Hope and Doubt

Sometimes when I make things, I try to tell a story. Other times, I am trying to show a familiar idea from a completely new perspective. In the piece “Hope and Doubt” I am trying to show an emotion…create a feeling…take the viewer to a place in their heart that maybe they have been before.

I am generally a “glass half full” kind of person. I do have skeptical thoughts about people and situations, but I generally act in hopeful ways. There is a path forward for everyone. I believe that. And for me, moving forward is moving towards God. There are no material promises in that. But what there is, is peace.

Sometimes doubt creeps in like a wave and washes over me, breaking apart my hope. Doubt reminds me of all the times that people have let me down before, and tells me that this time will be no different. Doubt overwhelms me with my own inadequacies, and paralyzes me with indecision. Doubt whispers to me that perhaps God is not really there, not really listening, not really caring.

For me, hope seems to be able to bounce back from the bar-age of doubt waves. I eventually find my feet and am able to stand. The more I practice getting back up, the easier it is to do. However, hope is a very vulnerable place to be. Hope is risky. Hope makes you take a chance at getting hurt, or being wrong, or letting go of someone or something that you have been holding on to. Hope requires you to believe in things outside of yourself and surrender people and situations to God that you really couldn’t control anyway. Hope is not blind, it chooses to trust. Trust in God and trust in people. And to trust that God loves people and that sometimes the path to move closer to Him is hard and potentially painful. Hope requires a soft, malleable, teachable heart. A friend once told me that trust is a more intimate expression than love.

These two ideas of trust and hope are becoming intertwined for me. And they are definitely a choice that I make. Almost like an act of defiance towards doubt and  this fallen world, I am choosing to take the next step that will bring me closer to my Creator. Choosing to stand in the light and see what is there…beautiful and ugly…and trust that God loves all of me and will not leave me. And choosing to want that for the people around me as well.

In The Magician’s Nephew (from the Chronicles of Narnia) C.S. Lewis says, “What you see and hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. ” I want to be standing closer to God, that’s where the hope is. And I want you to be there with me.

Community

We all cringe when we chase the channels and stumble across the show where the young girl is confronting her boyfriend to tell him that the baby she is carrying isn’t his. You know, Jerry Springer, Maury Povich…or any one of the cringeworthy shows on MTV.

Human tragedy, on display for our entertainment.

I don’t stick around to find out the outcome of those horrible spectacles on TV, but sometimes I wonder what happens after the lights turn off, the cameras stop rolling, and the audience goes home. Who is there to dress the wounds and sort through the carnage? Because what happened was nothing short of an emotional massacre.

What about when it’s your family? What happens when a disease drains your bank account and leaves your family stumbling around doing a new sort of mathematical juggling act of figuring out which bills to pay? Or when there’s an addiction that keeps pulling someone you love back into its black hole where more is never enough? How about the fog of depression and mental illness? That one is harder to understand and harder to name because that person is looking at the world through glasses that remove all hope. Your family? Your community? Will it survive?

When I made my ceramic quilt called “Community”, I spent an inordinate amount of time carefully crafting each colored tile and the bordering solid colored tiles. Each piece was lovely on its own, but I then took great care to attach them to each other with copper wire. They are connected and bound to each other in sort of an unspoken commitment to my vision of what community looks like. They contrast and they complement. The thing about communities and families, when they are committed to God’s vision for them, is that they are more beautiful when they are connected to each other then they are individually. And if one of the tiles fail, or one of the people struggles, the rest of them are strong enough to keep it all together…because they are connected.

Sometimes families fall apart and sometimes people let you down. It’s tragic. It’s heartbreaking. It’s not what God wants for us. I have to believe that it grieves God when his people get this part of life wrong. Jesus was relentless about pursuing the broken, the outcast, the ones running away from him. He didn’t ignore indiscretions or injustices…he exchanged them for reconciliation and redemption. That’s why he came.

My family, my community…We are more beautiful together than we are apart. Together, we are strong enough to hold each other up.

