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Posts Tagged ‘living’

Rest is Art

In Art on February 5, 2015 at 9:08 pm
Photo by Tammy Werner

Photo by Tammy Werner

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous. – Aristotle

By Heila Rogers

How does creativity fit into life?

Do we need “the arts” as a part of life — or are they a waste of time?

I’m not the only one around lately who has been re-defining (or getting back to the roots of) creative pursuits — as being beyond the usual writing, drawing, acting or dancing — to also include, “household arts,” or “the art of the deal,” for example (that’s something I’d like to explore about!).

Anyway, humans are artists. So whatever we do can be done artistically…

It’s interesting to examine different historical people groups, and the role of traditional artistic pursuits like theatre, painting and music in their culture – and how these things paralleled or were involved with the rise and fall of different civilizations.

I was particularly interested to see what ancient and enduring texts had to say about the subject of creativity so I did a word search in an online Bible for, “creativity” and didn’t come up with much. Then I tried searching for different variations of the word.

In the process of this searching, I’d forgotten about the Creation Story itself, as it’s called.

THE very first words of the whole collection of books begins:

In the beginning, God created…” is Genesis 1:1

And then for several more chapters it’s all about Creation. You remember: the land and the water, the moon and the stars, the animals, the plants… “Let there be Light…etc.”

Somewhat surprisingly, I found rest a part of that first story of creation, too.

On the seventh day of creating, God said, “It is good” and rested. I really thought the seventh day was when the creating was finished. But it turns out the seventh day and the resting were on-going, integral parts of the whole.

It’s not like all the action happens during the physical-making-and-building parts of something. An awful lot happens during the rest periods too.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.

— John Lubbock (English Biologist and Politician, 1834-1913)

Photo by Mary Gregory

Photo by Mary Gregory

Artists speak about a kind of resting — which is IN the act of creating:

Painting is a meditation that allows me to process the awe I feel for life and offer some expression of beauty to honor that.Linda Saccoccio

I find working with glass meditative, almost therapeutic, I can leave the world behind and focus… the simplicity of form, the drama of rich, intense colour, the joy of challenge, and the challenge of endurance. The piece, when it’s over, is not what is made, but how it’s made.Andrew Kuntz

It’s well-known that artists, writers, musicians, and well — people, have some of their best ideas when doing tasks like ironing, taking long walks, sitting on a park bench watching birds or children play, or washing dishes.

Some of those things are technically active but while we’re doing them, the mind rests in a certain way (if we let it). When doing those kinds of repetitive motions or tasks, our minds can generate some fantastic ideas; or problems can get figured out.

People still tend to define rest as being physically still, or even as sleeping.

Or people think it means clearing the mind.  Which is partly what happens when we do the above kinds of things — our mind empties out in a certain way.

So ~ physical, mental, spiritual are all connected…

Is rest defined as being free from worry?

In that case it’s got to involve putting that worry somewhere else, or onto someone else.

That’s why we often attempt numbness with TV, Netflix, Facebook, alcohol, social engagements, books, food or exercise. This is not an exhaustive list. We’re seeking rest. A break from our worries or our sense of responsibility.

All of these things can be good of course, but we can misuse them into distractions that steal our time from just Being.

How to do that tricky “just BEING” though?

Meditation or contemplation involves thinking about something to focus our mind.

We can picture a mountain lake, or a field of wildflowers. Or for some people, maybe imagining being underwater in the ocean is soothing and relaxing.

Photo by Tammy Werner African Church

Photo by Tammy Werner
African Church

This resting and ‘just being’ can be so scary though.

If we stop moving, who are we?

If we’re not what we do, who are we?

These quiet, peaceful times are the times though when it’s possible to hear God’s voice saying, “I love you.” When we can sense direction for our lives.

When we can picture ourselves opening our hands and letting go of every anxiety.

We can only do this I think though, when we know and trust Whom we’re giving these burdens to.

Just like a good friend who has been there for us through our most difficult times, if we understand God as our Friend we can rest in the presence of that Friend.

