Monday, April 28, 2008

and, oh yeah by the way, we're moving, too...

You'd think I'd be too busy to be doing frivolous things like reading books and watching movies and listening to music. You'd think, but you'd be wrong. Maybe it's procrastination. Maybe it's just plain old laziness. I don't know. Either way I thought I'd write a couple quick notes on this stuff so I can throw them into a box and add it to the pile in my empty dining room.

from the book pile:
Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
This is the fourth book I've read by this author and it is her most recent title.
She is a liberal.

And a feminist.

And a Christian.

And, an excellent writer.

Having said that, this is not my favorite of her works. It felt a little bit contrived, possibly formulaic. Like she took the template of what has worked so well for her in her previous essay writings on faith (Traveling Mercies; Plan B) and laid it over new stories. Don't get me wrong...she is an excellent story teller. By no means boring. But it felt like all of her punchlines were predictable. This just seems like the antithesis of Ms. Lamott.

Ironically enough the major thread woven through her stories in this book was the transforming power of grace. That it shows up in ways unexpected and, often, without announcement.

"That's me, trying to make any progress at all with family, in work, relationships, self-image: scootch, scootch, stall; scootch, stall, catastrophic reversal; bog, bog, scootch. I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kinds of things," she writes in one of her essays, "that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace's arrival. But no, it's clog and slog and scootch, on the floor, in silence, in the dark." (these are three of my favorite, favorite sentences she's ever written!)

And Ms. Lamott tells a variety of tales to underscore this truth -- from trying to get some money back from an unscrupulous carpet salesman to searching for her lost dog in the California foothills to her attempts at mothering her seemingly apathetic teenage son.

It's honest sentences like this that keeps me in the Lamott fan club:"It made me laugh about my bad dieting days, like say, my thirties....During the worst of it, if I discovered that I had gone from 140 to 139.6, I felt triumphant; if the opposite happened, panic rose in my throat, and I had to stuff it back down with food."

and, "God was most show-offy when things did not go according to my plans, which was approximately ninety percent of the time."

also beautiful ones like this:" The air smelled grassy and warm and clean, like oats that had just come out of the dryer. There was a mild breeze that did not have an objective, the way the biting winds of winter do. It was breathing the cool air, too, draping you lightly in itself."

So, while I was somewhat disappointed with this book, it's kind of like saying I'm a little bit disappointed with the newest episodes of Lost. I'm still recording it every single week. And I will continue to read Ms. Lamott's works. I think I'll just dive back into her fiction for awhile.

Care of the Soul: A Guide For Cultivating Depth and Sacredness In Everyday Life
by Thomas Moore
I read somewhere a comment from this famous librarian a rule that freed me to enjoy reading even more (hard to believe, I know!). She says that no one should feel responsible to finish reading a book they are not enjoying. She suggests a reader subtract their current age from 100 and read that many pages in a book before deciding to commit to it or not. For me that would be 63 pages.

When I was reading this book, I found myself wishing I was 87 years old.

I felt a little bit like a failure. I mean my author-hero, Brennan Manning, is the one I got this title from. I figured if I loved Manning's work; I'd love his reading list. I guess not.

If you are interested in reading the behind-the-science stories of psychotherapy you might love this book. I did enjoy the way the author wove in Greek myth -- the Odyssey, Narcissus, and the divine mother - daughter relationship of Demeter and Persephone. (and that's all within the first 63 pages!).

Life is short and my reading wish list is long. Thank you, Thomas Moore for your intelligent and imaginative writing. May you continue to add many intelligent and imaginative readers to your fan club. And, thank you, Nancy Pearl, for your wonderful reading rules. I am moving on....

By the way, I found a wonderful new site, Swaptree, that provides a simple, fast and fun way to trade in books, music, video and games for different titles for only the cost of shipping! I'll be swapping in the last two titles and will keep you posted.

from the Netflix queue:
Lars and the Real Girl starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider.

I can try to explain it, but really you should just Netflix it.

Yep, right now.

Go ahead. I'll wait for you.


OK. Here's what I think.

It's brilliant. It's original.

And, it got sadly overlooked for Screenplay and Best Actor at the Academy Awards.

