Tuesday, December 29, 2009

soapbox: on kitsch [from the draft file/2009]

While I spend time catching up on rest and family time and battle continued sinus headaches that are keeping me from much reading or writing, I thought I'd publish several rough posts that never made it out of my draft file this past year. Please be gracious, the words are unedited, unfinished and, frequently, half-baked. But in an attempt to put something out into the world (and working my way backwards), I offer you unedited draft #5...

Go here to read Jeff Berryman's entire post on kitsch (a topic I will revisit I am sure):


Christian Kitsch
Christian Kitsch
Here’s another interesting review of Robert Scruton’s book Beauty.  This time the subject is high art’s trashy cousin, kitsch. Robert Fulford, of the National Post, doesn’t really let on whether he agrees with Scruton’s didsdain of kitsch or not, be he does a nice job of summarizing the issue.  On the essence of kitsch: “an imitation of human feeling wrapped in a thick layer of cuteness.”  On the problem of kitsch: “Kitsch encourages us to dwell on our own satisfactions and anxieties; it tells us to be pleased with what we have always felt and known. It reaches us at the level where we are easiest to please, a level requiring a minimum of mental effort.”  And in contrast with beauty:
At the other end of the scale (from art and beauty), kitsch (“that peculiar disease that we can instantly recognise but never precisely define, and whose Austro-German name links it to the mass movements and crowd sentiments of the 20th century”) degrades beauty through the Disneyfication of art. Kitsch trivializes human conflict and demotes feeling into bathos. It’s a mould that forms, as Scruton says, over a living culture.
What’s behind this sort of thinking is the notion that in an encounter with art,...read more...

A related post at Culture Making on a topic I'm sure will come up again:

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Kinkade

No doubt many people who would praise a rich, popular, establishment-approved hack like Andy Warhol despise Kinkade for being a rich, popular, evangelical-approved hack. But I think a solid case against Kinkade can be made on purely aesthetic criteria, especially when you compare his work to a superior artist.
Consider two works of on similar themes. Both are images of the Water Tower in Chicago. Both have similar elements—a carriage, trees, people with umbrellas. Indeed, paintings are almost identical in theme and content, if not in style.

And yet the first is unquestionably technically superior. The use of texture and shadow puts the viewer within the picture. You can almost feel...read more...

soapbox: local listening [from the draft file/2009]

I continue to battle sinus headaches that are making it almost impossible for me to enjoy my two favorite loves: reading and writing. There's so much I wanted to try to articulate in this blog-forum but am just not well enough to attend to the task. If you don't mind, I thought I'd publish several rough posts that never made it out of my draft file this past year. Please be gracious, the words are unedited, unfinished and, frequently, half-baked. But in an attempt to put something out into the world (and working my way backwards), I offer you unedited draft #4...

Go here to read the entirety of this post at Image Journal's Good Letters blog.  I was apparently roused enough to start a post with the word Soapbox in the title, but not enough to add any thoughts of my own.  Hmmmmm.....

Ideas for Listening to Music for People Who Listen to Too Much Music

Monday September 14, 2009

By Joel Hartse
If you’re like me, you like listening to music all the time. And if you’re like me, you are also now in a graduate program in language and literacy education, which means you do not have time to do anything except read incomprehensible books about sociocultural theories of language.
Perhaps you are not exactly like me. But I’ll bet you sometimes find that although you were once the type of person who needed nothing more than a dark bedroom, a pair of headphones, and a copy of Portishead’s Dummy to spend a blissfully contemplative evening soaking in your favorite pastime (listening to records), you are now the kind of person who doesn’t do that.
There could be any number of personal reasons: you have kids now, maybe, or two jobs. But I suspect things have changed for most of us simply because too much music being thrust toward us. Being a music enthusiast today feels somewhat like being an unwilling participant in a paintball battle: here they are, hundreds of brand new things, each exquisitely crafted to get your attention, coming straight at you, from the internet, the TV, other peoples’ phones, weekly newspapers, friends.
In light of all this, I offer some suggestions, some experiments in purposeful music-listening, for each of us who loves music but feels its purpose floating away from us. I hope you will consider them, maybe try one out, and report on the results. I’ll try the same after I finish this book by Bourdieu.
Audio Divina. No blasphemy intended—I just figured if you can do it with reading (lectio), why not try listening? Obviously, this is a spiritual approach to music-listening, and it might be difficult to do with, say, a Kelly Clarkson single (I am not responsible for any epiphanies that may, in fact, emerge from repeated, meditative listens to “Since U Been Gone”), but you might want to try it with a song whose mood suits the idea of diligent, spiritual contemplation – something like “Spirit Fall” by David Åhlén (recommended..... read the rest

