Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Painting on a Wall

I currently have three oil paintings on display at the Ridley-Tree Museum of Art at Westmont College, where I had the honor of winning best of show amid a strong collection of art pieces.  The curator, Meg Cranston, is chair of Fine Arts at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.  Critic Josef Woodard, who writes on music, film and the fine arts for many publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Musician, and Artweek says of my work:
"The 'Best in Show' winner (which this critic concurs with) is 'House on a Knoll,' by the ruggedly expressive and interesting painter Randal Working, whose work can't be easily confined to a definitive 'ism' or attitude--to its credit  That canvas, along with 'Swerving truck' and 'Barbarian at the Gate,' bear titles suggestive of narrative and situational subjects-at-hand, but for paintings where a fervent spirit of abstractionism interweaves and complicates the inherently recognizable elements.  Gruff expressionistic pictorialism is the upshot."
Here is the artist's statement I included for the show:
I paint in order to bring expression to the inner experience and my response to the world.  My motivation is not to lift up the self as primary.  Instead it is to voice creation’s praise for its maker and to reflect that primal act of worship, articulating human joys, pains, and spiritual seeking.  Undergirding my work is the premise that God made the world and called it good; that this good creation has been marred; that God entered into creation in order to save it from death; and that God will come again to restore all things.
My work is painterly and vigorous, with brushstrokes both shrouding and unveiling the process of creation itself.  Layers of paint give texture and a patina, sometimes with collage material, like posters on an old wall that have been plastered up and torn down over many years.  This suggests enduring values that can be obscured but that tend to re-emerge.  Sometimes drawing ties together the work, and I incorporate and orchestrate accidental elements into the finished product.  At other times, the work is mostly abstract color composition, with only a hint at drawing and underlying structure.  My work includes historical, mythological, biblical, and architectural referents.  Artists of particular interest to me, influences in varying degrees, have been Robert Rauschenberg, the German Expressionists, the Abstract Expressionists, Van Gogh, and Antoni Clave, to name a few.
I’m intrigued by the interplay between word and image, as this echoes a sacramental worldview wherein God enters our reality and speaks through the tangible matter of life.  Since God is the ultimate reality behind the material order, so the things we see become in some way symbols, and even means of grace, for the divine redemptive work.  We need revelation to explicate creation, history, and the meaning of our own experience. 

Do Animals Go to Heaven?

Do animals go to heaven? The Bible does not seem to give a definitive answer: "Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?" (Eccl. 3:21). Although the Bible doesn't say whether animals have souls, or whether they are to be raised after death, animals can perhaps be understood as a part of the whole creation God is renewing: "The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8: 22-23). 

Here's what the Bible does affirm: humans alone were designed in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), not animals, plants, or rocks. But animals are placed under our care. Creation, certainly including pets, is not its own independent reality, but is grounded in the goodness of Jesus Christ (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), who is the concrete form of the command of God and fulfillment of the covenant between God and humanity. The covenantal structure of creation is specifically ordered so that the human creature may realize his or her goal as God's covenant partner. Creation doesn't exist for its own sake. As a work of God's love and freedom, it has a specific structure which is good and which forms the stage on which God's covenant history unfolds.

The creation account of Genesis 1 emphasizes a hierarchy among animals. The creation of land animals is a kind of transitional work. First, the land animals are the last of God's creatures until humans. Second, they prefigure what is to come--the sixth day is an end of the works of the first five days, and the beginning of a new work as well. Birds and fish were created to live in the areas where people do not live. But God makes some animals to live specifically on land, which is the protected place set aside for humanity. The land animals are to be companions for humanity, and are therefore more like humans than birds and fish They do not receive a direct blessing to be fruitful and multiply, but may be included in the blessing as well. 

Created on the same day, human beings can't be seen in isolation, but in relationship with our environment and company with the animals. In that relationship we can come to understand some significant features of our own creaturely identity: for instance, our dependence on the rest of creation, and the fact that we are made by the will of God and submit to it in humble recognition of our creatureliness. Animals are not free in the same sense we are free, to submit to God or to rebel in sin. So even though creatures are inferior to humans, they have their dignity as our companions and forerunners. Of course that has ethical implications of how we treat animals, but it is maybe also suggestive of a plan God has for them, too.

