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Posts Tagged ‘choices’

Blending Is Art

In Life in Society, Music on August 5, 2014 at 11:02 pm
Photo by Laurel Greszler

Photo by Laurel Greszler

By Heila Rogers

The documentary 20 Feet From Stardom is about backup singers. Even that term, “back-up singers” can imply, “second-rate” in our minds.

Because people are supposed to be the one and only STAR, right? That’s what success means? For instance, if you’re 4th place in the Olympics, no one knows your name. Having your name known is what matters. “Second-place is the first-place Loser,” as the saying goes.

But the art, the creation of something, can get lost in that way of thinking.

What about the music itself, and all the parts?

All voices, parts and instruments melding together ~ to create a unified and transcendent piece of music – how to quantify that? How to determine its value?

Stardom isn’t bad though. Or is it?

Self-promotion is necessary, there’s a business side to things.

Promoters have a place.

“We can’t let the people decide, we have to tell them what they like, and what to buy.”

What the people often like and decide to buy on their own (is it the advertising or is it market-driven?) isn’t the most uplifting though.

But then again, it often is just that. People often see, buy and like what is uplifting — but it’s sometimes harder to find.

In the 20 Feet From Stardom movie, Sting says about these women:

“There’s a spiritual component to what they do, an inner journey, and any other success is cream on the cake.”

Photo by Heila Rogers

“Don’t Coppy M*” | Photo by Heila Rogers

Maybe we have to be ready to be the star, too. How to do that with grace and integrity, realizing we’re part of a whole — we’re a part along with others, we’re a piece of the bigger world. Not to mention eternity.

In many ways, this story of back-up singers is the story of women. Of being in the background, but maybe not by choice. Sometimes though, being in the background is a choice, both for men and women. There is an evolving awareness of the contributions and value of all voices, including those quieter ones, or those in the background.

When every one can share their unique piece with others as a part of the whole, then we’ll have the best, the most beautiful, music.

Also in the movie:

“It’s up to you to perfect that gift that you’ve been given.” — Stevie Wonder

Photo by Laurel Greszler

Photo by Laurel Greszler

Love Is Creative

In Art, Creative Living, Music on February 15, 2014 at 6:48 pm

In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”

― Rumi

long wingsBy Heila Rogers

Everyone Wants to Create (Something)

I’ve been to the Fair and people make all sorts of things … pies, cakes, canned goods, quilts, woodwork, monster trucks. Wait. Monster trucks? Yes, someone creates a machine that can do above and beyond the ordinary, and they create a moment when they race.

Once completed, why does beauty thrill us or make us tear up? Why do we get goosebumps when we hear certain music, for example? In the same way, why are we moved to tears sometimes when we witness someone helping in an altruistic, sacrificial way?

I think that what we are witnessing and experiencing are pieces of the same thing.

Acts of love are also different kinds of artistry.

soar

There is also this:

Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul. – Alice Walker

This sounds so good, right? And there’s truth to it. However, we can even manage to mess this up. This, “creating beauty” thing. For example, we can get addicted to what we see as helping people. We can go back and back again and again for the “high,” so to speak. For the experience of the positive feeling that comes with giving. We can make rules about it. We can judge others for not doing it, or for doing it worse than us in our opinion. We can formulate it to mean only this and not that. We can resist receiving, and be always the one that is giving. As usual with humans, we can take things too far. We actually get kind of creative about that: taking things too far.

Defining creativity is important. If it means stretching out to include others, but disparaging your close-by neighbors, teachers, or co-workers, then it’s not creative.

To state the obvious, destruction of any kind is not creation.

Unless perhaps it’s this:

Transform criticism into creativity.  – Scottie Hayes

Destroying destruction can be a creative act. I saw the above quote on Pinterest, along with the following comment: “HOW?” How do we transform criticism into creativity? What a good question. It sounds good, but what does it mean? Here’s one way how. Look around you at what is in your immediate life. What is there for you to do? What excites you? Make something. Make anything. Draw a picture. Sing a song. Smile at someone. Do this instead of tearing someone down. Do this instead of railing about the mistakes of others, or citing a list of what they do wrong.

“Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good.”  Romans 12:9

“Only God is truly good.”  Luke 18:19b

“We love because God first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Receive love and give it away.

As it flows into you, then let it flow out.

When we feel love, and know we are loved, that’s a creative, building thing.

When we receive love, and when we give someone good, when we listen and are listened to, when we have fun, those are creative, building things also.

In the words of the legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, even though she very much enjoyed and appreciated beautiful clothes,

“I mean, a new dress doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s the life you’re living, in the dress.”

In an essay, C.S. Lewis quotes Goethe who says interestingly, that all his previous “love” affairs were, “for my own ennoblement.” Lewis makes the case that those therefore might not have been “love” affairs. Can they have been, if they were for the so-called lover’s own benefit? Without it really being in sight, the benefit of the other person?

dive eagle

This is why when we see before us sudden, unexpected, great or seemingly-small acts of helping, giving or kindness … we are moved to tears. Because the giver has no apparent regard for herself.

I think this is creativity. A Love. An Art. And I think it’s related to the way we can be moved to tears by a beautiful piece of music. I would suggest that they are a part and parcel of the same, beautiful, perfect … loving.

Check out this creative video and music clip, featuring Hilary Hahn playing “Bounce Bounce” on the violin, playing with Hauschka, another musician.

Then, check out this video clip below of Olympian Derek Redmond after injury, continuing on to the finish line with his father’s arm around him.

Beautiful, both of them, no?

With friends you grow wings. – Rumi

feathers

Risk is Art

In Art, Creative Living on September 19, 2013 at 1:01 am
upside down planes

Photo by Roger Brown

Editor’s Note:

When we attempt to experience life fully and try new things, and even sometimes scary things — it can be a kind of creativity. We’re creating something new when we risk and step out. The following is a personal account of one woman’s somewhat reluctant experience attending a high-speed driving school. She drove an incredibly fast car around a track at speeds of 100 mph. Many people – most of them men – dream of this kind of chance-of-a-lifetime. She was not one of those adrenaline junkies. Her husband won the racing school opportunity, and invited her along since the prize was for two students. She decided to try it out.

Of course, people can “get high” on danger,  or even become addicted to the thrill of risk. That overindulgence aside, within reason and with balance, we all need to do this almost daily. Risking rejection from our friends and children, spouse or parents for instance, when we decide cautiously to share important truths that can help a relationship grow.

***

By Laura Senti

I was in the middle of a live version of a nightmarish dream I have periodically in which I am in a play. Starting time is imminent yet I am unable to find a script to read over the lines which I, as a main character, am of course supposed to know. I’ve never been to a practice, I have no costume, and all my fellow cast members appear absolutely unconcerned and separate from my plight and not inclined in the least to help me out. In my dream, I wander around in a growing state of panic before I wake up, always before going onstage.

