Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

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.

photograph by Alec Casto

Learning from the Artists about People and Place

by W. David O. Taylor  9.10.12
Christianity Today

I am told that novelists approach their work from different starting points.  Some begin with a theme, like the fear of the unknown, as is often the case with science fiction writers. Others begin with families, as is nearly always the case with Pulitzer Prize–winning novelists. Some begin with a character or a historical time period, such as ancient Rome. Still others begin with a place: Casablanca; Port Royal, Kentucky; the Shire. I sometimes wonder if human beings behave like novelists, as it were, especially in their decision to move from one place to another. Some move to be nearer to family. Some move for a job. Some move for the excitement of a city’s culture. My friend Melody willingly left a community of dear friends in Austin in order to relocate herself to Seattle. She said she “fit better” there. The Northwest was her kind of place: cloudy, cool, mossy, saturated with grey and black wardrobes. I couldn’t understand her decision at first. Why leave all these people that know you and love you to move to a place where she would be an instant stranger?

Sometimes you leave your hometown in order to find your place elsewhere. Sometimes you leave your place of birth only to return years later and find that you belong there after all. Or more grandly, as Kathleen Norris puts it, “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” Here is where you belong. Here is where you will stay put. It is your place and it is our place together. Norris has her place: the Dakotas. Eugene Peterson has his too: Lakeside, Montana. It’s where his people come from, it’s where he intends to remain till he dies. Melody now has her place. Wendell Berry has his place, and Bilbo Baggins has his own too.

My uncle just yesterday sold the house that his parents bought in 1947. It’s been Uncle John’s place for 65 years. The house is perched a handful of yards west of Southern Methodist University’s campus in Dallas, Texas, 3028 McFarlin Road to be exact. It is the place my sisters and I have loved above all places in America. As children, after driving five days in our yellow Suburban through the pockmarked highways of Mexico, northward on our way from Guatemala, where my parents served as missionaries, to the redbrick front porch of my grandparents, we couldn’t wait to rummage through the cereal box cabinet and the Dallas Morning News TV guide so we could find when the cartoons came on. My grandparents’ home was our one stable place during our years as missionary kids.

photograph by Alec Casto

My confession? I feel misplaced in my current city.  While I know plenty of people who thoroughly love Durham, North Carolina, I fluctuate between total ambivalence and intense aversion to the city. It is a city that irritates me almost daily. After living here for three years, I have made my peace with the fact that Durham will be the first city in my life that I will be happy to leave.  Despite the fact that it hosts the annual American Dance Festival, that Burt’s Bees has set up its headquarters here, that Branford Marsalis chooses to call it home, and that Richard Florida placed it at the top of his list of creative class metros, I feel no love for Durham.

I genuinely wish it were otherwise. My wife and I struggle with mixed feelings. Are we being selfish? Are we not trying hard enough? Are we hopelessly, blindly infatuated with Texas, our home state? We do keep trying to connect with the city. It is the “City of Medicine” and the “Cameron Crazies,” after all! But we still sense that at some level we are misplaced here.

I know we are not alone in feeling misplaced. Joseph son of Jacob lived nearly his entire life misplaced from his father’s house. The prophet Daniel, like the people of Israel and all refugees ever since, was forcibly misplaced from his homeland. Migrant workers make a habit of living misplaced, though rarely to their liking. A divorced couple willingly flees to opposite coasts in order to escape the pain of hurtful relations. Some of us live in towns that feel strange to us, and it’s an easy temptation to resent this place where we do not belong. It’s easy to resent God for putting us here.

photograph by Alec Casto

But artists come along and perform an invaluable service. For those of us who feel a tenuous or adverse relationship to our places of residence, artists help us to see that, in fact, God is happily at work here, quietly making grace happen in unexpected ways, gently rebuking our stubborn refusal to see that salvation and sanctification are occurring in this place—this street, this humidity, this church, this grocery store, these people. As Peterson remarks in his book Subversive Spirituality, describing the effect of novelists on his work as a pastor:  Every time . . . a street is walked, noticing the details, observing the texture and color, insisting on the immediate particularity, the gospel is served, for space is cleared and location provided for yet another spin-off of the Incarnation, most of which came to its definitive form in small towns and on country roads.