The incarnation itself argues for the special status of humans. Still, God perhaps manifests himself in some way to animals apart from his revelation to humans. C. S. Lewis has a picture of this, of course, in his Chronicles of Narnia, where the Word of God is incarnate in the great lion Aslan. We have to exercise God's own capacity for care, as he did in saving the animals from the flood, or in his speaking his Word of judgment for Balaam's mistreatment of his donkey. The incarnation means God participates in creation; what is taken up in the incarnation is therefore healed in redemption. The meaning of Jesus Christ and the universality of God's presence in the world God participates in and therefore will heal the suffering of all flesh in a comprehensive reconciliation. Animals do not need redemption from sin as humans do, but they do need redemption from suffering and death. The general resurrection is an act of God's love and power that doesn't need to be restricted to humans alone.

Other passages to consider:

- Animals join in the heavenly chorus before the throne of God (Rev. 4:6-11; see Ezekiel 1:5, 10); 
- God holds animals in his hands: “In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all

- Animals are listed as objects of God’s concern along with people: “and should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11). 

- Animals are to join in the adoration of the lamb: Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

- “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:11)

 - In addition, Isaiah's vision of the heavenly kingdom includes animals:

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

Nothing will be lacking in heaven that would add to the glory of God and to the happiness of the redeemed children of God. The love of God would suggest that animals will be in heaven as well as human beings.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Kingdom Patience

In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells a little story:

He also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come" (Mark 4:26-29)

This little story reveals some important truths about the nature of the Christian life.  In a reflection of the Sabbath rhythm of night and day, sleep and work, this order suggests that the first thing we do after scattering seed is to go to bed.  That emphasizes that the one who really causes the growth is God.  There is nothing we can do to make a harvest come except to faithfully plant and cultivate, then wait for the miracle of growth. 

Sometimes it’s hard to wait for the kingdom to grow.  It seems it should be more obvious, more overwhelming.  We want more of the kingdom now.  But God has chosen to plant his kingdom like a seed—present and growing, but still just in process.  The full glory of the kingdom is yet to come, and so we wait with hope, and sometimes with impatience. 

May the Lord give us faith when what he is doing is hidden to our eyes in these complicated times.  May he help us to live as citizens of the kingdom, rejoicing in the small growth even as we look for the crop that is to come. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Our Opportunity: Living for Christ Here and Now

There’s a creative tension in the Christian life.  The tension is to live in the world and for the world without being defined by the world, but rather by Jesus Christ and his Word.  We can swing to different extremes; if we’re too optimistic about the world, we allow ourselves to be pushed into its mold and we lose our Christian identity.  That is happening to many people in churches today.  They can no longer perceive that which is distinctive about the Christian world view.  But if we grow too pessimistic about the world, we forget that Jesus is the Savior who loves the world, and that he wants us to share in his mission to it.

There is no lack of evidence that our world is dark and lost apart from God who is its Creator and Lord.  We only need contemplate the art, music, media, or politics of our culture; though we find there evidence of the longing for the divine, and even of God's presence, we cannot escape the impression that something is drastically wrong.  We see indications of sin, evil, depravity, and nothingness.  But if we have eyes to see what the Lord is doing in the world, our perspective changes.  All is not lost.  Far from it!  God is saving the world and bringing people into his family through the finished work of Jesus in his death and resurrection and through the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit. 
God's grace is seen in that he calls us into life, into covenant partnership with him, and in that he gives us an ongoing work to do in the world.  This is our vocation in the place God has put us.  So let us work, create, and invest for the good of the city as we look forward to our work's completion and confirmation in the revealing of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My brother Russell is a writer who has written for the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Japan Times, Moscow Times, South China Morning Post, the Atlantic Monthly, etc.  He also authored books published by University of Notre Dame and Iowa presses, as well as many literary publications. Best of all, he is a thoughtful, engaging, and above all an entertaining writer.  I include his first post for your reading pleasure.

