Saturday, June 27, 2009

mixtape monday [summer vacation edition]

We're on vacation this week -- at home. Two days in and I'm loving every minute! Yesterday my latest title from BOMC2 arrived. I'm probably not going to get to that until fall because of the reading challenge all six of us have undertaken. It's all about reading the right titles from now through August; my apologies to Anne Rice but since she's not {yet} on a classic literature list she has to wait until September.

Every summer I try to give us a reading theme to rally around. One of my favorite, favorite, favorite things about summer is the less-scheduled pace which means lots more time for fun reading. My kids are older and I'm not getting dumber with age so this year I attached a cash incentive. Brian and I are even paying ourselves!
For a couple of years now I've been compiling lists of classic literature and this summer that is our goal in the Murphy house -- to get some classic literature under our belts. Want to join us? Check out the list (but don't expect me to be handing you any cash)!
With my vacation time I've completed two-and-a-half books in the last couple of days (oh, the joy)...

Solomon's Grave by Daniel G. Keohane

You may or may not realize that this book is quite a distance outside of my normal taste. But my friend Kevin Lucia has been educating me on the suspense/horror/pulp-fiction genre and this is one of the titles he loaned me. I had speed-read another title that, honestly, was not one I would have wanted to spend much more time than the quick browsing I gave it. But this book was different.
One of the reviews on the back cover reads: A fascinating occult suspense novel, fluent to read, for all those who prefer subtle suspense and finely woven characters over bloody murders and hardcore action...
Based on my clear preference of this work over the first I'd guess I'm one who "prefers subtle suspence over bloody murders". In many ways the plotline and characters reminded me of those I've read in one of Frank Peretti's novels. The main character is a young pastor in a small town wanting to do right by his faith, friends and family but, unwittingly, finds himself in the middle of supernatural clashes between good and evil forces.
Although I did get caught up in the book -- twisting my hair and turning pages as quickly as I could -- the characters were not as convincing to me as those Peretti created and I did not find myself wanting to hide underneath the covers as I did reading This Present Darkness while I was up in the middle of the night feeding my newborn. But I read them a long time ago and I could just be a little bit harder to please now. Either way, I'm glad Kevin is helping me to learn a new genre and I am convinced that we do not tell the whole truth in any artform that does not convince us that evil exists and must be fought. I applaud Kevin and his ilk for pursuing this genre with gusto!

Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle
Moving from occult suspense to this title from one day to the next should have given me some sort of literary whiplash! But moving back and forth between genres is half the fun in reading for me and this author and this book rank right up near the top of my packing list for that day I get stranded on a deserted island and can take only one book.
This morning all six of us (plus Kendra's girlfriend Kaitlyn) walked the two blocks to the neighborhood library - summer book lists in our hands. I had decided to read from the poetry category and looked up Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare's Sonnets. But I could not resist going back to my reading roots with this series. And, within 12 hours had the first title completed.
You know that feeling, right? When you go back to one of your favorite childhood books and it's almost as comforting as if you were actually curled up in your old bedroom, surrounded by your stuffed animals and other assorted adolescent bric-a-brac. During this re-reading I may have realized for the first time how much of my own parenting dreams have been formed by the ideals held by the Austin parents, Victoria and Wallace. I had to also fight the temptation to be discouraged by how little I've matched those ideals. I mean, honestly, how could I be feeling discouraged when I had spent the morning with all of my children scouring the shelves of our little library? Surely the Austin family would approve. Now if we could just have a bushy-eyebrowed grandfather that lived surrounded by books in a renovated stable on a quaint island near (I'm guessing) Nova Scotia surrounded by coastline and beaches where we'd cook hotdogs and make sandcastles and play leapfrog and....[sigh].