why liturgical calendar: [from the draft file/2009]

I continue to battle sinus headaches that are making it almost impossible for me to enjoy my two favorite loves: reading and writing. There's so much I wanted to try to articulate in this blog-forum but am just not well enough to attend to the task. If you don't mind, I thought I'd publish several rough posts that never made it out of my draft file this past year. Please be gracious, the words are unedited, unfinished and, frequently, half-baked. But in an attempt to put something out into the world (and working my way backwards), I offer you unedited draft #3...

This post had me formulating a whole post in my mind; never got to the post but this excerpt is pretty self-explanatory:

"The church year is set up so people will remember each event, rather than just hoping that they will pay attention to each one on their own. The reminders are perfect for families and children, as they are sensual: We see the colors, we smell the incense or holy water or anointing oil, we taste the food, we hear the bells, we touch the crucifix or other holy objects. It is also physical in that we do something with our bodies as we pray. There are particular passages of scripture that are read for particular holidays, there are songs sung on those days. These all help teach and tie together what and who each celebration or memorial is about, so that we get a better understanding of it.

Our children especially have enjoyed the ways we have brought the Church Year home. This is not just something we do at church, it is something we live each day, in our homes and lives. Our family has been blessed to travel a bit more lately than we have over the last year, and in that time we have visited other churches. Although we have enjoyed the services (for the most part), they were not liturgical, didn't follow the Church's calendar and afterward we found ourselves having a greater appreciation for that Church year. Rich commented to me after one of our visits to another church that he was so glad that we had the cycles of the Church year to anchor our daily life. We didn't have to try to come up with something to prepare ourselves at the last minute, each day was a preparation for the next day, the next holiday, the next season.

The Church, in her wisdom provided Lent to prepare for Easter, so we didn't have it sneak up on us, we don't have to cram all of Holy Week and Good Friday into Easter Sunday, when we should be rejoicing in the resurrection, not recalling the crucifixion. Our Christmas season begins with Christmas day, not the day after Thanksgiving, focusing on the Incarnation and Nativity, not the Macy's window or how many presents are under a tree. In much the same way, Pentecost is a reminder of the Spirit which empowers each believer as well as the authority given to the apostles (and their successors, the bishops) and the Church. It is the close to Eastertide. Ascension day (and the eight days following it) is a mini-season within the Paschal season, but it is Pentecost that empowers us to go forth and do as Christ commands." 

Monday, December 28, 2009

photo diary of window shopping: [from the draft file/2009]

I continue to battle sinus headaches that are making it almost impossible for me to enjoy my two favorite loves: reading and writing. There's so much I wanted to verbalize in this blog-forum but am just not well enough to attend to the task. If you don't mind, I thought I'd publish several rough posts that never made it out of my draft file this past year. Please be gracious, the words are unedited, unfinished and, frequently, half-baked in many places. But in an attempt to put something out into the world and working my way backwards....unedited draft #2..

I love this post (and I loved this movie)!

It made me think of the windows Brian and I saw on our last trip to NY.  Total design delight!

Worship & Arts at the Center - Giving Thanks for 2009!

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Happy New Year from Worship & Arts at Union Center!

For all who prayed, made or enjoyed the arts at Union Center in 2009 - we are grateful!