Losing it

6 April
  Last month my wife, son, and I lost nearly all of our books. We were moving back from Southern California to suburban Chicago, and a friend suggested we mail them. The rates were cheap, and shipping them would open up space in our U-Haul box. I had quit a job I hated; money was tight.

We cleared out our apartment in Irvine, carting everything that didn’t matter to the Goodwill: a coffee table, pots and pans, a blender, bags of clothes, cheap Ikea dressers and bookcases that crumbled into sawdust as we dissembled them.

And books. We ruthlessly pared our literature down to eleven large apple boxes’ worth. We kept the Tolstoys (in Russian and English), the Chekhovs, the Rushdis, Michelle Huneven’s Blame, Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, our eight-year-old’s astronomy books. I got rid of all those LeCarr├ęs I had read back in the ’80s, and second and third copies of most books. I decided that I would be able to live a full life without having The Unbearable Lightness of Being to illuminate my way.

At the Irvine Post Office a postal clerk scowled as Nonna and I wheeled up our cargo, stacked higher than our heads on a cart. The heaviest was just over seventy pounds. (We would have to take a couple books out before we mailed it.)

I heaved the first box onto the counter. “Heh-heh!” I said. “Looks like you got the short straw!”
Wordlessly the clerk weighed the box and pasted on a sticker. She grabbed it, staggered a few steps, and hurled it with a crash into another cart. I remember thinking I should have taped it up better.
Of the eleven boxes that went out, only one arrived at our condo in Illinois. It contained Russian-language literature and half a set of Great Books of the Western World (Montaigne to Freud) that my dad gave me nearly thirty years ago. Inside the box was a form letter. We learned that the rest of the boxes had broken open in a postal transit center three miles from our home. Ever helpful, the post office then shipped everything to a recovery center in Atlanta...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chocolate Evangelism

Driving up the Central Coast to a meeting today, Evelyne and I espied a bright little chocolate shop. We marched inside, and the young woman behind the counter—the owner—struck up a conversation. She then naturally and warmly segued from talking about her shop into telling the story of the shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep behind to find the one that was lost. She said, “I used to be lost just like that sheep, but the Shepherd found me.” It was a beautiful way to share about Jesus.

I asked how many times a week she gets a chance to do that, and she said, "Usually about three times."

What's the response? "Some say, 'I'm an atheist--I don't want to hear that!' I just ask them their name and silently commit to pray for them. Some are interested and want to hear more. And lots of people break down in tears because they feel lost and can't imagine the Shepherd coming to look for and rescue them."

We bought a couple Easter bunnies, then the shop owner asked if she could pray for us. Her two young children, assistant confectioners, emerged from behind the counter, took our hands in theirs, and bowed their heads for the prayer. When their mother finished they said together “Amen.” The young mother gave us a small paper bag of sample truffles, and sent us on our way smiling.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book Night on Barth

One of the ways we keep our faith and ministry fresh is to keep growing intellectually. It is worth our time to become acquainted with the best thinkers in the Christian tradition. I challenge you to take a thinker, not necessarily a contemporary voice but one tested by time, and get to know him or her through their writing. One way to do this is to see who has influenced those who in turn influence others.

One such writer is Karl Barth, the Swiss pastor and theologian, who lived from 1886 to 1968, one of the giants of Christian theology. Certainly he ranks among the great theologians of the modern era, and perhaps of the whole Christian tradition; Pope Pius XII maintained he was the greatest theologian since Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). His magnum opus, Church Dogmatics, stretches to 9000 pages broken into 14 volumes, written over 35 years. With a relentless Christ-centered focus, it addresses the Word of God and the doctrines of God, Creation, and Reconciliation. His purpose was “to take all that has been said before and to think it through once more and freshly to articulate it anew as a theology of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.”

For Barth, everything “works from Christ outward” in that what we can know of God is only possible in the revelation of God in Christ. Scripture as the Word of God bears witness to Christ, both in the Old Testament (in anticipation) and in the New Testament (in fulfillment or recollection). Ethics and theology, he insisted, cannot be separated.

This latter idea would take on special importance as Barth taught in Germany during the time of the Third Reich. Barth took a leadership role within the resistance Confessing Church movement, which opposed Nazism and the official “German Church.” Because of his resistance he was stripped of his professorship at Bonn University and forced to flee the country in 1935.