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch

I've read more about the storied southern-born, Catholic-bred author than read her actual stories. I've read The Geranium (in a collection of short stories) and The Violent Bear It Away...that's it. And, while they both affected me with their gritty, defiant characters and mythic tone, I wouldn't say they are my favorites. But the woman -- or at least the stories about her -- intrigues me. I thought, perhaps, if I read more of her life-story I would gain more insight into her novels and short stories.
This book is growing on me. Biographies normally do. (but I've mentioned that before, haven't I?) I am fascinated by the way a life and a work come up from out of a stew of circumstances, genes, opportunities and choices. The backstory of O'Connor's growing up years in the south during the days of Jim Crow laws and World War II and later in the almost-legendary Writer's Workshops at Iowa State University are as interesting to me as the stories the author has imagined into existence in the pages of her work. I'm not sure I would have liked O'Connor too much if we had been classmates -- she was anti-social and often bitingly sarcastic. But her contrarian, ironic persona and her clear focus and determination to write and write and write and write, are teaching me about this craft and those who pursue it. It is also teaching me about myself and my fears and my continued deference to the status-quo that I don't like to look at very much. If her writing does not have any further impact on me, than hopefully her life-story will.

Perhaps to counter-balance all the quality reading we're doing as a family this summer, we've decided, in the movie department, to crank up the melodramatic and the kitsch -- you guessed it... 1980's films!

This idea formed during a seemingly-innocent conversation with our friends Paul and Margaret. We were on our way home from dinner at another friend's place and were just making conversation, really. But as we poked into the fog of our near-forty-year-old brains and shouted out one 80's title after another the idea to flood our Netflix queue with every title became too good to ignore.
We're starting with the quintessential drama of teenage angst (The Breakfast Club)and then moving right-into the testosterone-laden romantic glamour (Top Gun). Our kids really aren't too excited about this and Brian and I just can't figure it out. How could they NOT want to take this trip back to our glory days with us? Don't they want to understand better the culture that formed their parents?
Romancing the Stone is coming later this week, and Pretty in Pink after that. What titles would you pick?

Speaking of the 80's, last weekend Brian and I shared a blast from the past at an outdoor Huey Lewis concert. Who'd have thought I'd love his live music even more than my cherished copies of Fore! and Sports? Between Meet the Austins, The Breakfast Club and Huey I may just be entering some sort of mid-life crisis. (actually I think it's just a much-needed vacation for my head) But, dang, did I need a reminder that there is some feisty girl still kicking around underneath this aging skin! And, in a freaky week of deaths, it was a good reminder of the power of pop music.
You might say, the heart of rock and roll is still beatin'....

Links:And, speaking of freaky news, you gotta check out this comic strip... (thanks to Jeffrey at Looking Closer for the link)
I'll leave you with this video of my son drumming during his youth group's end-of-the-school-year worship service. It has been a while since Brian and I have been able to watch him play and when I got to watch him in his space I was kind of overwhelmed by the knowledge that he has only one year of highschool left. That Brian and I get to help him channel this passion and energy into the next phase of his life are thoughts that are almost devestating to me.
The kid can rock...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

petition [disciplines for the inner life]

My friends Lori and Chris are great dancers. First hand I've seen them swing, waltz and polka. For my birthday gift this year they demonstrated for us a polka to the tune of In Heaven There Is No Beer. They had us roll up the rug and move the furniture in the living room and then gather round to observe before it was our turn to give it a whirl. We watched and clapped and laughed along. Then we tried to dance and *some* of us did a pretty decent job.

Some of us, not so much.

I realized -- quickly -- that watching Chris and Lori dance was not nearly enough to teach me how to dance. I would probably only figure it out by following their example and then doing it like them. (and Chris was so kind to give my two left feet a whirl around the room to Roll Out the Barrel). The apostle Paul tells us that being united with Christ is putting Him on like putting on new clothes. Recently my friend David Taylor told me a story of how he learned healthy confrontation from his brother-in-law Cliff and now when he finds himself in a similar circumstance he chooses to put on Cliff because Cliff is so excellent at healthy, productive confrontation. In other words, if I find myself in a polka match some day, in order to even come close to looking like a dancer I would likely put on the stellar skills of Chris and Lori.

And what the heck does this all have to do with the discipline of petition, you might ask? Well, I'm getting to that: In the same way as I've been studying and meditating on the inner discipline of petition I have stumbled on many saints (ancient and contemporary) who know how to pray. I studied passages about prayer -- Matthew 7:7-12, Psalm 5, James 5, for example -- and I read profound insights about prayer from Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Albert Day. But out of all that the best example I had was a brief, simply-written biography about the life of famed prayer George Muller: The Guardian of Bristol's Orphans.

