Five Who Have Faith in their Art.

Bob Swenson- Freedom58Project

Once Rob learned all he could from me on our Saturday tackle football games in elementary school in Tracy, he went on to become an All-Pro linebacker for the Denver Broncos’ Orange Crush defense.  But as he says, something interesting happened after his time at the Super Bowl.

“I received Christ in 1978 after Super Bowl. I had everything but was miserable….so one night I told God that I couldn’t pull myself out of this pit and (asked) for Him to take over. Within weeks God cut out most of my friends, my girlfriend.     

(In respoRobSwensonnse) I walked into First Presbyterian in Boulder and couldn’t believe the peace I felt at that moment and how far I had gotten off course searching for the inner circle.”

Since his career in football Bob has gone into several ventures including becoming one of the founding members of Promise Keepers.

Currently, he and his wife, Libby, are team members in Freedom58Project, an effort to combat human trafficking here and around the world. Bob’s vision was to create an artist collective to present the face of contemporary slavery for all to see. In his words,”We believe in the unique ability that artists have to see people deeply, and create dignity, hope and beauty amidst the brokenness of our world. In response to the issue of modern-day slavery, the Freedom 58 Project Art Exhibit will be a place to journey with survivors through their stories of oppression, injustice, and violence, to rescue, restoration, and freedom. It will give viewers a chance to reflect on our own stories of injustice, and inspire action to re-purpose our freedom for the sake of others.”

For more information see

 Gabriel Manzo- Music Director, Malo

Even before Malo, (featuring Carlos Santana’s brother Jorge) played for Tracy High senior prom in 1971, Gabriel Manzo wanted to play guitar.  He replaced Jorge and became the lead guitarist and principal vocalist and music director for Malo in 1984.manzo2

His love for Latin Rock has provided more than three decades of transformative expression with Malo’s deeply influential place within the Latin music world.  So much so, that Gabriel also toured with Pete Escovido, Pete Tellez as well as Bo Diddly. Recently Gabriel has written more music than Malo could produce so he formed Manzo Rally as a way to express his music interests.Many regard Manzo Rally as a new innovation to the guitar driven, rhythm fueled genre known as Latin Rock and Gabriel is proud to be a patriarch of this musical style.

Gabriel and his wife, Dawn, also possess a deep faith which gives them great motivation to present expressions of freedom in his music.  In his words, “Our faith in God is the very center of our lives, and we read His Word daily, as well as thanking Him constantly for all the blessings He bestows upon us.  OUR GOD IS AWESOME! ”

Here’s a link to Manzo Rally:



Kaitlin Neely~Artist, Craftswoman, EntepreneurIMG_0181

I had a hard time describing all of the talents and assets in this beautiful thirty year old woman. After a stint as my neighbor and my daughter’s best friend, she attended Bible College.  She then launched out on her own into the world of creative expression. I’ll let her email speak for her:”

  1. These are two wedding quilts I made last year.  He commissioned one for her, she commissioned one for him, without either of them knowing!  They were both so surprised and pleased.  It was one of the best projects I’ve ever done, blogged about at
  2. A small quilt I made and modeled recently.  Blogged about at
  3. I’ve been making some of my own clothes since I was 15 but this dress I made a couple weeks ago is my most favorite thing I’ve ever made.  Not yet blogged.
  4. Starting February 1st, I will be the proud owner of The Little General fabric boutique in Winston Salem, NC.  This happy little shop provides fabric, supplies, classes, and inspiration, and will soon include longarm quilting services and custom quilts.  Website is currently being redone but you can still find the old one at
  5. One of my other endeavors is being a founding member of a studio collective called Electric Pyramid Studios.  We currently have 19 artists that work out of our space in downtown Winston Salem doing everything from painting and printmaking to sewing and upholstery.  I am the lone quilter in the group, working, in this picture, on a king sized quilt I made in a whirlwind 10 days.  This photo was part of an article in a local alt weekly
  6. This is a before and after shot of my room in the studio.  The building had been vacant for years and had fallen into disrepair.  I blogged about it at
  7. One of the things I am bringing into The Little General is what’s called a longarm quilting machine, pictured here.  It is a 13 foot long computerized sewing machine that it used to stitch together the three layers of a quilt.”

MandyMandy Bankson- Visual Artist

I have noted Mandy’s work here on this blog before and I own several original paintings and reproductions of her work.  Mandy draws her inspiration from the natural world as well as her Christian worldview.  As an abstract artist, such expression is subtle and indirect but her use of colors, angles and curves produce a dreamy, yet organic quality to her artwork.

Her 2013 commission of Jacob’s Ladder was inspired by the line from the Bible when the young con-man, Jacob, was dreaming of his immortal Stairway to Heaven.  “I did not know that God was in this place,” is the Scripture reference and Mandy has produced an entire collection on that vision and her artistic interpretation of it.

You can read and see more about Mandy’s work at:

Christopher Shawn Shaw2eab9a7

Christopher Shawn Shaw is an Award-Winning Filmmaker who specializes in Film and Video Directing, Producing, Editing, Creative Consulting, Writing, and even Acting. He is also the Founder and Producer of the Night Of Comedy & Short Films FUNdraiser (NCSFF) LIVE events designed to support the production of high-quality, redemptive film and video content AND help supplement the hosting church fellowships’ yearly budget.

