Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Color of Together by Milton Brasher-Cunningham - Book Tour

A book written with honesty and empathy about things common to us all…


By Milton Brasher-Cunningham

Title: The Color of Together: Mixed Metaphors of Connectedness
Author: Milton Brasher Cunningham
Publisher: Light Messages Publishing
Pages: 160
Genre: Christian Nonfiction

The Color of Together begins with the primary colors of life–grief, grace, and gratitude–and enlarges the palette to talk about the work of art that is our life together in these days. The idea for the book began with understanding that grief is not something we get over or work through, but something we learn to move around in–something that colors our lives. Grace is the other given. Gratitude is the response to both that offers the possibility of both healing and hope.

“Locating ourselves in the adventure of life requires reliable tools for exploration. Milton Brasher-Cunningham gives us finely-tuned metaphorical gyroscopes to navigate our way with God, others and even ourselves. The Color of Together will help us find our place again and again along the way.”  ~ Rev. Dr. George A. Mason, President, Faith Commons, Dallas, Texas.

“In his beautiful new book, Milton Brasher-Cunningham shares arresting thoughts on grief, grace, and gratitude. He claims that we are all shaped by our sorrows and generously tells his own stories of loss. All the while, he leads us toward hope. The Color of Together is both poetic and instructive, relatable and deeply philosophical. It awakened my heart to read this book; I hope it will do the same for you.” –Jennifer Grant, author of A Little Blue Bottle

Amazon → https://amzn.to/30Urxsj

 Barnes & Noble → https://bit.ly/3jZ8OD6

Chapter 1
Sometime after we moved to Boston, Ginger, my wife, signed me up for a watercolor class at the Boston Center for Adult Education. Our first task was to make a color wheel. We set the three primary colors—red, blue, and yellow—equidistant from each other around a circle we had drawn on the paper, and then began mixing them to show the shades it took to move from one to the other. The purples, greens, and oranges that filled in the circle illustrated the relationships between the primaries, which stood in such contrast to one another on their own. Wherever we started on the wheel, there was a connection, a way to get to the other colors.

Color is more than pigment. It is figment as well. For us to see color
requires an act of imagination and an understanding of relationship.

One Christmas after the watercolors, Ginger enrolled me in an
iconography class at Andover Newton Theological School. I spent over a
year learning the spiritual practice from a wonderful man named
vocabulary connected to what we were doing. We were not going to paint
Christopher Gosey. Before we ever picked up a brush, we learned the
the icons, Chris said, we were going to write them.
As one who has learned to play with words more easily than with paint,
the verb choice caught me. Good writing is descriptive and evocative.
The challenge is to show, not tell; to reveal. Good writing tells a
story, takes us on a journey, connects us to something larger.
The “cartoons”—the outlines of the figures we would write—had been
passed down for centuries, much like basic plot structures in
literature, or the elements of grammar and style.

The point of our work was to be faithful to those who had gone before and to what they had handed down, rather than to try and be original. Our offering was to trace the lines others had made and then color them with pigments we had mixed not so we could worship the icon, but so we could open a “window to heaven” to create a “thin place” for connection to God.

The phrase thin place entered our vocabulary through the earthy
spirituality of Celtic Christianity. It describes the places where the
border between what is seen and what is unseen becomes permeable.
Liminal. Thin. Translucent. Transcendent.

It is a sacred space of disquietude; a turbulent silence where things are still and vibrant in the same moment.

As I sat in the sun-drenched room of the aging building, listening to recordings of Russian church bells, and learning how to write my brush across the blank parchment-covered block etched with the image of Mary, I came to understand more of what Jesus meant when he said, “Lose your life to find it.”

Our paint was almost translucent, by design. We mixed our colors by adding natural pigments to acrylic medium. In ancient days, the pigments were blended with egg yolks. The practice of iconography is more about prayer than painting; the necessary repetition was meditative and focusing. As we laid down the colors, we moved from heavier shades to lighter ones, choreography that held intentional theological significance. The first strokes of the lighter colors on the deep background didn’t seem to have much effect, yet, over time, and with intentional repetition, the colors took hold. The deeper tones became the background—the foundation—for the illuminating presence.

Without the contrast, the light would have had little significance. The base substances from which the pigments came were earthy and natural. The black was made from ashes. Some of the browns were made of dirt or powdered stone. At every level, the experience rubbed heaven and earth against each other like sticks to start a fire.

The work of icon writing is deliberate. To get a color to show up on the icon meant going over each line twenty to forty times. The spiritual practice was to turn the repetition into ritual—a sort of physical prayer. The move from heavier tones to lighter ones felt counterintuitive until I began to see the colors dawn on the icon. We traced images that had been handed down across centuries, much like we repeat rituals in worship. Everything about it was fraught with a sense of connectedness, a new way of seeing who we were in the context of who had come before and who would follow. The whole enterprise was steeped in metaphor.

