Saturday, November 29, 2008


Have you dwelt in the house of the not
Yet born and have you paced its floor without
The benefit of footsteps...
could you sleep in that
Pitch perfect dark of not existing yet
-- from Amit Majmudar’s “Answers from the Whirlwind”, Image (#59)

There is no question that God is calling me up out of some old and decaying bits in my soul and into something deeper and truer and more like Christ. Some days I feel like it's killing me.

Come to think of it, it probably will.

Friday, November 21, 2008

all is safely gathered in

Here are the makings for Brian's Thanksgiving Green Bean Casserole...all ready to go for tomorrow! I will be adding yeasty croissant rolls: kneading, rolling, baking and then placing them, still warm and soft, into a basket. The last step is covering them with a pumpkin-colored cloth napkin to keep them warm for the car ride over the hill to my parent's house.

Have I mentioned how very much I adore Thanksgiving? Really I love November altogether.

It is certainly not the lovliest of months where I live. The show-offy trees of October have become haggared and worn down by the cold and rain that dampen the once-clear-blue skies that blow into the year's eleventh month. Now any leaves that remain dangling from trees look only a middle-aged rusty color among decrepit branches waiting for snowy white to cover their bald branches.

Every November I spend the whole month thinking about Van Gogh's Autumn Landscape.

October is crisp and clear-headed, but November is cozy. I am a fan of cozy.

Cocooning is an art-form for me. It's heavy, hooded sweatshirts and raspberry mugs of tea and a crackly fire under the mantle, stacks of books surrounding the overstuffed chair across the room. It's Gary Cooper in High Noon and Miles Davis' Autumn Leaves. And, of course, it's kids home from school, flannel pajamas and Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving. And, for just a little kitsch to the mix, it's WKRP's season one Thanksgiving special (are those live turkeys?! ?)

I know that by late-February this cocooning will begin to feel more like cabin-fever induced suffocation. But, for now, come in from the cold, listen to the baseboard heat rumble deep in the belly of the creaky house. Add a sweater. Light the candles and turn on the soft lamps at 5:00. Listen to the noises of the children echo against the recently-lowered storm windows. Take a nap to Saturday afternoon college football. Mull the cider.

This morning, these thoughts simmered while I sing quietly to myself (because, sadly, it's lost its congregational place of honor on November Sunday mornings)
Come, ye thankful people come;
Raise the song of harvest home.
All is safely gathered in
Ere the winter storms begin.
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied.
Come to God's own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest home.
How about you? What are your favorite ways to soak up the simplicity of this season? Do share, please....

Monday, November 17, 2008


(March 9, 1976 - my fifth birthday party;
Mom makes a Little Bo Peep cake and throws a party with my preschool class)
Addiction is not too strong a word. In fact, it may be too weak. Disorder?
I mean I want to walk away, and I make plans to walk away. But I keep coming back.

My earliest memories of family and home trigger relapse. Those who were supposed to love me best allowed this to go on right under their noses – and did nothing to stop it. Nothing, at all. In fact, in fact – they encouraged the behavior and modeled the behavior and enabled the behavior. What did they think they were doing setting me up for this kind of misery? In what universe is this considered love?

Really, my mother was the worst offender. She is the one who wrote small plays for the neighborhood children. She is the one who talked the mothers into letting their offspring be exposed to this malice…all gathering around the porch swing with scripts and construction paper props in hand. She is also the one who gave the starring role of the yellow, yarn-haired princess to the neighbor girl and not me, but that’s another story I guess.

And it wasn’t just home. No place was safe. Not school where she had the audacity to come into my classroom and let us co-author and illustrate and market a book. Not church where she wrote one play after another for us to perform complete with multiple showings and rented stages and devious villains and bubbly heroines. (Come to think of it, I didn’t get the role of heroine those times either.) Not family reunions or holiday get togethers where we were encouraged -- er, forced -- to perform dramatic recitations of short stories and poems. And where we played one after another of her endless supply of created games. Her need to stir up this dangerous, messy, time-wasting creativity in everyone she came in contact with has severely damaged any hope I’ve ever had at living with any sort of normality – ever.