If You Want Freedom…

If You Want Freedom…

Jennifer Chetelat

2018

Ceramic Plates

~10” diameter each

First Row from Left to Right

Have no other gods

Don’t make any thing more important than God

Don’t disrespect God’s name

Rest one day each week

Respect your parents

Second Row from Left to Right

Don’t murder

No adultery

No stealing

No lies about your neighbor

Be content with what you have

God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments because he loved them. Because he loves us. I think they could use some rebranding. Maybe a better marketing campaign with a catchy slogan and a memorable spokesperson. We got them from an old guy with a speech impediment on some clay tablets.

To the person who isn’t sure if God is real or if he actually loves them, they are a hard sell.

All organized societies have rules. Sometimes they are written down and decided on by a group of leaders, and sometimes they spring up more organically from mistakes made and lessons learned. But they generally keep peace. And they keep people’s behaviors from getting in the way of their progress as a society.

That’s how I view the Ten Commandments. Following them keeps my behaviors from getting in the way of my progress of not just growing in my faith, but growing as a person.

It would be easy (but lengthy) to take a deep dive into each commandment. However, I don’t think most people struggle with all of them. I would guess that most people only get stuck on two or three of them.

The other day, I took a sabbath. For the whole day. I spent time with my husband, I spent time with God, and I spent time with myself. I didn’t work in my studio. I didn’t answer any emails. I didn’t do any ministry work either. I went out to breakfast with my husband. I napped. I prayed. I read. I checked in on a friend. I watched dumb movies. I ran errands. I felt like a normal person who wasn’t trying to squeeze my to do list in to an impossible number of hours.

Disclaimer- I did spend an hour in a Verizon store which definitely was an interruption in my sabbath and a descent into one of the levels of hell from Dante’s Inferno…but when I left, I was back to my Sabbath.

This whole sabbath idea of creating space in my schedule for a pause is a hard one for me. I’m a doer. Resting happens when I sleep. But it’s not a good way to live. It’s mostly not good for my heart. While my body and mind may be able to accomplish all of these tasks, my heart needs a minute to disengage from the list and the expectations. God knew that and that’s why he warned against living the way I often do.

When I made my “If You Want Freedom…” piece of art, I was trying to reimagine the Ten Commandments. It was based on a sermon I heard at church and a new way of thinking about this list of rules, I wanted to give them a new physical representation as well. I guess it’s my attempt at rebranding. These ten ideas lead to a simpler life. One with less drama, heartache, and exhaustion. The kind of life where it’s easier to stay connected with God and people.

While I do struggle with a few of the other commandments, building a sabbath pause in to my schedule is my current challenge.

Makoto Fujimura is one of my favorite artists. He’s a Japanese painter, writer, and advocate of the arts. He’s also a Christian. Recently in an interview he said, “Schedule an hour every week to waste time with people and you will be amazed at how much it will rejuvenate you and end up speaking of the gospel because essentially the gospel is God wasting time with us”.

If I want freedom, I will make space for a pause in my schedule. I will purposely waste time with people. I will take a minute to enjoy the privilege of God wasting time with me.

What do you need to do for freedom?

Forgiveness 70 x 7

The thing about forgiveness is that it’s a choice. And quite honestly a selfish one. If I forgive someone, it doesn’t absolve them of what they did wrong…only God can do that. But choosing to forgive frees me from the anger and resentment that will grow in my heart.

Peter asked Jesus if 7 times was enough times to forgive. I guess implying that the 8th offense did not need to be forgiven. But in Matthew 18:22, Jesus answered “No…70 x 7”. (The piece pictured above has 490 nails on it.) Jesus offers us a more gracious way to live. His capacity to forgive is actually limitless. I speak from personal experience.

Below is a piece that I wrote almost a year ago. It has sat on my computer until now because I wasn’t ready to share it. But I think it goes hand in hand with this piece of art…actually it takes it one step further.