We can rest in the presence of someone who is still our friend and accepts us, even when we do stupid or embarrassing stuff. The kind of friend who might even perhaps laugh at us, but with affection; never harshly, or with mocking or meanness.

A friend is someone I can tell my worries to, someone I allow to hug me close. A friend is someone who knows me well enough to know when I need a hug, and when I need a laugh instead.

I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better. Plutarch

I picture God’s warm lap sometimes too. I imagine God as a loving, caring, nurturing and protective parent.

Why can’t a parent be defined as a friend also?

This concept and awareness can generate a deep and wide rest within.

From there in that safe, warm place I grow and fly ….. and create.

I recently pictured God as a loving, affectionate, fun  Mother & Father  swinging me in between them like a little child. I was holding onto both of their hands.

I rested in being loved.

I felt a sensation of flight.

Photo by Tammy Werner

Photo by Tammy Werner

 At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet. – Plato

SPOUSE INBETWEEN

In Military Life, Poetry on August 5, 2014 at 11:01 pm

By Laurel Greszler

 

Your world and mine

here and there

ticket to anywhere

 

Day one of deployment

is inbetween grief and relief

frustration and anticipation (resignation)

 

This word, spouse

tossed differently

between military and non

 

Here, it is —

signifier;

identifier;

access;

attribute;

retribute; and,

constant reminder

of the space

inbetween

now and forever.

Photo by Julie Black

Photo by Julie Black

Becoming a Life Artist

In Art, Creative Living on February 15, 2014 at 6:46 pm

By Heila Rogers

What if someone has a wonderful talent, and works to paint an amazing painting, mold a glorious sculpture, or write a magnificent, universal character?

Certainly that person as an artist is contributing greatly to society by adding beauty to it.

What if that same person cuts you off in traffic, exploits or curses others, or lies habitually?

What if someone else creates then in a different form? This one consisting of small gestures, or actions that make good grow in people’s hearts?

Someone say, who slows down without bitterness when they’re cut off in traffic, someone who strives to thank people and lift them up, someone who honors others with truths — like the one that they matter to the world?

Actually we all fall into both categories, I think. We’re all both creators and destroyers.

What I want to explore is how we can create in miniscule ways throughout each day. How we can all become better Life Artists. Weaving, or painting, or sculpting beauty and love  into and out of each day.

Although we all appreciate great art, don’t the small moments of kindness we’ve experienced in our own lives stand out more brightly? Can’t we recall moments of forgiveness, warmth, and sacrificial care more quickly than we can remember the best painting or movie we’ve ever seen?

So the question is, does Great Art – also consist of kindness, forgiveness and love?

deer

Is beauty always a recipe that contains some measure of the above?

Back to the small acts and kindnesses.

I appreciate genuine smiles so much.

Even just “the dignity of notice” is something that is supremely valuable.

Watching the documentary, Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present made me think a lot about this kind of thing. Then I read an article about Fred Rogers of the PBS children’s show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, that made me think even more about how to create, by loving people individually.

What the artist Marina did, for this performance art piece was sit in a chair for hours at a time in a museum and face the person who sat in a chair opposite her. All day long, she did only this. She didn’t eat or drink during that time. She spent the nights during the show, drinking and going to the bathroom.

Although her motives for doing what she did are perhaps not completely clear, it is evident that she operated on a plane where she was seeking to receive and communicate truth. She was also willing to be uncomfortable in the process.

That was it. She met their eyes, she communicated as much as she could without words. She tried to “listen” to them on a deep level. She tried to see them. Just the act of giving attention was powerful. No touching or speaking was allowed.

Someone commented:

“She is treating each person that she encounters with the same attention and the same respect and that is pretty shocking.”

Isn’t it sad, that it’s shocking? That to, “treat each person that we encounter with the same attention and the same respect” is so unusual?

She and the others involved in different live art pieces actually prepared heavily in different ways for their performances. For example, they practiced being still and slowing down their breathing. They confronted things within themselves, in anticipation of being in front of people and offering up something. They spent a lot of time in silence, thinking.