Barth would repudiate the ideas of his earlier liberal colleagues and insist on an evangelical or Word-centered theology that made its way through the errors of both modernist or liberal Protestantism on one hand, and Roman Catholicism, which elevated tradition and the authority of the church above that of Scripture, on the other. Barth maintained that the Word of God finds expression in three-fold form as the Word preached, written, and revealed (in Christ). His work continues to nurture scholars and preachers alike.

Come join us as we consider Barth, focusing on the message of his concise manual of faith and doctrine, Dogmatics in Outline. This is a friendly and accessible introduction to a Christian thinker of major importance who will stretch your own thinking.

Working on Faith: Great Books That Everyone Should Read
with Dr. Randy Working

"An evening with Karl Barth"

Thursday, March 15, 2012 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.

At The Bookstore, 1137 N H St # Q (behind Carrow's Restaurant)


Refreshments will be served and Barth's books available for purchase

Dr. Working is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Lompoc and the author of From Rebellion to Redemption (NavPress) and Breaking Free: A Devotional Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Reformation Press, 2012). Dr. Working has taught at Westmont College, Seattle Pacific University, and Ashland Theological Seminary. He holds a BA from Whitworth University, an MFA from University of Washington, and MDiv, DMin, and PhD (ABD) degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Come for a warm evening of stimulating conversation on ideas that matter. Bring a friend!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Good Books on the Christian Life

A friend recently asked if I had any suggestions of books for a personal project of hers. She is embarking on a year of study and reflection about being formed in the character of Christ, and intends to focus for a dedicated period of time on a different subject. The works are both old and new, from various perspectives but mostly Reformed. I thought it was a great idea, and I share it for your own discipline of reflection upon Christian wisdom. What would your list include?

Meditating on Scripture: Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Criticism/Encouragement: Leroy Koopman, Beauty Care for the Tongue

Gentleness: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Anxiety: Jennifer Carter, Daily Readings for Difficult Days: Daily Devotions for Christian Women Going Through Difficult Times

Trust: Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections

Gossip: Os Guinness, Steering through Chaos: Vice and Virtue in an Age of Moral Confusion, and When No One Sees: The Importance of Character in an Age of Image

Delighting in children: Gary Thomas, Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls

Loving a spouse
: Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, Intimate Allies: Rediscovering God’s Design for Marriage and Becoming Soul Mates for Life; Bryan and Kathy Chapell, Each for the Other: Marriage as It’s Meant to Be.

Complaining: Kris Lungaard, The Enemy Within: Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin

Gratitude: Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace

Prayer: Marva Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Resting, Embracing, Feasting
Joy; Shane Clairborne, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Speaking truth: Mark Roberts, Dare to Be True: Living in the Freedom of Complete Honesty

Contentment: Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewell of Christian Contentment; Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life

Speech: J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness: Taking every thought captive to Christ; James Edwards, Is Jesus The Only Savior?; C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Let's Talk About Narnia

Celebrating our wedding anniversary in Peru

Happy New Year!

This has been a year of challenge, change, and great blessing. In 2011 we made trips to Peru (teaching), Washington, D.C. (Theology Matters board meeting), and to the Swiss Consulate in Chicago (passport renewal). The year also included a drive across the country, taking in bison, Black Hills, my mother’s birthplace, and a lovely visit with friends at First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue on the way.

In the past couple years I’ve been in Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Maine, Georgia, West Virginia, Ohio, New York, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Indiana, Illinois, Utah, Arizona, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and California, as well as Switzerland, France, England, Scotland, France, Germany, and Peru. Take it back a couple more years, and the list includes Israel, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Spain, and Mexico.

A great way to travel without ever leaving home is to immerse yourself into a new imaginative realm through reading. In C. S. Lewis’ children’s stories The Chronicles of Narnia, four schoolchildren leave the dreariness of wartime England for adventures in a magical land where a white witch rules and animals talk. Countless millions of children have lost themselves in the geography of the mind through this enduring literature.