-Being hurt by a friend, by someone you care about, by someone you have walked through a little bit of life with, is the worst. It’s easy to dismiss a hurt by an acquaintance and even easier to disregard a slight by a stranger. Depending on your family dynamics, those hurts can be easy to bounce back from as well. In my family, we know that no one is going anywhere, no matter how mad we might get. So, apologies will eventually happen and life will go on. For me, the pain of being hurt by a friend is different. Those relationships are a little more fragile and require more maintenance.

It’s almost harder when there is not an argument or specific incident to point to that caused the rift.

Recently, I felt a relationship shift and I didn’t notice it at first. But after multiple encounters with a friend that left me feeling like I didn’t matter, or I was incompetent, or I had malintent, my feelings went from confused to hurt to angry.

As per usual for me, my knee-jerk reaction was to confront. I composed several pointed emails to this person, laying out my case with all the best words I could come up with. I made my arguments as well as any defense attorney in the many John Grisham novels I have read. And every time, just as I was about to hit the infamous send button, something inside me said…”nope, wait.” So I waited, and I cried.

Days turned into weeks and I continued to wallow in my pain. I’m pretty good at that.

And then it hit me, I’ve been here before. It has been quite a few years, but I know this pain. The last time that I found myself feeling like this, my pastor encouraged me to look at Matthew 5:44.

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Wait, what?

But they’re not an enemy. I don’t wish this person ill will. And there are Christians all over the world who are actually being persecuted. I’m just hurt and mad. How do I pray for this guy? What does that look like? But my pastor urged me to begin praying for this person that hurt me. So I did. I prayed that God would bless him. I prayed that God would bless his family. I prayed that God would continue to grow this man in his faith and bless all of his endeavors.

Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t easy to do at first. Actually, it was a huge exercise of discipline for me in the beginning. But slowly, over time, God softened my heart and healed my pain. I had forgiven this person long before he realized that he had hurt me so profoundly. And when the meeting finally happened to air our differences, I came to it from a place of peace. God heard my prayers and I got a sincere apology from this friend. That never would have happened if I confronted him before I gave the Holy Spirit a chance to work on both of our hearts.

And even if that wasn’t the outcome, it would have been ok. God moved my heart from a place anger and hurt to a place of empathy and compassion.

I write this from the middle of a painful place…again. My feelings are still raw and my heart is bruised. And while I am still licking my own wounds, I am fully aware that there have been times when I was on the other end of this situation. I was the offender. Maybe I was careless with my words and someone else’s heart. Maybe I’m there now and I don’t know it.

I know this, it’s time to pray.

Edit: From/To

I am going to start a series of blog posts about a body of work that I recently made and showed at Gallery Edit in Richmond, VA. To kick off this series, I want to share with you my artist statement. As a curator, I have read quite a few artist statements. To me, art is about communication. Most artists prefer to communicate visually. Here I try to communicate with my words ideas that are personal, and big, and not fully worked out for me. But I tried.

Jennifer Chetelat: Artist Statement

As a potter and ceramist I am constantly interacting with a medium that undergoes a drastic change. Clay has the ability to go from something malleable and temporary to something solid and permanent with the properties to exist in its form for thousands of years. However, left on its own, clay mostly does not change, it is subject to the elements and can be a very temporary substance. But when it is placed in the hands of a skilled creator it has the potential to become something beautiful, and possibly functional, and everlasting.

For me, my relationship with Jesus Christ has been the catalyst for growth as a person. When I was young in age and young in my faith, I saw the way of life that is laid out in the Bible as just a bunch of rules. A measurement for my behavior. And a yardstick by which I usually fell short. However, as in any relationship, the more I got to know the person on the other end the more I realized that there was so much freedom in a life of faith. The change in me is gradual, but when I step back and look at the areas of my life where I have really surrendered my own pursuits, those are the areas where I have the most peace and joy.

As in the piece From/To, I see my life in layers. One layer reacts to the one before it and informs the next one. And of course, there are unexpected events or occurrences that pop up and change the trajectory of the whole journey. This piece is done as a diptych because I do see a definite line in my life of before and after my personal decision of faith. When I look back on my own life, I see seasons of health and happiness as well as seasons of sickness and sorrow. For me the transformation from what I was to what I am becoming is a much slower, longer process.