The man knew how to pray, but even more importantly knew what to pray and when to pray. He chose to put himself in a place in life where he could not rely on anything or anyone more than on God. He did not surround himself with crutches, escape hatches, door #2's or plan b's. He did not take one moment of his time away from rescuing orphans and teaching underprivileged children and pastoring a church in order to raise funds. But he did take many, many moments to pray. [and it would be appropriate to laugh at that last sentence as a major understatement!]

He knew what his purpose in life was and it wasn't because he spent years reading books about how to find his purpose or attending classes about his purpose; he prayed about it and then made choice after choice after choice that left him solely dependent on his Creator for everything he and his family and his church and his school and his orphans needed. When God didn't meet the need he was praying for he simply knew he needed to change course. The man lived in desperate situations (including experiencing the death of a child and two wives) for his entire ninety-two years on earth.

Desperate Prayer is one of our covenant values at Union Center Christian Church : God doesn’t answer prayer; he answers desperate prayer. That doesn’t mean we contrive a constant state of anxiety. It means we have a clear understanding of what’s at stake, and we’re aware that without God’s blessing, wisdom, and direction, we’re a mess. A covenant commitment to prayer means that there are times we refuse to accept that God is done answering us, and we’re bold enough to wait and wrestle with God until he answers.

But, after reading about George Muller I'm not sure I have any idea at all what desperate prayer really looks like. I'm thinking I need to put on Muller when I'm petitoning God but also when I'm making choices that will eliminate crutches, escape hatches, door #2's and plan b's in my life. What good is desperate prayer when I've surrounded myself with so many options and ideas and comforts? I can't even pray intelligently because I haven't figured out what I'm truly desperate for.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4:3). To ask rightly involves transformed passions. In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God's thoughts after him: to desire things he desires, to love the things he loves, to will the things he wills. -- Celebration of Discipline, Foster
And this bold statement from Foster makes me think of that beautiful line Liv Tyler's character gives to the self-absorbed rocker who breaks her heart in That Thing You Do: I have wasted thousands and thousands of kisses on you. .. Shame on me for kissing you with my eyes closed so tight.  I wonder how many prayers I've wasted on my own passions. Prayers that felt desperate because I hadn't decided on what God was asking me to spend my desperation.

Shame on me for praying with my eyes closed so tight.

At the end of his life, George Muller had provided care for over ten thousand orphaned children. He went from being a con man and petty thief in his youth to being a man whom God trusted to steward a fortune. He supported Sunday schools and regular schools around the world, printed Bibles and supported missionaries [at one time he sent his friend Hudson Taylor enough money to support all the missionaries of the China Inland Mission!] But history remembers him most as a man who, in his very own lifetime, rescued and cared for over ten thousand orphans.

So when I enter the discipline of petition I choose to put on George Muller both in the times my eyes are shut tight in desperate prayer and my eyes are wide open in desperate living.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

mixtape monday [father's day edition]

I have a strong suspicion that the summer mixtape posts will be filled with lots of photos and fewer words. That's just the way summer rolls around here -- lots of Kodak moments and much less time to be quiet long enough for words to form. Today the Kodak moments are captured more on video than film; either way, you get the point.

I have just a couple of titles for today's mixtape, but they [just happened!] to form around the concept of fathers and father's day. Enjoy!

Another Mustache Mayhem production, Grandpa's Santa letter-reading goes awry.

While you're at that page (yes, it's my brother, and, yes, my two sons were part of the editing genius of this masterpiece) check out the secret film footage of my parents' reaction.

While they were in one room of the house creating sacreligious patriarchal homages, I was in another room creating this ...

Click to play this Smilebox greeting: Happy Father's Day, Baby

Have I ever mentioned that Brian and I had our four children before we turned twenty-eight years old? Several of our friends have had babies recently and watching them go through the early, exhausting stages of parenthood reminds us of our first days. The first night after Andrew was born and Brian had left me and his first-born son at the hospital and had gone back to get some rest in our west side apartment, he had a full-blown panic attack and ended up driving to his mother's apartment in Johnson City to spend the rest of the night in his old bed. Parenting is just a pretty big deal and Brian has risen to the occasion like a pro for the last [almost] eighteen years. That's why he is my hero.


