christ

The Mansion

I’ve had this image of rolling around in my head for awhile now. It’s an image that attempts to explain a frustration. Were I a painter, I would paint it. But I think it makes a better story. 

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THE MANSION

A group of people seeking knowledge came upon a mansion bigger and grander than all other mansions. They made attempts to venture inside, but after multiple tries they found that every door was locked.  Still determined, the group tried to peek inside instead. They could not. Every single window on the mansion was blacked out.

After some time, the frustrated group noticed a small keyhole on the front door through which they could spy the inside of the mansion. At last peering in, they saw a great many wonders: a wide, ornate staircase leading up to the second story; a mantle over which hung a stunning landscape painting; shiny wood flooring; red velvet furnishings; and much more.

The curious group made an extended study of the mansion. Observing only what could be spied through the keyhole, they drew all sorts of conclusions as to its purpose and construction. They could not help but note both the mansion’s beauty and that it seemed to be entirely without occupants. Conjectures were made as to what additional wonders might lay within. Complex theories were crafted to explain the mansion’s very existence.

While this was happening, another group came upon the large mansion. As they approached those gathered at the front door, one man in this new group heard a small, quiet voice coming from one of the nearby, blacked out windows.

He listened closely. The voice was friendly and told him all about the mansion, including much about what could not be seen from the keyhole. For hours, the man sat enraptured as the voice told him about indoor swimming pools, cavernous ballrooms, luxurious baths, a library full of every kind of book, and dining halls with the most savory and delicious food.

The man expressed his desire to enter the mansion and meet the person behind the voice. The voice responded that the man would be welcome to come in along with his friends, and gave the man instructions on how to do so.

Excited, the man told those that were with him of the voice behind the blacked out window and all about what he had learned about the mansion. His friends, for the most part, shared in his excitement, but some were skeptical. They wanted to know what the group looking through the keyhole made of all this.

The man went over to the group looking through the keyhole and told them all about the voice and everything it had told him about the mansion. They laughed at him.

“A voice,” they scoffed. “A voice in your head, perhaps!”

“Not just a voice,” the man said. “There is a person inside the mansion. He wants us to come in.”

“There is no one in the mansion,” they said. “If there were, we’d have seen him.”

Frustrated, the man told the group at the keyhole about the indoor swimming pool and the library and the ballroom. He would have told them more, but they cut him off.

“And what of the staircase?” they said.

“The voice didn’t mention a staircase,” the man admitted.

“No? What about the painting over the mantle? The furnishings?”

“I know nothing of those things.”

“You don’t seem to know very much at all.”

Embarrassed at the man’s ignorance, his skeptical friends departed from him to join the group at the keyhole, doubting fully his stories and ashamed that they’d entertained them in the first place.

The man stood fast with those who still believed his words. “I know what the voice told me. I trust it. Listen, and I will tell you how to enter the mansion.”

The group at the keyhole refused to listen and laughed at the man all the more.

“We have done a thorough examination of the mansion,” they said. “The spaces you describe do not exist and there is no way in. To enter is a fantasy.”

“Let us try to enter the mansion together and see,” the man offered.

“We will not waste our time on something so absurd,” they said.

“I believe what the voice told me.”

“Then you are a fool.”

The man and those who believed on his words went away saddened as the large group at the keyhole continued to laugh and mock. When they were far off, they followed the voice’s instructions, passed through a narrow gate the group at the keyhole missed even for all their searching, and entered the mansion together.

Inside, the man behind the voice greeted the believing group with open arms. To their great pleasure and astonishment, all the wonders the voice described were there, and more besides.

* * *

The world will always mock those who refuse to be limited by what can be seen through the keyhole and choose instead to listen to the small, quiet voice coming from inside the mansion.

The Empty Tomb: Bringing the Symbol to Life with the First Prototype

cropped-logo.jpgPreviously – The Empty Tomb: Putting the Symbol Out Into the World

After proving there was real merit to the Empty Tomb symbol and that people were genuinely interested in seeing it on some type of accessory, my thoughts went immediately to who in the world I could call upon to help me make my germ of an idea into something real.

Thankfully, I’m Mormon. That means I know a guy for just about everything. Need work done on your car? I know a guy. Your house? I know a guy. What about a lawyer or a handyman or a foot doctor? I know a guy. A cop? I know a few. Mormons are everywhere and we’re all connected to each other with not very many steps in between. Basically, every Mormon is Kevin Bacon.

I didn’t even have to go outside of my own circle at to find the perfect partner for the Empty Tomb project. Jeff Kennington at Kennington Jewelers sold my wife and I our wedding rings. My Mother-in-Law is one of his most frequent customers. He’s also my uncle.

