I took my youngest two children to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery this afternoon and as on other times I’ve been there, wondered why I don’t go more often. The kids enjoyed it, spontaneously posing in a ‘life imitates art’ posture in front of one picture.


I’m finding that as I grow older my appreciation of art is becoming more liberal so found myself understanding the work of contemporary artists more than I have in the past.

Gordon Walters: New Vision

There was a major exhibition of the work of Gordon Walters (1919 – 1995) showing how his art developed over time and some of the influences which shaped his work. I found this exploration of how an artist’s work developed fascinating, especially his notes on works in progress.


What inspired me about this is how Walters was able to take very simple forms and create beautiful works of art. On the surface it looks simple and mathematical but seeing the complexity of his notes shows a fascinating depth of thought going into each painting. This inspires me to also create, to somehow take the complexity of life and communicate this through simple forms.

Nothing to say

Due to my odd work hours, some renovation work being done at home, and life generally getting in the way, I have not been able to come up with anything worthwhile to write. Therefore I leave you with one of my favourite song verses:

You start a conversation you can’t even finish it.
You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything.
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
Say something once, why say it again?
(Psycho Killer by Talking Heads)

What does a man create?

A blog post by Ann Voskamp a few months ago in which she discussed the question of How Christian [women] May Create got me wondering how the process/art/work of creating might look for Christian men? Here are some musings and partly formed thoughts. Feel free to comment and give your own ideas.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
(Genesis 2:15 ESV)

Right from the beginning men were given a job to do. It was a nurturing, cultivating job, also a creative task in that to start with there was not so much weeding to be done in God’s garden so presumably Adam had time to implement a few ideas of his own.

As sons of Adam we create by bending creation to our will. Therefore, the results of our creating reflect both our desire and our skill. This creates a tension and often frustrations as the created reality does not match the plans in a man’s head. Perhaps this is why computer programming is a popular choice for men, in a realm created by humans bending machine code to the will of man is achievable even for men without the brawn to bend metal, timber or earth to their will.

Even after the fall Adam’s work remained the same, it just got much harder to achieve:

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
(Genesis 3:17-19 ESV)

Under the curse (Genesis 3:22), creation refuses to bow to the will of men. Therefore the strength of a man is necessary to tear open the soil, wrestle raw materials and press on against the elements. By applying wisdom a man creates new and innovative works, and at our best as a team there is no limit to what can be achieved (Genesis 11:3-6).

The prime focus of a man’s work is always provision – even if a man is an artist and has nothing to do with cultivating the ground or making food, the overall goal of his work is to generate income in order to put food on the table. We can work for noble causes and labour to create beauty or make a statement, but once our family starts to go hungry none of that holds any importance (see 1 Timothy 5:8). If providing for his family takes up all of a man he is doing a noble task – I would argue more noble than those of us who can do so by working only 40 hours a week.

Yet there is a limit to how worthwhile the works of a man can be:

What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, (Ecclesiastes 2:22-24 ESV).

For some men perhaps all they seek is to eat, drink and enjoy the fruits of their labours. But we are created for more, much more than this.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

To be satisfied with our own work is to settle far short of the best a man can achieve, to live beneath our purpose in Christ. We yearn for  purpose, to know that our work is for more than simply putting food on the table. The most effective way to grind a man down is to give him meaningless work that has no point to it and in which he has no choices, especially if the work involves no physical exertion but is simply pushing paper across a desk all day. Only the shallowest of men work only for money, we seek to do work that is worthwhile:

Some men know how to solve crimes, others can heal pain, paint pictures, make violins, train dogs, ride a wave, kick a ball, lay cement, design glorious buildings, make new laws. We need them all. You have things inside you to do. These lie dormant waiting to be expressed. (Steve Biddulph in Manhood)

We are created for good works that proclaim and glorify His grace. In order to achieve this the will of a man must be redeemed. For me to to the works prepared for me before I even existed I must bow my will to His will. A little created creator must submit to his own creator and say along with my Brother-redeemer, “Your will be done, not mine”.

His will is not obscure or difficult to find, we are to make disciples:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

And we are to labour to make the Kingdom of God manifest on earth:

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:10 ESV)

Image of blacksmith: Hans Splinter

Cultural values

We can be somewhat blind to our own culture as a result of being completely immersed in it and not noticing what is distinctive in the art forms we are so accustomed to. After experiencing a fantastic ballet performance I considered my own cultural heritage and the active work required to maintain art and culture.