I think that every person needs something like this, to be able to give to others in any way. We need strength from outside ourselves.

Another thing about this particular performance art was that everyone was watching the whole thing. People came to the museum to see the exhibit, which was two people sitting across from one another in silence.

Another aspect of note about it was that people practically hurt each other rushing into the museum, trying to compete to be the ones to sit in the empty chair.

My favorite moment is when two young kids replicate the performance and are cross-legged, sitting on the floor right there facing one another, staring. Of course they would copy the adults, but they also create something new of their own in that moment.

We can create in this way.

In contrast to the above, but with some of the same elements, check out the following private moment behind closed doors.

This excerpt is from a wonderful article written by Tom Junod in Esquire magazine, and it’s a story about Mr. Rogers and his minister whom he asks a favor of, and then includes the journalist in the interaction.

Mr. Rogers began creating the moment he met this journalist. He began looking at him and really listening. He tried to really see his life. He cared about him and expressed that. He also was simply himself in the process of interaction. Doing what he did in his own particular way, even when that could’ve been seen as geeky or peculiar. The article is entitled, “Can You Say … Hero?”

The below example to me, is an amazing one of the quiet art of living. Of being a life artist. Attuned to others and oneself, free in the knowledge of one’s value, and that one has the ear of God. After getting to know both the journalist and the minister, Fred Rogers was in a room with just the two of them, behind a closed door. They all touched.

The next afternoon, I [writer Tom Junod] went to [Fred Rogers’] office in Pittsburgh. He was sitting on a couch, under a framed rendering of the Greek word for grace and a biblical phrase written in Hebrew that means “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” A woman was with him, sitting in a big chair. Her name was Deb. She was very pretty. She had a long face and a dark blush to her skin. She had curls in her hair and stars at the centers of her eyes. She was a minister at Fred Rogers’s church. She spent much of her time tending to the sick and the dying. Fred Rogers loved her very much, and so, out of nowhere, he smiled and put his hand over hers. “Will you be with me when I die?” he asked her, and when she said yes, he said, “Oh, thank you, my dear.” Then, with his hand still over hers and his eyes looking straight into hers, he said, “Deb, do you know what a great prayer you are? Do you know that about yourself? Your prayers are just wonderful.” Then he looked at me. I was sitting in a small chair by the door, and he said, “Tom, would you close the door, please?” I closed the door and sat back down. “Thanks, my dear,” he said to me, then turned back to Deb. “Now, Deb, I’d like to ask you a favor,” he said. “Would you lead us? Would you lead us in prayer?”

Deb stiffened for a second, and she let out a breath, and her color got deeper. “Oh, I don’t know, Fred,” she said. “I don’t know if I want to put on a performance….”

Fred never stopped looking at her or let go of her hand. “It’s not a performance. It’s just a meeting of friends,” he said. He moved his hand from her wrist to her palm and extended his other hand to me. I took it and then put my hand around her free hand. His hand was warm, hers was cool, and we bowed our heads, and closed our eyes, and I heard Deb’s voice calling out for the grace of God. What is grace? I’m not certain; all I know is that my heart felt like a spike, and then, in that room, it opened and felt like an umbrella. I had never prayed like that before, ever. I had always been a great prayer, a powerful one, but only fitfully, only out of guilt, only when fear and desperation drove me to it…and it hit me, right then, with my eyes closed, that this was the moment Fred Rogers—Mister Rogers—had been leading me to from the moment he answered the door of his apartment in his bathrobe and asked me about Old Rabbit. Once upon a time, you see, I lost something, and prayed to get it back, but when I lost it the second time, I didn’t, and now this was it, the missing word, the unuttered promise, the prayer I’d been waiting to say a very long time.

“Thank you, God,” Mister Rogers said.

No one else saw or experienced this moment, even though we’re all now getting a chance to read about it. The moment itself however, was experienced between only those present. It was made possible by brushstroke after brushstroke, so to speak, of friendliness, of building trust and mutual enjoyment, of kind words and attentive actions and time spent together.

sun!