Yesterday at 1:11, I was actually sitting in the Bondurant High Performance Racing School in Pheonix in a plain gray-carpeted room with a crowd of men, two at each black table. The same men who that morning had each been given a lanyard with a red tag saying “Grand Prix” and politely averted their eyes from my same tag while I knew they were thinking, “Is she something, or an idiot?” The red-shirted instructor man now at the front was happily explaining various diagrams on the screen in the front. I understood perfectly when he explained he was from Michigan about the need to avoid potholes, but felt this same pleasant connection with nothing else he said. “This,” he said, “is how you want to take the turn….blah blah blah blah…..and where is the weight on the car’s wheels now? ….blah blah blah…weight transfer…blah blah…apex of the turn….blah…and now here “– he walked to the white board to point out the squirmy oval at the top–”is the race track.”  Mental sharp intake of breath. Race track? Me?

I had made it through the morning. But only by a narrow squeak. I had almost not gotten into my yellow  Corvette, number 08. But I did. I learned to strap on my four-point harness (just like a baby car seat, my mind encouraged me). I learned to press the top side of the button to set Zero Eight roaring (boy would this thrill my daughter), and had a quick refresher on the way over to the course on how to kill and restart a manual. I had been briefed on how to do a heel-toe shift: something like, Get into third gear and up to 65 miles per hour by these three cones, then when you see these two cones, put the car into second but instead of doing it the regular way — the way you would in a regular car if you were a regular person who wasn’t at a racing school for some unknown reason — as you pop it into second, rock your foot from the brake to the gas and then back again—see, like this—and then put it the rest of the way into second. This will allow you to have more speed in your turns.

Speed? And why would I want speed in my turns?

I was suddenly very sure that this was not for me. I did not know my lines for this play. I didn’t even know what this play WAS.

When it was time for a short break before the driving, I bolted out of the room toward the front desk. There sat Nicki, “Director of First Impressions.”

“Mmm, I need to talk to someone. I’m just sensing this is not for me,” I said with a little bit of a quaver in my voice. She looked mildly surprised. I guess they don’t get many people who pay $5000 to drive as fast as they can, saying they don’t want to after all.

Nicki got another red-shirted man who consulted another red-shirted man, and they told me I could switch over to the two-day course which would be more my speed, literally. “Mmmhmm. Thought this would happen,” they said without saying it out loud. But they were nice about it. Nightmare averted, for the time being. Now maybe THIS was a play I was really supposed to be in, even if it took some quick scrambling to learn my lines.

Our Red-Shirt Man had looked less than thrilled with his hesitant student. I was trying to ignore that—had even used that as fuel for courage as I ripped down the short straightaway getting up to 65 and downshifting to second, though not with that mysterious toe/heel method. He informed me at a break, with slight disgust, perhaps, that I had not been going from 1st to 2nd to 3rd, but from 3rd to 4th to 5th. I had thought it seemed a tiny sluggish for a Corvette, but I drive a 1999 Sienna minivan, not a car that can get up past 60 in second gear, and the Red Shirts had failed to mention this particular feature of the car. Who comes to this place that after all, that doesn’t know that already?

At lunch my husband reassured me over a Cherry Berry Chiller at McDonalds that I’d done great in that morning’s drill–”I couldn’t catch up to you, and I tried!”–but I am so nervous, I said to my husband. And all those other guys seemed so confident. “OH NO,” he reassured me. “They’re all scared, they’re all very nervous.” Momentarily, I felt a very little less fish-out-of-waterish—maybe I was supposed to be in this play after all? But very momentarily he went on to explain that they were all nervous about not being the fastest one. I was nervous about dying.

Who were these people? Who was this man next to me? How could it be that we were so absolutely unlike each other in this? Was it the classic man/woman stereotype showing in brilliant colors? My man, thrilled at the prospect of going as fast as he possibly could, and I unable to think beyond, “Why?!”

Cliff Diver

Competitive Cliff Diver

So it was after this surreal lunch discussion and the ever-more-alarming words coming from Friendly Michigan Red-Shirt Man at the front of the room that I turned to my husband, the only man in the room I knew. Did he really think I could do this? That I belonged here? He had said so at lunch. But, a $6000 deductible. A bit of background is necessary to explain:

You see, we hadn’t paid. We WON this. I mean, my husband won this, the GRAND PRIZE worth OVER $15,000, and he had invited me to go along. “You’ll have fun,” he said in response to my less-than-eager reaction to this grand-prize-experience-of-a-lifetime when he had first told me about it months ago.

“But what IS it? I don’t really get it.” (This is our typical conversation difficulty, I craving context and detail and he blithely persistent in declaring the obvious big-picture facts.)

“All people who go just come out better drivers, and it’s not just for race car drivers,” he assured me.

“I’ll TRY it,” I replied, “but I reserve the right to stop if I don’t like it, because I just can’t see myself doing anything like that.” I’d told very few people where we were going because I didn’t know how to explain it, and truthfully, the whole prospect of sunny Phoenix as a relief from the Michigan winter was greatly dimmed because I was feeling nervous. There’s always the issue of leaving your kids behind while you and your husband both are on the plane, the same plane; and sometimes, planes do crash and I don’t want my kids to be orphans. So I’d been busy dealing with that and hadn’t gotten to the Assuming You Survive the Plane Ride Now You’ll Be Racing Cars With Men Who Want To Drive As Fast As They Can part.

So when I had told anyone about going to Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, I had copied my husband’s attitude toward my going: “I bet it will be fun!” Said sincerely enough, though maybe with not a whole lot of knowledge to back it up.

I got back in Zero Eight again, now separated from my husband—but that was fine, because in this environment he had morphed into another sort of being altogether. I chugged over to Accident Avoidance Simulation (wasn’t this all accident avoidance?) This time the instructor explained the drill we’d be doing, I shot off all the questions I had, such as “Why can’t you put the clutch in when you are braking?” and I made exactly sure I knew the drill. I had figured out by now that I was almost wholly ignorant and figured it made no sense to act otherwise. I wasn’t tricking anyone, and I bet I asked questions that at least a few others in the group might have wanted to ask but wouldn’t because they were tricking others quite successfully. The drill: get to 30 mph in a few seconds; pass through a bottleneck where the cones were close together; then respond to a set of 3 lights that would turn on, that corresponded to 3 lanes that opened up at that point. At that moment, we would “Lift, Turn, and Squeeze” —lift our foot from the throttle, turn to whichever lane had the green light, and then squeeze down on the gas again to proceed. It was fun, even though I was hitting cones with regularity. “Think of them as puppies,” a kind young Red Shirt told me as I drove slowly by for feedback. Now that made sense and I think I only hit one more puppy after that. Next, we got to slam on the brakes when all the lights went red, and see for ourselves how much, much less effective that is than taking your foot off the gas and swerving. This I can do, I thought. And getting that Corvette to 40+ mph in such a short distance was great fun.

Next was the spinny car, or what the Red Shirts called the skid car. A regular enough looking car, it was perched on top of a set of smaller wheels which the instructor could at any time set spinning so the car would skid out of control and the driver could learn how to regain it. Strangely enough, it was applying gas, not brake, that brought the car out of the spin and back into control. I tried braking once—-and we just kept going around and around like a carnival ride.