Ryan Gosling is amazing. My ameteur test for amazing acting is if I can forget who the actor is because I get so caught up in the story. Gosling passed the test.

My whole family watched -- including Brian. I watched twice. It's that good.

We'll be passing it along to our colleagues in this work and life that is the Church. Wrapped tenderly and subtley in the story of a delusional young man and his concerned family is one of the best pictures of true community I've ever seen.

And since you're going to be watching the movie soon yourself, I won't say anymore. I'll just leave you with one of my favorite pieces of dialogue from the film:

Sewing Circle Lady 3 : Well that's how life is, Lars.
Mrs. Gruner: Everything at once.
Sewing Circle Lady 2 : We brought casseroles.
Lars Lindstrom: Thank you.
Lars Lindstrom: [Lars looks around the sewing circle. The three ladies are knitting and doing needlepoint] Um, is there something I should be doing right now?
Mrs. Gruner: No, dear. You eat.
Sewing Circle Lady 2 : We came over to sit.
Sewing Circle Lady 3 : That's what people do when tragedy strikes.
Sewing Circle Lady 2 : They come over, and sit.

Since I mostly catch up with films once they hit DVD I have to pick my "big money" films carefully (meaning the big money I'd be spending for tickets and popcorn!). I probably won't catch Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed for awhile, but my friend Earl posted an interesting and thought provoking review at his site. Check it out and let me know what you think.

my latest download...
Ampersand - EP, Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken
Twenty-two minutes of imaginative songwriting by husband and wife musicians who had never recorded together before this EP.
I've only been able to listen through twice and was busy packing both times so I haven't been able to give it a great listen yet.
So far I know I love the sound and can't believe that I have never heard McCracken before. I will be checking out her solo recordings also.
Anyone out there listening to this? Thoughts?

What about books, music or movies you've spent time with lately? Anything interesting, beautiful, excellent, horrible? We'd love to hear all about it....

(top pic - our current home at 19 Camilla Street;
bottom pic - our home as of Monday, 106 Jefferson Ave)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

lessons from a three-year-old, Brennan Manning and The Notebook

Last week a leader asked me to ask God to show me an area in my life that is not characterized by holiness.
I groaned.
I moaned.
I writhed with wailing and gnashing of teeth.

"I don't even have to ask Him. I know what it will be. It's always one from the list TOP-THREE-THINGS-WRONG-WITH-TAMARA-THAT-GOD-DISLIKES-ABOUT-HER:
1. her weight
2. her lack of resemblance to The-World's-Best-Mother (which includes a general lack of joy in cooking and cleaning and attending children's soccer games, et al)
3. her complete dislike and avoidance of budgets, diets, schedules and speed limits (this would take us right back to #1. her weight.)
Of course I did not say this out loud. But I thought it. I thought it so hard that the thoughts drained right from my head (which did not want to think them) and wriggled out through my body.
And I didn't let my head think about the question again. But God did not forget the question. And He seems to want to answer it. Persistantly so.Like a woodsman leaving objects along the trail for a lost companion-- torn shirt sleeves, bread crumbs, forked branches sticking up from the forest floor -- He may have succeeded in leading me in the right direction.

trail marker #1: a picture drawn by a three-year-old

And not just any three-year-old; my three-year-old. The same boy I was telling that Jesus loves him. And it only took me 11 years to look at the picture with truth goggles. Also grace ones.

So I'm packing my whole house to move in a little over two weeks. I begin in the upstairs crawl space. It must be that I had chosen this space to pack away my mommy-ness once all my kids started going to real school. I had forgotten about this storage area. It is stuffed with all the good mommy ideas I'd ever had (some clearly attempted more successfully than others)What little wisdom I've gained over the past five+ years allowed me to reduce the boxes down from six overflowing with educational games, flash cards, family magazines, file folders stuffed with kid recipes and birthday party ideas down to two. Included in one of the keeper boxes is the notebooks I kept for my sons' early learning-at-home years. (I hope to discover my daughters' somewhere still...oh, dear!)

Alexander, age 3; subdivided under the category "Bible" (having four kids in six years drove me to a desperate need for sub-categories in my life!)

(mom's question) What Jesus Means toAlex:

(son's answer) "He loves me. He likes me."