This is what the installation artist Craig Goodworth, recently featured in the This Is Our City film “You Are Where You Live,” does in a warehouse in the city of Phoenix, Arizona. He takes misplaced things and places them in a sphere of meaning: Arizona corn grain from Casa Grande; leached water from the warehouse itself; Desert Durum wheat grains and the cornmeal from Arizona Grain; a donkey from Maricopa County; asphalt from nearby; steel rails from 20 yards outside the building. Put together, the materials tell a story about Phoenix.  It’s a place-based installation, Goodworth says, and it’s a way of telling Phoenicians: “Here is the stuff of your place, and it’s good stuff.” Inviting his audience to touch the materials, to be near them, to smell them and know them, is a way to help them love their city. It’s also a way, as Peterson reminds us, to protect us from gospel-killers—”grand abstractions and standoffish condescensions” that keep us in a negative stance towards our given place.

photograph by Alec Casto


In watching this short film, I find my discontented heart softened by lyrical images of blues and yellows and of people moving in and out of the lovely stuff that makes up a place as particular and as broken as my own. Artists like Goodworth offer us a great gift. Their gift is to help us see our place of residence as lovingly as God does. At the very least, the City team’s film stirs in me a renewed desire to not give up on Durham, North Carolina.

W. David O. Taylor, former arts pastor of Hope Church in Austin, Texas, is pursuing doctoral studies in theology and the arts at Duke Divinity School. The editor of For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts (Baker), he and his wife. Phaedra, currently live in Durham.


photograph by Alec Casto

During our vacation last week we were attending a writing workshop that my daughter is involved with, and I had the opportunity to listen to some wonderfully creative speakers.  I also had the time to return to using my sketch book.  It’s amazing how easy it is to allow life to become too busy and not allow yourself the time you need to just draw.  It does not matter how good or bad the image is; it’s the process of allowing your self to wander.  This sketch was made while listening to a lecture about Beowulf.  I really enjoyed the process; I hope this will encourage you to pursue your creative self!

Our cat Sage, ever watchful, on one of her early morning patrols.  Not much gets past this wild little feline.

I just completed this image for a new book soon to be published.  Last summer I created a piece of cover art for the author, but since that time a major revision has taken place.

This is the cover art that the author liked last summer.  But that was last summer and according to the author everything has changed…yet I still like this for a cover.

This is the first version that I created last summer.  My daughter, who is the author, has the final artistic say in picking the art…since it is her book.  Let me know what you think.

If you are interested in the book and would like to purchase a copy follow this link:

Dream Captive

Paperback, 223 Pages
Price: $15.99
Ships in 3-5 business days
Shade has been haunted by nightmares all her life, and now she begins to have waking nightmares as well. When one of these waking nightmares takes her from her home, she finds out that her dreams were more real than she ever imagined as she enters the Dream World. She and several other children have been kidnapped by a man known as the Dark Master, to be used as sacrifices in a dark ritual; the Summoning. With aid from a man named Dantes, Shade escapes and tries to free the others as well. Will she be able to save the children? Or will she succumb to the power of the nightmares?

We have enjoyed a wonderful (yet busy) spring in north central Ohio.  There are always days that bring out the gloom and dark clouds.  These images show a farm that I have watched slowly disintegrate over the past three decades.  I wonder what the farm looked like when it was first homesteaded?  I wonder how many generations farmed this land?

This section of our county is very low and bog-like.  This marshy area has been somewhat abandoned until recently and is now slowly being reclaimed. The blues and greens play against each other in these images, leaving the viewer with a sense of longing.

It reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes where the writer states, “Everything is meaningless . . . completely meaningless! What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea.  Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, ‘Here is something new!’ But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.”

Yet like the sudden and seeming unexpected return of spring from a long cold winter, the sun breaks through the clouds to remind us there is always hope in the midst of all the gloom.


After a very long day at school I needed to reconnect with creation.


We took a short hike following the Huron river just northeast of Willard, behind the above-ground reservoir.


Ember, our German Shepherd, was thrilled with the opportunity to explore the woods.


The woods were lovely, dark, yet not so deep…


Ember shepherded us through the field making sure she did not lose sight us.


Alec, my son, enjoyed the hike, using the opportunity to pursue his passion for photography.


The subtle colors in the field reminded me of a setting for an impressionist painting.


Ember made sure that no one was too far from her protection.


Small, subtle color in a gracious green world awakens the senses.