“You have to keep your eye on the prize,” our red-shirted instructor explained as the car spun wildly out of control. I found it was true: the car will eventually end up pointed toward whatever your focal point is. One time, the cone I wanted was 180 degrees behind me. “Even now, I keep my eyes on that cone?” I asked Red Shirt as I strained to look backward—and eventually, an inch of tire rubber later, I was facing the cone. (The photographer had said the same thing: “Don’t look at me. You will hit whatever you look at.” I found that advice difficult to heed when he was standing at the end of the straightaway where we had to get up to 45 mph and then stop suddenly or swerve to avoid the puppy-cones.) My time driving the Spin Car seemed short. I wondered if it was because I was so good at it that he figured I didn’t need much practice, or so bad it was useless to waste more time on me, or because it was such an intense experience that time flowed differently.

OK, so far so good. I liked not hitting puppies and I liked spinning cars around. It was fun to feel the speed and momentum of those cars, fun to shift up into second as fast as I could, fun to hear the throbbing chug-chug emanating from something I was driving. Then it was time to get on the track. My Red Shirt led us to a little room full of shelves of helmets and advised us to choose one that fit snugly but not too snugly. Hmmm, do I have a medium head? A large? Surely not XL. As I lifted the heavy white padded helmet over my head, I noticed its strong manly smell.

Open Zero Eight’s door, shut door, strap myself in, push that nifty start button. Heavy helmet strapped under my chin. My head is wobbly, too big and heavy for my body. My mouth is dry like I’d gargled with fine dust.  The instructor’s Number 9 car is moving forward. My job is to follow two car lengths behind, as he drives around the track, faster each time. He’s the mother duck, we’re the three ducklings. I’m first duckling. Do exactly what I do, he’d said. So I do. Whip around this corner. Brake slightly at this bend. Accelerate, accelerate, brake, go out wide around corner, cut into this one here, up onto this red and white edge, back around. I’m thinking, I’m the one who can’t tell where I’m going on the fake Mario Brothers race track; it’s strange that I’m out here on a real one. And suddenly, I’m aware, deeply aware, that I am in control of a yellow Corvette zipping around on a trace track, hugging corners, responsible to keep up with Number 9 and not make any mistakes that would cause the two ducklings behind me to crash. Can I DO this? Shut up, I tell myself out loud. You ARE doing it. Now concentrate. Concentrate. You can do this. Watch him. Do what he does. I drive off into the pit lane a lap or two before the others come off, look over to my right to a smiling Cory who has the blue camera trained on me. Gotta got this heavy helmet OFF, this chin strap unfastened NOW—relief to lift it off, noticing somewhere at the back of my mind that the manly smell I thought was from my helmet seems to have instead originated with me. My instructor and other two classmates come off the track; I chug Zero Eight back to a parking place near its other yellow friends. Helmet on table in Classroom #2, all ready for tomorrow’s continuing fun.

SMT

Photo by Josh Zullo
Courtesy Camp Tejas
Giddings, Texas

So I go home with the same thrill of conquest I remember after getting off a roller coaster ride with my sister. I did it! I did it! And Cory, also like my sister after a roller coaster was saying, “Yeah! That was awesome! Let’s do it again! Can’t wait until tomorrow!” I thought my thrill was the same kind as his as I took my fully earned shower and changed out of my stinky clothes into a pretty skirt, but as the evening progressed I wondered. I wondered more when my heart was pounding as I lay down to sleep. And when I woke up at 4:00 a.m. with that same pounding sensation. And more when I was thinking, “I would give anything to be at the end of this day. Seven hours more of this driving.” Could it be the thrill I had experienced was “Wow! I survived! I did it and I’m finished!”

What should I do? Set my teeth and get through it? Stop while I’m living? Disappoint my husband and prove to all those men that I am not brave enough?  That I’m a Boring Person? That I’m Not Capable? That I’m not going to take advantage of this Opportunity of a Lifetime? What will they think? That lady who wanted to take the class and was so jealous of me? People at home that know I’m taking a high-performance driving class? The Red-shirted Men? Why do I even care?

My husband can’t help me when I spill all this to him at 6:55 a.m. I’ve already prayed and journaled out on the balcony. It’s 7:00 now, and we need to be back at Bondurant by 7:45. God, help me. You helped me have the courage yesterday to admit I wasn’t in my element in the Grand Prix class, and that worked out. Will YOU be disappointed in me if I don’t do this? Is there something you want to teach me in this? Are you going to be mad? Like that verse that talks about those cowards who shrink back, and you are not pleased with them? Or can I just assume this has nothing to do with your stance toward me?

Either way I’m in a pickle. Perhaps I’ll have regrets if I don’t do it—almost assuredly. But if I DO do it, I’ll have to drive for the next seven hours, and I am afraid, and don’t want to. Does that make me a Bad Person Unwilling to Take Advantage of Amazing Opportunities? Or perhaps, just perhaps, am I overthinking this and I just don’t like race car driving? Back and forth, like a door on a hinge. Brave? Boring? Yes? No? Go? Stay?

I finally leap: I put on my cute black flip flops, and not the tennis shoes I am required to wear for driving.

And I do feel relief. I’m way friendlier, way more smiley. I tell Nicki when we get to Bondurant with no trace of apology that I won’t be driving today, and I feel solid in my decision.

surfer girl

And as I’m back at the resort hotel, I have more time to reflect.

It’s funny how tame it all looks to me as I write it. I can’t capture the sharpness on paper, just like I can’t capture the sharpness of the red quills of that flower with my phone camera. And compared to what Cory did and is doing now, what I did was so tame. It felt so dangerous, so fast, so edgy. I wonder if it really was, or if it was only because it was so utterly different than anything I’d ever done. Still, if I’d made an error, the results would have been dire, and I guess that’s my personal definition of edgy.

I care a lot what strangers think of me. Why?

It all made me think of “Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith” while you run with perseverance the race marked out for you. (Hebrews 12). I’ve always thought of that verse in relation to the running I’ve done, and I rarely keep my eyes on anything much except my feet, or the trees/flowers I’m passing. But this was different: your focus meant everything. If you wanted to crash, look anywhere, or look where you do not want to go but are at the moment going. Because you’ll panic and slide right toward it and crash into it. You got exactly where you wanted to go. But keep your eyes on the prize, the man said, and that’s where you’ll get. Where you look, that is where you will go. It made me think of the risk of not keeping my eyes on Jesus. I find I think this is oh, a good idea to remember, but I forget it is imperative. Oh boy. Life is fast. Serious. Full of consequences. Not to scare myself into paralysis, but to be aware that everything counts. My eyes need to be on you, Jesus, the author and the perfecter of my faith, of Your View, of You in Me. Nothing else matters; everything else is a distraction if it is kept as a focal point. And it isn’t that other stuff isn’t important. Family, how I spend my time, how I treat others, what I think about, the environment, whatever—all is important but becomes a distraction the minute I see it as the point, the focus, the thing I must do to please God, the thing I should be doing better. Jesus, you be my focal point. Let knowing You, seeing You more clearly all the time, be my focus, and let every other activity and idea take its place in that light.

