This morning I woke at the farm

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This morning I woke at the farm.

I read DeMello and Rohr and Mary Oliver. Copied some words down so they might cement themselves into my understanding. 

A letter to myself began: “Remember, Christa…”

I found a hidden place on a stone bench to stare at one particular branch blowing in the breeze about 25 yards away. I stare and stare and stare, listening for earth songs and the heartbeat of the Beloved. He can spill a universe of love into my soul with just His eyes. The trick is not looking away...

(Read the rest of this piece on my Patreon page + watch for more prose and poems there...)

pilgrimage

Last night I arrived home from Masterpiece Project 2017, an arts camp for teens where I spend one week each summer facilitating a songwriting studio for 10-15 students. Each year has its own theme which we explore together via a camp-wide collaborative project. This year’s theme was “Pilgrimage.”

Through film and song and words and drama and photography, we talked about Journey. The path. The detours that turn out to be the path. Internal conflict. Interwoven paths. Reflecting back and imagining what might be ahead.

It’s resonant from where I stand in this middle part of life, with the accumulation of days growing behind me and still craving more adventure. I can actually count decades now, and say things like, “Remember 20 years ago when Princess Diana died?”

But even this one day, today, was its own micro-pilgrimage from waking with a neck-ache and no agenda to this very moment where I sit in the dark on my back patio, listening to dogs bark and crickets chirp. I have a small glass of red wine and a bit of dark chocolate I was too tired to eat last night.

The in-between hours of daylight included a 90-minute, unplanned conversation with my daughter in this same spot, where we talked philosophy and faith and relationships. There was a trip to the Y where I was surprised by tears (mine) on our way in, and sat instead on the side steps to the building. My daughters found me and sat with me, too. We traveled across town to a church I’ve wanted to visit and were soothed a while by the gentle tone of the pastor’s voice and the truth on his lips. We ventured into Panera to feed our bodies and Target to acquire tools for the upcoming school year. And now here I sit, reflecting.

Today and for the past week I’ve fought hard to stay present and emotionally-armed as I am reminded at every turn of a painful detour in my life. My friend said a week ago: “The detour is the path.” It’s been bouncing around in my head ever since.

And making me angry, too. I mean, some detours could be avoided, right? Some detours become necessary only because people are selfish and put up roadblocks that affect everybody on the road. Right?

Yes.

So what? Here we are. What are we going to do about it? Here I am taking this unexpected route, a route I didn’t see on the map, and have no knowledge of or interest in. Taking this route is going require re-arranging and will make me miss some beautiful things I’ve looked forward to. I’m tired and my pack is heavy and the view ain’t that great.

This detour hurts. A lot.

 Caspar David Friedrich - The Wanderer

Caspar David Friedrich - The Wanderer

Sara Groves sang in "Painting Pictures of Egypt": The future looks too hard and I wanna go back.

It's so true it hurts my heart to even listen to it. You get it.

But you know what?

We're doing it. We’re moving along. We woke up this morning, and we put some clothes on our bodies, and we said, “Okay, now what?”

Life is story, and in all great stories, the protagonist only grows when the writer allows them to walk through a fire of some kind. We develop, BECOME, more real, more fully human, when our surroundings become suddenly unfamiliar, and we feel out of sorts even in our own skin.

I adore my little back patio, but sitting here doesn’t make me stronger. You don’t read about patience and magically become patient. You live stuff that makes patience necessary, so you get better at it.

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I don’t have anything new or revolutionary to say, just still teasing it all out, this idea of being a pilgrim in progress towards something Marvelously Other than what we’ve seen.

I’m a whiny pilgrim. I'd like to watch “Gilmore Girls” and sleep on my special, chiropractic pillow and have all my favorite people live closely in a town of tiny houses near the beach. Because that’s my small mind’s best attempt at conjuring a picture of heaven. (I'm pretty sure it’s close.)

I foolishly sang, “I haven’t been asked yet to walk the hard road,” knowing it was a matter of time. I don’t want this stupid hard road. Neither do you. But I know this: A road is a means of travel and connection.

The hard road is not a grave.

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There are no roads to nowhere when you’re listening for the voice of the Maker like a whisper on the wind. When the route gets washed out in the mudslide, we (God + us + our loving people) will innovate another way. We will. We’ll feel sorry for ourselves for a minute. And then we’ll get up, clear some debris and innovate another way.

