Archive for December, 2009


The Latest from Matt Whitney

The Painting as of 12.21

Watch an exclusive interview with Matt Whitney as he discusses some of his reflection on his Advent piece, “Yesterday, Today, Forever.”


I completed the Advent Art this past Sunday, right on schedule! Truth be told, I cheated a little bit – coming in throughout the week and working on it unscheduled. I reworked parts of the painting, adding abstracted swaths and halos of color. I layered a lighter paint over the darker parts, evoking images of stars layered in the sky. If you look carefully enough, these dark sections of the canvas are in a way brighter and more vivid than the lighter values. I invite you to get close to the painting, and to find those layers of paint and look closely at the sections where the paint is carved, grooved, and scratched. The overall composition is good to experience as a whole, but my favorite parts of the painting are very small sections, such as the white paint sparsely scraped over the dark areas around the angel. Or the dark halo that stretches across the center and right canvases, where the surface of the sky appears to collapse into an unknown space.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me this link to an Advent Calendar comprised of Hubble Telescope images. Space images like these completely blow my mind: these stunning scenes of black holes swallowing time, nebulas exploding with unbelievable spectrums of color, stars in array by the millions and billions. You can’t deny their beauty, and their sense of total order amidst what rationally seems to us as vast chaos. The other mind-blowing aspect of these images is that, due to the speed of light, what we see in these images has taken millions or even billions of years to reach the Earth. Our eyes are seeing today in these images scenes of the universe that occurred billions of years ago.

I love that these images are assembled as an Advent calendar! The experience of these pictures in the context of Advent is the experience I am trying to convey in the artwork. My images are akin to caveman drawings of these. Honestly, what better visual of Advent season than that of an exploding nebula that took a million years to reach our eyes today? Or a black hole that distorts and reshapes space and time as we know it? For me these really bring the concept of Advent into a new clarity. In God’s perfect timing, these beautiful cosmic events took billions of years to reach our eyes. So also we wait for Christ to return in His perfect timing, in a way that we can’t begin to describe or fathom, except that it will be good and will restore us. The first time, Christ came as a small helpless baby in a humble manger. The Kingdom of Heaven surprises us and sometimes confounds us. Yet while we wait, glimpses of glory are revealed as we wait and listen, not with our ears but with our souls. Beauty and Truth are made visible by our Maker through the colors of a star burst, a conversation overheard on the sidewalk, a song we hear performed, a perfectly formed ring of a galaxy, or a painting we encounter and experience.


Worship Connect for Dec. 13, 2009

Hello everyone,

Rory here again with what’s happening this Sunday at the 7 pm service. First, I’ll point out that this Sunday the worship team is performing Sufjan Stevens’s version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  (You can listen to Sufjan’s version right here. It’s one of those weird YouTube videos that only has audio then just has some weird picture for the video. Whatever works I guess.) We’re also lighting the third Advent candle–the candle of joy, the joy we have in the birth of our king.  Incidentally, if you, like me, are using Google to double check the meanings of the Advent candles, you might notice that every website agrees that the third candle is the candle of joy, but each website gives a different reason for why exactly we’re to be joyful. My point: God, in coming to earth, gave us so many reasons to be joyful. Thankfully, we don’t have to pick just one. See you on Sunday! (I’ll be toward the back.)

  1. Opening Music: Gazing
  2. Welcome, Announcements, and Greeting :: George Hinman
  3. Call to Worship :: Led by an Inn Core Group
    • Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
    • Lighting of the Advent Candle
    • Isaiah 60:1-5
  4. Confession and Assurance of Forgiveness :: Dave Rohrer
    • Invitational Music
    • Hebrews 3:7-11
    • Meditative Music
    • Responsive Reading
    • Silent Pause
  5. Prayer for Offering :: Dave Rohrer
  6. Offertory : O Come, O Come Emmanuel :: Sufjan Stevens version :: Worship Team
  7. Sermon: “Freedom” :: George Hinman
  8. Communion and Prayer :: Dave Rohrer and Emily Vancil
    • Communion
    • What Child Is This?
    • Angels We Have Heard on High
  9. Benediction :: Emily Vancil

