillips Translation


Adoration of the Shepherds, 1622, by Gerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst.

It’s amazing how God has used the tiny, simple and common things to proclaim himself.  As I enter a new year, a year closer to the second coming of Christ, I pray that I can focus on what God has placed in my path:  the tiny, simple and common things used to proclaim him.  How many missed him the first time he came?  How many missed him this year?  How many times have I missed him?

The Annunciation to the Shepherds by Abraham Bloemaert, c. 1600

The Annunciation to the Shepherds, Abraham Bloemaert, 1600.

I cannot image what it must have been like to sit outside in the dark with little to no fire on a cold night watching and defending a herd of sheep all night.


Annunciation to the Shepherds, Abraham Hondius, 1663.

What must it have been like to witness the sudden appearance of the angel Gabriel amidst that dark and lonely landscape?


Thomas Cole, The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, 1833–34.

How would I react to the message given to me by an angel?  …Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Book of Luke, Chapter 2 (NLT).


The Annunciation of the Shepherds, 2000, Edward Knippers.

I can understand the reaction of the shepherds: fear; it seems to be a recurring reaction to an encounter with an angel’s sudden appearance.


Seeing Shepherds, 2011, Daniel Bonnell.

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”  I cannot image what it must have been like to witness this sight the shepherds experienced.  I believe the artist Daniel Bonnell has done a wonderful job visualizing the scene.

Shepherds Abiding in the Fields, by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)

Shepherds Abiding in the Fields, by Carl Heinrich Bloch.

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” I find it amazing that the shepherds were able to gather themselves together and follow the direction of the angel.  I guess they became the first pilgrims and the first missionaries seeking to understand what they had been told by a otherworldly messenger.


Govert Teunisz Flinck, Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds, 1639.

I hope that I would have the faith and persistence to follow what a heavenly messenger summoned me to do.  I know that I would have the fear part down with an encounter like this.  But in reflection, I realize that I daily experience Christ through His word, His followers and His creation.  He sends many encounters my way, but am I alert and watchful enough to be aware and take notice, or do I ignore or live in fear?  I pray that I can be more alert, watchful and willing to follow and obey what God places in front of me daily;  whether it’s Christmas, a dark Judean field or somewhere in the midst of Ohio, I hope to be found faithful.

Bethlehem+Night+Acrylic%2C+24%2522x48%2522Bethlehem Night, 2011, Amy Whitehouse

The second week of advent I look and reflect on a small unknown town called Bethlehem.

The Numbering at Bethlehem

The Census at Bethlehem (also known as The Numbering at Bethlehem), by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted in 1566.

This place, a small town, has become known to the rest of the world because of a birth.


Lee Pantas, The Road to Bethlehem, 2012.

The lyrics to the song  O little town of Bethlehem state that The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight…


The arrival at Bethlehem, 1897, by Luc-Olivier MERSON

The one thought that I have had this past week while reflecting on this town, Bethlehem, was that God chose a small, out of the way place to invade to become a part of his creation and reclaim what he began.


Norman Rockwell Uneasy Christmas in the Birthplace of Christ story illustration for Look magazine, December 29, 1970.

He did not invade in the manner that we would consider impressive.  But he came quietly and, much like us, helpless as an infant.


Arrival of the Holy Family in Bethlehem, 1543, Cornelis Massys.

Jesus did not come in a sleigh or on a horse.  He did not come as a conqueror.  There was no parade for him, not even really a room for him.


Road to Bethlehem, by Tom Slack, 2012.

I hope this advent season, the preparation of the coming of Christ, that in some small, quiet way you will make room for him in your life and maybe allow him to invade your heart.


The Annunciation by Fra Angelico

The first week of Advent, or the preparation of the first coming of Christ, is to reflect on the announcement of the angel Gabriel to Mary that she has been chosen for a special task from God.


The Annunciation by El Greco

It’s interesting to me how God suddenly and unexpectedly interrupts and transforms the world that we know.  These paintings reflect the message Mary was given.

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Sandro Botticelli, The Annunciation

I find it interesting that we prepare for Christmas by buying things that we think will make the holiday special and memorable, but the real purpose of this time is the fact that God interrupted history by giving the world his presence.


John William Waterhouse, The Annunciation

How do we react when God interrupts our lives and invades our world with his presence?


The Annunciation, by John Collier

Do we accept the invasion, the invitation, and praise God and glorify him like Mary, or do we avoid him and continue on our way saying have a good day.


The Annunciation, by Henry Ossawa Tanner

I guess this is the choice we have to make this advent season as God asks to invade our world and be a part of our life and wishes us to carry his presence.  What will you do as you reflect on these days of preparation?

by Pete Tegeler

The theologian Christoph Blumhardt said every Christian is called to be converted two times.  Blumhardt believed that we are first converted to Christianity, from the world to God, but must be converted again, back to the world.