[music: Robbie Seay Band, "Rise" from Give Yourself Away]

we are expecting! [from the draft file/2009]

I continue to battle sinus headaches that are making it almost impossible for me to enjoy my two favorite loves: reading and writing. There's so much I wanted to verbalize in this blog-forum but am just not well enough to attend to the task. If you don't mind, I thought I'd publish several rough posts that never made it out of my draft file this past year. Please be gracious, the words are unedited, unfinished and, frequently, half-baked in many places. But in an attempt to put something out into the world and working my way backwards....unedited draft #1...

We are expecting.

But not the kind you think.  Those days are done, but they were glorious and exhausting and unforgettable.

The kind of expecting I mean is the waiting and longing and travailing for something that is glorious and exhausting and thrilling and painful and unknown but familiar all at the same time.

And, really, what better time than Advent to wait for a birth?

This morning I sat with our Advent book (I'd told the worship team that each year I'm hit or miss with a daily Advent reading and that this year, by God, I wanted to be more hit than miss). Well, I'd missed yesterday so I started there.  I read Luci Shaw's essay for Third Sunday Of Advent.  Then I read it again.  Then I called Brian into the living room and read it to him in the middle of his banging around to make me a fire and getting up and down to make us tea.  I waited until he settled in with the dog on the couch so he could really hear the words because I suspected they were intended for him this morning.
Anticipation lifts the heart. Desire is created to be fulfilled - perhaps not all at once, more likely in slow stages. Isaiah uttered his prophetic words about the renewal of the natural Creation into a wilderness of spiritual barrenness and thirst. For him, and for many other Old Testament seers, the vacuum of dry indifference into which he spoke was not yet a place of fulfillment. Yet the promise of God through this human mouthpiece (and the word "promise" always holds a kind of certainty) was verdant with hope, a kind of greenness and glory. A softening of hard-heartedness, a lively expectation, would herald the coming of Messiah. And once again, in this season of Advent, the same promise for the same Anointed One is coming closer.
Without naming the darkness, I knew as I read these words out loud that both of us were fighting whispers of cynical and despairing demonry.  Our cozy scene of crackling fire and steaming mugs of tea in a quiet house on a quiet day off is a phony, Kinkadian snapshot to our true tumultuous internal scene.  In defiance to the unseen, I kept reading.
Just as in Lent, the season of watchful waiting and preparation for Jesus' dying and the great transformation of his rising, so in Advent, we wait for his coming down to be with us once again. The word Lent is derived from the Middle English lente, meaning "Spring," and in French "lent" means slow. In winter it seems that the season of Spring will never come, and in both Lent and Advent it's the waiting that's hard, the in-between of divine promise and its fulfillment, like a leap across a ditch after take-off and before landing. Most of us find ourselves dangling in this hiatus, which is the interval may seem a waste of time.
Harumph...dangling in mid-leap.  How about clawing by our bare fingernails after being pushed off a cliff?  Seems more like it to me. Again with the inner tormenty whispers.  Again with the intrepid reading.
Paul gives us an astonishing understanding of waiting in the New Testament book of Romans, as rendered by Eugene Peterson, "Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the  more joyful our expectancy." With such motivation, we can wait as we sense God is indeed with us, and at work within us, as he was with Mary as the child within her grew.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Murphy Family

Click to play this Smilebox photobook:

A blessing from our home to yours.  May your life be transformed by a relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit in 2010.

*Song is "Here It Is" from Over the Rhine, Snow Angels

Monday, December 14, 2009

advent #5

A few more Advent posts for your enjoyment:

Richard Fudge - Art in Church:  Every day a new calendar block is turned to reveal a new painting.  In the author's wordsOur artsy Advent Calendar which is on display in the Stirring Art Gallery. Each day is an original piece by featured artists Brittney Owens and Deeann Carson Rieves. It is a part of our current exhibit – Atonement."
You can find out more about the current exhibit in this post.

carrying ballast: I hope I get to meet this blogger in real life someday.  I feel like we are kindred spirits.  Each Sunday in Advent she is posting an original piece of artwork from someone in her church family and a poem that she loves.  (we are definately kindred spirits when it comes to poetry!)