By Tom Junod – “Can You Say … Hero?”

Originally appeared in the November 1998 Esquire. Find the complete article here.

Poem Trio

In Poetry on November 3, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Photo by Amanda Brack
Fall Tree
Louisville, Kentucky

Fun Loving Grandmas
Hey, Barbara! Remember the time —

I’m sure you know this has to rhyme –

Remember the day little Josh came along?

We were on our way to work, doing nothing wrong.

When you got the call, I put the car in high gear.

We flew down I-20 like we had no fear.

I’m not sure if you prayed that we met no disaster.

Or, if you were thinking, “Can’t we go any faster?!”

We made it to Hendrick, no troopers in sight

And there you met little sunshine and light.

I’m sure God rode with us on that crazy day.

He kept us safe in His own divine way.

He watches us still ‘cause He knows who we are –

Fun loving grandmas behind the wheel of a car.
 

Georganne Conway

Copyright© August 2, 2008

Photo by Roger Brown

Photo by Roger Brown

Through Jesus’ Eyes

I wish that you could know me,
See into my soul.
I know that I’m not worthy,
But Jesus makes me whole.

He gives me hope when I’m afraid.
He lifts me when I’m down.
He sends me joy and a smile
To replace an ugly frown.

He runs to meet me every time
I call upon his name.
He lets me know that I don’t need
Riches, clout or fame.

I guess I’m really special
‘Cause Jesus tells me so.
He wants to spend some time with me
And always lets me know.

He wraps his arms around me
And holds me really tight.
He warms my heart and gives me rest
On a cold and lonely night.

He walks with me along the way
And never leaves my side.
He forgives me when I cannot see
Through all my foolish pride.

If only you could see me
The way my Jesus does,
We’d be friends forever
With forgiveness, faith and love.

Georganne Conway
Copyright(c)2004

Sunset Cranes

Ageless Dreams
To my fellow cancer survivors and all who support them

Threadbare carpet,
Worn woven shades,
Days gone by,
Memories of parades –

Towels with raw edges,
A sofa sunken deep,
An old, old freezer,
Bought when food was cheap.

Dresses out of style,
Shoes with signs of wear,
Hats in a pile
No longer cover lack of hair.

Some things wear out.
Don’t stand the test of time.
But my dreams are ageless
And live on in my rhyme.

Georganne Conway
Copyright ©2004

Photo by Amanda Brack
Canoe on Lake Chelan
Stehekin, Washington

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.

The Art of Faith

In Art, Life in Society on October 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm

A Day is Like a Thousand Years and A Thousand Years Like a Day*

By Laura Senti

Usually when I hear someone say that God is working things out, or that God operates on a different sense of time, I think, “Yes, God is slow.” I’m even a little patronizing: “Be patient, it takes God awhile to get things done.” If I’m feeling frightened or doubtful I think he is inactive, and “his own time” means “He’s paying no attention and is absent from the scene.”

My life seems to me to be eerily still lately. I want something new to come along. I’m struggling to see what is next for me. I crave a stronger sense of direction and purpose, yet the days and months pass on in much the same way as before. I watch what I perceive to be dynamic action and movement in others’ lives and wonder if God stuck me on a shelf in a rarely-opened closet.

It seems to me that God is slower than me.

But what if he is in fact, being lightning fast and I’m the slow one? We know that time is relative. Speed is relative, too.

What got me thinking about this was watching the SlowMo guys on YouTube. One of my favorite clips is Lloyd the Cat jumping to the top of a tall fence. At 2500 frames per second—100 times slower than we normally see–I could see the unfolding miniscule movements of the spring, the boost midway up the fence, the light landing on top. A cat in motion is power personified, a beautiful thing to watch.

All the frames together add up to a beautiful tableau, but what if I could see only one frame per hour? Might I lose interest and forget that the cat is in fact, in the midst of that energetic jump to the top of the fence? And what if I didn’t even know, to begin with, what I was seeing, and just saw one frame out of context? I don’t think it would be that riveting; it’s the fluidity of the action, the succession of frames, that gives meaning to each individual frame.

