September 15, 2011

Brother Ray...

Many years, and a few lifetimes, ago going to church on Sundays was a mandatory thing. This was back in the days of Sunday dinners, screen doors, cookouts and lots of friends being around. My parents would wake us up on Sunday mornings with an announcement of the time and add the solemn, “So get ready…” for good measure. Back then you didn’t have a choice, church was just one of those things that you had to do.

We attended Macedonia Baptist Church here in Newnan. My memories of the place are fond, softball games, going out to eat, listening to the sermons, writing notes back and forth with the people my age when we weren’t listening… there were a few preachers there while I attended, I liked them all, each one for a different reason… plus they were all pretty good speakers. That was always my favorite part of going, listening to the pastor preach. The one continuity of the pastors I had experience with there was their close adherence to time. Most of them would check their watches constantly while speaking. You could tell it was getting close to time for the service to be over when the guy in the choir behind the pulpit would start nodding off to sleep. They were a group of fairly soft spoken men, loud enough to hear, but they didn’t get carried away or shout when they preached... Most of the congregation seemed to like that.

There was a time when the church found itself without a pastor. There was a committee formed, there is always some sort of committee formed at church, that was to travel around and seek out a new preacher. One Sunday my father had announced on the way to church that there was going to be a new pastor speaking that day. Several different people had been through in the past few Sundays and the hierarchy of the church had shot them down for first one reason or another… church politics, at times, can be more cutthroat than the congressional halls in Washington…

The routine played itself out as it had for the past few people that had been through. The question floating around the Sunday school classes was, “Do they have any kids?” Turns out they did… he had a son that was our age. My brother knew him from a retreat he had gone to on the Georgia coast…

When eleven o’clock rolled around we sat down in the sanctuary and waited for the new guy to show himself. He walked out of the side door and made his way to the pulpit. The first thing I noticed was that he was wearing boots… I liked that. He was of medium height, an average looking man… who had the same squint eyed stare that my own father had. I knew then that he was one of those people that could bring a room to order without really saying anything. A few notes were passed around prior to the sermon, but I was waiting to hear what he had to say. I remember him walking up to the pulpit, you could've heard a pin drop, the floor creaked a bit as he took his place and laid the bible he carried down before him. He took his watch off and set it next to his bible, then looked up at the congregation. I couldn’t tell you what the first words he said were, but I can still remember the way everyone jumped when he started speaking. His voiced boomed through the room and everyone was suddenly awake, I couldn’t help but giggle when I noted the sleeping guy in the choir almost jump out of his skin…What followed as a sermon that I listened to from the first word to the last. This man was a great speaker. That was my introduction to Ray Freeman…

Ray had come out of south Georgia, preaching in churches for many years. I think the reason I took to the man was the way he reminded me of my own father. He had that John Wayne sort of way of talking to people that made you just listen to him. He was interested in the same sort of things that I grew up with so the feel was that a long lost uncle had come back to town. His wife, Miss Faye, is one of the best cooks I’ve ever encountered, there were many a Sunday afternoon that we would raid their refrigerator for the best meal you could imagine, cold fried chicken. I would love to do that one more time….

My grandparents were very fond of Ray. He would visit with them often and whenever I went down there they always talked about him. My own fondness for him over the years grew out of watching him as a pastor, more so than a preacher. He met with and knew everybody in the community. He has an easy spirituality about him, he doesn’t try to beat you over the head with a bible. As my grandmother would often say, “Brother Ray is a good man, you can just tell that he is, he would sit and talk with us for hours, you would never know he was a preacher, just a good man that loves God…” They looked forward to seeing him whenever he visited.

He met with everybody and took an interest in whatever it was they were doing. He attended all of the cookouts and barbecues, his sense of humor would make me chuckle, getting in that one “unpastor like” line as he walked away that always made you spray the sweet tea out of your mouth… I liked the way that he was a natural community leader. The man is a master of the soft sell, he didn’t have to tell you about God, or preach to you about your wrongdoings, he could just look at you and you knew you were about to get it if you didn’t straighten up. A classic example of ministering by lifestyle… If there was a sickness in the family, or something awful had happened, he was there. You could count on him at all times. He did the wedding ceremony when I was married, and I’m glad he was able to do it.