I guess that is the play I’m in. Not the one called, Be all that You Can Be or Show ‘Em All, but the one with Jesus saying, Know Me and Be Satisfied. I fully belong in this play, and He’ll always teach me the lines as I go.

A Masterpiece

In Creative Living, Life in Society on January 30, 2013 at 4:28 pm

By Jane Carter

Eph. 2:10 – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

While reading Ephesians 2:10, I was struck by the Bible’s description of us as “masterpieces of God.” Merriam-Webster defines a Masterpiece as a work done with extraordinary skill, especially a work of intellectual or artistic achievement. That feels to me like a potentially liberating statement, because it means that in those inevitable moments when I feel invalid (in whatever capacity), I can reflect that I am not a mistake, I am a work done with extraordinary skill. Hence, if I feel as though I don’t have that much relevance, that I’m invalid in the environment I find myself in, I can remind myself that there is more to be seen than I do in that moment.

Even if you believe you are a fine specimen of everything you’re supposed to be, that doesn’t mean you have everything figured out. Actually it does mean that you are precious, and need to be protected and kept in your optimum condition. If you are a masterpiece, it means that you should take care of your surfaces. Exposure to extreme temperatures may dull your beauty and you may need to be touched up, or restored. The challenge for you and I, masterpieces that we are, is to make sure that the conditions in which we are kept and the means by which we are restored do not compromise the original work of art.

The above is a Spanish painting (Ecce Homo, or Behold the Man) originally completed by artist Elias Garcia Martinez in the 1800s. An endeavour commissioned by the church that it has been in for more than 100 years. Recently in August, 2012, a woman took it upon herself to restore the painting (picture on the right). Apparently, critics have taken to calling the painting “Ecce Mono” or, Behold the Monkey, because of the extent to which the church patron altered the work.

To go back to our ideas about masterpieces, some amount of supervision is necessary when you think about restoring yourself to your original glory. If light and moisture (read: the stresses of life) make your colours less brilliant, or etch holes in your canvas, you must be restored. In doing so though, you have to protect the integrity of your original work. To use an argument of adaptive human behaviour, if you find your old methods of behaviour no longer sustainable, as in your actions in relationships are getting you into trouble (read: dulling your masterpiece), then you have to make a change. In this event you must follow a trusted path to restoration, lest you transform or evolve into something altogether separate from your original self.

My position is that you have good inside of you; that the deep seated person that only you can unveil is who needs to come out. Imagine the aesthetic difference between the freshly painted Ecce Homo and the unauthorised restoration of it in 2012. What a tragedy! Now, think of yourself: people walk by, they add a brush stroke here or a hostile environment there, and these things show up on you. Your colours start becoming dull, or you begin to forget who you are, and what you’re worth. When people can’t really describe you when asked, or when they describe you, and you don’t recognise the person that they’ve illustrated, then you know you’re starting to fade. It’s time to be restored.

Do you know where your good restoration is? The kind that will take you back to your original glory? For me, I have several sources of restoration. My biggest source of restoration is to go back to the Artist: Almighty God, my Creator. Notice I didn’t say the church, or religion? No, my source of restoration is firstly from God, and the relationship I have with Him. I often talk to people who have no belief in or understanding of God, and I always say the same thing: ask God who He is. People get very caught up with religion and denomination and I’ve seen far too many people lose their faith because of the religious people around them. God is not a church, I don’t think. God is the Source of strength, the Comforter, the Guide, the Forever Friend. He inspires people to want to come together and I am restored by that. I also think that without a true relationship with God, following the church or even the Bible can become something other than restorative.

alpine

Photo by Roger Brown
Alpine Flowers
Colorado

I am also restored by the word of God. The Bible has so many different kinds of guides, from ways to draw closer to God (James 4:8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you) to normalising (and speaking to) my anxieties (Ecclesiastes 3:10  I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart, yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end). I take much strength from the fact that there is an ancient book that still holds relevance to my everyday struggles. Another way that I am restored is through my relationships with loving people. Nothing helps you to grow more than relationships, and a good relationship will restore you because it doesn’t simply highlight the area where you could stand to grow, but it also balms the wounds you’ve already encountered by speaking love and life into you, in a way that is sometimes more convincing than your own voice. Good relationships, from the bona fide relationship you have with God, to the honest relationships you have with your spouse/friends/parents/children will restore you. A good relationship will always bring you closer to owning three very important self statements: I am enough, I have enough and who I am originally is beautiful.

So, how are you restoring your masterpiece?

How to Grow Bittergrass in the Yard of Your Life

In Creative Living, Humor on November 4, 2012 at 10:16 am

Photo by Doug Stutler
Home Garden with Lobster Pots
Monhegan Island, Maine

By Laura Senti

Bittergrass, known often as crab grass, is narrowly seen as undesirable to yard lovers. But a new normal is here: ditch the touchy Kentucky bluegrass we all know only flourishes in English estates with gardeners! Go for something just as green, but ridiculously easy to grow and maintain.

Attractive and ubiquitous as bittergrass is, it’s not readily available in seed form or even at your local nursery. You can, however, attract it to your yard simply by steering clear of any bittergrass prevention measures.  Here we will share five easy tips for allowing it to grow and slowly take over your lawn as a feisty, maintenance-free plant:

  1. Neglect activities that bring you joy. This kills spontaneity effectively, as well as creativity. Remember that it’s selfish to do things you enjoy, if you do occasionally give in and indulge yourself.
  2. Compare yourself with others. Look for ways they have the blessings that are rightfully yours. Look for ways they don’t have it as difficult as you do– or, if you prefer, meditate on the ways they have it pleasanter than you, as it all yields the same desired result. Contentment and gratitude do not do well where bitterness is spreading nicely.
  3. Always leave open those thinking tunnels that lead you back to past decisions. Wonder if you really did do the right thing. Ponder what could have happened had you been born into a different family, one with more money or with a cabin to leave you, for instance.
  4. Pay special attention to how you are different. You have unique needs, unique sins, even unique doubts. Being such a unique person means you can never get all your needs met perfectly. It helps to observe carefully the failure of others to understand and meet these needs.
  5. Above all, resist the weed-killer commonly known as Grace. It’s up to you to own up to the truth: you are far from perfect, though you sure are trying hard, and there’s always tomorrow to get it right if you don’t succeed today. As long as you are doing better than those around you in at least 2 or 3 areas of concern, and you are keeping tabs on your progress, you will most likely be able to keep ground open for bitterness.

Here’s to easy gardening with a satisfyingly uniform result! See you in the garden.