And then a couple pages later, in our discussion of the Ten Commandments, Alex showed his child faith by drawing a perfectly silly picture under the very serious heading "Love the Lord God and don't put any gods before Him". (remember. 6 years divided by 4 babies = slightly uptight new mother.)

Alex' picture? Like any three-year-old's etchings. A large, bulbous, semi-round crayon marking signifying a head with three smaller bulbous, semi-round crayon markings signifying eyes and a nose. An upturned hash mark signifying a smile. Two hash marks out of the side of the head-blob signifying arms. Two hash marks five times longer than than the arm sticks jutting straight from the bottom of the head-blob signifying legs (three-year-olds have no time for minor body parts such as necks and body trunks -- can the stick figure smile? Walk? Grab things? Fine.)

In Alex' picture this is God. I can tell because it takes up almost all of the space on the white page. Balancing on top of one of God's stick-arms is another ,smaller-yet-equally-bulbous head with two leg-sticks standing straight up in the air.

The title: "Alex standing on his head on God's arm - showing that he loves God." (who needs other small-g-gods when this God lets you stand on your head on his great big stick-arm??)

trail marker #2: Brennan Manning

I've been re-reading Abba's Child by Brennan Manning. Without realizing it at the time, I bookmarked it and hid it under my stack of more sophisticated titles. I didn't take the time to analyze this decision, but I'm beginning to think it was because it was annoying me. Also really pissing me off.

I mean really annoying stuff, like this statement: "When we accept the truth of what we really are and surrender it to Jesus Christ, we are enveloped in peace, whether or not we feel ourselves to be at peace. By that I mean the peace that passes understanding is not a subjective sensation of peace; if we are in Christ, we are in peace even when we feel no peace.

With a graciousness and an understanding of human weakness that only God can exhibit, Jesus liberates us from alienation and self-condemnation and offers each of us a new possibility. He is the Savior who saves us from ourselves. His Word is freedom. The Master says to us: Burn the old tapes spinning 'round your head that bind you up and lock you into a self-centered stereo-type. Listen to the new song of salvation written for those who know that they are poor. Let go of your fear of the Father and your dislike of yourself."

And this one. "The ordinary self is the extraordinary self - the inconspicuous nobody who shivers in the cold of winter and sweats in the heat of summer, who wakes up unreconciled to the new day, who sits before a stack of pancakes, weaves through traffic, bangs around in the basement, shops in the supermarket, pulls weeds and rakes up the leaves, makes love and snowballs, flies kites and listens to the sound of rain on the roof.

While the imposter draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, the true self claimes identity in its belovedness. We encounter God in the ordinariness of life: not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary, mystical experiences but in our simple presence in life."

Here Manning quotes Mike Yaconelli, "I knew I was broken. I knew I was a sinner. I knew I continually disappointed God, but I could never accept that part of me. It was a part of me that embarrassed me. I continually felt the need to apologize, to run from my weaknesses, to deny who I was and concentrate on what I should be. I was broken, yes, but I was continually trying never to be broken again - or at least to get to the place where I was very seldom broken..."

Manning again, "At every moment of our existence God offers us this good news. Sadly, many of us continue to cultivate such an artificial identity that the liberating truth of our belovedness fails to break through. So we become grim, fearful, and legalistic. We hide our pettiness and wallow in guilt. We huff and puff to impress God, scramble for brownie points, thrash about trying to fix ourselves, and live the gospel in such a joyless fashion that it has little appeal to nominal Christians and unbelievers searching for truth.

From hound-dog disciples and sour-faced saints, spare us, oh Lord! Frederick Buechner wrote, "Repent and believe in the gospel, Jesus says. Turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is better than we ever dared hope, and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad things in this world the gladdest thing of all. Amen, and come, Lord Jesus."

trailmarker #3: The Notebook

It could be because I've been sorting through so many boxes of my children's childhood that I'm weepy. Or the wicked sinus infection I've had all week (and companion assortment of cold-medicines) that I'm tired. Or the fact that I love to watch Ryan Gosling act that I'm vulnerable (as are so many of his characters).