The main inhibitor along the way is usually myself. For me, my faith frees me from these limitations. It frees me from the limitations that I put on myself, or that others put on me. It also frees me from stagnancy. God wants me to be in relationship with Him and I put things in the way of that intimacy. The things that I put between myself and God are ideas that I have explored in some of my pieces. “Performance”, “Expectations”, and “Hope and Doubt” are all constructs of my efforts to be self-sufficient, and independent from my Creator. When I put myself in the skilled hands of my Creator (and allow the time and trials that life brings to transform me), like my clay, I can become something beautiful, functional, and everlasting.

The process of making wet clay in to a permanent state of being is a multi phased one. After the clay has dried completely, it undergoes a series of firings in a kiln that are thousands of degrees. I used to be afraid of the “firings” of life, but I’m getting less so with age. Writer and theologian Frederick Buechner said, “ This is life. Beautiful and terrible things will happen, don’t be afraid.” I have seen enough of the beauty on the other side of the terrible to begin to trust my Creator.

Outgifted

 

We’ve all been there. You have a friend that is close enough that you are exchanging gifts (usually at Christmas). You put thought and money into what you think is a nice gift. You buy or make them something that you think they will really like. Maybe it’s something that you’d like to receive yourself. Your friend opens it and is loving and gracious and appreciative. And then you open the gift they gave to you…and you are blown away by their thoughtfulness and the sacrifice of resources or time that they have spent on you. You are humbled and feel unworthy of their generosity. You have been outgifted.

I’m not sure why we think that this exchange needs to be equal, but in our culture it just does. Perhaps it’s because comparing is such a prevalent (and unhealthy) part of our society. Perhaps it’s because we are subconsciously keeping score with an unseen relational currency and we don’t want to put more, or leave more on the table than we need to. Whatever the reason, there seems to be unspoken social mores that gift-giving should be a level playing field among friends.

But what about when what’s given cannot be held in your hands or deposited in the bank?

I work in a nonprofit ministry organization, and we have been taking time each morning, (over the last few weeks) to look for and talk about the good in each person in our office. After each person has written their word of affirmation or admiration on a poster-sized piece of paper hung on a whiteboard, we take turns explaining what we wrote. It has been a beautiful and meaningful exercise. The point of it is to cultivate the practice of looking for the good in people as a daily discipline.

The other day, I was on the receiving end of all of this goodness. I sat and listened to people explain what they had written. Some of the people in my office I know very well, and others I have spent less time with. I was not prepared for their generosity. I was not prepared for the outpouring of love and emotion. I was not prepared for how much the things that I have done or said meant to people. Their words to me were overwhelming and extravagant. I was outgifted.

The thing about being outgifted is that it’s humbling. You are put in a position where what you have received is far greater than what you have given. My coworkers and co-laborers in ministry saw good in me that I don’t always see in myself.

I want to be extravagant with my words and selfless in my actions towards others. Looking for the good in people is really not that hard to do. It’s a habit that you can cultivate. I think it is in line with learning to look for the attributes of Christ in people. Imagine how different the world would be if we could train our first impulses to seek the good in every circumstance, encounter, and relationship.

Jesus in 2018

As I think about the Easter events, I wonder which person in the story you identify with most. Is it the disciples? Do you believe, but are you afraid to be identified with him? Afraid of what it will cost you? Or are you like the high priest Caiaphas and worried that Jesus will upset your status quo? Maybe you feel like the thief who hung next to Jesus, desperately wanting a second…or 102nd chance.

This Easter, I am wondering what it would be like if all of these events were to happen today. It takes a little bit of mental gymnastics and stretching of the story to fit it in to present day…but it is an interesting exercise.

Being confronted with things that I know I have done is hard enough, but being accused of something that I didn’t do is the worst. My knee-jerk reaction is to defend myself…loudly and boldly. To rally my friends and acquaintances to speak on my behalf. To persuasively explain the facts of the situation and use all the words I have in my head to come to some sort of reconciliation.