I had stopped going to church and hadn’t seen him in years when my father passed away. The awful night when my father’s “viewing” took place at the local funeral home is one that was a blur of colors and sound. There are only a very few moments that I can recall in total. Different people had an affect on me as I was shaking hands with them, some stronger than others. One of those moments happened when I was standing by the window looking out across the front lawn of the building when I turned around and saw Ray. For some reason that was the moment that the realization of the loss I felt hit me. He walked over and hugged me, and for one brief second in time it was almost as if my dad was there and I was about to sit down and listen to them talk about deer hunting while we ate some of my grandfathers barbecue… and for that inner peace Ray brought me at that moment, I will forever be thankful…

Ray’s son, David, contacted me a while back and asked if I would make a walking stick for his father. Ray’s getting on in years now, and is finding it more difficult to get around, yet I imagine he could still kick my butt if he took a notion. I went out and found a stout piece of sweet gum from by my dad’s shop and cut it down. David asked if I could put a quail on it for him, in light of his love of bird hunting. I searched the internet for a picture of a quail, but decided to just freehand an image on it and burn it in for him. For the times he inspired and comforted me over the years, I felt he deserved a creation that came directly from me.

I want to tell Ray, thank you for showing me what a true man of God is….

September 10, 2011

Skull, Book, and Candle...

I had a piece of basswood in stock and decided to create my own version of a Halloween decoration...

When working on a labor intensive carving like this your mind tends to wander as you work the piece with your hands. Sometimes I think about things that have happened to me as I go along.... This one was no different.

I had thought about going to see a fortune teller that was located on the outskirts of town for some time. I was in high school and thought more about things like that then, than I do these days. I would drive by the place, look at the sign and think to myself, "One day I'm going to pull in there and just do it..." I was curious as to how those things worked. I knew it would be a waste of money, but like I said, those days were different..

During my senior year I decided to bite the bullet and just do it, so I called the number and made an appointment. The place looked pretty much as I had envisioned... Red shawls tossed over lamps, heavy incense floating around, and a creepy looking little woman with a harsh accent waiting for me in the room that was set aside for her business.

She welcomed me in and beckoned me in to have a seat. I didn't want to give her any information about myself that she could work off of, so I kept fairly quiet. The only question she asked was, "What is it that you seek?"

"I want to know about my future..."

She had me cut the taro cards and began laying them out in front of me without saying a word. She began to tell me about myself, but what she was saying was pretty standard for an angst ridden teenager so I listened half heartedly.

The entire scenario was creepy, which is the standard for that business, so it took some control to keep my mind clear while being receptive to what she was saying. The argument "this is twenty five bucks I'll never see again" was running through my mind more so than the words she was spitting in my direction. All in all, what she told me wasn't interesting or exciting, I only found two things she said noteworthy... One, as she was reading my palm she told me that I wouldn't live past thirty six... Being that I'm eight years overdue to drop dead, I don't think that tidbit was overly accurate.. and two, she told me that I had already had a small glimpse of my future.

I pondered those two statements for quite a while. Being seventeen I wasn't too worried about kicking off at thirty six, so my mind was occupied by the "glimpse of my future" quote.. I wrestled that one for quite a while, digging around, looking to see what that may entail... Periodically it would come back to haunt me over the years to come, until one day...

I had been married for about a year when my mother called me and told me that she had a few things of mine that I needed to come get. The next day I stopped by there and picked up a stack of miscellaneous papers, most from my school years. I visited with them for a while then made my way home. I laid the stack on the dinning room table and went on through the kitchen... Later that night I found myself sitting at the table in front of the huge window that looked out across our backyard going through the papers. That was a trip down memory lane to be sure, old school tests, short stories, my high school diploma, and a few paintings I had done for some early art classes. I picked up the largest painting and looked at it fondly, thinking of my teacher, Beverly Grunwald, looking over my shoulder telling me what I was doing wrong as I painted. I sat there for some time holding the picture up as my eyes traveled across it, thinking of my tenth grade year. When I Lowered the painting I stared straight ahead in recognition and wonder...

All those years ago, I had painted the exact scene out of my dinning room window.... There was a tree on the right with a low hanging branch that entered into the frame in the middle, and a creek running across the background. The colors, the leaves, the blossoms on the trees... everything was identical.. I looked from the painting lying on the tale to the window, I called my wife in and held the painting up to the window to prove to myself that I wasn't going crazy... She looked at it and then at the window and went immediately back into the front room shaking her head...