I am impressed by quick changes, quick growth: explosions, that experiment in high school science that suddenly changes the color of the solution; the factories and machines that pop out products and whip through tasks. Why am I so impressed by fast? Maybe because that’s what I can see most easily in our human time. But the deeper, more fundamental time frame is God’s.

If in the physical realm I miss so much and see so coarsely unless events are slowed way down, might this also be the case in the spiritual realm? Maybe our sense of time is actually slow motion. We see things unfold bit by bit, assuming that we’re perceiving time as real. But what if God’s time is real time? He’s doing countless amazing things millisecond by millisecond, whereas in human time that translates into day by day, month by month, year by year. His time frame is so much bigger, that we have to have faith to believe change and growth is actually occurring.

So in the midst of this time in my life when I perceive God to be excruciatingly slow, He is actually in the middle of his usual giant, slow-motion-to-me action, one that I don’t yet know and never will fully know because it’s so grand and complex, involving far more than just me. Maybe the cat is only poised at the bottom of the fence, so I’m not noticing any movement yet. I am seeing one frame, maybe two, on this still September day in His lightning-speed, dense movement, specially slowed down for human minds to watch, wonder and savor.

I’ll trust that He’s up to something good.

*2 Peter 3.8

Running horse

Photo by Roger Brown
Running Horse
Colorado

Getting It

In Art, Life in Society, Poetry on April 9, 2012 at 7:30 pm

To be content, I must create.

A work of art, of literature, of science;

Something unique, something my own.

And to be happy, truly happy,

My creation must be recognized,

Acclaimed, and enduring.

http://fugatur.wordpress.com/about/

Street Art in Oslo, Norway by Alice Pasquini

How sad, his wife replied,

That evoking a smile, teaching a lesson,

Watching a sunset, relieving a burden

Provide you with neither contentment

Nor happiness.

You don’t get it, he shouted.

Thank goodness, she sighed.

 

By Robert Deluty

[Motherhood: Journey Into Love, An Anthology of Poetry, edited by Edwina Peterson Cross, published by Mothers At Home, Inc. (c) 1997]

The Lesson

In Poetry on April 9, 2012 at 2:48 pm

 

An angel hovered near the earth

To listen, should I call.

God had sent the angel here

To catch me, should I fall.

 

No summons did I make above

For I felt that I knew best.

The angel could just take God’s love

And care for all the rest.

 

No need had I for any help –

My problems few & small.

I had the answers I would need

Were my back against a wall.

 

Photo by Kent Bartlett

The smallest problem began to grow.

I could not make it stop.

Trouble, trouble everywhere –

Soon there was a crop.

 

As I pondered what to do,

I raised my hands above;

Then, I felt the angel’s grasp

And God’s continued love.

 

In my despair, I found the peace

That I’d been searching for.

It was there all along

When I opened up the door.

 

More grateful now, I could not be

When I look up towards the sky

And ask my Master for His help;

For He always hears my cry.

 

He sends an angel to calm my fears

And meets my every need.

I’ll listen now and talk to Him.

I’m glad to let Him Lead.

 

Georganne Conway

Copyright © November 3, 2008

 

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

The Art of Aging

In Humor, Life in Society on January 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm
Binka and Betty, Hong Kong-RB

Photo by Roger Brown
Binka and Betty
Hong Kong, China

By Heila Rogers

In the 1920s, Tokyo high school student Hideichi Oshiro read a haiku poem he never forgot … it described coming across the subtle beauty of a wildflower during a walk in the mountains.

“I wanted to make this kind of haiku in my life,” he said at age 100.

“Nothing else, just one haiku.”

(Nichi Bei, 12/22/11)

I would like to suggest, how about make one haiku OF our life?

Catch Sun

Photo by Roger Brown
Catch Sun
China

How about the art of living involves humor.