Jeff reminds me of my dad probably more than anyone else I know. Hopefully, he takes that as a compliment because my father was not only one of the better people I’ve known, he also had no small part in inspiring the Empty Tomb symbol in the first place.

Dad died as a victim of an armed robbery in 1996 after claiming for years that he would die before seeing his sons grow up. I was 19 at the time, and my youngest of three brothers was 10. Dad was 47. H is final years were full of pain and struggle as he had suffered no small amount of physical complications from another armed robbery eight years prior.

If you watched the above videos you heard my dad say it boldly: “I’m not afraid to die.” He really wasn’t. He talked all the time about what a grand adventure death would be and how much at peace he was with the idea–to him, fact–that he was not long for this world. He was a believer in the resurrection. He looked forward to living again and his body being restored to perfect order. It was his understanding of the gifts Christ had given him that got him through some pretty tough days and gave him a courage I still envy. Dad taught me more about the Living Christ through his powerful, matter-of-fact faith than any other book, teacher, or person I’ve known.

Jeff was a good sport about my email inquiry. He didn’t even tell me straight off like he should have about how he gets a million of these proposals from people who have the “next big idea” in jewelry that will make him millions. Instead, he looked at the design, considered the social media response and read the reactions, and ultimately concluded that I just might have something.

“There are no guarantees,” he said. “But this probably has the best shot of anything I’ve ever seen.”

Jeff and I working on the initial 3D model of the pendant.

Jeff and I working on the initial 3D model of the pendant.

Jeff, who I like to refer to as “Master Craftsman,” is real DIY jeweler.Kennington Jewelers specializes in high end and custom jewelry and Jeff has all the tools and equipment he needs to make just about anything he or anyone else can imagine. Immediately, we both wanted to make the symbol real. We wanted a pendant, in our hands.

Using the computer at the back of his store, Jeff immediately went to work on a 3D model using CAD to bring my flat design out of the 2D realm.

And, specifically, to my wife.

My wife, Erin, the first person to wear the Empty Tomb symbol (and owner of the first prototype!)

My wife, Erin, the first person to wear the Empty Tomb symbol (and owner of the first prototype!)

The road from designing the pendant to reality was a bit longer than I might be making it seem. Once the design was finessed in the computer (Jeff was extremely patient with my requests to take off 1/8 of a millimeter here and add 1/10th of a millimeter there), Jeff made a wax mold, cast it in white gold, polished it, added a chain, and probably did a whole bunch of other stuff I’m forgetting or just plain don’t know about. Because Jeff is the real brains of this operation.

Jeff, working hard on the first prototype.

Jeff, working hard on the first prototype.

Close up of the first pendant prototype.

Close up of the first pendant prototype.

In the end, we ended up with something that very, very closely resembled my initial drawings. We opted for putting two o-rings on either side of the pendant because of concerns over the inherently uneven weight distribution across the symbol. The thinking was that splitting the chain and attaching it at the o-rings would balance it out for the wearer.

But, as it turned out, we didn’t need to be all that worried about imbalance. There was a much, much simpler solution…

Next: The Second Prototype.

What Violet, my youngest daughter, does while waiting for Mommy and Daddy to finish working with Uncle Jeff.

What Violet, my youngest daughter, does while waiting for Mommy and Daddy to finish working with Uncle Jeff.

The Empty Tomb: Putting the Symbol Out Into the World

Previously – The Empty Tomb: “Why Can’t There Be a Symbol of the Living Christ?”

I had created what I thought was a simple, elegant symbol to represent the Empty Tomb of the living and resurrected Christ. Two circles, side-by-side, one of them open and one closed. The closed circle is the stone that was rolled away on the third day after Christ’s crucifixion. The open circle is the empty tomb where His body could not be found because He lived again.

FirstEmptyTombSketchPretty straightforward symbol. Pretty simple.

But maybe it was too simple.

I showed the symbol to my wife, Erin. I told her what it meant. She looked at it, considered it, and said “Huh.”

She didn’t know what to make of it. It seemed unique, but also familiar. I’m certainly not the first person to put two circles together. But, in my gut, I kind of felt like I onto something.

And then I sat on the design for three years.

* * *

In late August of last year I lost the job I’d held for 12 years. 24 hours earlier, Erin had lost hers. It was a devastating blow not only to our personal sense of identity (we’re productive members of society, dang it), but also to our financial, emotional, and spiritual stability. We got low. And then we tried to pick ourselves back up again. That set us on a long, unexpected road.