When I first heard Blumhardt’s suggestion, I was reminded of the conversion experience where someone steps into relationship with God for the first time, and then comes clean from the world by throwing out “secular” music, cleaning up their language, and even sometimes finding a whole new group of friends, just so they can reorient themselves as a Christian. But if that’s turning to God, what does being converted back into the world entail?  What does that look like?  Some might say that it’s when you start to initiate friendships with people who aren’t Christians by relating a bit more.  Maybe you listen to secular music again.  Maybe even just a cuss or two every now-and-again or a drink or two, just to let everyone know you’re not one of those “uptight Christians.”

That just doesn’t ring true to me.  It strikes me as being too much of an escape from life as a Christian.  And I don’t think that’s what Blumhardt had in mind either. It has more to do with what our driving force is. When we first turn toward God in conversion it’s a beautiful example of love and of worship as we become fully oriented toward him.  Why shouldn’t we stay there?  Because that’s not where God is fully oriented.  Because God’s love is also oriented toward the world, so our love follows.  God’s love in us must be the driving force to the people around us.  It puts us back in the world.  The point isn’t if we listen to Mumford & Sons or not.  We must know that it’s God’s love in us that drives us, not to “secularism,” but to real people.

photography by Alec Casto

My friend illustrates this by referring to Pentecost; he says that we must be an upper room people that learn to go back downstairs.  I’m sure that the experience of the upper room wasn’t easy to leave, and yet the apostles did leave, to go back down the stairs, and engage with real people in a real world.  It was not safe for them.  It was not convenient.  I bet they wouldn’t have used the word “fun” to characterize their time downstairs.  I’m sure there were times when they felt they had no idea what they were doing.  Yet, they went to the places where Christianity is not the orientation to be Jesus there, and so must we.

So, perhaps we do have an example of what it looks like to be converted back to the world.  The Bible again shows us the way.  Being converted back into the world doesn’t entail a secularization of Christianity, it means we live a life of intention, as a missionary in whatever context we find ourselves in.  To our next-door-neighbors, our co-workers, our baristas, and our table-tennis instructors ( What? You don’t have one of those?).  By living as upstairs-Christians in a downstairs-world, we intentionally make ourselves available, relationally and spiritually, allowing God’s love to convert us once again.

Ways forward …

  1. Pray for the people in your life who have yet to experience that first conversion.  Then pray some more.
  2. Be a missionary in your own context. Intentionally spend time in places where there is no God-ward orientation.
  3. Do you have anxiety about going downstairs?  Self-consciousness?  Pray through those feelings.  Journal about why that may be.

Kevin Casto, Lowering Jesus from the Cross, 1995, Acrylic on canvas

I have recently been thinking about two paintings I completed back in 1995 for a church I was attending.  They requested a couple of large images dealing with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I was just beginning to establish myself with the Neo-Expressionist ideas of painting and decided to try a couple of large images.  The images did not go over very well in a conservative mid-western community in north central Ohio, but they were not disdained.  I will also add as I review the images…not my best work, yet the project helped me move in the right direction with my painting.  I really do not like the supporting figures who are lowering Christ from the cross.  They don’t seem to fit and seem awkward.  I guess I would feel awkward trying to attempt what they were doing…burying a beloved friend.

Kevin Casto, Lowering Jesus from the Cross, 1995, Acrylic on canvas, (Detail#1)

I have included some close-up detail images of the painting that I really like.  I believe that parts are working…just not the whole image.

Kevin Casto, Lowering Jesus from the Cross, 1995, Acrylic on canvas, (Detail#2)

I have had this painting unstretched,rolled and stored in my barn for about five years.  You can see the lines and wrinkles in the canvas. I think detail 1 & 2 work really well; number 3 and the whole need some refinement and future revision.

Kevin Casto, Lowering Jesus from the Cross, 1995, Acrylic on canvas, (Detail#3)

As I have been reviewing the image, I believe this will become a future revision.  It’s interesting to look back and see how one’s artistic development slowly progresses over the years.  I have read an account of the lowering of the body of Christ, and since Joseph of Arimathea requested the body, I’m sure he was a part of this undertaking as well as maybe the Roman Centurion?  Food for thought.

Kevin Casto, The empty tomb, 1995, Acrylic on canvas

The final image is a landscape of the empty tomb. I feel this image works the best of the two. It’s interesting to see the influence of van Gogh in the way I have attempted to use the line.  It was a good exercise to hang these in the gallery while it has been empty.  I hope to hang them in the lower studio space in the future so I can begin some revision on both pieces.  The images helped me to gain a deeper understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus and of the astounding miracle of the resurrection.  I have to agree with the book of John that states: God so loved the world (inclusive) that he gave his one and only son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  I hope you enjoy my musings on my early expressions in painting.