Photo by Doug Stutler
International Peace Garden
Canada – USA (Manitoba – North Dakota)

Suppressing Art

In Art, Life in Society, Music, Poetry on October 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm
Snow Geese NM:NWR

Photo by Roger Brown
Snow Geese
New Mexico

By Heila Rogers

Why did poets, musicians and dancers of the Stalin-era Soviet Union continue to create? Why not just stop, when they saw their loved ones and other artists being killed, or sent to the Gulag or jail?

What compelled them?

Why is art often suspect?

And… what is art actually … for?

Regimes like the Soviet Union, or Hitler’s Nazism,  – all have controlled, suppressed and hated art and artists.

This suppressive way of thinking is alive and well in every country.

Yet Adolf Hitler painted paintings. Propaganda was used in the above systems. As is sometimes the case in advertising, images were made especially to sway or manipulate.

If that’s not what art is for … then what is in fact its purpose?

Artists have been referred to as “parasites upon society.” There is a perception of making art as being a waste of time.

Glimpses of a world without art can be seen when looking at the functional-only blocks of apartment buildings in former “Soviet Republic” countries.

[Mongolia]

Much of nature consistently inspires people. Looking around us, at gloriously different varieties of creatures and plants; or unique, everyday sky and cloud patterns, we feel hopeful … and often moved to create.

Petra-RB

Photo by Roger Brown
Sandstone Formations
Petra, Jordan

When we feel, think and conclude – from an artistic place within us – we make things.

doorway

Photo by Roger Brown
Petra Cave Entrance
Jordan

Why is this threatening? What causes such a strong reaction against art and artists?

Human beings want to control other human beings. Perceived control makes us feel safe. When we tell others what to do, we have an illusion of safety. Really, we all think we know best, and how the world should be run. Therefore we’re ready to organize everyone and everything accordingly. So when someone (or something) challenges that, it must be suppressed. Or else we won’t win or succeed. We think.

This is the fatal flaw of totalitarianism. All forms of it eventually fail, because they don’t take into account (or understand) long-term reality. There is a force in the world and in human beings which will resist inappropriate control.

Whereas within art, although there are certainly elements of control and discipline, it’s viscerally about freedom. About exploring, questioning … and listening.

Real art loves, expresses truth, explores truth, attempts to honestly communicate what is true.

That doesn’t mean everything created is good or used for good.

It also doesn’t mean that everyone fights or resists wrong control. In the short-term, or without a certain perspective, it feels better to control others or to submit to (undue) influence.

Very obviously: humans can warp or misuse … well, pretty much anything and everything. But, the grace to create is there. It’s there for everyone. This might be a strange thing to say, but what if Hitler were not suppressed himself as an artist? His father forbid him go to art school. Might history have been different if he himself were not abused and wrongly controlled?

Take for example the swastika – the flag of the Third Reich, created by Hitler.

The arrangement of colors and the symbol together are visually attractive. The bent cross symbol is actually an ancient one – the root Sanskrit word “svastika” means  “to be good/lucky.” Many cultures use variations on the form:

[symbol, origin]

The Nazi swastika is self-described as being, “the symbol of the creating, acting life.” Wow. Wishful thinking on Hitler’s part? The four-arm crooked form was already being widely used in a folk-national movement, among others, when Hitler adapted it for his now infamous emblem. It is still used widely in Indian religions. [Wikipedia]

Hitler wrote (in Mein Kampf) what he wanted the symbol to mean: “As National Socialists, we see our program in our flag. In red, we see the social idea of the movement; in white, the nationalistic idea; in the swastika, the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the same token, the victory of the idea of creative work.” [63]

He robbed from widespread, already popular images to make, in an evil-genius way, a powerful (albeit warped) standard. He wanted so much to be an artist. Instead of representing what he stated above, the Nazi flag now represents horror, evil and … suppression.

Divergent or analytical thinking – a part of art – is discouraged and punished. As well are disagreements with policies. This intolerance for disagreement instead of being a strength, in fact indicates weakness. If someone called Stalin “a murderer and peasant slayer” (O. Mandelstam below) and the words were not true, what power would they have? But then, because propagandists have experienced success using words cleverly to manipulate people into believing certain ways, they suspect others of doing the same.

Regardless, during times of persecution and distress, the following artists were a part of creating – which sometimes did mean protest and disagreement with governmental policies or actions:

(Data, except as cited, from the book, “The Soviet Image: A Hundred Years of Photographs from Inside the TASS Archives,” by Peter Radetsky © 2007)

Anna Akhmatova:

A preeminent Russian writer of the twentieth century and a renowned poet, “In the presence of [her] I looked at the world as if I were on a new planet,” said writer Lydia Chukovskaya. Her husband was executed for alleged antigovernment activities, her son was exiled to Siberia, many of the people closest to her would be imprisoned or killed, she suffered a ban on her poetry that lasted, on and off, for three decades. She never left her home country and wrote the following in her poem “Requiem”: “No foreign sky protected me, / no stranger’s wing shielded my face. / I stand as witness to the common lot / survivor of that time, that place.”

Photo by Roger BrownPetra, Jordan

Photo by Roger Brown
Al Khazneh Ruin
Petra, Jordan

Osip Mandelstam:

Was arrested and died in the Gulag in 1938. “Poetry is respected only in this country,” he said. “There’s no place where more people are killed for it.” Circa 1925.

‘This is what I most want’

This is what I most want

un-pursued, alone

to reach beyond the light

that I am furthest from.

And for you to shine there-

no other happiness-

and learn, from starlight,

what its fire might suggest.

A star burns as a star,

light becomes light,

because our murmuring

strengthens us, and warms the night.

And I want to say to you

my little one, whispering,

I can only lift you towards the light

by means of this babbling.

Note: Written for his wife, Nadezhda.

[http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Russian/Mandelstam.htm#_Toc485874609]

The treasury, Petra, Jordan

Photo by Roger Brown
The Siq (The Shaft)
Petra, Jordan

Lydia Ruslanova:

Folk singer who toured the front constantly during the war and performed for the troops. A beloved entertainer, she performed on the steps of the Reichstag in Berlin while parts of it still smoldered. Because of her popularity and friendship with Marshal Zhukov, Stalin began to regard her as a potential threat. She and her husband were sent to the Gulag in 1948. Upon Stalin’s death, she was released and resumed performing until her death, in 1973.