It'll sometimes feel like hiking barefooted off-trail on rocks, but it won’t feel like we’re doing it alone. Not if we pay attention.

And we’ll make up some decent songs along the way.

Keep going, little pilgrim...there’s beauty around the bend.

 All photos by wonderful Lana Kozol, Masterpiece Camp Photographer

All photos by wonderful Lana Kozol, Masterpiece Camp Photographer

Landing

 

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This is what I saw from my window last night as we crossed the sky back to North Carolina.

I couldn’t help thinking of Louis CK on Conan O’Brien saying, “I’m sitting in a CHAIR in the SKY.” How do we possibly take it for granted, this lifting off, pushing against gravity and seeing the world from the top down?

Coming home from camp is hard.

Even the 7-year-old who tagged along and mostly watched and wandered the grounds cried himself to sleep last night.  As I closed my eyes, a few tears trickled down my cheeks and my heart ached, and it’s difficult to articulate why.

It’s just SO good.

Home is not less good.  Such glory and greatness in the ordinary.

The intensity and luxury of those seven days is simply a gift of another kind.  Removed from ground zero, we're lifted out of our usual contexts.  The shared experience amplifies time, and we’re sure we’ve known these people longer than one week.

There is a particular freedom & joy unique to that space.  Freedom in being an individual in community with like-hearted brothers and sisters, joy in feeling truly understood.

We laugh and pray, sing and write, draw and build and make films.  We prepare meals and share them around tables with laughter and life stories and love for our differences and similarities.

When the vans are packed, as much as we need to be with our families and sleep in our own beds again, we dread & delay our goodbyes.  Seems a lot of drama, but it’s not.

We leave grateful & aware of how blessed we are to have been there.

 

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And on our final descent, I ask myself how I can bring some of that sky down to the land that holds me.

 

 

 

All You Need is a Hill

"All you need is a hill."

 

I don’t know why it stayed, that little phrase. It sort of haunts me.  When I’m running (yep, that’s right, I run now…a little…I caved!), or when anything scary or squirmy or unpleasant comes along.

It was something Kim said as she led the creative fitness retreat where 25 female friends found ourselves sprinting and jumping and carrying comrades up two flights of deck steps in our arms.

She said, “Just about anyone can get skinny, but if you really want to change your shape, you need a hill, or some way to alter the intensity of your workout.”

Apparently, you can’t just run the same familiar, flattish mile through the hood day after day and grow really fit and strong??  (Though it's a start!)

If we want to change our shape, she said…if we want to be shaped…we’re gonna need a hill.

 

Define “hill.”

 

Well…

I spoke to a woman this week who survived 15 years of spousal abuse, followed by the very near death of her newborn.

My friend just lost his father unexpectedly early.

My sister is allergic to just about everything except meat, veggies and fruit and aches and swells if she gets the wrong thing in her food.

Our Compassion children feel the actual ache of real, ongoing hunger and live in shanties and catch diseases through their bare feet.

These are pretty monstrous hills, I’d say.  And those who climb them with their eyes on the prize will be shaped into something of greater strength, wisdom and grace.

Me?  At this point and for the past several years, my hills have looked pretty much exactly like…well…gifts.

 

What We've Been Given

 

They ARE gifts.  Things have been entrusted to my care and nurture which require much time, effort and courage.  The weight of responsibility often terrifies me, and admittedly - sadly - I sometimes long to escape the expectations or needs of others.  To walk away from the everyday realities I’ve been called to.

One small part of this is that it has taken years and years for me to be able to play and sing on a stage and not want to throw up or pass out, so I feared "success" (more opportunity) as much as I feared failure.  Even the compulsion to create, or to share what we create, can at times seem a burden.

These are the gentle inclines I have been given and must lean into.  I can’t run from them or try to travel around them.  I must not judge them too great or too small for me.  These are the inclines I have been given.  

And you have yours.

They are the climbs that require faith and endurance and start us quaking and leave us sweaty and out of breath.  Improved.  Invigorated.  Stronger and braver.  Grateful.  Ecstatic.  Bone-tired.  Confident.  Dependent.

It’s a lovely song, but honestly…one cannot climb every mountain.  You can only climb yours, and climb them you must.