Good, True and Beautiful:   I've mentioned Sharon before and she was also part of the Beautiful Christmas series I linked in the last post.  I'm including her here again because this post Expectation is just lovely - in both word and photograph.  It speaks profoundly to the spirit I hope to cultivate during this season.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

advent #4

Sending along some of the advent and Christmas posts I've enjoyed from my blogroll these past couple of weeks.

PhaedraJean ArtMachine: A lovely writing about a lovely piece of Advent artwork.

Cha-Ching on a Shoestring's Beautiful Christmas Series: My sister Kaley and her frugal and crafty blogging friends share great tips for meaningful traditions, decorations, baking and gift-making!

A Ten O'Clock Scholar's The Third Annual Advent Carnival  If you have time, make a cup of tea and pull up by the fireplace to read through some of the history and traditions for recognizing Advent.  I've also enjoyed the Advent playlist from this post.

habit: Last and not exactly specific to the season as much as timely all year long, I've been thoroughly enjoying the concept and the photographs from this site.  I like it so much I'm trying to figure out how to reproduce the concept somewhere in my life!

Monday, December 07, 2009

advent #3

The Annunciation - Henry Tanner

This second Monday in Advent finds me thinking about Mary.  The young woman is a mystery to me -- partly from the sheer incomprehensibility of her circumstances and partly from a well-bred Protestant phobia of all things Marion.  But, tonight,  I spent some time looking at pictures of her.  And trying to imagine.

Twelve years ago, at this very hour, I was in the deep throes of labor pains with my fourth child.  A second baby girl (although we didn't know it, yet).  She who is born at Christmas -- Natalie.  As I recall, Brian was sound asleep on the couch, the television was blaring some late night sports talk show but I was gripped in spasm after anguished spasm and could not leave the recliner chair to get up to turn the blasted thing off.  So I lay there -- breathing in and out and in and out and in again -- and telling God I'd be happy to just go back to sleep for the night and start up labor again in the morning.  Thankfully, He did not answer that prayer and within three hours I was holding my daughter in my arms, studying her little Murphy chin, trying to describe her across the phone lines to far-flung family members.  Becoming alive -- natality.

These things I remember.  Mary's experience I can not imagine.  I hold her in high regard.

Friday, December 04, 2009

recession-proof romance

One Over the Rhine concert and dinner and drinks to celebrate 19th anniversary = $[you'd have to ask my husband]

Two art galleries on my "must see" list = $14

Two days traipsing through the city  = horrific head cold that has me laid up in bed for going on 48 hours now

Spending time with this man whom I love so deeply enjoying beauty and adventure = PRICELESS!

(and there's so much more I'd like to say about everything, but I sort of feel like I'm on the verge of death with  this head thing so it'll have to wait...)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Late Anniversary/Early Christmas

Brian and I are headed to NYC for one more time in 2009.
We're going straight here to see this:
And tonight, we're going here to see them:

 (hopefully, we'll get to hear a little bit of this):

And tomorrow, we're going here to see this:

and do a little bit of this:

and a lot of this:

joy, joy, joy!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

advent #2

table all set for Alex' 16th-birthday dinner

In the history of Advent, many have observed a season of fasting similar to the Lenten season.  In the Murphy house, we celebrate a wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, Alex' birthday & Natalie's birthday all between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There's only feasting around here!

Even though the Advent observance doesn't officially start until tomorrow, I've been reading ahead. (kind of telling, that I can't wait the time it takes to focus on the waiting of time!)  I've posted it at least two other times in the history of this blog, but every time I read this Sylvia Plath poem, I want to weep.  (and I highly recommend listening to this while you read)

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 a 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
A certain minor light may still
Lean 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, honor,
One might say love. At any rate,
I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape);
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 dare to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's 
begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.

Descend to us, we pray.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

advent #1

I am a person who labors over words in order to express my deep thoughts, reflections, insights, ideas and longings.  Perhaps this is why I have grown so attached to the liturgical calendar.  As the planets revolve around the sun each year, I find peace in the rhythm of intangibles made tangible.  The Word becomes Flesh and dwells among us.

