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Artist in residence

Artist in residence

I couldn’t get the whole view until now.

We are at the opening of my son’s art show in an urban area of Pittsburgh. The gallery -- only blocks away from where he and his young family lives in this impoverished town – is across the street from the city’s first and last working steel mill, which dominates the view from the parking lot

Nathan has been working on this show for years, gluing and painting bits of wood into visual representations of his world and imagination. He prepared and hung forty pieces for this exhibit, all collected under the concept, Bound by Blight.

It was a monumental undertaking.

  (That's Nathan talking in the center.)

I’ve seen all this work as it was created. So, I know how thoughtful Nathan is about the way he artistically presents the problems in the community where he lives. We discussed many of these pieces along the way. But standing here, in this gallery, with the people milling about, I’m suddenly able to get the big picture.

What is a community?  Is it the physical place – the buildings, the streets? Is it the people? Or is it the culture: the heroes, hopes, challenges, and spiritual life of the residents?  Or is it how they relate to the natural world?

The answer, according to this collection, is all of the above.

John tells us that Jesus “dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) He didn’t just bless us from afar. Nor did he breeze through. He moved in. So did Paul, who writes to the Thessalonian church:

You know how we lived among you for your sake. (1 Thess. 1:5)

He says virtually the same thing to the Ephesian church (Acts 20:18).

You can’t see the whole of a community if you’re just visiting. When I come to Nathan’s town, I see the dilapidated buildings. But I don’t see the people like he does. As he undertook a series of portraits, he chose a local leader. Then asked him to pick someone the next subject.  This way, he entered a network of people passionate about the place.  And what it could be.

That forward view is also captured in his most striking piece – a large visual take on Christ’s return in Revelation.  In the painting, a triumphant Jesus, crowned with many crowns (in Nathan’s take, an assortment of earthly diadems), battles a Satanic beast of blight, hovering over his town.

It’s a powerful and hopeful reminder that degradation isn’t the last word.

What is my community?  It’s akin to asking, Who is my neighbor?  Jesus answered by reshaping the definition of “neighbor.”  In the same way, I sense that we are not all called to invest in a geographic community.  Here at The Fellowship of Ailbe, we refer to it as a Personal Mission Field: the people God has put in our life for us to minister to.  Wherever they may reside.

Regardless, we must come creatively to that act of service, coming to them from every possible angle, constantly looking for a bigger picture of their need and their hope.

Framed by the love of Jesus.

Lord, send us into the communities you’ve given us with fresh eyes to see them.  Help us to find new ways to minister in your name.

Reader: What is your community?  Tell me about it.

Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And if you liked this, please use the buttons above to share it.

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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