When we meet a hill, let’s face it: there will be no mountaintop experiences until we have sweated and cried our way up the incline.

So, I guess what I'm saying is: Cheers to getting in shape!

something damaged, something that survives

The dogs determined to gain entry to the vegetable garden.  Dragged out the extra roll of weed-blocker and decorated the yard in bits of black plastic.  Bless them. The gentle deer we love to watch, thrilled at the wide-open invitation, feasted overnight on the mammoth leaves of prolific zucchini (the only thing I grow really well--sorry, kids) and the wild tomato vines that never did get caged.  They even chomped all the little leaves off the green bean plants Sammy and I planted from seed.

The kids were sent off to soccer camp this week, along with the husband, and in the packing and shipping process – because of my dedication to using this time for writing and not cleaning – not one shoe or bag or non-perishable food item has found its way home.  All is on floor or counter.

I snatch every possible minute of solitude to write write write; thus the piano room is littered with papers and headphones and pens and moldy coffee cups.  No company coming in this week, thank goodness.

Forested mountains are burning in Colorado.  Human beings born perfectly healthy are destroyed by poverty and abuse and sin, and I’m tempted to see the world as one big chaotic mess.  A lovely idea, Lord - just not working out.  Beauty and goodness are dragged across the lawn in shreds.

But I looked again, and I saw daisies abloom in my messy yard!  Lots and lots of them huddled in happy mass.

I saw color on the cheeks of happy kids.

I saw that we’d eaten well, really well, this week, filled to the brim with the fruit of local farms. (Thanks, Go Local Produce!)

I opened Garageband and heard good, strong melodies born just yesterday.  Yay!!!

And, surprise!  Cute little tiny baby green tomatoes surviving the stampede.  Hello, tiny little green tomatoes!

All is not lost.  Rain will come.  The gate will be fixed.  We will keep sowing and planting and going out to harvest the Good and the Beautiful and the True.

Yes?

…..

What do you see?  Something damaged…something that survives?

 

 

 

Letting Herself Go

And by “she,” I mean me.

Or I.

Whatever. That’s the point.

I’m turning less young this week, and I've been learning…slowly..painfully slowly… the art of letting my SELF...go.

Before I ever again look at a woman and think “sad how she’s let herself go,” I’m going to lean in (which, granted, might cause her some alarm) and see what’s behind the eyes.

I’ll look for things like...

The sparkle of joy that comes with freedom from obsessing over fashion trends, from running a politically-correct check on every syllable, from conforming to cultural ideas of cool (which are, by the way, initiated and enforced by our youngest members, who are gloriously creative but who also have way more time on their hands than they ever will again - no offense intended, young friends).

The laughter of a person who has stopped trying to pretend she didn’t just trip (literally or figuratively) and just enjoys the humanity of it all. Chuckles at the past, because what’s done is done. Smiles at the present because imperfect is more interesting, and good & bad both pass quickly. Sideways grins at the future because it’s a mystery, and mystery is fun.

The boldness of an artist who doesn’t have time to waste or words to mince, but has something to say, to share, and is determined to be about it.

The courage to walk a different way, to risk being misunderstood by her peers, criticized by the peanut gallery, laughed at by the young, or condescended to by the old.

The  inward peace of a soul who knows her destination, and

the wisdom of one who recognizes the silliness of our performing.

When I observe these things in a person, I know I’ve met someone who has made some real progress in letting go of SELF-ness and all its derivatives: self-consciousness, self-pity, self-centeredness, self-reliance…

And, ah, it is so inspiring to meet free people!

Here we are in the presence of GREATNESS as we walk across this magnificent stage, but don't we completely miss the show when all we can think about is whether or not our make up is still in place (applies to men, too, figuratively), or whether people are watching or approving or laughing or not?

May we grow free as we grow older.  In doing so, we will actually grow younger, because bondage accelerates aging.

As my friend and worship director said from the pulpit recently:

You are not nearly as big a deal as you think you are. :)

On the other hand, you and I have the potential to leave a serious footprint here for the kingdom of God, if we can just keep ourSELVES out of the way.

SO excited about this...