For now, mystery wrapped in song.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

i wanna marry you all over again

November 24, 1990

I have now spent as many years of my life married as I did unmarried.  I really can't believe it.  Yesterday Brian and I took a walk at Greenwood Park.  We used to push a stroller, now we chase our dog around the dead logs and leaves.  We sat at a picnic table looking out over a lake full of squawking geese draining out the last bits of autumn in the Northeast.  Brian talked about work, I reached up and brushed back some of the grey hair that seemed to arrive just this month.

It's all grace -- crazy, ridiculous, unearned grace.

We're going away to the City again next week to celebrate.  In the meantime I put together a digital anniversary card that I just can't help but post here, hoping you also might get a kick out of this crazy grace.  I re-read the letter I wrote to him five years ago at our fourteenth anniversary.
Dear Brian,

This album is full of almost every letter, note or scribble we ever gave each other during our junior high and high school years.

Of course during those years, I read and re-read each one until the paper was well-worn (I'm sure you did the same, right?!?) And then we got married and moved your Adidas shoebox of love letters and my red, plastic Gap shopping bag of love letters in together. Somehow over the years they got moved to a corner in the basement and no one remembered they existed. A few times over the last fourteen years I stumbled over them while putting away Christmas decorations or looking for garage sale items. A few times I took them out and re-read each one.

I have to be honest with you. Those few times I looked at the pages and pages of our dating history I did not feel a "warm fuzzy" feeling at all. Instead I thought and felt things like:

We were so young and stupid! How could we possibly know whether we loved each other or not?!?
Why wasn't anyone paying attention to how insecure we were? This was spelling disaster from the beginning!
I am so embarrassed by how  much I gushed over Brian all the time. I must have driven him crazy!

And then, I believed, the ultimate craziness was that our dating years ended while we were so young. Who in the world encouraged a 19 and 20-year-old with no education, no home and no money to gt married?!? What was anyone thinking??  How much more foolish could we  be?

So the letters and notes have been sitting silently in their respective storage places -- until a couple of weeks ago [when I realized through a story I heard of another marriage] the great amount of self-protection [I] still held onto...in [our] marriage....Even in all the tough stuff we have worked through over the last couple of years and all of the forgiveness and love and respect and trust God has given us for each other, I knew that many places of my heart were still closed off from you.

While thinking about this late that night, I was reminded of our letters in the basement. Maybe if I looked at just a few of them, I could uncover those parts of my heart again. One letter ran into another and then another -- late hours into the night as I unfolded each one and read them again. This time, though, God granted me new eyes (or maybe old ones!) In my healed perspective, I was able to see through the insecurity and flaws of our  youth and see our hearts. This time I thought and felt things like:

Thank you, God, for giving us such a great friendship during those painful teen years.
Thank you, God, for protecting us. Even in our sins and mistakes, You preserved our desire to please You.
Thank you, God, for the many, many prayers our struggling -- and flawed -- parents prayed for us. Thank you for preserving their desire to raise us in a way that honors You.

I could see -- for the first time in many years -- the beauty of our hearts for each other. There was still no qustion that we were young, immature, self-righteous, manipulative and even disobedient much of the time. But I could clearly see how God connected those dots with grace and truth and protection.

I could see again what an amazing  person you were and wasn't I smart to fall in love with you ! Your children and grandchildren will be blessed for generations by the work ethic and tenacity you demonstrated from your youth. You also took great, scary risks in opening your heart to me during some very painful days in your family's life. I am so thankful!

I can even look at myself and see the heart of worship God instilled in my from my childhood. I could also look clearly -- without shame -- at the great capacity for love that He gifted to me....

I love you, Brian Murphy. When I look at this book, I realize that in some ways, God never even gave me much of a choice. I first fell in love with your picture in the yearbook -- the goofy one from Spirit Week when you were in 7th grade and I was in 6th...and as hard as I've tried at times, I've never been able to get away from that commitement since!  Your love and friendship has added great, eternal value to my life and, of course, A WHOLE LOT OF CRAZY FUN, too!