People are dying (!) to know the secret to longevity. Scientists poke and prod centenarians and test their blood, analyze their daily habits, and report on their diet and exercise habits. Conclusions vary. Some drink, some don’t. Some eat meat, some don’t.

I have a file with articles interviewing older people. Usually when they reach a milestone birthday like 90 or 100, they get their picture in the paper. Something I love about them and always notice is their humor.

One 90-something lady was asked if she’d lived her whole life in the town where she was born and raised, and still lived. She answered, “Well yes … so far!”

Robin Le Breton, People's Park - Chengdu-RB

Photo by Roger Brown
Robin Le Breton
People’s Park, Chengdu, China

Jeanne Calment of France released a CD at the age of 121 which included a rap song. That’s not a typo. Her age was 121 years old. No, she didn’t in fact take herself too seriously.

Hear it here.

Read the centenarians’ quotes below and look for the embedded humor. It’s not the cracking jokes kind of humor, it’s more of a deep, abiding perspective on life, that looks for and is aware of “the funny.” An outlook that appreciates human foibles and is interested in laughing.

Christian Mortensen, originally of Denmark:

On his 115th birthday Mr. Mortensen said, ”Friends, a good cigar, drinking lots of good water, no alcohol, staying positive and lots of singing will keep you alive for a long time.”   (NYT)

Tell me there’s not humor in there – “lots of singing” is not a medical prescription.

Maria Gomes Valentim of Brazil:

“She says she has lived long because she has always taken care of her own life – and not the life of others,” granddaughter Jane Ribeiro Moraes, 63, told a local newspaper.   (The Huffington Post)

You know she has some stories though!

Besse Cooper of Georgia, United States:

Sidney Cooper said his mother was told she is the oldest person in the world …

[S]he said,“I am? I should get a box of chocolates – assorted.”   (Walton Tribune)

What a funny answer!

Ann Nixon Cooper of Georgia:

Until the age of 103 the lively centenarian still danced the electric slide.

Enough said.

Bucky Williams of the U.S. – former member of the Negro Baseball League:

It was an era before Jackie Robinson, when the color line prevented these players – some of the best players in the world – from playing in the National and American leagues. The black players couldn’t play on the same fields, use the same water fountains or eat in the same restaurants. Bucky used to tell the story of the time he and a fellow player were approached by female fans but didn’t speak to the women for fear of being lynched. But Bucky remembers the good times too. “You didn’t make any money. Some of us might have made $10 or $15. But we had what you call fun.”

(www.100yearsproject.org)

We had what you call fun. I wish that quote could be stenciled onto every sports arena and stadium in the country.

I honestly don’t know if scientists have studied this about humor and longevity, but it’s verifiable.

Laughter is good medicine.

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength. Proverbs 17.22

Young Monks @ Play

Photo by Roger Brown
Young Monk’s at Play
China

A quote from Ushi Okushima, a daughter of one of the semi-famous centenarians on Okinawa (not a baby herself, she’s 74):

She says her 100-year-old mother still treats her the way she did nearly seven decades ago.

“She criticizes my hairstyle,” she sighs. “She still talks to me like I’m a small kid.”   (globalaging.org)

Look for it! It’s there in every interview.

Finally, Run Run Shaw, who ran a large entertainment business addresses the joy of making people laugh:

‘In my business, its all a guessing game. You’ve got to go along with it, watch audience reactions and then guess. I like sitting among the audience, especially in Hong Kong where people make comments continuously. Entertainment is a kind of service to the people. In Hong Kong, people work all the time and have nowhere to go. So keeping them amused and entertained is a challenge.’
    (www.shaw.sg)

Again, to be clear, this humor is not sarcasm, it’s not laughter at others’ expense, it’s not crude. Instead it’s joy and gladness. It’s love really. An acknowledgment of beauty and wonder — and pinpointing that in everyday activities.

See it in their eyes.

Photo by Heila Rogers
Eggs by Daniel Rogers

Addition 8/1/12: 100 year-old Idaho woman on Jay Leno show