Dmitri Shostakovitch:

In August 1942, during the darkest days of the siege, his Seventh Symphony was performed in Leningrad’s Philharmonic Hall. Loudspeakers broadcast the concert throughout Leningrad and, as another act of defiance, to the German troops stationed outside the city.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtjAmaG7jjA

“Regardless of when Shostakovich initially conceived the symphony, the Nazi attack and consequent relaxing of Soviet censorship gave Shostakovich the hope of writing the work for a mass audience instead of a primarily esoteric one. To do so, he had to express his hidden feelings in a way to make them accessible to the audience, allowing it to experience catharsis. A model on how to do this was Igor Stravinsky‘s Symphony of Psalms. Stravinsky’s compositions held considerable influence over Shostakovich.[13] and he had been deeply impressed with this particular work.[14]

Shostakovich’s plan was for a single-movement symphony, including a chorus and a requiem-like passage for a vocal soloist, with a text taken from the Psalms of David. With the help of his best friend, critic Ivan Sollertinsky, who was knowledgeable about the Bible, he selected excerpts from the Ninth Psalm. The idea of individual suffering became interwoven in Shostakovich’s mind with the Lord God’s vengeance for the taking of innocent blood (Verse 12, New King James Version).[14] The theme not only conveyed his outrage over Stalin’s oppression,[16] but also may have inspired him to write the Seventh Symphony in the first place.[17] “I began writing it having been deeply moved by the Psalms of David; the symphony deals with more than that, but the Psalms were the impetus,” the composer said. “David has some marvelous words on blood, that God takes revenge for blood, He doesn’t forget the cries of victims, and so on. When I think of the Psalms, I become agitated.”[17]

A public performance of a work with such a text would have been impossible before the German invasion. Now it was feasible, at least in theory, with the reference to “blood” applied at least officially to Hitler. With Stalin appealing to the Soviets’ patriotic and religious sentiments, the authorities were no longer suppressing Orthodox themes or images.[18] Yet for all the importance he placed on them, Shostakovich may have been right in writing the symphony without a text, in view of the censorship that would eventually be reimposed.[14]” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._7_(Shostakovich)

The treasury

Photo by Roger Brown
Narrow gorge, East entrance
Petra, Jordan

Artists who are trying to express and share light and beauty as real and existing; along with describing the human condition, and grief, and the wrongs they see — speak in important ways for all of us.

Art lifts us, and somehow helps us to be free.

Is Feminism Still the “F-word?”

In Life in Society on March 17, 2012 at 1:46 am

 Answer: Yes, because we’re all still insecure about it.

Part One in a Series

By Bekah McNeel

I once heard feminism referred to as “the f-word.” A brilliant play on words really, because I thought, Yes, in some circles, calling a woman a feminist might have exactly the same impact as calling her some other vulgar name. In other circles, calling a woman a housewife would have the same effect. Women are pretty sensitive about which camp they are in.

Nothing seems to swallow a woman’s identity like where she stands on the feminism debate.

To illustrate this point, here’s a conversation from my book club a few months ago –the participants were a married middle-school teacher, and a married ministry professional – neither of whom have children:

Teacher: My house is never as clean as I’d like it to be.

Ministry Professional: Mine either. I just can’t keep up! I constantly feel guilty about it.

Teacher: Yeah. I blame the feminists.

Ministry Professional: Really? I blame the traditional housewives!

The two women stared at each other.

The Ministry Professional thought to herself, “How could feminists possibly be to blame for the guilt I have about my dirty house? Feminists are all about NOT feeling guilty for that stuff.”

The Teacher thought to herself, “Traditional housewives? They are all about taking their time to beautify their homes! If we were all like them, our houses wouldn’t be dirty, so we wouldn’t need to feel guilty!”

What keeps the topic so heated is the intangible sense that most women have that they are being judged. By society, by men, and especially by other women. They can feel the seething condemnation like laser beams, whether it’s aimed at their performance as a wife, a mother, or a worker.

This is not just my own observation. I had already started writing this essay when I heard an interview with the stage actors for the show “God of Carnage” [which has been adapted for the silver screen under the shortened title “Carnage”]. The play takes place in the apartment of a couple seeking to have civilized conversation with the parents of the boy who struck their own boy with a stick during free-playtime at school. Two sets of educated, wealthy, urban adults, seeking a calm resolution. It devolves from there into total chaos, as the couples duke it out over whose parenting style and personal issues are to blame for the rift between the children (obviously many factors come into play).

The interviewer asked the actress who plays one of the mothers why she thought the play was able to escalate so convincingly, over something so trivial as a playground brawl. The actress answered, “I feel like everyone I know who’s a mother has to defend the way [she] raises her child and I think a lot of women judge each other.”

(http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2012/01/31/god-carnage-huntington, accessed Feb 2, 2012)

Did you catch that? It’s not that women just feel judged. It’s that they are judged. The performance culture, in which parenting, domesticity, and productivity are all presented to the world for evaluation, did not create itself. We created it. We the men and women of the Divided States. With insecurity and judgment for all.

Women who feel judged often respond defensively. In an effort to justify our own choices, we belittle those options we forwent and fully espouse those we did.  I noticed this tendency even in college students; to align one’s whole self with the choices one makes. So the conversation is NOT:

Emily: I like chocolate! I don’t care for vanilla.

Jessica: That’s cool; I like vanilla better than chocolate.

Emily: Great! Here’s the vanilla ice cream. I’ll take the chocolate.

Instead it is more like:

Emily: I’m a chocolate-lover. Whomever does not like chocolate stands in moral opposition to me.

Jessica: Well I am a vanilla-lover. I stand in opposition to your identity as a chocolate-lover.

Emily: Well, then. We will never be friends.

Now, motherhood, professionalism, and marriage are not as trivial as ice cream, obviously. But we still stake our whole identity on every choice we make. We put forth that we chose the RIGHT choice. Not because we wanted to, but because there is some cosmic court in session to determine the moral imperative of the feminine gender and we are all pleading our case.

Stuart Hall lists feminism as one of the five major “de-centerings” of the 20th century. It radically shook up the social order. It took the realm of “private” matters and made them “public.” When our private lives are broadcast, when our assumptions are publically challenged, we feel the need to defend ourselves. We feel that we are on stage, and we must give a good performance. It’s been this way since the beginning.

First-wave feminism started as a plea for agency and citizenship. Women wanted to vote, hold property, work, etc. They wanted to be citizens.  The feminist cause was also a moral one. Early feminists wanted protection from the STD’s their husbands were bringing home from brothels (their solution was to promote chastity and monogamy). They wanted to be able to live and move in society before they were married. These women were judged. And they judged back in ways that often landed them in jail. The private lives of women like Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) were under the kind of scrutiny that would have stripped Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin of their public position. Women like Emmeline Prankhurst (1858-1928) of England advocated a militant approach to protest, and she found herself a frequent occupant of the British prison system. These were not always friendly women.

Over time, as the United States government became more friend than foe, feminism took on corporations. They used their status as equal citizens to carry the cause into the workplace.  Since industrialization women have been in the workplace. Jobs that were once necessary at home were now taking place in factories. So the woman who worked at home became the woman who worked in the factory. Thanks to industrialization and World War II efforts, working women were nothing new by the 1960s, but soon women wanted equal pay, and that was new. They protested, went on strikes, and litigated. They spoke harshly and were harshly spoken to.

Slowly but surely they challenged institution after institution, until they reached the intangibles, like marriage, gender roles, and reproductive rights. Just like the classic slogan, “The private is public” or “The personal is political” soon the moral became the legal. Second-wave feminism was born when women discovered that formal equality was crippled by the cultural inequality experienced by most women during the so-called “decade of the housewife,” the 1950s. The cause of feminism now challenged not only legal and civil rights, but also the choices of women and the influences upon them.

