If you could paint your life "in living color," using the canvass, paint, brushes, and hues of your own choosing, what would you create? Remember, you'd be the artist controlling what images go on the canvass! How would you change the canvass of your life?
This idea came to me while watching the late, painting virtuoso Bob Ross on his still-popular program "The Joy of Painting" on PBS. If you've painted with Bob before, you know that he encourages maximum creativity and freedom with the brush and canvass. His philosophy was "we don't make mistakes, only happy accidents." If you don't like something on the canvass, you can break out a knife and remove the unwanted paint!
Creating and mastering your own faith is similar. You are the creator and hold the brush and palette in your hands. You pick and choose the colors and textures of your faith according to what fits your convictions.
There is no need to rely on what others have told you is best--the "truth," the only way. I urge you to step out of your own experience and allow your faith to be the canvass. I’ve done this with my life and believe that is possible in yours, too.
Many of us don’t realize that we have the freedom to change our faith canvass. We go through life having others paint for us. When I say “others paint for us,” I mean that we have come of age in the traditions that our family, friends, and community have chosen on our behalf. If your family was Baptist when you were a child, the chances are high that you are still a Baptist. There is nothing wrong with that.
By the same token, if you are a millennial, someone between the ages of 24 and 34, there is a large chance that you have not discovered a faith, yet. Millennials are often associated with the “Nones,” persons who have rejected organized religion or whose parents didn’t raise them in a church. There is nothing wrong with that, either.
There are many shades of spiritual and religious color in-between the aforementioned two camps. A middle ground might include people who claim they are “spiritual, but not religious.” This group tends to find spirituality in many forms. Often in church, or in nature, or within themselves to name a few. However you identify yourself, you still have the choice of choosing your own faith color; painting your own canvass.
I’d say that the first step is to become aware of your desire to find the right color of faith for you. Few things in life are more powerful than awareness. In the military, we place a lot of emphasis on being “situationally aware,” or having SA. This is especially important when the conditions around you are changing rapidly as in our current culture. So be aware that you can do something other than what your family and friends do. You don’t have to go along to get along.
The second step is know that everyday living can be a form of spiritual practice. The first thing that I do most mornings after waking up and dressing is head straight to the gym. I usually spend 75 minutes there lifting weights, doing cardio, abs, and talking to people. This is an important part of my spiritual life. The talking part is particularly important: being in relationship. I know almost everyone at my gym!
The gym, you see, is a part of my broader spiritual community that lies beyond my church. As Professor Nancy T. Ammerman, of Boston University, makes clear, “the presence of religion in everyday life depends on recognizing it in the social process where it is created and deployed.” That means where you take your religious (spiritual) presence and interact with others, you create a religious presence. You are establishing your spiritual practice. Even at the gym, or other social places like it, there is plenty of color to add to your canvass.
The third step, and there are as many as you discover, is determining what type of community makes you feel whole, held, and sustained. Wholeness has to do with feeling your humanity and living out your gifts of service to others. Being held is about being known for who you are and being treated in a respectful way. If you’re holding back a part of your identity (ethnicity, sexual orientation, faith convictions, etc.), you probably don’t feel authentic and/or respected. And sustenance is the spiritual or life energy that gives you purpose and meaning to make it from day-to-day. Make sure that your faith community provides you and your family each of these elements.
A famous pastoral counselor, Anton Boisen, described every person as a "living human document." Implied in Boisen's metaphor is an understanding that we are alive and still becoming. Our lives are not written in stone. Likewise, each one of us is a living canvass. We all have the power and capacity within us to guide the paintbrush to create the image that we strive to be.
There is a well-known scripture from Romans that helps us understand the radical change that I'm proposing to you. It says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (v. 12.2) If you can open your mind and re-imagine yourself as the creator of your faith life, you will be truly be transformed. Believe it or not, you, too, can become a painting virtuoso creating the canvass of your own faith.
Peace and blessings,
Rev. Xolani Kacela, Ph.D.
 Nancy T. Ammerman, “Finding Religion in Everyday Life,” Sociology of Religion 2014, Vol. 75:2, pp. 189-207, 196.