In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul wrote, “We are God’s work of
art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already
designated to make up our way of life.”

In a sermon on that verse, Ginger said, “We are dust, which becomes pigment in God’s artwork.” The pigments we used to write icons were made from earthy substances, just as we are.

The Greek word translated as work of art is poiema, which even my spell check knows is the root word of poem. Paul said, “We are God’s work of art.” Not works. Work. Not I. We. Together we become the artwork, handmade pigments illuminated by God’s presence, as it has been from the dawn of creation.

Riding the color metaphor train took me to the field of the philosophy
of color, which is as esoteric as it sounds, and perhaps, not a journey
everyone wants to make. But I took a trip, nonetheless, as I wondered
about grief as a primary color.
Philosophers look at the way humans see color, or whether we actually
see color at all. One of the ways of seeing is called color
adverbialism, which is to say, we do not see red, as much as we see
red-ly. What that means is there is a relationship between the object,
the perceiver, and the context—another relational trinity.
The philosopher articulating the theory was not being intentionally
metaphorical when she said, “Color vision is as a way of seeing
things—flowers, tables, ladybirds—not, in the first instance, a way of
seeing the colors.” What I heard her say was the colors we see have to
be connected to something or someone for them to be significant.
In 2020, our sense of what it means to be together has been heavily
shaded by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have lived in quarantine, without
the ability to gather, to hug those we love, to share a meal, to go to a
baseball game, or to share a pew at church. I have watched people gather
on the Guilford Green

in groups of four or five, separating their lawn chairs to an
appropriate distance just to be together. As Zoom has begun to feel like
a necessary appliance in our lives, we have found ways to change
little square on the screen. We are colored by our losses in ways our
backgrounds so we are surrounded by palm trees and superheroes in our
world has not known so pervasively for over a century.
Life, however, is a litany of losses in any age: failures, injuries,
disappointments, betrayals, missed moments, things done and left undone,
deaths, falls, illnesses, fears, lowered expectations. Life is also a
families, ball games, good food, starry nights, first kisses and last
compendium of blessings, of things for which we can be thankful:
abundance of grace, of those things we stumble into, that find us, that
ones, friends, sunshine, spring rains, puppies, and pie. And life is an
will not let us go. All three are true all the time.
surprise us and ambush us with the reminder of a relentless love that
Though we often feel them singularly because of our limitations, one is
not there without the others. They are the primary colors we see in the
context of relationships, with something or someone, in any moment. When
we see grief-ly, grateful-ly, and grace-ly, we can see the color of


Taking the Train

By Milton Brasher-Cunningham

I learned from John Berger that the Greek root of the word metaphor means porter, like the person on the train who helps carry your bags so you can get from place to place. When my father died, my grief brought my life to a screeching halt. I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere. I felt lost. I struggled to find words to talk about what was happening to me. Without any meaningful metaphors I couldn’t get moving. At the same time, the new sense of sight my grief had given me—the ability to recognize grief in others—helped me not feel so alone because grief seemed to be everywhere.

I told a friend I had learned that grief was a primary color of life.

Those words were the porters that got me on the train to writing my book, The Color of Together: Mixed Metaphors of Connectedness. I read about color, learned about the history of pigments and the philosophy of color, trying to expand the metaphor. And I learned that, though it was a good metaphor, I didn’t have enough to write a whole book. So I started looking for other porters, other metaphors.

My varied employment history, as well as my interests, gave me some raw material. I have worked as a minister, a youth pastor, a song writer, a high school English teacher, a chef, a trainer for Apple, and an editor. I love to sing and cook and write. As I began to look for other metaphors of both sorrow and solidarity, my own life began to speak to me. My love for harmonies and my hearing loss put me on a train to learning about improvisational jazz as metaphor. My love for writing and my depression sent me on a journey of punctuation. My love of food and cooking set me thinking about the table as a metaphor of building community. The things that mattered most to me offered new journeys, new understandings, and a chance to connect with others by writing about it.

Milton Brasher-Cunningham was born in Texas, grew up in Africa, and has spent the last thirty years in New England and North Carolina. He is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and has worked as a high school English teacher, a professional chef, a trainer for Apple, and is now an editor. He is the author of three books, Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the MealThis Must Be the Place: Reflections on Home, and his latest, The Color of Together.

He loves the Boston Red Sox, his mini schnauzers, handmade music, and feeding people. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut, with Ginger, his wife, and their three Schnauzers. He writes regularly at donteatalone.com.


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