As I was laying in bed that night my thoughts drifted back to that old woman's words many years before.. I decided that common sense and coincidence had no bearing in this case.. I would hold onto a tiny bit of magic in the corner of my mind as I grew older and simply believe that she was right... well except for the being dead at thirty six thing..

I put the feel of that old house, laden with sickly sweet incense, dimly lit with a red glow, and the image of that wizened old woman standing in the door into this piece I made... I can almost hear her when I look at this, "Come in... come in my child..."

Basswood, sells for $160, if you're interested email me at

September 06, 2011

Jesus on the cross in Newnan... revisited.

I have experienced some strange things since I looked on my facebook page a couple of weeks ago and saw that note… “You can see Jesus on here plain as day…”

The things that have happened have been nothing new, just new to me. This hasn’t really been a learning experience, I think I have come out of this with more of an affirmation of my views toward humanity. The overall feeling I’m left with at this point is one of exhaustion and intolerance. I expect, for some strange reason, for people to think about these things the same way I do… That is my flaw, expecting something from people when it comes to behavior. When going into something like this you know that there will be detractors. I set myself up for this, I went into it knowing it, prepared my psyche for it.

The day after I made this cross I saw the face and hands on it for the first time. When I went back and looked at the picture I had taken and placed on facebook I could plainly see the face on it. I was amazed that I handled it that much and had not seen it. My reaction to it was one of confusion, surprise, a touch of fear, and a sense of calm. I thought it was interesting and couldn’t wrap my mind around the probability of how a face and the right and left hand could just happen to fall into correct position like that.

The reactions I have witnessed have run the gamut from “I don’t see it” to nearly falling down and yelling about their undying love for Jesus and God… When someone claims that they can’t see it I show it to them, I haven’t yet encountered anyone that hasn’t been able to see it once its been pointed out. I have spoken with several ministers form various faiths about the piece and they all have the same reaction, they see it, they say it’s a sign from God about his love and that it’s a blessing.

The type of individual that I wasn’t prepared for… Well, they have left me with a further disdain for people in general. These are the people who see it, speak about it being a miracle or strange, or interesting when face to face with you, then detract from it when they aren‘t near you, acting as if I’m a backwoods rube who designed and made this thing for my own gain. I’ve been interviewed by people who have been a huge cheerleader for the cross while speaking to me in person and then taken the point of view of a skeptic when finishing their piece for print or airtime. By the same token, the people who have attacked me outright as some sort of heretic who is only seeking gain, have shown themselves to be a special kind of leach… I put them all in the same boat, disingenuous… I’ve had people who have been very upfront about their dislike for me and what I’m doing, loudly voicing their opinion all over the internet and to anyone who would listen, quietly send me a note asking if they could be tagged in the photograph or could use it to promote something they themselves are working on.

Religious intolerance is a new one as well... People who have claimed, time and again, to be open minded about their beliefs, not "limiting" themselves to the standard Christian mantra when it comes to spiritually. The very people who bark the loudest about hating the closed minded way people are that believe in a Christian God, have been the most closed minded about this piece. My take on this is, "What? It's a piece of wood with a few images on it, why would you go immediately to thinking that people believe that God exists in this?" Yet again I am treated to the nonconformist, peace loving people that accept everyone... as long as you agree with them and their ideology...

I’ve taken the laughter, the snickers, the negative comments, and derision along with the good. Some people have been inspired by the piece, finding peace and calm when handling it or praying with it. Some have sought it out for these purposes. People have cried while holding it or believed themselves to be blessed by it somehow. I had a woman come to see it who thought it may make her feel closer to her husband that had recently passed away…

Whatever the reason, for whatever the purpose, good or bad, this cross seems to have quite the affect on people. I just wish people could see it the way I do… Something that is interesting.

September 01, 2011

Jesus appears on a cross...

A little over a year ago I went out on the Kawasaki mule to look for wood for walking sticks. I spent a few hours traveling around the woods, looking, walking, pondering and searching for the right pieces to choose. The last stop on my trip was near my fathers shop, just down the dirt road from where he worked on his Native American crafts before he passed away in 2008. There is a good stand of young poplar trees growing beside the road, so I began walking through them and picking out the ones I thought would make good hiking and walking sticks. When I arrived home I had a good “mule load” of pieces to work with.