Waiting for Glimpses of Glory

Advent Art as of Dec. 9Matt Whitney’s Painting as of Dec. 9. Here’s what he says:

I finished the under-painting of the Advent art this past Sunday, working at all three morning services, as well as with the Sunday School kids at 5 pm. Up to this point I have been using acrylic paint, which is fast drying, to sketch out the composition, define values (where there is light and dark), and create a textured surface above the cotton canvas. From here, I will start working in oil paint – covering the canvas and all the under-painted sections with a new layer of paint. Color will become more luminous and the texture crustier and scratched. I added the figure on the left, a lady waiting for the bus, modeled after a friend.  I wanted this figure to have a more realistic look, in contrast with the abstracted elements of the painting.

I want to reflect a little about this figure because the imagery is very personal to me, and George’s sermon really brings some depth to its purpose.  This lady is waiting at a bus stop. People tease me because of the Metro buses that appear in my work from time to time. It’s a well-known fact among my friends that I am a public transit fan. I ride the bus around town pretty frequently – to work, to the studio, and sometimes to church. My first experience of riding the bus was one of necessity rather than choice – my first job out of college was downtown, and my choices were either to ride the bus or pay $125 dollars a month in parking. Do you ever ride the bus? I will say that most of the time it takes twice or sometimes three times as long to get where you’re going, compared with driving.

I am telling you this because riding the bus forces me to wait.  It’s in these waiting moments that I seem to have glimpses of glory – kind deeds done amongst strangers crammed into an overcrowded bus, catching a sunset over the Ballard Locks, or the seemingly random flourishes of inspiration that strike me when my mind wanders. Spaces between immanence and transcendence are revealed. I have a heightened sense of spiritual awareness when I ride the bus – such an unlikely place for this to happen!

Back to George’s sermon…  He points out that in Advent we are reminded to wait and listen for God’s glory, that this glory is so great that on the surface we don’t even know to want it. The text from Hebrews, Chapter 2 says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Riding the bus causes me to pay more careful attention. So does art in, perhaps, its most definable purpose! Art is made because someone is trying to pay more careful attention, and likewise viewing and experiencing art is also about trying to pay more careful attention.

In his sermon, George talked about those moments when we slow ourselves down and listen, and perhaps catch an occasional glimpse of glory. I would summarize the Advent art in this way. The narrative is of a figure at a bus stop. The Advent Star blazes in glory above a darkened city skyline. To the right, an abstracted angel bursts forth, trumpeting the return of Christ. These are not things that we “see” with our eyes, but they are things we know to be true, and when we slow down and “listen,” we can occasionally sense and know it. I put the words “see” and “listen” in quotations because our five senses may aid us in recognizing glory, but our greater reality is something we experience outside of these senses. It’s something larger than I can really define or fully explain. As George said, we don’t necessarily “see” Christ in his throne, seated in Glory, but we can “behold” the Glory. We listen for God, but we don’t necessarily use our ears. However, hearing a particular song can point one towards God, through the music. In the same way, art uses visual images (usually) that can point to a greater truth. You can point to the star, and the skyline, and the angel, and recognize those objects, but taken collectively and experienced, my hope and prayer is that the greater truth is made known.


Worship Connect for Dec. 6, 2009

Hello Friends,

Kyle’s busy with worship-type things right now, so I, Rory, (your friendly UPC Communications person and 7 pm attendee) is posting the 7 pm order of worship this week, so please excuse any theological gaffes.

We’re coming into the second sunday of Advent. If you caught Tim’s sermon last week, you may remember his admonition to “live awake during Advent.” We hope that this week’s service can be a part of that for you. Particularly, we’d like to encourage you to take time to check out Matt Whitney’s Advent painting in the Narthex. I’ve loved watching it progress and following Matt’s thoughts on his creative process (just scroll down). At this service we’re also lighting the second Advent candle; along with corresponding to parts of the Advent story, the candles also remind us that our Savior is the light of the world. It’s a simple symbol, but one that never loses its poignancy. Hope you can join us this Sunday! Here’s the rundown:

  1. Angels We Have Heard on High 
  2. Welcome, Announcements, Greeting :: Jon Epps
  3. Call to Worship
    • Sing We Now of Christmas :: Jazz Choir
    • Lighting of the Advent Candle :: The Bethlehem Candle :: The Edge Small Group
    • Reading :: Micah 5:2-5: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” 3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD.
  4. Time of Worship
    • O Come, O Come Emmanuel
    • Everything 
  5. Confession & Assurance of Forgiveness
  6. How Deep the Father’s Love For Us
  7. Prayer, led by Jennie Koth
  8. A Time of Prayer
  9. Sermon :: “Glory,” by George Hinman
  10. Offertory :: O What a Holy Night led by the Jazz Choir
  11. Communion :: Led by George Hinman
    • The Holly and the Ivy
    • O Holy Night
  12. Benediction :: led by Jon Epps
  13. Commissioning :: Christmas Mission Teams

Westward Leading, Still Proceeding…

From Matt Whitney…

Yesterday Today Forever

Matt’s painting as of December 1

Tuesday was a slamming day for me. I stayed home in the morning to watch my baby son Grey. Once the babysitter came to relieve me, it was off to get a van, transport art to a photographer for a photo shoot, returning the van, delivering a sold painting, quick dinner at a Mexican restaurant with my family, then off to UPC. I was invited by Jon Epps to share with friends at Convergence a short witness and description of the Advent Project. I spoke to the concept of Incarnation in my work. As the Word was made Flesh, and as we were made in His Image at the Creation, I described that humans have a little bit of that inherent need to create in us, and that’s part of what makes art important in the world. I also spoke to concepts of Grace and Truth in my work, and that though we dwell in a dark world and are ourselves wholly broken, we are made wholly good by the work of Christ on our behalf. Thus, my images don’t always comfort; but they always point to Hope and Truth.

As I reflect on the season, heeding the call that Tim Snow gave during his sermon to “live awake” during Advent, my desire to see the world fully restored becomes much more acute.  I’m not going to dance around it: it’s been a dark couple of months here in Seattle. My neighborhood was plagued with arsons, a Seattle police officer was murdered, and then the horrible attack on the four police officers in Lakewood this past Sunday morning. Just senseless acts of evil that shake us to our core and make us cry out in pain and agony for the world. As Tim said, we long for Jesus to make us whole. The Advent painting is a contemplation of this longing. The painted image of the star over the city is one we cannot see but represents that ultimate truth that God is with us now, as he was 2000 years ago. The hope of the Advent star still resonates in our souls today, guiding us to that perfect light.

After the witness, I went to paint at the Inn. As I was setting up my materials, I realized I had forgotten my brushes at my studio. I can guarantee that in all the rushing back and forth between Church, Home, and Studio, I will always forget something at one of those places! So I find myself with no brushes, but I did have my palette knifes, so I painted with those. I spent some time on the stars in the painting, adding texture with heavily applied acrylic paint. Then I sat back and listened for a while. This is part of the painting process – I do some painting, stop to listen to what is happening in the artwork, and adjust. As I listened, the Inn Worship Team was singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel, which was being performed in an epic, haunting melody (Sufjan Stevens does an incredible version of this song).  I love when artists take a familiar song and perform it with a new voice; a new authenticity to make it relevant and real for us today. With this on my heart, I began working on the angel. I want the angel to appear a little bit terrible; a little bit haunting; there to announce Christ’s triumph over death, then now and forever.

Back to not having brushes: the knives I was using are great for creating nice textures, but are clumsy at shape and line. For the first time I can remember, I finger painted. I have an artist friend who does this; smearing and smudging with her fingers, the palm of her hand, the flat of her wrist. It is a fascinating process. I figured if she can make that work, then so can I.

I’m pleased with the progress in our first week. I was buoyed and strengthened by the encouragement I received from people while I painted. One gentleman told me he would pray for inspiration. Several others told me how excited they were to see the painting take shape and come into being. Parents helped their curious children by explaining some of the imagery and its meanings.  I’m finding that this is no longer just my painting – it belongs to the community of believers and witnesses that are all now participating in its creation. We all are experiencing the making and unfolding of the image together and are sharing in the process. This is fascinating to me and I really love this.

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