In April of this year Erin and I went to Italy. We’d purchased the tickets a couple of weeks before we lost our jobs and decided to go mostly because it was already paid for, but also because a trip to Italy would never again be so cheap as we’d be staying with friends the entire time.

On Easter Sunday, April 5th, 2015, I was in the Italian apartment of our friends Pete and Lisa, sitting and listening to lessons on Christ and his sacrifice, when the symbol of the Empty Tomb popped into my head once again. This time, I couldn’t shake it. I felt inspired to get it down on paper and just put it out there and see if anybody else thought there was something special about it.

Having no paper, I used my iPad instead:

April 5th Empty Tomb Drawing

I posted the drawing on Facebook and Instagram for everyone to see and judge. The response was immediate and overwhelming. There was something about the symbol that spoke to people on a deeper level than I even anticipated. They got the depth of what the symbol says immediately, almost without explanation. It seemed to do for them what it did for me: express an aspect of their faith in Christ and that no other symbol quite could.

People even started seeing meanings in the symbol I didn’t even realize were there.

They saw the tomb and were pleased by the design, but those who looked closer saw an implied infinity symbol. Several people even assumed it was an intentional part of the design. “Infinity” is a wholly appropriate idea to get from the Empty Tomb symbol. The tomb was empty because Christ became the “firstfruits of them that slept.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) He became a resurrected being. Resurrection is everlasting. Eternal.

I think all truly great art tends to do this. Great art gathers meaning unto itself the author or artist may not have been aware of nor intended. That “gathering of meaning” serves as, if nothing else, an affirmation of the original inspiration behind the creation of the art.

I didn’t even have to say it. Within just a few short minutes someone popped up and said they’d like to see the symbol on a pendant or a ring. They could see it on jewelry. Thankfully, I’d brought my laptop with me to Italy. Inspired, I opened Adobe Illustrator and made this that same afternoon:

Poster

While the eventual first pendant we’d create with the design would look a bit different from this, the idea of what this symbol could be–and even its logo–was born.

Once again, Facebook and Instagram went nuts. Several people wanted to place their orders right away. Some of my Protestant and Catholic friends messaged me privately to ask if the symbol could only be worn by Mormons. A Buddhist friend of my Mother-in-Law even inquired if she could get one. She just liked the look of it. Even my atheist and agnostic friends complimented the design.

It honestly hadn’t even occurred to me until that very moment that anyone outside of my faith would be remotely interested in the symbol as a meaningful thing or as a piece of jewelry at all. I gladly responded in the affirmative. It’s not a Mormon symbol. It’s a symbol for all Christians. It’s a symbol for Christ.

The symbol of the Empty Tomb seems to strike just the right balance between clarity of meaning and subtlety. It’s that balance–that sweet spot–that makes the symbol effective and attractive. People want to express their faith, but most people don’t want to hit anyone over the head with it.

I hope it’s not crass to say this, but it’s nevertheless true: based on the responses I got through social media that day, the thought occurred to me that there might actually be a way to make money again. I don’t need to be a rich man (we all know what Christ had to say about the difficulties that attend that lifestyle), but I do need to make some money to feed and clothe my family. I couldn’t help but be preemptively grateful for the gift of the symbol and the enthusiasm of so many.

Of course, I had no idea how to make jewelry out of this thing, nor distribute it. I needed a partner.

Next: Partnering with Kennington Jewelers and making the first pendant.

The Empty Tomb: “Why Can’t There be a Symbol of the Living Christ?”

I have a new project I’m throwing myself into concurrently with everything else going on. Since this is very much related to my unemployment and everything else going on in my life, I decided I had best start writing about it. This is the first in a short series of blogs on this project, one that means a great deal to me. It’s gonna get a little religious up in here, but for you process junkies I recommend sticking around. This is a fascinating world I’ve stepped into.

IChristLookingUpt’s not that I think the cross as a symbol is bad, it’s that it never really spoke to me.

As a Mormon, I was raised without it. No crosses on the churches, none in the home I grew up in, and if I ever saw a piece of jewelry with the cross it was usually on the person of someone well outside my usual circle.

As I got older and my circle expanded and I met my wife who was raised with the cross as the primary symbol of her faith, I came to appreciate its power as a symbol. It’s so elegantly simple and brings to mind instantly Christ’s suffering and sacrifice. Good things for any Christian remember on a daily basis.

I love what the cross represents, but I couldn’t help but wonder:

Why can’t there be a symbol of the Living Christ?

The sacrifice Christ made as Savior is important and that importantance can never be overstated. It is because of Him that forgiveness and change is actually within our reach and that’s a beautiful, world-changing thing.