If you want to make a musician really happy, give us a chance to play side by side with some of our favorite fellow artists. It's just...well...it's just special. :) Like a kid in a candy shop. And it doesn't hurt that some of the pressure of carrying a whole concert by yourself is relieved. I know I'm not the only singer/songwriter who gets bored with herself and appreciates a little variety. SO. If you are anywhere near Durham, NC, on JUNE 17,and you come on downtown to the Reality Center (916 Lamond Avenue) with me, Wade Baynham (formerly of The Basics), and Carolina Story (Ben & Emily Roberts - East Nashville's cutest musical couple)...you'll be so happy you did.

Icing on the cake: the other great musicians coming alongside of us - Dale Baker (drums), Tim Carless (electric), and David Kline (bass).

I'm serious. I LOVE these people. You will love these people. And their music.

AND: we're playing for donations. So, no financial excuses. :)

Check them out:

Masterpiece Project 2011: Someone You Know Needs This Camp

Today I repost my reflections on the time I spent in 2010 with high school students at one of the best creative arts camps out there, along with a note written by one of our students. This is where you'll find me every late July and where I am personally encouraged and challenged by an intimate group of young artists. This is where I would have spent my summers when I was a teenager, if it had existed, and it would have been a source of deep encouragement to me, as it is to these students.

Registration is now open for Masterpiece Project 2011 whose theme will be "Add to the Beauty" (inspired by Sara Groves' song by the same name).  To find out more, contact Sherrie Rogers at gslrogers@gmail.com .

*******************************************************************************************************************

I want to tell you about Masterpiece Project 2010.

Our theme this year was “Frame the Clouds,” and you’ll just have to believe me when I say I did not have anything to do with that. But I was humbled, so grateful that the concept resonates with others.

The staff at Masterpiece are not all of a kind.  We are songwriters, musicians, graphic designers, painters, poets, photographers, calligraphers, pastors, dancers, and counselors.

We are all passionate about our art forms and passionate about the work of God’s kingdom.

In particular, we are passionate about encouraging young artists to be fearless in their faith and in their work.

We all feel inadequate in one way or another.

We wonder what’s next in our own lives.

Above all we believe there is a big, big beautiful true story happening and that it is our responsibility to participate in the telling of it.  By making art.  And by living in love with God’s art.

The students at Masterpiece are not all of a kind.  They are songwriters, musicians, painters, poets, photographers, calligraphers, dancers, novelists, cartoonists, designers.  Public-schooled, private-schooled, home-schooled.  Funny, dramatic, shy, mysterious, hardworking, uncertain, open.

They feel inadequate and wonder what’s next.

But above all they suspect they have something in common with other storytellers, past and present, across the globe and in the next cabin.  Some small part of them, at least, believes they have been given a uniquely powerful way of representing God’s True story.

In one little week in the rural midwest, we are together and changed.

We, together, have listened, walked and talked, written, collaged, and played, danced, cooked, and cleaned.  We've sung prayers, read the Word, and represented a Creed.

We tried to frame the clouds.

And yes, we even built a giant iPod.

*The following was copied (with permission) from a Facebook "Note" posted by one of our campers:

"When we were released by the kitchen staff the people who were helping and I were sitting around a table and someone asked if I had any of my drawings with me and I did. I showed them the one I was working on and I ran back to my cabin and grabbed my three boxes of my drawings and brought them over to the gathering area. I opened them up and gave them up for viewing. This is something I do not do often, generally I am not comfortable with groups of people looking through my art for whatever reason, but I knew it could be appreciated. Now there was a little crowd of about eight or nine people chattering and oooing over my art. Now this was unique being that I have drawn them and made up my mind whether or not I like them or not. There was stuff from a couple of years ago to present and some of those pieces are somewhat embarrassing to me but much to my surprise people were pointing out things in my art that I never saw and were explaining how much they enjoyed them. Compliment after compliment kept coming about drawings that I had nearly forgotten about. It was an encouraging moment and something I remember clearly. In that moment I knew that I was in the company of friends..."

The Line

The Line

Who’s to say why a modern girl

Should be so moved

By socks on a line,

Bath towels damp and clothespinned,

Dancing like old friends on a parquet floor

Swinging like children on rusty monkey bars

-----------

Who will unfold the reasons

She opens inside out

At the sight of a white polyester fitted sheet

Billowing and blowing full of Costa Rican breeze –

------------

Why she inhales more deeply,

Or stands more quietly,

In the presence of the mundane,

Fabric doing what fabric must do,

Under the midday sun.