Gran Torino

I've been thinking a lot recently about the difference between grandfathers and fathers. Maybe I'll write about it more on another day, but for now I'd have to say that Clint Eastwood captures some of the essence of the contrast between the two in the machisimo peppered with tenderness in his portrayal of Michigan retired auto-worker Walt Kawalski. There is something about his ferocity in protecting the vulnerable that allows us to forgive him his lack of parenting skills evidenced in his self-absorbed, materialistic, milk-toast sons.

And there is something about his no-nonsence approach to mentoring a fatherless teenage boy that makes us think we'd be willing to suffer the same abuse as Walt doles out if it meant we'd get to experience the same affirmations he offers. This, in spite of the fact that he can't even tell his own son that he's dying and that he really does love him.

In the end, though, I think the most poignant contrast between father and grandfather shows up when the strong silent member of the so-called greatest generation indulges his one and only luxury -- a shortage of days left to live -- by committing a selfless and thorough act of justice that protects the vulnerable, stops the atrocities of the evil and slaps the wrists of the mediocre.

As a film, it's quintessentially Clint without losing tenderness and nuance. Oh, and the car is great too! (as is the song of the same name co-written by Eastwood and his son, Kyle) We watched with our friends the Graveldings and as the credits rolled Scott was memorizing lyrics and Coleen was weeping. It's really that good.

Photo of the Week

In honor of Father's Day, a vintage pic of my Daddy and me (1971) ....

Thursday, June 04, 2009

playing at words

For the summer, Tuesday nights are for art workshops at Andy's house. I don't make the kind of art that you can dab onto a canvas or sketch with a pencil, but I didn't want to miss out on the fun of being artsy in one of the many cool spaces on his property. So I decided that Tuesday nights will be my time to play with words. In the treehouse.

I'm still stabbing at that 250-a-day goal but I've noticed that those words end up being serious words. Words that talk about discipline and learning and teaching. I want Tuesday nights to be about words at play.

First, you have to picture me walking to the top of this hill and climbing the ladder into that tree with all my stuff spilling out of my big ol' leather purse. And me in flip-flops. Next, you have to imagine me checking the time and trying to do the math of how long I had to play before the bats come out. And how long it would take me to skedaddle out of that tree.

So, here's some words. They are just playing. Don't be too hard on them; I haven't made them straighten up and fly right yet. I just put my pen down on the yellow pad and this is what came out.
I realize this is an impossible plan. Writing up here in this tree. Sitting on planks with mosquitoes bobbing up and down on my pantlegs.
I like the aloneness, though. If I have to trade mosquitoes for people bobbing up and down with poisonous small talk, I pick this.
What are red, scratchy welts on my feet and scalp and hands compared to the pricks and stabs of the platitudes and cliche of meaningless conversation?
At least I have Calamine lotion for the bug bites.
Perhaps it would be helpful to apply some sort of pastely salve on each spot I am bitten with babble about the weather in NY or prattle about your busy schedule.
Better yet, a polluting aerosol to spray upon my head when I see you coming. Perhaps the scent of it would magically change your words to poetry.
Or some sort of chemical reaction would take place mid-air so that all your words would be about Annie Dillard or Bob Dylan or Degas' dancers.
Or even Dr. Suess.
Now picture me making a note to stuff a can of mosquito spray into my purse next week.
I must have one. I'm pretty sure God did not forget.
What I can't figure out is the sound and shape of it.
Soft and flowing like a warmly-lit woman or clipped and spiky like a queen of renown.
Perhaps it's squashed and sullen like a cuss. Or hollow and pleasant like a bank teller or a receptionist.
I'm not particularly impressed with any of these options. And I'm jealous of (almost) all of them.
I'd like to be able to curse like a prophetess and judge like a queen.
I'd like to whisper like a lover and sing like a Siren.
Mostly I'd like to know the voice when it comes up from my chest and over my tongue. I'd like to be able to recognize it as my own.
Connected to the truth stitched into the core of me.
I am so homesick for the taste of it. I've forgotten what it sounds like.
This got me on a roll about voice.
I think I change my voice on purpose.
I make the decision how to sound by what I'm hearing outside my head instead of what I'm hearing inside my head.
It's like a giant sponge fills up my belly all the way to the back of my throat.
When I hear sounds it's like tiny seeds fly through the air into my mouth, between my teeth, across my tongue and drop into the nooks and crannies of the giant sponge.
The sound-seeds put down high-speed, quick-growing roots and send out flowers of their own kind.
The leaves crowd out the air inside of my mouth and the blossom forces it's way through my lips leaving sticky sweetness on the backs of my teeth.
Then the people I'm talking to pick the flowers and pin them to their collars like a boutonniere.
Even for play, this one got a little silly so I'm sparing you the sequel.
That and the one about my mother that I'll have to publish posthumously.