Jesus was accused of all kinds of things. The only one of the accusations that was true was his claim to be the Messiah. All of the other claims were false. And he stood mostly silent before the Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin as they called him a criminal.

As I wrestle with my own feelings of helplessness when I am accused or misunderstood, I am looking at this part of the Easter story with new eyes. Jesus knew that he was not guilty, but he also knew that this was part of his father’s plan. There was a greater good to be accomplished at his expense. It’s hard to imagine him standing there listening to the accusations, knowing the shame that it brought on his family, knowing what punishment was ahead of him, and not saying a word.

If Jesus had lived in 2018, his story would have gone down much differently. He most likely would have had a court appointed attorney. If the attorney believed him, maybe he’d have given a passionate defense. If he didn’t believe that Jesus was the son of God, he probably would argue for life in prison instead of the death penalty. There would be marches and rallies both for and against him. T shirts would be made. The news would cover every aspect of the story 24/7. He would become a trending topic on social media. And families would be divided in their support or opposition of him.

And I believe that even in this time that we live in where he could reach millions of people in 280 characters or less…Jesus would have been quiet. And honestly, that scares me a little. I’d like to think that I would have defended him in court, stayed with him through his death, and been there when he came back to life. I don’t think that Jesus would shout for us to believe him. He wouldn’t carry a protest sign or make his case on late television. But that seems to be how people get our attention in our time. Jesus quietly loved us with his actions. And we have to be quiet to not miss it.

Rushing to Easter

I really want to be one of those people who just trusts God so much that I can greet every bad thing that happens, whether it be a small bump in the road or a full on ditch, with a calm, peaceful presence. But I’m not. I am the queen of the worst case scenario. I have missed my calling in the military. There are people there who specialize in the worst case scenario. Their negative thinking is an asset in helping our troops be prepared. I like to tell myself that that is what I am doing too…being prepared. But that’s a lie. I’m worrying. And my worrying is preparing me for nothing, except maybe a headache. If you want to know what your worst case scenario is, just ask…I can give it to you in less than a minute. Thankfully (or maybe not) I have learned to keep all of my doom and gloom to myself.

I have a constant tension of knowing that God is good (Psalm 119:68, Luke 18:19, Nahum 1:7) and really trusting him with the things that matter the most to me. It’s easy for me to trust him with things that I have no perceived control over (world hunger, North Korea, natural disasters, etc.). But the people that I love, and situations or endeavors that I am invested in, I often hold them too tightly and bathe them in worry instead of prayer.

This is the time of year that the Christian church remembers and looks towards Easter. Lent is not something that I have officially observed, but I have always admired those who do. The people who give up real things that come between them and God, like social media, or alcohol, or whatever that thing is for you. (I had a friend in college who gave up potato chips for lent but still ate french fries. I’m not sure that this is what the early Christians had in mind…)

Kind of like we have fouled up Christmas, by making it overly commercial and materialistic…I think we, the church, have fouled up Easter too. We are in such a hurry to get to the resurrection that we miss out on knowing God through the quiet march of lent. We miss out on knowing him through the mockery of a trial, the brutal flogging, the barbaric crucifixion, and the 36 hours of being in the grave. Kate Bowler, Author of Everything Happens for a Reason, and Other Lies I’ve Loved, recently said in an interview that “…we Easter the crap out of lent”. If all we know of Jesus is the resurrection and the resurrection moments in our own lives, we are missing out on so much of the character of God. We are missing out on the clarity, simplicity, and joy that comes from really dark places when we choose to invite God in to them.

For some of us, things won’t work out in this life. We won’t get the job, or be able to have the baby, or the diagnosis we were hoping for. And that’s precisely why we have the account of the days before Jesus’ death and resurrection. If the authors of the Bible left all of those brutal details out, we would have no model for how to walk through hard times. Jesus did it with grace and mercy…loving people along the way. And although the Bible doesn’t say it, I have to think that Jesus laughed a lot. In my experience, you have to find the humor in hard times, or the weight of it all is too much to bear.