-------------

Who can explain

The rushing river of abundance

In stretching out a task

One

------Shirt

--------------At

---------------------A

--------------------------Time

About the pleasure of being spun clean

And sundried slow.

------------

About the joy of hanging by a thread,

Old underwear flung against the clouds

For all the world to see.

-------------

And! the crisp harmonic contrast:

What our hands have made

Alongside

What His hands have made.

-----------

Who’s to say, really,

That she shouldn’t just stay

A few minutes more --

Arms long and loose –

In a

------

standing still moment

-------

Old-fashioned awe

Of laundry on a line.

--

In the Image of the MAKER...with Ann Voskamp!

*Friends!  Thanks for spreading the word about this little retreat.  We SOLD OUT in 4 DAYS!  Wow.  Please add your name to the waiting list if you missed it (you never know) - and stay tuned.  We are working on the possibility of adding another date for this retreat in the next few months.  Maybe we'll see you there? :)

Dear Friends!

I've been so excited to share this news with you...it's been in the works for months and we have finally landed on specifics enough to invite your participation.

If you have been around my Twitter feed much over the past year or two, you are aware of my great affection and admiration for Ann Voskamp, Canadian blogger/writer (although she would first list wife to Farmer and mother of six).  Ann writes vividly, poetically, and with profound depth about faith, life, and living gratefully.

Across the miles, Ann has become a dear friend to me.  The title track of my new EP: How Emptiness Sings originated with one of Ann's marvelous blog posts -- Soulcoustics: How to Hear God in the Dark.  This will be releasing in March, and we've hoped to join forces in some way, her speaking and me singing about the music that comes from the hollow places.

Together with Nicole Witt (another name you know by now), we began envisioning a weekend of women gathering to celebrate the Creator God and the ways we can image Him in artful living.  The gathering will be deliberately small (75 women).  During our overnight time together at Caraway Conference Center in Asheboro, NC, we'll listen in quiet, make music, pray, share meals and words of encouragement, and celebrate the countless ways God has borne His creative spirit into all of us "makers."  The date has been set!  June 10-11, 2011.

Join us?

You don't have to be one who calls herself an artist, or a seller of any product.  You may express beauty in the kitchen or an office or in your garden or a classroom...If the idea of reflecting His beauty in daily living connects with you in some way...you are welcome and invited.

Click the Green Button for more... Register for In the Image of the Maker Retreat in Sophia, United States  on Eventbrite

NOTE: Registration opens Valentines Day.  :) Because we need to provide the retreat center with numbers at the end of March, we are closing registration at that time, so don't wait!

Masterpiece Project 2010: Frame the Clouds

I want to tell you about Masterpiece Project 2010.

Our theme this year was “Frame the Clouds,” and you’ll just have to believe me when I say I did not have anything to do with that. But I was humbled, so grateful that the concept resonates with others.

The staff at Masterpiece are not all of a kind.  We are songwriters, musicians, graphic designers, painters, poets, photographers, calligraphers, pastors, dancers, and counselors.

We are all passionate about our art forms and passionate about the work of God’s kingdom.

In particular, we are passionate about encouraging young artists to be fearless in their faith and in their work.

We all feel inadequate in one way or another.

We wonder what’s next in our own lives.

Above all we believe there is a big, big beautiful true story happening and that it is our responsibility to participate in the telling of it.  By making art.  And by living in love with God’s art.

The students at Masterpiece are not all of a kind.  They are songwriters, musicians, painters, poets, photographers, calligraphers, dancers, novelists, cartoonists, designers.  Public-schooled, private-schooled, home-schooled.  Funny, dramatic, shy, mysterious, hardworking, uncertain, open.

They feel inadequate and wonder what’s next.

But above all they suspect they have something in common with other storytellers, past and present, across the globe and in the next cabin.  Some small part of them, at least, believes they have been given a uniquely powerful way of representing God’s True story.

In one little week in the rural midwest, we are together and changed.

We, together, have listened, walked and talked, written, collaged, and played, danced, cooked, and cleaned.  We've sung prayers, read the Word, and represented a Creed.

We tried to frame the clouds.

And yes, we even built a giant iPod.