But the miracle–the fulfillment of all that Christ promised–occurred on the third day after his death. The stone was rolled away, the tomb left empty. Mormons, Protestants, Catholics, and every kind of Christian in between believe in a resurrected Christ–a Living Christ who will one day come again and reveal Himself to the world. But there’s no symbol for that.

Why can’t there be a symbol of the Living Christ?

I, of course, did not grow up without symbols entirely. The Angel with the trumpet on top of Mormon Temples is instantly recognizable. The symbol for “CTR”, in all its configurations, appears frequently in Mormon culture on everything from jewelry to t-shirts to cross stitches on walls, serving those who know its meaning as a reminder to always “Choose the Right.” But neither of those symbols reflects specifically a belief in Christ.

crosscroppedIt was as I was reflecting on all of this that my graphic design training kicked in. Part of the beauty and efficacy of the cross is that not only is it a potently designed symbol, it also is representative of a real world object. It’s almost coincidental in its construction as a symbol and all the more powerful for it. You have to respect and admire the cross, on a variety of levels.

So, if there could be a symbol with similar meaning and potency (yet significant in its differences) as the cross, it would have to be equally as elegant and simple and almost coincidental in its construction. It would have to draw on an easily recognized iconography that already exists that could be readily recognized and understood.

And it was as I was thinking about all of this that I drew this:

FirstEmptyTombSketch

Next: Surprising reactions to the design and its hidden meaning.

Day 26 – Kindergarten was Right: Why Sharing is Important

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Tuesday – September 23, 2014

file5591268154864Big stuff this morning as I had my phone interview for the job up in Northern California. That’s the second phone interview I’ve had since this all started and I think I’m getting better at this as it goes on. Felt a bit tongue tied here and there, but it seemed to go well overall and it’s looking good for moving on to the next step. Would be a dream to work for them.

Crazy thing: just an hour before the interview I got a lead on another job in Maryland that is another just flat-out amazing opportunity. I think it would be bad form to say exactly what any of these jobs are at this point, but I sure wish I could.

And I wasn’t the only one to interview today–Erin had one this morning as well and it went quite well. I think we’d be shocked if there isn’t some sort of follow-up or offer or something from them.

Unlike Erin, all of my best leads are coming from other people, not from applications I’m filling out and sending into the ether. I have to think–because I do that sometimes when I’ve had enough sleep and Vitamin C–that this blog is no small contributor to my ability to acquire these leads in the first place. Typically, when a tragedy occurs, people rush to you to comfort, console and support. This is one of the big benefits of having friends and family, and it’s the kind of support we need in hard times. But not all hard times end as quickly as that support often fades. It’s not that people are cruel or don’t care anymore, it’s just that other troubles or needs or their own concerns rise up, and it can be easy to forget or think that the suffering family is no longer in as much trouble or has as much need (which can often seem especially true when that family is receiving so much help and assistance from others in the first place). This blog seems to help make it so that, rather than just forget about us, we’re present in people’s minds and they understand the reality of the situation without us having to explain it over and over again. That would make this blog effective enough in and of itself, but the other, bigger bonus is that we’re present in people’s minds enough so that when they stumble upon a potential opportunity, they remember us. Next thing you know, an interview gets set up.

In a very real way, the single best decision I made on the day I was let go was to immediately start writing about it.

I’ve talked about this before, but really the worst thing you can do in a situation like ours is to shut up about it. We’ve got an innate need to share, and I think not sharing this struggle in this way would have been not only suffocating for me, but also would have simply gone against how things are supposed to work.

We are supposed to share one another’s burdens, but if I don’t tell you about my burden, then how are you supposed to share it? You can’t, so I’ve got just as much a responsibility here as you do. That is actually a very hard thing to wrap my brain around because my inclination (despite all evidence to the contrary) is to hide my burdens and deal with them myself. I don’t want to be a burden, so that’s something I have to actively fight against. This blog is how I fight it.

If I see someone in trouble and I can help, then I will. If you see me in trouble and you can help, then you do that. This is very simple stuff, but it’s important stuff. We share because it’s important to share. It’s maybe the most important thing because it is quite simply the most Christlike thing we can do. He took on the ultimate burden by paying the price for our sins, but he spent years beforehand exploring and understanding those sins and the great weights we all carry. He allowed us to share with him, and then he shared every part of himself with us.

Sharing is how we connect with others, it’s how we learn from each other, it’s how we help each other, it’s how we know we’re not alone. It is, ultimately, how we eschew selfishness.

Again, this is very simple stuff.