I mean I’ve tried, really I have. But I’m beginning to think it’s no use.

At 7 I was writing short stories. At 8,9,10 and 11 I was endlessly planning circuses and plays and musicals with a gaggle of reluctant, but submissive cousins. Well, all except that one stubborn cousin who got stage fright in the middle of our musical reenactment of Bullfrogs and Butterflies. She was supposed to be a snail and crawl from my grandma’s kitchen into the living room while all the aunts and uncles and remaining cousins looked on. It was my first experience working with touchy artists. It was crushing. The whole show had to stop and I shrank back into the corner behind my grandma’s recliner while the starlet’s father soothed her tears in the kitchen. Horrified is probably not too strong a word for how I felt.

And then? Well, then I entered my teenage years. And I really, really tried to break away from this dysfunction. I tried to blend in. I wrote some angsty, melodramatic short stories that still won awards (What were those judges thinking? Ugh!) I auditioned for my highschool’s annual theatre productions. (This is another long story, but it’s worth mentioning I didn’t get the heroine role then either. Hmmmm….there seems to be some sort of pattern here.) Then I married and had children and the most creative energy I could muster for, oh about, a dozen years was an occasional themed birthday party and letters I’d write to my children in their scrapbooks.

About five years ago, though, all hell broke loose. The need for a major creative fix that was lying dormant underneath so many self-imposed layers of self-consciousness, self-loathing, and self-protection kind of sprang up and demanded attention. Talk about your jonesin’. I had it bad.

And it was all resurrected with a bunch of kids singing and dancing on a stage. At a church. In Chicago. It was the opening performance of a multi-day arts conference. I wasn’t even sure why I was there. The song wasn’t even into its second chorus before I was slumped over in my chair, high up in the mega-church balcony, bawling like…well, like a jilted theatre starlet. This need to create and to be creative and to collaborate with other creatives was awakened and I fell off the wagon. Hard.

And like any dependent junkie running back into the arms of their dealer, I ran to the nearest phone. Mom, I am so sorry. I’m so sorry that I’ve resented your creativity and tried to shut it down in myself. Thank you for everything you did all those years.

I manage to keep the habit at bay still to this day. Only letting it creep into certain portions of my life, in front of certain types of people. The rest of the time I talk about the weather and the price of gas and play online word games. And feel miserable about myself.

When does it become okay to just admit it already? I'm a complex, sensitive, non-linear creative. And my drug of choice? The creative process. It literally makes me crazy I love it so much. To watch the formation of a vague, nagging idea grow and take shape, passing from hand to hand of one skilled craftsman after another until it is brought into full, dazzling light to be savored and shared by a group of people. Well, it's done me in.

Might as well throw me off the wagon and run me over with it.

Sorry, kids. Don't blame me; it's all your grandmother's fault.

(For the sake of justice, I need to mention my own dad as a partner in crime. This is his -- ummm, unique-- Halloween costume from this year's get together at our house.)

Friday, November 07, 2008

monday mixtape

books, music, films, sites and other fun and meaningful stuff I stumbled on this week

Reading: Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch

The language of worldview tends to imply...that we can think ourselves into new ways of behaving. But that is not the way culture works. Culture helps us behave ourselves into new ways of thinking. The risk in thinking "worldviewishly" is that we will start to think that the best way to change culture is to analyze it. We will start worldview academies, host worldview seminars, write worldview books. These may have some real value if they help us understand the horizons that our culture shapes, but they cannot substitute for the creation of real cultural goods. And they will subtly tend to produce philosophers rather than plumbers, abstract thinkers instead of artists and artisans. They can create a cultural niche in which "worldview thinkers" are privileged while other kinds of culture makers are shunted aside.
But culture is not changed simply by thinking.

When I attended the Transforming Culture Symposium earlier this year, Andy Crouch was the first plenary session speaker. I had not heard of him prior to this event and when he first started talking I wasn't sure what I thought, but he presented his talk on the Arts and the Gospel with a quiet confidence that quickly won me over. He shared profound, paradigm-altering insights into the Creation story with such humility and simplicity that it wasn't until near the closing of his talk that I realized what I'd just heard and learned from him.