*The following was copied (with permission) from a Facebook "Note" posted by one of our campers:

"When we were released by the kitchen staff the people who were helping and I were sitting around a table and someone asked if I had any of my drawings with me and I did. I showed them the one I was working on and I ran back to my cabin and grabbed my three boxes of my drawings and brought them over to the gathering area. I opened them up and gave them up for viewing. This is something I do not do often, generally I am not comfortable with groups of people looking through my art for whatever reason, but I knew it could be appreciated. Now there was a little crowd of about eight or nine people chattering and oooing over my art. Now this was unique being that I have drawn them and made up my mind whether or not I like them or not. There was stuff from a couple of years ago to present and some of those pieces are somewhat embarrassing to me but much to my surprise people were pointing out things in my art that I never saw and were explaining how much they enjoyed them. Compliment after compliment kept coming about drawings that I had nearly forgotten about. It was an encouraging moment and something I remember clearly. In that moment I knew that I was in the company of friends..."

Sea

I realize I’ve been away from this writing place several weeks, and I’m tempted to feel guilty for not following my own weekly regimen.  Especially since watching Julie & Julia last night.  But then I remind myself that I am, afterall, a songwriter who does some blogging and not the other way around.  So…thanks for sticking around when you don’t have to and when nothing new is showing up for weeks…

Sea

We don’t live near the sea. In the three years since our last visit I’ve thought of it little, Content with grass and pines, gardens and topsoil.

Afterall, it’s good to be home.

Now that we’ve returned, I’m humbled to know: Neither my absence nor lack of remembrance Affect the life of the sea.

She exists without us; Her magnitude is not even slightly diminished. Waves roll in From places under the sun we’ll never lay eyes on. Her roar continually fills our ears-- A “white noise” that surrounds us all and depends on no electrical outlet.

She has no need of me.

But watch those children slice and kick the foam, Squeal as she slams their shins in play and We turn backs to the crash, try to keep upright, Even as we laugh at the fall.

I was pleased for a while simply to feel sand sink underfoot Stand guard at the shore and count heads.

It’s easy to stay put.

But when the time came, I grabbed board, and friend, And we waded against the push Leaned hard Into the current Got ourselves deep and Removed. We felt privileged, Small and strong. I thought we might stay out there forever.

It’s heavenly to float.

And a momentary pleasure. The sea doesn’t ask approval But swells and swallows according to her own purpose And when she lifted and catapulted our bodies We could not but submit We could only lay down and close our eyes As we rode galloping water steeds all the way Back to the shallows.

Transported by the tide.

Wild wet-haired creatures rose up laughing, whooping, exhilarated-- Dripping, sand-scuffed, ecstatic.

And I realize— It’s home to be alive.

This Old Dress

My favorites are 6-year-old skirts from TJ Maxx, one of which has a gaping hole in the top layer, soft t-shirts, and a dress from Old Navy whose elastic is stretched to the point of irrelevance.

I’d wear them every day if I could get away with it.  (I nearly do.)

The idea is to not feel seams or fabric or cinched waists.  Freedom Fashion.

Aren’t you, like me, tempted to make a whole life out of seamless, worn out threads? Free from irritants, or challenge,  or the discomfort of the untried?

Just think of what we could have avoided already…

trembling, red-faced auditions, failures, and rejections,

friendships that demand  that extra bit of patience or effort,

churches that challenge us to turn our theology, our souls, inside out,

painful conversations, confrontations, confessions…

There are songs we would not have writtem.  And dreams we’d not dream of dreaming.

Because the beauty of stretched skin demands a cost, yes.

But the beauty of stretched skin is a roomy radius of motion that makes the old comfort feel like a paralysis.

We thought we were free when we felt no rub.

But freedom is found in the ability to stretch limbs, reach high,

move joyously without (or through?) fear.

To dance life.

It involves some boundaries and many blisters.

But blisters soften.

And even an old dress was new once.

You know someone who needs this camp...

Masterpiece Project...two camp sessions offered in summer 2010...a uniquely intimate setting for young artists to explore issues of art and faith and build mentoring and peer relationships. Last year's theme: Flow. This year: Frame the Clouds. (hmmm, where have we heard that before?) Check it out!

masterpiece promo from David Vosburg on Vimeo.