Since then I have pulled them out one at a time and made everything from walking sticks to Santa ornaments from them. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that I only had one piece of that wood left. I decided to make a walking stick…

I took the piece down and measured it out for the walking stick. I cut the handle and the length for the body, I then notched the end of the body and cut a hole in the handle, covered them with glue and put them together. The next stage is to put a screw though the two pieces to ensure they hold together, the final part is wrapping a leather strap around the handle for a decorative effect, then I began work on the finish…

When the walking stick was completed I had a couple of pieces, around a foot long, left over. We do a few local shows, and with labor day weekend coming up I started thinking about what I have in inventory, and what I may need for the show I would be in. I had made a few crosses before, varying in length from a foot or so down to five or six inches. They have always sold well, so I decided to use the left over pieces and make a couple of crosses.

I took out the first piece, it was shorter than the other, and started to carve the ends down. Normally I debark the entire piece and cut the wood square, then notch the cross length and the body to fit together. This time I felt that if I left the bark on it would look pretty good, so I gave it a test run. I worked with the two pieces, carving the ends down, sanding them a bit to remove the rough edges, fitting them together, taking them apart, flipping the cross piece around first one way then another, carving a bit here and there to secure a good snug fit. When I was happy with the result I put on the glue to hold them together, then wrapped a piece of leather around it for decoration, then put a hook on the back and ran a small piece of leather through it so it could hang on a wall. I looked at it, tested the fit of the pieces and hold of the glue, tugged the leather to make sure it was secure and was pleased with the outcome. As with most things I make I stepped out on the front porch and snapped a picture of the cross with my cell phone and posted it on facebook. I then sat it aside and grabbed the next piece and repeated the process…

The two crosses sat for the rest of the evening on the table next to me. Later that night I thought of my nephew, Michael Bloodworth… he had recently been baptized and joined Cedar Creek Baptist Church here in Newnan, he had commented before about liking my work, so I decided, in light of his new found faith, that I would give him one of the crosses as a gift.

I decided to give him the smaller of the two crosses and tossed it in the Kawasaki mule as I headed out to meet my son’s school bus at the end of the driveway. Once he was on board the mule we headed next door to visit my mother for a bit and show her the cross. She was engaged in an afternoon card game with a few other southern ladies, they passed the cross around and commented about it, then we headed out to my nephew’s house to give it to him. Michael’s grandfather Jack was there and told us that he was out for a bit with my niece Brittany and their son Bennett, so I left the cross with him to pass along to Michael when he got home.

Later that evening I received a notification on my cell phone that Brittany had posted on my facebook wall, so I took a look and saw that she had written a thank you to me for the cross and added the line, “You know the face of Jesus is on this cross? You can see it plain as day…” so I responded that I wanted to see it.. We headed over there after dinner to take a look at it, and sure enough, there it was. A likeness of the face of Jesus, very similar to the face on the Shroud of Turin.

I couldn’t believe that I had taken the time to make the cross, took a picture of it and posted it on facebook, had it next to me all evening, then carried it around all afternoon, and had never noticed it. I even went back to my facebook page and looked at the picture, and could see it there… As we were looking at the piece Michael noticed something strange on the cross length where the hands would be nailed into place… In the spot where his left hand would be you could clearly see, well… a left hand with its thumb sticking straight up, you could easily count all five fingers, and a line, as if it were a lash or rope across his forearm. I looked at it and saw it immediately, then I looked at the other end where his right hand would be, and there it was, his right hand… Again, with the thumb extended upward… a literal cold chill ran down my spine.

We began looking over the piece and found it a strange thing to behold. I took it back down to my mother’s house to show her. I walked in and said, “Put your glasses on I want to show you something..” I handed the cross to her and asked, “Do you see anything odd about this?” she stared at it for a few moments, then said, “I see a face on it…” I pointed out the hands to her and she saw them as well. That was an odd moment.

Since that evening, quite a few odd moments have taken place. Several people that have handled the cross have reported to me that they have been left with a strange sense of calmness once they’ve held it. One of my long time friends handled the piece and prayed with it, later that evening he said to me, “You know me, and you know I wouldn’t just say this, but since I prayed with that cross, my left hand has been tingling…”

Several pastors have looked at the cross, a catholic priest has blessed it, we were featured in an article on the front page of our local paper about it, and we have received calls and emails from people all over the region wanting to see it.

I like to think of it this way… that for a brief moment in time, in some strange, cosmic way, my father sent me a note, I can hear him as plain as day… “Boy… I’m proud of you and the work you’re doing, now stop ogling this piece of wood and get busy…”