For Father’s Day in September my wife gave me tickets to take our daughters to The Sleeping Beauty by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. After a long wait, the weekend finally arrived to take them and amazingly we were also given tickets to the Saturday evening performance. So Heather went on Saturday evening with a friend, and I took the girls on Sunday afternoon.
I thoroughly enjoyed taking my daughters to the ballet and spoiling them with treats. It is wonderful going to an event at which everyone is dressed up and excited to watch a world class performance. The dancers were incredible and their costumes stunning, accompanied by the music of Tchaikovsky played by a live orchestra. The whole experience enveloped us, entrancing us in it’s magnificence.

There are times when I feel as though other nationalities or ethnic groups have rich cultural tradition but we don’t. Thinking over our ballet experience proves me wrong – we do have a rich cultural heritage and even get the benefit of a blending of European, Maori and Polynesian cultures in this nation.

However, culture takes effort. Performance requires practise, skill, discipline and training. It seems a lot to expend for a three hour public performance. Added to this, cultural groups rarely ‘pay their way’ – even with full houses orchestras, ballet troupes, theatres and other cultural or artistic groups require additional funding in order to survive. They are not a ‘practical’ necessity, so is culture a cost to society or an essential part of being human?

I would argue that the very nature of culture requiring work against the status quo proves its worth. We know that human nature is sinful, if you bow to the status quo and lowest common denominator what results is decline, banality, trivia and anarchy. Proof of our humanity lies in fighting such decline and going beyond what is merely a functional necessity of life to express art.

Art and culture will not save us, but they do prove that God has placed within humanity much more than animal desires and instinct. Art is a reaching for God, even when corrupted by sin the motivation to express, to create, is from God.

Gifts I have noticed recently (#691 – #700):

691) Art, making life more than making do.
692) Delight on girls faces.
693) A daughter wanting to imitate my Bible reading habits
694) Rekindled desire to play music.
695) End of my working day.
696) The wonder of a gull in flight.
697) Apples are cheaper than chocolate.
698) My wife, who I could not live without.
699) Daily, grace beyond anything I could ever deserve.
700) Guilt when I lazily take others for granted.

Will peacocks continue dancing?

“It saddens me that when kids grow older they sometimes feel embarrassed to perform the dance in public. Boys, especially, say they’re too old to be dressing up and performing. I tell them there’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to tradition and culture. We must be proud of what belongs to us. We are Shan, wherever we live in the world” (Dance teacher Mana).

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 10

Ram nok king kala

The sleepy hamlet of Ban San Paa Kor in Chiang Rai province wakes as the rhythmic sound of traditional gongs, tom-toms and cymbals fills the air. The atmospheric sounds herald the start of the ram nok king kala (king kala dance) which is unique to the Shan people.Clad in eye-catching costumes that evoke the colours and patterns of peacocks, two performers enthral spectators with graceful and agile steps. The male peacock ostentatiously struts around, displaying his brilliant tail in order to attract the female peafowl who hops back and forth, to left to right. The merriment escalates as two lion dancers show up to do high jumps.(

Shan tradition has wonderful festivals: the lunar New Year, Boi Sang Long (when boys enter the monastery as novices), the Water Festival, Buddhist Lent and Ok Pansa to mark the end of Buddhist Lent. Traditionally the ram nok king kala (king kala dance) is performed on Ok Pansa to welcome Buddha back to Earth after his visit to heaven. It also used to be commonly performed in northern Thailand but in recent years has become rare, despite the many thousands of Shan crossing into Thailand to escape the Burma Army.

In Thailand they face a different sort of threat – losing their roots, language, traditions and culture.  As illegal ‘migrants’ they must try avoid attention and cannot freely express their identity.

Security issues make it impossible for many Shan to wear their traditional clothes and to celebrate their culture openly. They can be arrested by the police and send back to Burma if they are not careful enough. There is a discourse in the community about preserving culture and at the same time assimilate within Thai society. But how can one assimilate and keep their traditional identity at the same time. (In between Shan culture and Thai society)

The loss of cultural traditions can leave Shan people feeling disorientated, without roots and cast adrift in an unfriendly world. They need a firm foundation to build their live upon again.

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (1 Corinthians 3:10-13 ESV)

Pray for

  • The Shan to rejoice in the everlasting joy of the Lord (Nehemiah 12:43).
  • God to redeem the festivals of the Shan for His glory as He did for Judah (Zechariah 8:18-23).
  • That young Shan people in Thailand will find their identity in Christ, and then responding courageously to the Gospel that they will lead other Shan people to Him also.

Other posts related to this topic:

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30 Days of Prayer for the Shan