God was there with Jesus through all of it. And that’s his promise to us too, that he won’t leave us. He never says this life will be easy. Actually he says the opposite. (John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble…”) I have lived long enough to know that the hard times are the ones that I am closest to God. The hospital waiting rooms, the late night searches on my computer to understand what the Dr said, the phone call from the scene of an accident, the checking account balance that won’t pay the bills…that’s where God is the most real to me. And there is no better example of how to walk with God in hard times than Jesus in the days leading up to his death. The rest of John 16:33 says, “take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Jesus did ask God for deliverance when he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39), and I have done that many times myself. And when God said no, Jesus trusted him. When God says no to me, I mount a defense and complain. The worst case scenario happened to Jesus, and he quietly trusted God and kept loving the people around him. He knew the same thing about his heavenly father that I do. God is good, and he’ll never leave. Death wasn’t the end of Jesus’ painful, remarkable, beautiful story…and death is not our worst case scenario, not knowing God is.

Time Traveler

I turn 45 today. Normally the birthdays that mark a decade are the big ones, but this year I am feeling reflective and thankful at 45. Sometimes it’s helpful to look back at where we have been in our lives as it can help inform us of where we are going next. Kind of like how we drive a route to a destination and learn things about the route each time we drive it. You learn about the traffic patterns, construction, and potential detours that can save you from wasted time or potential disaster. And likewise, the detours that can open up a whole new world that was just a street over that you had been missing out on all along.

If time travel were a thing, I might like to go back and give myself a few tips. Not necessarily to change the course, but to be a better informed traveler through life.

To my 15 year old self… do not buy the lie that you have to beautiful to be loved. God gave you outward beauty and health for a little while, but I promise you, it will fade. And the people who are most concerned with the outside will be the first people to go when times get hard. Spend more time on being beautiful on the inside. Be relentlessly kind and caring. Learn how to make other people feel good about themselves. Read more. It is ok to question all of the things that you were raised to believe. This is a necessary part of making the faith your parents taught you become your own. But don’t lie about it. Don’t try to live a double life- doing all of the church things you feel like you should be doing AND living the way you want to with your friends. Own your actions, and their consequences.

To my 25 year old self… laugh more. Forgive yourself for the things you did as a teenager, God has and you need to as well. You married young, but you picked a good man. A really good man. Good job on that. Let go of the fairy tale ideas you have about marriage. Real life is better. You had kids young too. You can do this. They turn out to be pretty great people. Laugh with them more and teach them to laugh at themselves. Make them try lots of different foods while they are young, and you try them too. Don’t be afraid to be still and quiet…cultivate it as a habit. Read more. Not just books to your kids, but read things that make you laugh and cry and see God in new ways. Say no to things. When you stay home with your kids, people will think you have endless amounts of time, you don’t. Call it intuition or maybe it’s the Holy Spirit within you, but that small voice or feeling you get about people or situations- good or bad- listen to it. It’s right.

To my 35 year old self… listen to your body. Doctors will dismiss you and tell you that things you are feeling are normal, but they don’t live inside your skin. Learn to speak up for yourself in the doctor’s office, sooner rather than later.  Also, don’t stop doing the things you love. When you stop making pots, part of you dies inside. Contributing to the family income is important and helpful, but you do not have to deny who you are in pursuit of money. That is bad for your soul. Keep advocating for your kids, you are doing a good job there. They have issues and they need your voice to help them succeed in the public school system. Also, the church or should I say the people in church, will let you down. They will disappoint you because you hold them to a different standard. Don’t do that. They are just people, like you, who will mess up and do hurtful things. Don’t hold that against God. And don’t let it keep you from getting involved. You have things to offer. Your words will help people feel not alone. They will help people feel loved and understood and heard. All of those journals you have been writing in since college are a training ground for you. Hard times are ahead of you and writing will help you sort all of your stuff out with God. You are stronger than you think you are. Keep writing.

Sincerely,

Me at 45