Second-wave feminism is where most of us get our impression of “the f-word.” We think of man-haters, femi-nazis, and the like. Women fought sterotypes by flaunting their sexuality and rejecting anything “inflicted” by society. They glorified the natural female and refused to let bras, razors, or makeup interfere. This is what Christina Hoff Sommers calls “gender feminism.” Before, the prevailing ideal had been “equality feminism,” the desire that women should be given the same opportunities as men (Sommers, 1992). Second-wave feminism was deliberately provocative, and invited those who would judge them not so much to a dialogue but to a debate.

Throughout all of this, women had found their alliances powerful but volatile. Unity around a common cause could quickly be dissolved by disapproval over religious, political, or private differences. Feminism was happening by degrees. It was not until the 1980’s that the most appealing and all-inclusive movement emerged: post-feminism. [There’s also talk of a third-wave of feminism centering around the LGBT movement, but that is outside the scope of this essay.]

Post-feminism encourages women to pursue “having it all.” Women realized that in order to “have it all” (the power, the love, the happiness, the equality) they really had to be not just a woman, but a superwoman. They had to “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man. (1980 ad for Enjoli perfume).” This post-feminist mentality – that for a woman to have it all, she’s got to do it all – pervades playgroups, magazines, television, and corporate daycares across the nation. This is where we meet the anxiety-ridden mother whose child is not speaking…at 10 months. Or the guilty professional who says things like, “I’d lose my sense of self if I didn’t work…but I feel like a terrible mom.”

Feminism is still the f-word, because it’s a threat to others’ approval of our performance. How can I have it all, do it all, and enjoy it all, if people don’t approve of my performance? Because approval, honor, and admiration are part of that “all” that I’m trying to “have!”

Many of our African and Middle Eastern sisters are still fighting battles long disappeared into our history. Their journey is just beginning. I hope that a society emerges that can find true solidarity in the many paths available to free women. I hope that one day the stay-at-home mom and the CEO can sit down for coffee without trying to one-up each other on whose life is harder or more fulfilling. Or that the homemaker and the professor can watch their kids play together on a Saturday afternoon without fear that their child will reflect badly on their lifestyle. I hope we can vanquish this great repressor of women, the Performance Culture, and support each other in our diverse and unique callings.

I think that the conversation at our book club reflected part of the resolution to this dilemma. Here’s how it ended:

Teacher: I feel like feminism tells me that I have to work in order to be valuable. So I work, and then I’m too busy and tired to clean. I feel like I would be judged if I stayed home and cleaned like I want to!

Ministry Professional: Well, I feel like traditional housewifery tells me that my value comes from the spotlessness of my house. I like working and have no desire to stop, but then I feel guilty when I’m too tired to scrub the white grout or sweep up for the 9th time in an evening. I feel judged by every speck of dust!

The two friends laughed and reflected on their opposing anxieties, and in the process they remembered that they were just that: friends. In each other, they had an ally who viewed the world differently. That point of view was valuable and challenging, but it didn’t have to be condemning. A common enemy – The Performance Culture – had snared them both, in different ways. They realized that in their differences they had the power to set each other free.

Leaving the Comfort Zone

In Life in Society on January 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm
Wadi Rum @ Sunrise

Photo by Roger Brown
Wadi Rum at Sunrise
Petra, Jordan

By Bekah McNeel

I just wanted to stay in my hot pink world for one more minute. The garish, saggy mosquito net suspended over my bed created a delicate membrane protecting me from the unfamiliar world on the other side.

It was late in the morning, and I was probably the last in the guesthouse to rise. No one was disapproving, as I had only recently arrived and was still horrifically jet-lagged. Plus, we’d been awakened that night by a scurrying, scratching, unmistakably vermin attempt to break into our suitcases, which were strewn across the floor. As there was no electricity in the guesthouse after 10pm, we had not been able to switch on a light so we’d been hunting by sound, jumping from bed to bed with only a plastic wiffle bat to brain our foes, should we magically find them in the blackness.

By morning, with the equatorial sunlight careening through the makeshift curtains, I could see the world more clearly–except that it was tinted hot pink, thanks to the uniquely festive mosquito net draped over my bed. All my roommates were awake too–I could hear them through the “wall” that my bed shared with the dining room. The happy clatter of mix-matched flatware. The muffled discussion between mouthfuls of typical Ugandan missionary breakfast: peanut butter on toast and PG Tips. (I did not yet know how fond I would become of PG Tips.)

The world was hot pink, and I was out of sorts. I’d been in Uganda for four days and managed to commit every Africa-virgin faux pas. My luggage had been delayed in arriving, so I’d been squeezing into borrowed clothes two sizes too small. When it finally did arrive, that bag had been nothing but trouble. The vermin from the previous night had been after the granola stashed in my suitcases. The missionaries were not a particularly chastising group, but I did get some long looks for that one. Also, as I mentioned, I was still jet-lagged. All that, and I was a spare wheel on someone else’s adventure. My friend’s parents were setting up a computer lab at a private school on the same property as the guesthouse. I was, in essence, there to watch the process. So all of this discomfort felt rather in vain.

That’s how my hot pink world became my only comfort zone for tens of thousands of miles in any direction.

I was mustering up the will to face a room of smiling strangers, native Ugandans, and slightly annoyed roommates. I was steeling my nerves for another day of feeling completely superfluous, obtuse, and burdensome. Right as I was breaking the magical barrier of my mosquito net, a booming Dutch voice drowned out the clamor of knives and plates. “Dr. K” was going to lead morning devotionals.

Dr. Henry Krabbendam is about 6’5”, white-haired, and completely immune to social inhibition. I was terrified of him. He was the patron saint of both guesthouse and school. Every morning he led a devotional for the assembled staff and guests. The last thing I wanted to do was walk in late to the devotional, opening myself to all sorts of notice and embarrassment, so I listened through the walls. I don’t remember much of what he said, but one line changed my life, or at least my morning:

 

To have a comfort zone is idolatrous.

 

I don’t remember how he explained it then, but over time his point has made a home in my heart. A “comfort zone,” consists of the people, places, habits, conversations, and culture we look to for assurance that we are all right, that life is good and safe. We look to those things instead of looking to Jesus. When we’re in our comfort zone, we’re happy and secure not because we have Jesus, but because we have an alarm system, a like-minded friend, or a savings account. We have a reservoir of strengths so that we don’t have to do the uncomfortable business of trusting Jesus.

That morning, I was looking to the privacy of life inside the mosquito net to give me a sense of comfort and rest. Outside the net I was frequently misunderstood and misunderstanding. Inside, I could think through things until I had reassured myself that I was noble and good and gracious. Outside people bothered me and asked me for money. Inside I only had to answer to myself. But wasn’t that why I’d come to Africa, to “get out of my comfort zone?”