In many ways, reading his book was the same kind of experience. Much of the content from that talk is expanded in the 268-page book. While I found that Crouch's warm and conversational tone occasionally became a little cluttered with illustrations, the trade off was a broad subject translated into a lot of common sense and easy to follow logic. At the same time, Crouch never resorts to cliche vernacular to address the deep mystery of walking in this world as a created and creative being.

Part 1 of the book introduces the discussion with his definition of culture as what we make of the world ... in both senses. He proposes -- even challenges -- those of us who would dare to hope for a cultural transformation with this statement:
Consider this a parable of cultural change, illustrating this fundamental rule: The only way to change culture is to create more of it.
If you read the book for no other reason than to understand Crouch's explanation of the differences between cultural gestures that we make and cultural postures that we take, it will be worth your time and money. His breakdown of the church's history of cultural postures is extremely perceptive without being condemning. His ability to translate that history, at times grievous and at times ignorant, into an encouragement for a new posture of Cultivating Culture is an ability that wins my deep respect and gratitude. It also challenges me to be accountable for what I've learned.

Part 2 of the book takes us back into the gospel and connects us with the rich heritage of cultural cultivators we join...beginning with the great originator of culture. Would you have thought this to be Adam? Me too. The understanding of God as the first gardener, the initiator of adding nature + culture to create a tangible, cultural good is one that has blown out the imposing walls of my own ignorance. God gave us culture as surely as He gave us nature. We have the privilege and calling to steward both.

And, thankfully, Crouch integrates the meaning of our lives as culture makers with the hope of our future calling. Part 3 of the book is deeply encouraging writing. Consider one of the author's closing paragraphs:
In this world, this life, "flow" [the times when our work or play so absorbs and attunes our energies that we lose track of time] comes to an end. The canvas is dry, the fugue is complete, the band plays the tag one more time and then resolves on the final chord. And, too, the book is finished, the service is over, the lights go up in the darkened theater and we emerge blinking into the bright lights of the "real world." But what if the timeless, creative world we had glimpsed is really the real world -- and it is precisely its reality that gave it such power to captivate us for a while? What if our ultimate destiny is that moment of enjoyment and engagement we glimpse in the artist's studio?
I would join David Taylor in this recommendation: If you're an artist wanting to make sense of your calling as an artist, go by yourself a copy. Because prior to your calling as a maker of art is your calling as a maker of culture...But, I dare say, it's much more a must read for pastors and leaders of the church.
May we learn much and enjoy much as we work together to make something of the world.

Watching: We Are Together

This simple documentary `made a difference to our family's view of African suffering. It did not diminish the horrific ideas we had about the poverty, disease and suffering experienced by the youngest and the least. But it introduced us to the beauty that surrounds and even infuses that suffering. The film centers around the children living in the Agape Center, an orphanage founded by a woman called "Grandma". The Center provides a home for children left alone by the dread disease of HIV and AIDS.

Even more the film centers on the young girl, Slindile Moya, and perhaps if the film was represented by one iconic image it would be the dazzling smile of this beautiful young woman who has suffered more deeply than anyone I know. The beauty of the film zooms out from that smile to include the music of these orphaned children. While we are told that music forms the everyday small and large rituals of the nation of South Africa, but is it possible that the average South African child can belt out harmonies the way these small children can? It seems music becomes the language that transcends the hard and ugly edges of sickness and hunger and loneliness and gives a passionate, robust voice to thina simunye (we are together).

A good God gives good gifts to His children. For me it was the opportunity to hear the voices of these children and to learn their history and be encouraged by their beauty in suffering.

I already spoke my mind on this topic here, but found the article after I posted. It speaks far more intelligently than I am able and goes beyond the borders of one day on our calendar.

A Poem by Sylvia Plath

Black Rook in Rainy Weather

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect miracle
Or an accident.
To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.
Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can't honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Leap incandescent
Out of the kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then --
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent
By bestowing largesse, honour,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); sceptical,
Yet politic; ignorant
Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant
A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content
Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.
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