After watching Half Nelson (starring Gosling) with Andrew last night I had the urge to stay up into the night watching Gosling in my guiltiest-of-all-chick-flick-pleasures, The Notebook. Brian stayed up through the entire thing with me. By the final aged-lovers death scene, I was doing that kind of embarrassing snotty sobbing that I so try to avoid in my life. Hot tears smushing over my nose and dribbled, salty, into my mouth. It was dark. I hoped Brian wouldn't notice and laugh at my girl-ness.

I didn't want to have to explain that it wasn't just all the gorgeous shots of the younger couple kissing and hugging and melodrama of the elderly couple dying in each other's arms arms that made me cry. (and goshdarnit, why shouldn't I cry at that?!?) No, it's more.

It's the persistance of that husband reading and re-reading and re-reading The Notebook to his forgetful, disease-estranged lover with the hope of even just a few moments of knowing. Of being known by her. Just a few moments when she is able to come out of her sickness and aged fog and see him for who he truly is. Her lover. And herself as she truly is. His beloved.

That's it. I may have found the shelter at the end of the trail. I'm sure I missed many other clues along the way, what with all my huffing and puffing and whining and complaining about the hardness of the search. So certain that the holiness I'm being called up into is from my own list of reasons-to-hate-myself that I am blind to the deeper, truer list of my Abba. Could it be that His trail of holiness leads to knowing and being known by Love?

I almost feel like standing on my head. Not yet, but soon.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


trying to combine facebook and blogger...did it work?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Once, once again; Book Reviews

What more can I say?
The movie captivates me.
Actually I can add a couple more descriptions that make the movie mean so much to me.
  • unpretentious
  • subtle
  • organic
  • vehemently opposed to cliche
  • beautifully and simply crafted
  • characters that are likeable, true-to-themselves, yet willing to grow and take risks -- and, to quote Eugene Peterson, just damn ordinary. (although we come to see their true talents as extraordinary).
Someday -- before this year is over -- I will hold a "Once" party and the price of admission will be a handwritten song. (just like the party -- full of candlelight and long neck bottles - that Guy and Girl attend together; it really depicts one of my visions of Heaven.)

Book Review: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink

Good news for all you conceptual people out there...appearantly we're going to rule the future! If you're currently working toward your MBA switch to a MFA; if you're updating your resume with programming and engineering skills, get to your community college ASAP for a creative writing or video production class. We are in the high-touch, high-concept age and it looks like we'll be here a good while.
Computers bring us more and more automation. Cheap labor overseas brings us more and more abundance. What the world needs now is creative thinking. Pink makes these arguments and more. With only a little bit of bias, I found myself totally agreeing with him. It's time to shake off the test-happy, metric and IQ-driven age and invest some time and energy into our EQ's (that's emotional quotient for all my engineering friends). Our culture is craving -- and willing to pay good money for -- meaning and experience.
Pink lists six R-Directed (as in right-brained) aptitudes we will need to master in order to complement the glut of L-Directed (as in left-brained) reason of the Information Age.

1. Not just function but also DESIGN (beauty and whimsy have value!)
2. Not just argument but also STORY
3. Not just focus but also SYMPHONY (analysis alone is no longer the hot commodity, rather what's the BIG picture?)
4. Not just logic but EMPATHY (those who thrive will be distinguished by their ability to forge relationships and care for others)
5. Not just seriousness but also PLAY (good news for all you gamers out there!)
6. Not just accumulation but also MEANING (who knew happiness isn't just found in stuff??)

Pink takes the rest of the book to help his reader envision this list. And, joy of all joys for this concept-girl -- lots and lots of links and recommended reading abound at the conclusion of each chapter. My absolute favorite recommendation was found at Somehow and someway, I will be working that concept into my future.
Because Pink is cautious to not throw the baby out with the bathwater in encouraging not a cultural shift to Right-Brain dominance but, instead a Whole New Mind (a symphony of both, if you will) I can totally recommend this book to every one I know.
Don't feel like reading the book but would like to know what to do when you grow up? Pink says the careers to be in for this age -- Design (of any kind, from furniture to graphic to product innovation) or Nursing (remember empathy?).
Interesting, eh?