According to Dr. K, there should be no question of getting “outside my comfort zone.” Either it is the whole world, or it is nothing. Comfort does not come from a “zone” it comes from a King.  Either Jesus is enough, or he’s not. If Jesus is enough, then I have to see the world his way…and his way is not the hot pink tint of looking out from my comfort zone. His way is clear and immediate. If certain people annoy me, it’s because I’m missing their divine stamp. If fear keeps me from going to places of need, then I fear the wrong thing.

Another wise man wrote, “I always believe that being obedient puts me in the safest place I could ever be.” And isn’t it the spirit of Moses’ plea in Exodus 33, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

I am never any safer or in any more danger in one place than I am anywhere else, if I truly believe that it is Jesus, not crime statistics and good investments, that keep me safe.

No one is advocating needless stupidity or recklessness. They are advocating a radical perspective on safety that allows us to follow God with confidence, no matter what the neighbors look like. It’s giving to the poor before you put the maximum allowance in your Roth IRA. It’s opening your home to the person who drives you nuts…on Christmas.  It’s doing these things with joy.

That joy is crucial. The Christian life is not some dreary slog through the mud, nor is it trying to pick the rose with the most thorns.  In the modern church, we tend to see “mission,” “calling,” and “generosity” as endeavors that are virtuous on the basis of how much they hurt. Like if you love Jesus you will become a missionary, but if you really love Jesus you will become a missionary to a remote village with no running water and a leprosy outbreak. And if you catch the leprosy, well, now the whole world knows you love Jesus. Cheer up, this should be the best day of your (swiftly shortening) life.

One problem with the above mindset (among many) is that if we evaluate our work based on how miserable we are doing it, then we’re not going to have longevity or depth in our mission. Yes, mission, calling, and generosity all carry the inevitability of suffering in some way, but that’s not what makes them virtuous. The result of that kind of thinking: very few people reaching out to the barrio, and lots of once-per-year clean-up projects ending in celebratory dinners back on the good side of town. Lots of burn-out, lots of avoidance. Because at the end of the day, if it’s misery with lots of Jesus or comfort with a little less Jesus, eh, I’ll take the half-portion, thanks. Like a long, grueling hike, the excitement gets you through the first 1/100th of the task, then you are left with trying to ease your misery until you can figure out how to get out of the adventure altogether.

Discomfort, even to the point of suffering, is not the thing we avoid, or the thing we seek. Neither is comfort. Comfort and discomfort ebb and flow wherever we go in a world that is both broken and Jesus’. And the Christian who has no comfort zone is comfortable with that. That Christian has, like the apostle Paul says, “learned to be content in any circumstance.”

Rather than trying to muster up our strength to go suffer for Jesus, and leave all the things that delight us; what if Jesus delighted us, and nothing hindered us from pursuing his call? What if we believed he was protecting us… and our children? What if our greatest joy was being a part of his work? Then he wouldn’t have to compete with Starbucks and alarm systems for a place on our “must have” list. We would be free to go everywhere, even if there was no internet, Home Owners Association or national infrastructure! We would be free to take on the wild, radical adventure of living like we were made to live.

Living without a comfort zone would make us bold. It would make us brave and generous. We would be the kind of people who “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” and fear no evil. We would give cheerfully. We would count it joy when we suffered for Jesus’ sake. We would care for widows and orphans. We would do those things in real and practical ways instead of just doing whatever we want and then trying to redefine it so that it fits Jesus’ commands.

As for me, it got me out of bed that morning.

Photo by Doug Stutler
Monarch Cliff Dwelling
Utah

Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.  – Brian Tracy

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Philippians 2.3,4

Queen to Play: Review

In Movies on October 22, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Photo by Kent Bartlett

Ah, the rare movie that explores life on many levels and still manages to be magnificently entertaining.  In Queen to Play, a hotel housekeeper is attracted to and ultimately changed by the game of chess.  The sub-plot is about engaging in the game of life.  Entering into truly living.  Also involved is the concept of people being so much more than what they do.  I found a lot of meaning in the French word of the title: “Joueuse.”  Actually translated I think it means just “player,” as in a soccer player, for example.  Like children in a sandbox, enjoying the little things – the feel of the sand; what it does when you pour it over the wheel; the pleasure of exploring and happiness in simple things like fresh air and who you’re with.  Then there’s also the satisfaction of accomplishment, and finding out what you’re good at and intensely enjoy.  Which is a process the character discovers as she learns the game.  The film also gets some into what we as people do with what power we each have.  How we use or misuse it. There is a part where the main character is told that the queen is the most powerful piece in chess, and she smiles in a delighted, “you mean I’m important?” way that stirs the heart and touches on what we all universally want and feel. The pure concept of play, that it means thorough enjoyment and commitment to what you’re doing, was one that I found to be inherent and magnificent in this film. Join the game.  Have fun.  HR

Art in Public Schools

In Art, Education on May 21, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Photo by Hannah Amodeo

Watching Mad Hot Ballroom is an eye-opening experience.  It’s a documentary about the introduction and implementation of a ballroom dance curriculum into a series of New York City public schools in the wake of 9/11.

Watching the faces of the 7th & 8th graders in class, as they learn and execute the steps is revealing and creates compassion for the innocence that’s still there in their little selves and the engagement with the subject matter that is evident.

What is healing and empowering about it?  About the physical expression, the movement?  About the accomplishment?

The grand goal is the end-of-year competition between schools.

Nerves show up, even though they’ve practiced their best.

Other education success stories?

The following movies (one based on an excellent book):

Freedom Writers — The story of a teacher who has her severely at-risk students begin keeping journals.  They explore in class together about the Holocaust, and related issues of judging and hating others because of differences.  Shockingly, only one student in a large class had ever heard before of … the Holocaust.  They are all angry and separated into their racial or otherwise delineated groups.  Writing gives them a chance to express themselves and examine hot topics.

Stand and Deliver — The story of a teacher who expects his disadvantaged students to learn advanced math.  Therefore he puts his gifted all into teaching them, and the majority of them pass their Calculus AP exams with such flying colors that it’s thought they cheated.

Dangerous Minds — The story of a teacher who matches the academic material (chooses quality literature) to students’ lives.  She gives them all an “A” to begin the year with and challenges them to maintain it.  Then does her best to equip them.

A Touch of Greatness — The story of a teacher in the 50’s in Rye, New York who exploded “out of the box,” in the classroom after realizing that he was bored. He proceeded to change his methods.  His quote below:

My first job as a teacher … I realized, ‘I’m not having fun … If I’m not having fun, no one in the room is having fun…’  There seemed to be a disciplinary problem day in and day out … Finally I realized there should be more play during the day.  By that I mean, more learning that is playful.  — Albert Cullum

One of his former students had the following to say:

Children are turned on by greatness, and bored by mediocrity … and so he gave us greatness.  Laurie Heineman – former student of Albert Cullum, 5th grade teacher

In every one of the above examples, the revolutionary teachers met resistance. Significantly, from their own school administrations.  Also, from some fellow teachers who felt resentment or jealousy.

Bonus: For an up-close look at a wonderful teacher as he does his thing in the classroom, there’s the French film To Be & To Have.