Bits of yellow, some call weed, spring out among a tangle of green texture.


It was an refreshing afternoon hike through creation.  I remember a verse, Think of the wild flowers, and how they neither work nor weave. Yet I tell you that Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed like one of these. If God so clothes the grass, which flowers in the field today and is burnt in the stove tomorrow, is he not much more likely to clothe you, you little-faiths? ” -Luke 12:27 (Phillips)




After a very cold, snowy, sleet-filled day with some ice pellets thrown in just for fun, this cold day offered a wonderful sunset at the Willard Park.

I took the dogs for a run and hoped to grab some images of them…but the sunset won out, and the dogs were running too fast to grab anything worth sharing.

As T.S. Eliot stated, April can be the cruelest month with the drastic weather changes, at least in Ohio. Tonight we had a glimpse of what is to come.


My kids and I recently entered a local arts contest that had real potential for an exciting creative expression.  Unfortunately the event did not have much of an exhibition or community interaction.  I decided to post our work based on the theme “Created in the Image of God.”  My daughter is an 18 year-old, recently published writer, and my son is a 21 year-old emerging photographer.  I hope you enjoy our expressions.  We would love your comments on our work!

Kevin Casto, 2008, digital photograph, Jo & Jackson at evening play

In this  image I have sought to capture the harmony of creation: the beauty of winter and the joy of animals playing.  I believe this is a glimpse of how God intended his creation to reflect Him.  Genesis 1:26 (NLT) Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.  They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.


Alec Casto, 2012, digital photograph, untitled

In my image there is a reflection of me and a reflection of my dad.  I reflect his image just like we reflect God’s image.  The first two chapters of Genesis tell us: we were made by God for a purpose – to live in the relationship with him in this life.  Human beings are created to reflect God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26).


                                                                                                                                                                         by Rachel Casto

“What are we to do?” the courts men asked each other. “The king is dead and his only heir is a six-year-old child!” “Then the child shall become king,” one of the others said. “We shall appoint regents to rule for him until he is older, of course.”  “Of course.”  The boy-king was crowned in a sumptuous coronation, people cheering and treating him in ways that he loved. “I am king now,” he said to himself. “Everyone must do what I say!”

He fell asleep that night, dreaming of all the things he would get to do as king. He would be rich and adored by all the people. He could sit in his throne and order his court men to do his bidding. He could do anything he wanted. “School?” he shouted the next morning. “Why do I need to go to school?” “To learn how to be a king, of course,” his maid said. “But what about my kingly duties? How am I to perform them if I’m in school?” “The regents are ruling for you until you are old enough to rule on your own, young majesty.” “But I’m the king!” he protested. “I’m the king now!”

Despite his protests, he went to school with his private tutors. He had to learn arithmetic and Latin and all sorts of other things he hated doing. “Why aren’t you doing your studies?” one of his tutors asked him. “I’m the king,” he replied. “I can just order someone else to do it for me.” “No you can’t, you must do it yourself!” “You can’t order the king to do anything!” The young king silently went back to his studies, grimacing at the pain in his rump from the beating he got by his tutor. “You can’t beat a king either,” he mumbled to himself.

That evening his maid had him in bed at what seemed too early a time for him. “You can’t order the king to go to bed!” he said. “The king will choose his bedtime whenever he wants!” His maid sighed. “You are not a king yet, young sire.” “But I was coronated!” he argued. “How can I not be a king?” “Things are complicated. You will learn soon enough.”

The next day the young king skipped his lessons and went out into the city instead to greet his subjects. Being the small boy that he was, he managed to sneak out without any of his servants realizing. He smelled the most delicious things down at the bakery and decided to go in. He saw wonderful breads and cakes and rolls there. He looked up at the shop owner. “I am the king,” he declared. “I decree that you give me all your cakes and sweet rolls!” The shop owner snorted. “Get out of here, kid. Either pay or I call the guards.” “But I am your king!” he persisted. “Check the news lately? You’re not king of anything until you grow up. Now scram!”