In plenty of time to avoid the bats I climbed back down out of the tree, purse slung over my shoulder like Mary Poppins' carpetbag. Flip-flops askew and toenail polish dented. But, dang if it didn't feel good!

I'll leave with you with a few snapshots of my artist friends at work in Andy's house of art.

Beau channeling Frank Lloyd Wright in the kitchen.

Linda and Dawn in the open-air studio loft. Mary in the plain old open-air.

Join us if you're in the area!
Tuesday nights through September, 6-9 PM
Andy Palmer's house: 506 High Street, Lisle

Monday, June 01, 2009

monday mix tape

i made a mix tape for you of all my favorites this week!

Links: Dialogue / Design for Mankind
File this under the category of "reading outside my tradition". I am pretty much ignorant of the world of design but love the way that blogger and magazine editor Erin Loechner celebrates art and design/artists and designers. I recently stumbled on these short vignettes of a variety of artists talking about the real-life, every-day kind of stuff they deal with. Click on any that interest you; so far, my favorite is "overcoming artist's block":

Finished reading Homer's Odyssey this past week (Fitzgerald translation). Also Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Way. Both have been on my reading list for a couple of years. David Taylor booted my backside during the talk he gave about disciplined disciples during our Worship & Arts retreat.

I enjoyed both. Certainly The Odyssey is more like the thrill of watching an action flick (filled with romance, monsters and reconcilations, of course). Feeling pretty impressed with myself, I sat around the campfire of last weekend's Memorial Day trip reading the centuries-old story. That is until my seventeen-year-old boy said, Oh, Odyssey. I had to read that in ninth grade. Well bully for him, then.

The Violent
... like a disturbing, yet gratifying, thriller. That woman can write and I can't wait to dive into the
biography I picked up from the new release shelf of my corner library. It's so crazy how a good author weaves words to describe characters that I can identify with -- even, temporarily, to become -- while our circumstances are nothing alike.
For example, this description of the schoolteacher, would-be guardian, Rayber:
He had kept it from gaining control over him by what amounted to a rigid ascetic discipline. He did not look at anything too long, he denied his senses unnecessary satisfactions. ... He was not deceived that this was a whole or a full life, he only knew that it was the way his life had to be lived if it were going to have any dignity at all. He knew that he was the stuff of which fanatics and madmen are made and that he had turned his destiny as if with his bare hands. He kept himself upright on a very narrow line between madness and emptiness, and when the time came for him to lose his balance, he intended to lurch toward emptiness and fall on the side of his choice.
I suppose it's a topic for another day, but most days I'm pretty certain I'm made of the same stuff as Rayber.

Films: UP
If you haven't seen it yet, just go now. We celebrated a rare Saturday that all six of us were home by heading to the theatre and we celebrated even further that all six of us loved it, laughed out loud and (most of us) cried, too. Rare, indeed.
Another outcome from that Memorial Day weekend campfire? My friend Lori talked a bunch of us into seeing the classic Bonnie Raitt in Philly this summer. I'm way rusty on her music and gosh-darn determined to catch up enough to make that ticket worth every penny. If you can't sing along on a few tunes, what good is the show?

Memorial Day boating. Daughters....

...& mothers (yeah, we don't quite got the hip-ness)
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