Being an Artist with One’s Life: Remembering R. Arlen “Whitey” White

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Arlen, or “Whitey,” was a gifted artist. After submitting several paintings, he was immediately accepted into the Art School at Phillips University. After school, he worked for Ray Sears, and later, established his own painting business. Whitey’s special gift, his meticulous attentiveness to detail, the pride that he took in his work, and his kindness and professionalism soon became renowned throughout the area, and he was given the distinct pleasure of painting some of Enid’s most beautiful homes, offices and businesses.

Whitey loved doing new and innovative things with paint. He could mix and match colors brilliantly with the specific purpose of creating something beautiful, or more specifically, taking something and making it more beautiful, completely transforming it.

Many of us here today are the recipients of Whitey’s gift, or we have at least have seen his artistry.

But today, as we thank God for his life, I would like for us to consider his artistic achievement that I believe is much more important than his painting, for it seems clear to me that Arlen used much more than the stroke of a brush to transform this world. Whitey was an artist with his life.

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, author of A Matter of Life and Death suggests being an artist with one’s life means that “you take the material available to you—days and years, relationships, opportunities—and you make something out of them, something with its own integrity and truth, a [beautiful] creation that others can appreciate and be enriched by…the artist, working on the material of his life, thus demonstrates a measure of hope, a deep confidence that this beautiful world can become more beautiful still.”

The good news that we celebrate today is that Whitey was much more than a gifted artist with a brush and some paint. Whitey was a magnificent artist with his life. Whitey used the gifts that God had given him to do his part in transforming the world.

After God, the Supreme Artist, fashioned the good masterpiece called the earth, the Bible teaches us that God formed male and female in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created them.

I believe that means the vocation of every man and woman is to create, to fashion, to form, and transform, to be an artist with our very lives, using the resources that have been given to us by the Artisan of the Universe to make this world even more beautiful.

This, I believe this is the way and the truth and the life: the holy purpose for every person.

And as a Christian, I believe, as Whitey believed, that the way, the truth, and the life, our holy purpose can be found through following Jesus.

Not by merely going to church every Sunday worshipping Jesus, not by attending weekly Bible Study studying Jesus, but by following Jesus, by doing the things that he did, by going to the places that Jesus went.

And Jesus was, himself, a painter.

What? You thought he was just a carpenter? Nope. Jesus was a painter.

In fact, Jesus began his very first sermon by painting. With the beautiful words that we call “the Beatitudes,” Jesus painted a portrait of how this world should be completely transformed, making his Father’s creation even more beautiful.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

This is how I want you to use your gifts to transform the world, says Jesus: bless those, help those, favor those, love those, who are not only poor financially, but poor spiritually, those who scrapping the bottom of the barrel but are also at the end of their rope, those whose very souls are bankrupt due to the loss of a job, or bad decisions made, or by the stigmatized disease of addiction.

Because Whitey owned his own business, he had the resources available to him to help those who found themselves in desperate need of a job. Because he was a follower of Christ, Whitey blessed so many in this community, perhaps some of you who are here today, who came to him when you were completely broke and broken; or more likely, he came to you. He came to you, not judging you, but showing you a portrait of better, transformed future. Whitey came came to showing you the very kingdom of God.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

         Velma, I know this is a very difficult day for you, but as I told you on Wednesday, the tears that you shed only mean that you are grieving the loss of a beautiful gift to you from God, the gift of someone who was lovingly devoted to you for 67 years. And the only way not to mourn today is to have never received that gift.

So, every time you feel a tear roll down your face, you can thank God for those tears. You can thank God for your grief. With your family, thank God for the gift of God that was your beautiful marriage. And through your gratitude, I believe you and all who are mourning this day will receive comfort.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Jesus says, paint a portrait of the world where the meekest among us always know that they are loved they have a place in this world.

Whitey painted this portrait with his love and deeds to children, his children certainly, but also other children as he enjoyed coaching little league football and supporting high school athletics, hardly ever missing a Plainsman football game.

His heart broke when his only son Rick, who he was always so proud of, passed away. Toni, you were “daddy’s girl.” and you will always cherish the special bond you shared and the many unforgettable memories from your childhood: all of those cross country vacations camping in the Redwood Forest and in our many of our great national parks.

And Whitey painted a portrait where the meek are always blessed as he adored his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, doing whatever he could do to make every day special, like he did every Christmas playing Santa and artistically wrapping the most beautiful gifts.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.

Whitey painted a portrait of a world where the poor and the poor in spirit are helped, those who mourn are comforted and the meek are blessed, but he also painted a portrait of a world that encouraged personal responsibility.

Arlen’s incredible work ethic grew out of the depression era. He was only nine or ten years-old when he worked riding a bicycle on a paper route to help support his family.

Whitey painted a beautiful portrait of the blessings that come from thirsting to be trustworthy and by hungering to be dependable. And because of this portrait, his life was full. And the lives of those who knew him have been filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Whitey’s portrait of dependability and trustworthiness not only filled the lives of his friends and family, and many customers, it also touched the lives of complete strangers, because in every one of Whitey’s life portraits, the colors of mercy were always present.

One day, while driving to Bass Construction Company, Whitey saw the car in the front of him suddenly swerve, run up on the curb, stopping in some bushes. Whitey drove up beside the car and noticed a man, slumped over. Although he was no EMT and had no CPR training, Whitey jumped out of his car and into in the passenger seat of that man’s car and began administering CPR, until Bob Berry from Bass ran over to help get the man who was having a massive heart attack to the hospital.

Later, the Enid police department presented Whitey with an award for saving that man’s life.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

God, the Supreme Artisan created Arlen, as he created each of us, that we may creatively make this world a better place.

Arlen did this by answering the call to follow Jesus. Arlen was not perfect. No one is. But his motives were pure. With genuine kindness with, purity of heart, Whitey used his gifts to follow the Christ to the best of his ability. The portrait of his life is the example for all of us, each one of us.

Whitey would want me to extend an invitation to each of you here to speak with me anytime after this service about what it means to follow Jesus in this life, to use the gifts that we have been given by God to transform this world with pure colors of mercy, grace and love, and to have the hope that when our painting is completed here, we will see God.

As, now, through the power of resurrection, the Master Artisan beckons Whitey on to a new, transformed life where I believe God and Whitey will continue painting together.

In the very presence of God, I believe he is even more creative than ever before.

There Bob will discover, much to his delight, that the faithful life he lived on this earth was but the primer. It was just the first coat.

As Hoffacker wrote about an artist who was faithful until death: “Now [God’s] gift to him is all the color he needs to make his new life brilliant with praise.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

And because of this beautiful portrait, a portrait of a transformed Whitey painting colors of praise in the very presence of God, as God’s beloved children, we can have some peace today, a peace that is even beyond our understanding.

And having received that peace today, may each of us, go out from this place, and, like the famous Sherwin Williams’ logo, do what Whitey did, “cover” this world with peace, until that day comes when we are all reunited with him as God’s beloved children. Amen

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