Hey friends, it’s good to be back after a long break to visit Moody Publishers in Chicago!  I had a blast touring the campus and doing radio interviews.  I’m so proud to be a part of what they are doing.  

PSA: I’ve decided that for the next few weeks, I’m going to reduce my posts to just Wednesdays.  It’s not forever.  But for over four years, I’ve posted three times a week, and after Life After Art’s first incredibly busy couple of months, I need to recharge my batteries a bit.  I don’t want to get completely out of the groove, so I’ll still see you here once a week.

Now, let’s get into it.

1368072010483_842_21xFDin7ambf1_0_0I’ve been watching the controversy surrounding Abercrombie and Fitch the last couple of weeks.

First, CEO Mike Jeffries made some comments which confirmed what everyone knows: that they don’t actually want most of us wearing their clothes.  That backfired.

Then, Greg Karber tried to make a clever statement by giving used A&F clothes to homeless people.  A lot of us (including me, I admit) thought at first glance that it was a cool idea, until we looked closer and realized it wasn’t.  That backfired too.

No one appreciated Jeffries’ bold honesty about his company’s vision.  So, what does a clothing store for the coolest kids in school have to say to churches?  Maybe more than we might think.

Continue Reading…

Next week, I’ll be away from the blog as I take a little cross-country drive – to visit my team at Moody Publishers in Chicago, talk on a couple of radio stations, go down to Louisville to meet some cool people, and get back home.  When I come back, I’ll tell you about it.

Yesterday was the last day of classes at my school.  I know, some of you are still trudging your way to the finish line.

Farewells were made.  Cards and treats were exchanged.  And while the last day comes as a relief, I also get a bit sentimental, because it is another indication that time is passing, and my students are growing up.

Getting sugary treats from students on special occasions is nice.  But I really treasure the words students give me.  Seriously, I’ve kept every card or drawing that students have given me.  But yesterday, I got the best card I have ever received.  The simple message inside, accompanied by a couple of hearts scrawled in pen made me laugh instantly, but also gripped my heart.

“Mr. Appling, I am glad you are my art teacher.  Thank you for helping me with my projects, even when I think it’s a disaster.”

Keep in mind this student is a notoriously stubborn perfectionist.  In other words, she thinks every project is a disaster.  There are many days that I am not sure she is glad I am her teacher.  We butt heads like two stiff-necked animals as I insist on believing in her when her belief in herself remains obstinately, defiantly low.

What gripped me (after I laughed) was how, in my own perfectionism, I rarely believe that I have done enough for anyone, including my students.  I don’t think I’m a great teacher, a great friend, a great husband.  I’m okay.  But I could do more.

But sometimes, all a person needs is someone to believe in them, to tell them that things aren’t as bad as they look, to assure them that it’s not a disaster, to stubbornly, obstinately believe in them, though they insist on not believing in themselves.

Who was the last person who insisted on believing in you when you thought everything was a disaster?

Artificial-...-thankfully-007Is marriage dead?

This week, I’ve been thinking about a two-part series written by Emma Johnson over at Wealthy Single Mommy.

Emma confidently claims that she has proven marriage is dead.  She asserts that marriage as we know it is hardly normal anyway.

She advocates for changing marriage to a ten year contract, wherein both parties establish expectations and choose to renew or not renew their marriage every ten years.

As I read, I was alternately offended, incredulous and frightened by her seemingly cold and loveless recipe for the future of marriage…

…And yet…yet this divorced Mom with a vision for decade-long marriages might be taking more action to save marriage than a lot of us married couples.

Continue Reading…

Daily-Foam-Crafts-2012-CEB-adRemember craft time in Sunday School?

Or church camp.  You know how it goes.  The teacher or counselor guides the kids, color this, glue that.  Add some glitter.  And at the end of the hour, a bunch of kids have completed the project.  They all have uniform little bookmarks or light-catchers, or some other trinket that tied neatly into the Bible lesson of the day.

Crafts from church or camp are tangible things that kids show off, which prove to the parents that they are getting their money’s worth.  What kid comes home from camp empty-handed?

One of the ironies of my occupation as an art teacher is how much I cannot stand “craft time” at church, camp, or Vacation Bible School.  I’ve always avoided leading these activities as much as possible (though I’ve still found myself roped in from time to time.)  But it’s not just that I’d rather not lead craft time.  I think all the craft times your kids will enjoy this summer are actually a very appropriate metaphor for the broken Christianity they will be expected to embrace when they are adults.

It’s time for American churches to let go of “craft time” Christianity.

Continue Reading…

Making_Manifest_Cover_grandeImagine some tools from you garage: a saw, hammer, glue, pliers, a screwdriver.

Now, try to think about some tools from you kitchen. The catch is, the kitchen utensils must in some way be opposite of the garage tools.

If this sounds like a challenging and strange exercise, it is.  And I love this kind of thing.  

My new friend, Dave Harrity, has just released Making Manifest, a book that’s equal parts logic and poetry, thoughts and emotions, body and spirit.  It’s a book that leaves a lot of space in the margins, because it’s in the margins that the magic happens.

So what exactly is Making Manifest?  Dave says that it’s a “28-day devotional book grounded in the acts of writing, creativity, imagination, solitude, and community building, all designed to help you ‘re-vision’ the way you understand and interact with the kingdom of God.”

Now, I’m the kind of guy who hates, hates, hates devotionals.  Of any kind.  I haven’t found a good one yet.  When I hear the word “devotional,” I yawn.  I also hate “journaling.”  I’ve never successfully journaled (which makes the existence of this blog all the more baffling.)

Guess what?

This is the kind of devotional that I can get into, the kind of journaling I can look forward to actually doing.  It’s intellectual as well as spiritual.  It’s concrete as well as abstract.  It’s all about stretching your thinking and making some beauty manifest in your life through creativity.  If you’re looking for something to help you refuel this summer (like I am), this is a great place to start.  If you are looking for a new kind of spiritual practice, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Today, I’m making it super easy for one person to win a copy of this excellent book!  All you have to do to enter is tweet the following:

“Win a free copy of “Making Manifest” from @MattTCoNP and make creativity your new spiritual discipline - http://wp.me/pSZSu-1nK

Make sure you bring a writing utensil – you’re going to be doing a lot of writing!  Oh, and check out Dave’s organization, Antler, where you can learn more about creativity and spirituality.

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 4.54.50 PM.png.CROP.rectangle3-large.54.50 PMThe apostle Paul called the cross “offensive.”

He said it was a “stumbling block.”

It’s easy to see what he meant.  No one had contemplated the idea of worshipping a man who died disgracefully.  A slave’s death.  A notorious death.  The cross was a symbol of “Pax Romana,” the peace that Rome enforced by executing enemies of the state.

But I wonder…are people really still offended by the cross?  (Not just because we are inundated with violent entertainment.)

Are people really stumbling over the gospel?  Are they tripping over Jesus’ words?

Jesus said that people would hate us, his followers, on account of him.

I’m not sure Jesus’ words are all that true anymore.  People aren’t offended by the cross or stumbling over the gospel or hating us on account of Jesus.  The fact is most people can’t get close enough to Jesus to be offended by him…

…They’re too offended by us. Continue Reading…