I can't imagine my life without you, and am grateful beyond words, that I don't have to.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

on grieving again

I'm thinking about grief again.  In fact, the subject keeps coming up everywhere I turn. Several of my friends are mourning the loss of a loved one, some are mourning the loss of relationship and a few are mourning the loss of certain childhood privileges - for example unconditional love from a parent or ever hearing the words I love you from any trusted adult in their growing up years.

Our nation grieved the loss of thirteen soldiers last week.  We lose soldiers all the time, but we sit up and take notice when they are lost on our own soil at the hands of one of our own countrymen.  This waste of life haunts us and we try to figure out how to lament nobly and adequately without upsetting our entire emotional landscape.

My friend Margaret lost her mom this week.  For over six years since her mom's diagnosis of ovarian cancer she has tried to imagine what these days would be like -- when would they happen, how would she respond, what would moving forward without her mom cost her family?  I wonder if she'll really ever be able to answer those questions?

A week ago -- on a Friday morning -- we visited Margaret's parents Toby and Peggy.  We arrived at their home and tried to enter the reality of their long good-bye.  We walked around their house and behaved as if we'd been invited over for a spaghetti supper -- noticing pictures on the wall, wandering around the space making small talk.  To me the whole house seemed lopsided, almost dizzying it its architectural imbalance.  None of the weight of lovely furniture, books, china, or beloved piano could balance the floors that seemed to literally slope down the hall toward Peggy's bedroom.  For many long months the entire center of their universe was located in that bedroom, their energies absorbed in the tasks of comfort and homely care, love and unexercised grief.  It's as if the gravity of their weighty love drew us in.  We walked the long hallway into Peggy's room and encircled her with hymn-singing, small talk, Scripture-reading, prayer, laughter.

We are rusty in our hymns, the four of us friends.  But we worked through The Church's One Foundation, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and others, trying to read the old black notes moving up and down between sharps, flats and naturals on the page.  We laughed to ourselves that we'd be in a position to sing these great old songs to the man and wife who'd mastered them their whole lives.  Peggy was certainly humble to receive our gift with no look of horror at our missed notes in her lovely, large blue eyes.  I noticed her eyes most when they were fixed on Toby while he spoon-fed her ice chips.  I'm not sure I've ever seen such naked trust in an adult face before.

The whole love between this husband and wife -- it's gritty, imperfect reality -- was far better than any movie story of love I've ever seen.  I'm thankful I got to tell Peggy how much I'd learned from her dying.  How much I learned about the value of long years with my husband.  About the charity that suffers through horrors as well as delights.  The charity that causes one spouse to sleep in a recliner chair next to his wife's bedside for night after long night.  I also learned -- again-- the violence of death.  The sturdiness of our insistence on living is one miserable bugger to someone who is suffering and ready to go to her true home.  Everything is ready, everyone is ready but that body that insists on trying to cope with suffering and go on living.  Eventually, death comes and does it grim work tearing families apart.  I learn each time to embrace the glory of Christ's resurrection more.

I'm thankful for last Friday morning with Peggy and Toby and Margaret and Lori and Andrea and two-year-old Katie.  Eventually we swum back out of the gravity of that room and walked back up the hall toward the piano.  We sang more.  I'm thankful for my new friend Brian Moss who gave us his sheet music to the Psalms that have been sustaining Margaret all these long days.  We were asked again later that week to sing another Brian Moss song at Peggy's funeral.  Between that and an old Don Wyrtzen anthem that Toby requested, once again, we novices felt humbled to sing for this musical family.  And we slid back and forth between the extraordinary extremes of grieving and giggling at the absurdity of it.

Margaret, I'm saving up some funny stories for you.  It's occurred to us that your mom might have been able to laugh along with our fumbling, stumbling attempts to sing for her family this week.  I know the day will come for you to laugh, too.