A native of the Buckeye State, Christopher is a graduate of Otterbein College (now Otterbein University) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance (Acting/Directing) degree. Since relocating to California, Christopher has performed on numerous television series, commercials and short films, has directed documentaries, commercials, and has produced and directed numerous short films, both comedies and dramas.

Christopher has collaborated with Pastor/Comedian/Author Thor Ramsey on at least 7 short films – including a number of 168 Film Project short films – and they are in the fundraising phase of their first feature film project, YOUTH GROUP. He is also collaborating with other Writer/Producers on film projects of varying genres and lengths.

Poetry Books You Should Own

Whenever the news gets crazy or too difficult to take, you can count on three things;  Talking heads clothed in outrage and hubris will tell us where someone is wrong.  Facebook will be populated with critical memes which will change no one’s minds. A national or international funk will subtly infect our outlook and make us cynical or despairing.

On the other hand, the collective social “flu” which can be so pervasive can often be managed by drinking from the fountain of poetry. When our souls are hydrated from the deep wells of human expression, it can be a real elixir for our despondency or ennui.

So here’s my five choices of poetry books which work wonders when navigating difficult or daily life.

Wendell Berry – Timbered Choir; 1979-1997 (1999)

Coming to the woods’ edge
on my Sunday morning walk,
I stand resting a moment beside
a ragged half-dead wild plum
in bloom, its perfume
a moment enclosing me

Each Sunday for nearly twenty years Wendell Berry walked his Henry County, Kentucky farm before church and penned the poetry that is found in this volume.  His wife,Tanya, has continued to transcribe his writings by an old typewriter.  His work speaks of death, the seasons, farming, the Christian gospel and a myriad of other topics that fill his thinking on the morning meanderings.  A must own.pleasuresOfEating

 Christian Wiman- Once in the West (2014)

When Christian Wiman turned 39 he fell in love, deeply and married Danielle.  He also discovered he had a rare form of cancer.  Since then Wiman has turned out some of America’s best poetry, including this new offering, Once in the West.

His work always reflects back on his childhood upbringing in west Texas and like writers Cormac McCarthy and Walker Percy, WimanOnce-in-the-West keeps asking, seeking, and knocking “to see the sanity and vitality of this strange, ancient thing” called Christian faith.

 Dan Clendenin of the ezine, introduced me to Wiman’s work and now I’m hooked.
Here’s Clendenin’s posting of After A Storm

Scott Cairns- Idiot Psalms (2014)

Cairns’ religious upbringing in the Orthodox Church fully embellishes his understanding of prayers and psalms.  His conviction that our best efforts to address God is littered with misstep and folly, creates a wonderful pathway to discovering the love and grace which occupies and superintends the universe, the creative impulse and the family of humankind.

Mary Oliver- New and Selected Poems (1992)

Winner of the 1992 National Book Award for Poetrymary-oliver

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1993

“One of the astonishing aspects of [Oliver’s] work is the consistency of tone over this long period. What changes is an increased focus on nature and an increased precision with language that has made her one of our very best poets. . . .
These poems sustain us rather than divert us. Although few poets have fewer human beings in their poems than Mary Oliver, it is ironic that few poets also go so far to help us forward.”
-Stephen Dobyns, The New York Times Book Review

Dana Gioia:

I had the great fortune to co-lead a wedding with Gioia this past summer.  He is truly a man of letters and to label him simply a poet is to short change the range of his talent.  th

Movies You Forgot to See

During the winter it’s a good time to re-visit some movies that may have been otherwise missed.  Once per month I invite a dozen friends or so to come to the house and sit together and watch films that tell the story of redemption.  Here’s what I will be showing this year:



    The 2014 Irish drama written and directed by John Michael McDonagh is the second film in which McDonagh uses an iconic and quirky leading character.  Many critics see McDonagh’s first film, The Guard (2011) and now, Calvary as a continuing piece of art that places both protagonists into the position of gatekeeper. From this position Brennan Gleeson, who plays both leading roles superbly, navigates the waters of community life, for good and for ill.

In Calvary, Gleeson plays a Catholic priest to a small western Irish village. To dramatize the plight of the human condition, he is given a week to set his affairs in order before a disgruntled parishioner will kill him as retribution for the sins of guilty Catholic priests. The language is rough with f-bombs used liberally.  Nevertheless, the visual beauty of the coastline and the compelling characters make this film one of my favorites.

A Simple Plana-simple-plan

This 1998 Sam Rami directed film is the least favorite of the four but I find it the most captivating in terms of spun out behavior.  So often in my work with families and parolees, I found their best laid plans often mushroomed out of control and the most basic indiscretion became an addicting proclivity.

In this film, brothers uncover a cash trove from a drug transaction gone bad.  Their basic efforts to keep the secret stash colors the rest of their relationships and actions.


A former world class soccer player crosses paths with a waitress.  Together they untangle and redeem the dreams and plans of their shattered pasts.

While while receiving mixed critical reviews, it seems to resonate with audiences, beginning with its capture of the “People’s Awards” at the Toronto Film Festival in 2006.

The incredibly handsome Eduardo Verástegui playing José makes most female audiences say it is worth the slow action.

Get Low

get low

How did Robert Duvall or Bill Murray not get Oscar nods for this 2009 film?

Duvall plays a hermit who throws a funeral party for himself after being the scourge of the town for the past 40 years.  Murray and Lucas Black play funeral directors tasked with throwing the shindig.