The young boy’s face grew red. “Oh yeah? Well we’ll see what you have to say about that when I get my guards in here!” He turned and stomped away, but he did not go for the guards. Instead he walked slowly down the dirt streets of the city.  He saw rings of other children playing together, but they never noticed him. He frowned and walked away, out of the city and into the wilderness.  He started to slow when he got hot, the sun shining down on him. He ran over to a tree nearby to get some shade, but there weren’t enough leaves on the tree to provide shelter. “Give me shade,” he said in a commanding voice. “I am the king, do what I say!” The sun seemed to grow hotter. He turned his face up to it. “Don’t be so hot! Don’t you realize you are in the presence of the king?”

A strong wind blew through the air, knocking the young king off his feet. He cried out, “Don’t disrespect your king!” A voice whistled in the wind, ringing in his ears. “Don’t you realize that you are in the presence of The King?” The boy blinked, squinting his eyes. “Who goes there?” The wind blew him down again. “You may be the king of your country,” the voice said again, “but you are not king of the world or the universe. You do not have power over nature. And at your current age, you do not have power over your subjects.”

“Who are you?” the boy shouted. “Where are you?” “I Am,” the voice replied. “Everywhere and always. Know this, young king, until you learn what it is to be king, no one will treat you like a king. Everyone will treat you as the child you are.”  The boy’s eyes watered, from sadness or from the intense wind, he could not be sure. “It isn’t fair.”  He felt something, like a warm, loving touch. “Go home, do as you are told. You will become a true king one day, sooner than you may expect. But remember this: there is only one true King, and He reigns over all other kings of this world.”

The boy stood slowly, wiping the tears out of his eyes, then turned and looked back at the city. “Okay, I’ll try to be a better king.” He made the long journey back to his palace, pledging to be the best king he could be, and the best king the people could ever have. But most of all, he pledged to have all of his subjects pledge their loyalty to the King above all other kings.

William H. Johnson, 1940-41, Breakdown with Flat Tire

During graduate school at Boston University, I investigated the art of William H. Johnson and viewed the styles he explored during his career.  I was interested to see the evolution of his artistic styles from American realism to European expressionism and his exploration and incorporation of African shapes into his artwork as he added personal narrative into his work.  Johnson’s style is very similar to the artwork of another America artist, Jacob Lawrence.

Jacob Lawrence, The Builders, 1947

An assignment back in the fall of 2010 was to illustrate a story from my life as a child in the manner of an artist or art style.  I chose to use these two American artists because of the similar style of art and the method of story telling they incorporated into their work.

Kevin Casto, The Tornado, 10/2010

I was adopted into a creative family, the son of a multi-talented artist, sign painter and art educator; I’m fortunate to have been raised in a stimulating environment.  I grew up in an idyllic small town called Willard, Ohio.  On May 10, 1973, a tornado suddenly struck Willard, impacting the lives of everyone in the community, causing several millions of dollars of damage, destroying many homes and causing the loss of life of six individuals in one family who were taking shelter in a garage near our home.

I chose this event because it signaled the end of my childhood and awoke me to the fact that our lives can be forever changed in a matter of moments.  It was one of those events that will be forever burned into my memory.  When my dad alerted our family to the imminent danger, we had only a few moments to be hustled into the basement of our house by my parents, since the tornado was approaching from the back field behind our home. When my family emerged from the basement after the terrible sound had passed, an unbelievable sight awaited us; it was like a war had been declared on our neighborhood, and everyone was in shock.  My family and our close neighbors had little damage but others a few houses away were devastated.  For some reason the tornado changed directions before reaching our property and headed in another path through Willard.

Edited News Story From The Willard Times, Thursday, May 17, 1973. They always said that Willard could never have a tornado, because of the hills or valleys or something.That proved to be another “it can’t happen here” opinion that was wrong. Willard had its first tornado in 99 years last Thursday evening on May 10, 1973, and everyone is saying that another one in 100 years will be too soon.

I chose an 18 x 24 inch masonite panel for my painting.  I created several pencil sketches and then transferred my ideas onto the panel with pencil, adding gesso washes and acrylic.  I attempted to incorporate simple shapes in a child-like manner with primary, secondary and neutral colors.  I tried to emphasize line and doubles in a way similar to what Johnson did in much of his later work.

My desire was to incorporate action and a sense of sudden danger without losing the sense of story in the image.  Jacob Lawrence and William H. Johnson were storytellers, and their medium was painting.  They depict the African-American struggle in the United States.  I have focused on combining their ideas and methodology of narrative in my personal image of my family and our encounter with the natural disaster of a tornado.