Book Review: Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit: Reflections on Creativity and Faith by Luci Shaw

I had never heard of Luci Shaw until I read the collection of essays called The Christian Imagination (Ed: Leland Ryken) a few years ago. The time was a summer month shortly after one of my greatest adulthood epiphanies at a Willow Creek Arts Conference...I loved art and was about half a lifetime behind in my understanding of and discpline in this role. The essay I read by Luci Shaw was titled "Beauty and the Creative Impulse" and was located on page 81 of a 462-page collection. After reading Shaw's essay I'm not sure I ever read further. And it wasn't just because of the wisdom and realistic view of the purpose of beauty in a broken world that is embodied in this statement:

"We were each, in the image of our Creator, created to create, to call others back to beauty, and the truth about God's nature, to stop and cry to someone preoccupied or distracted with the superficial, "Look!" or "Listen!" when, in something beautiful and meaningful we hear a message from beyond us, and worship in holiness our Creator who in his unlimited grace,
calls us to become co-creators of beauty."
This paragraph deeply impacted me. But it is not what stopped me breathless in my tracks.

Luci Shaw is a poet. For that reason, it only makes sense that a poem would so infatuate my mind that I was no longer able to process prose.
See what you think...
The Foolishness of God
Perform impossibilites
or perish. Thrust out now
the unseasonal ripe figs
among your leaves. Expect
the mountain to be moved.
Hate parents, friends, and all
materiality. Love every enemy.
Forgive more times than seventy-
seven. Camel-like, squeeze by
into the kingdom through
the needle's eye. All fear quell.
Hack off your hand, or else,
unbloodied, go to hell.
Thus the divine unreason.
Despairing you may cry,
with earthy logic - How?
And I, your God, reply:
Leap from your weedy shallows.
Dive into the moving water.
Eye-less, learn to see
truly. Find in my folly your
true sanity. Then, Spirit-driven,
run on my narrow way, sure
as a child. Probe, hold
my unhealed hand, and
bloody, enter heaven.
(from Polishing the Petoskey Stone, Shaw Books, 1990, 198)
I bought this book, Breath for the Bones, about a month ago in preparation for the Transforming Culture Symposium I planned to attend April 1-3. I knew that Luci Shaw would be one of the breakout presenters and very much hoped I'd be able to sit in her session. I figured reading the book before seeing her in person would somehow prepare me to be that much smarter. As if an invisible gold star would gleam off my nametag or something!
As it turned out I read the book on the plane all the way there and then all the way back home. It is a good book that I have filled with dog-eared corners (i'm too lazy to hold a highlighter AND a book!). Paragraphs like this one budge their way into my dull and unbelieving thought patterns:
"Does art impact our spirituality? Does spirituality affect our art? Yes. And yes. The two seem symbiotic, each feeding on and in turn nourishing the other. They work in tandem; it is hard to imagine an aritist who is totally unspiritual in the sense of being out of touch with both created and unseen worlds. And it is hard to imagine a person full of Spirit who is not in some way creative, innovative, world disturbing." (page 78, )
But, once again, it is Ms. Shaw's first-love, the poem, that elevates my heart and mind:

What We Say We Want
What do we say when
that hunger harrows our bodies?
I desire you. But it's not
that, or not only that.
Desire is the word we use as an excuse
for all the pain, a white flag
dropped into the battle that rages
between urgency and fulfillment.
A time of exhaustion comes
when nothing is left to want;
or when what we still want
is too large to name.

And, maybe it is because of her brilliant almost-naming of that which is unnamed in me -- with the skillful use of brilliant language and metaphor -- that I am so drawn to this poet. It is perhaps, why I sat three feet in front of her podium and swiped liquid streams from my cheeks with small wadded up balls of tissue as she read her new work freshly typed and laid onto an overhead projector.
Desire almost-named is an achy kind of thing.
I'm aching all over.

Monday, April 07, 2008

See yonder hallow'd fane;--the pious work
Of names once fam'd, now dubious or forgot,
And buried midst the wreck of things which were
-- Robert Blair, The Grave

(Now you see it,
now you don't)

(we're told)
Ramen noodles
Discovery Channel.
(and no
for the grieving widow)


Saturday, April 05, 2008


Could God heal a man fading into cancer?
could He do it tonight?

my question changes into feeble prayer,
God, would you restore the cells in his body even now as I type the letter r?
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