In the meantime, tears.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

kindness from a stranger

When is the last time you experienced the kind of generosity that just sort of feels too good to be true?  For me, it's been this week from the completely, out-of-the-blue offer from a fellow blogger, Sharon, at  Good, True and Beautiful.

She has taken a challenge in the month of November from another fellow blogger: the 30-day giving  challenge.  On her first day she offered to create a new header or button for anyone who left a comment on her post.  Before I could think too long about it (and talk myself out of it) I left my comment.  What an amazing -- and somewhat humbling -- experience to accept this gift from a stranger.  She not only created an updated header for me, she took the time to ask me questions about what I most wanted and allowed me to ask for several options.  And, guess what?  She's not selling anything!   Just giving it away.

What wasteful and precious generosity.  I am grateful.  Thank you, Sharon.  May our most generous Father multiply blessing (and time!) back to you and your family.  For me, on this occasion, it was truly more blessed to receive.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Happy All Saints Day

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Allelu...
--For All the Saints, William How and Ralph Vaughan Williams
I'm on a week-long "comp time" vacation and since my work is in my church I chose to worship with another congregation today. There's approximately ten churches within walking distance of my house so I picked the Presbyterian church about four blocks away and loved the joy of wrapping up in my fall coat and walking to worship almost as much as the service itself.

  I do not know why I do not do this kind of visit more often.  It is a true gift to be able to walk into a church on a Sunday morning and not have to do a single thing other than be greeted by God and His people and to respond in worship along with them.  It is a beautiful reminder of the universal Church and my place in its family.  I do not go in with an ignorance that the grass is greener there; that they don't have their own concerns, strifes, disagreements and disobediences to contend with, but for that one service I am able to be blissfully ignorant.

I also find that every time I do this I cry during the Lord's Supper.  I can't get over the beauty of people of all types and backgrounds re-enacting this holy remembrance each week.  (although my church does not do this each week, still...)  I truly almost lost it in my pew this morning watching the minister break the loaf of bread and bless the cup.  The drama of people giving each other a place in line to wait for their taste of this holy, ancient supper is magnificent to me.  The undying symbolism of our Lord's broken body and blood that purchased these men and women around me for God is brighter when I'm outside of my normal place of worship.  The ordinary tastes of yeasty bread dipped into rosy, sweet  juice do not detract from the glory, but only enhance the mystery for me.

This is All Saints Day.  I've never celebrated All Saints Day, not ever before in my lifetime.  In fact, up until an embarrassingly few years ago I wasn't sure if that was even an appropriate remembrance for a Christian.  In the fuzzy catechism of my upbringing, saint-remembering equaled saint-worshipping and wasn't that an awful lot like ancestor worship of the pagans?  It was a joy to sit in this marvelously, gloriously ordinary gathering of neighborhood people and join in the remembering of the men and women who also had been purchased for God -- by the same body and blood we remembered together today -- but who were no longer physically present in the weekly bread line of communion.  I did not recognize one single name or photo projected onto the screen during the lovely special song from the worship team, but it didn't matter.  My heart and mind and body were lifted with hope of that future rest.  I am loathe to admit that I could barely remember the names of the saints my own congregation had lost this past year.  Shame on my forgetfulness -- not my lack of sentimentality over death, mind you -- but my utter self-absorption in the here and now-ness of my own life. This is shallow living and shallow worshipping and I no longer am content to live and worship that way.

After the benediction, I walked the four or so blocks to the coffee shop, drawn by the desire for more of this season's pumpkin-flavored coffees and sweets.  Rounding the neighborhood back toward my house, I stopped in the memorial park between the high school and the police station.  It seemed fitting to savor the intinction of muffin and latte in the midst of my community's fallen, but not-forgotten, soldiers.  Surrounded by the vibrancy of swirling autumn leaves and scampering squirrels I read the signs of the dead and remembered.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Allelu...
2. Thou wast their rock, their fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Allelu...
3. O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Allelu...
4. The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Allelu...
5. But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on his way,
Alleluia, Allelu...
6. From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Alleluia, Alleluia!

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