I’m currently settling into a new job as pastor of a wonderful congregation, First Presbyterian Church of Lompoc in Santa Barbara Presbytery. In you’re in the area, come join us tomorrow evening. We'll trace themes of creation, fall, and redemption in the Narnia tales. Here’s the invitation:

Working on Faith: Great Books That Everyone Should Read
with Dr. Randy Working

"An evening with the children’s writings of C. S. Lewis"

Thursday, January 19, 2012 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

At The Bookstore, 1137 N H St # Q (behind Carrow's Restaurant)


Refreshments will be served and Lewis's books available for purchase

Dr. Working is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Lompoc and the author of From Rebellion to Redemption (NavPress) and Breaking Free: A Devotional Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Reformation Press, forthcoming). Dr. Working has taught at Westmont College, Seattle Pacific University, and Ashland Theological Seminary. He holds a BA from Whitworth University, an MFA from University of Washington, and MDiv, DMin, and PhD (ABD) degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Come for a warm evening of stimulating conversation on ideas that matter. Bring a friend!

Spend some time in a great story this year and see where it takes you! And whether you’re in Lompoc, Bellevue, Switzerland, Santa Barbara, Santa Paula, Ohio, Pasadena, or Mexico City, we pray for the Lord’s great blessings on you this season and in the coming year.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Vows that Anchor Us: Responses to Questions for Ordination

My family and I recently moved to Lompoc, California, where I began responsibilities as pastor of First Presbyterian Church. In our denomination, a pastor is not a member of the church he or she leads, but rather of the presbytery, or the regional association of Presbyterian churches. First Pres Lompoc belongs to the Presbytery of Santa Barbara, known for its care in examining candidates for ordination as well as ministers transferring membership into the presbytery. Thus, along with writing a statement of faith, agreeing to a document of "essential tenets," and submitting to an interview by the Committee on Ministry, I had to respond briefly to the questions of ordination. In doing so, I renew the vows I took at my ordination over 20 years ago. The questions are as follows:

Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

I trust in Jesus Christ alone for my salvation. As the Apostle Peter bore witness before the teachers and elders of the law, “there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” He reveals the one God in three persons, or modes of being, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, eternally existent in a fellowship of love between the persons, distinct and yet united.

Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?

The Scriptures are the authoritative Word of God, infallible in all matters of faith and salvation. The cosmos and everything in it was called into being by the Word of God; everything in it is dependent on God and his Word for its very existence. The Word calls the church into being, and constitutes its life. Humans are constitutionally unable to hear the Word, until God works a miracle of grace to enable hearing, which is the same as regeneration or new birth. Where the Word of God is heard, there is the church.

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

I affirm the Reformed confessions of our Book of Confessions to be reliable expositions of the saving message of the gospel contained in Holy Scripture. I am and will be instructed, informed, and taught by the confessions as I carry out my ministry of the Word and sacrament.

Will you fulfill your office in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?

I will. I recognize the Word, rightly understood in the tradition of the Reformation, and neither church hierarchy, nor tradition, nor mystical insight, nor human experience, to be our only final authority for life and ministry.

Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline? Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?

I will make myself accountable to the church of Christ, in its collegial relationships, as the instrument of discerning the will of God for our common life.

Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?

As we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, convictions of our faith must be “worked out in fear and trembling.” This takes place in the context of our relationships: with God through Jesus Christ, with neighbors (where we experience the presence of Christ which both judges and ministers to us in grace), and with the wider world. I will seek to be faithful to my calling and the trust given to me in each of these spheres.

Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?

I believe we have a responsibility to enhance the harmony and joy of our calling in the body of Christ, yet not at the expense of the purity of Christ’s church, which must take priority. Practically speaking, it behooves us nonetheless to speak always the truth in love, tempering our words with grace.

Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?

I will. Glorifying the living God in the midst of his people and sharing in the mission of God is the purpose of my life. I aim to do this with excellence, but even more with truth and love.

For minister of the Word and Sacrament) Will you be a faithful minister, proclaiming the good news in Word and Sacrament, teaching faith and caring for people? Will you be active in government and discipline, serving in the governing bodies of the church; and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?

With God’s help, I will.