Saturday, January 30, 2010

the Kingdom of God is near you ... and far away [epiphany week three]

Brian left for Senegal on Tuesday.  And I just finished reading Silence last weekend. I'm taking an undergrad class called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.  And it's the third week of Epiphany. Worlds are colliding and I'm looking at the patterns, trying to get the full picture.

Tomorrow, Brian and three other travelling companions will visit a small village in Senegal.  Meet with their leaders, people, pastors.  Really, anyone who'll have them.  We believe that there's a group of people there that our church family is supposed to know, to share life and resource and learning.  To both give and receive.  It's a dream, really.  But we think it will soon be a reality.
I am missing Brian terribly tonight.  Yes, because we are best friends and lovers.  More than that, because I know that his entire world is being changed each day he's away.  And I spent my night trolling around facebook.  His emails sound like a man I only barely know.  I mean that in the very best sense.
Arrived in Thies for the conference at about 10AM. Took an hour nap. The drive from Dakar to Thies was amazing. Alicia told me that it would be like entering Narnia. Man was she right. The air smells like diesel fuel and burning crops, Goats, cows, and horse drawn carriages mingle with crazy drivers, pedestrians crossing the street, and children walking to school. The poverty is incredible and apparent.
It's not so much that the description surprised me.  I've heard similar words from everyone I know who's traveled abroad.  It's the breathless catch in his voice.  Do you hear it?  Like it's too much waste to stop and breathe between description and exclamation and lament.  This paragraph alone tells me our lives have changed around here.  

My new devotional Bible tells me that this is a week -- only three since we remembered those wealthy men from a foreign land who left home to find the king baby -- this is a week to think about the Kingdom of God. As in: Hasn't God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren't they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?

And this, too:  Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing and you say, "Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well" -- but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

My coursework instructs me that the heart of God is irrevocably intertwined with all peoples and nations.  It seems that, in much the same way God's image is made vivid through both the male and female of the imago dei, his heart is only fully recognized through the colors and textures, flavors and fragrances, stories and dance steps, personalities and priorities of all the peoples and nations.  If this is true, I barely know God's heart at all.  I wouldn't recognize him if I stumbled over him in a doorway.  Or at the village well.  I might recognize him at a church prayer meeting or an Applebee's.

And so I read the picturesque words from my, normally, pragmatic husband and try really hard to see God's heart.  

 A children's choir sang at the conference tonight. I had an experience that I have only imagined. Worshipping with another culture. It is what Steve Hawthorne explained that Heaven will be like. Peoples from the world parading before God with their own special worship. I have video.

In the novel Silence, the Portuguese priest Rodrigues wonders if the Japanese peasants he meets are capable of ever really knowing his God. If all the efforts of the missionaries were wasted Western efforts to convert an Eastern world, content with their own version of God. But I wonder what Rodrigues had missed from the heart of God, all tangled up and beating amidst the peasants and samurai?

I wonder.  I study Brian's words like I'm trying to give Endo's character a second chance:
We just got back from a barbecue with the Evangelical Baptist Church of Thies. The barbecue was out in a village (the bush). One hundred or more Africans, Americans, and one Swiss lady named Rita ... ate outside under the fullest moon I have ever seen. Kids played, teenagers played drums, and adults laughed and talked. It was the purest form of joy and community that I have ever seen.

I google pictures of Senegal, hoping to find where Jesus is in the midst of this far-away place.

And I pray for all of us.

We beseech thee, Master, to be our helper and protector.
Save the afflicted among us; have mercy on the lowly;
raise up the fallen; appear to the needy; heal the ungodly;
restore the wanderers of thy people; feed the hungry;
ransom our prisoners; raise up the sick; 
comfort the faint-hearted.
                                                                                                                -- Clement I (Italy/D.99)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Readers Guild gets foodie in February! (plus a book giveaway)

Our first gathering of the Endicott area IAM Readers Guild happened last night.  And it was good.  I'll post some bits of our [brilliant] conversation in the next couple of days, but for now, a thanks to Erin McMahon for hosting us in her lovely home and for all of you who read and thought and persevered and questioned.  Certainly, Silence was a good place for us to start.

February's title is written by author/chef/Episcopalian priest Robert Farrar Capon.  From the back cover:
...this surprising and thought-provoking treatise on everything from prayer to poetry to puff pastry...Supper of the Lamb...talks about festal and ferial cooking, emerging as an inspirational voice extolling the benefits and wonders of old-fashioned home cooking in a world of fast food and prepackaged cuisine.
They had me at prayer, poetry and puff pastry.

Robert Farrar Capon

Since the book includes a wealth of recipes to inspire the Julie Powell's among us, it was decided --with no uncertainty -- that the Readers Guild will be reading in the kitchen this month.  And bringing our samples to the next gathering.

Here's the scoop:

  • Tuesday, February 23, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
  • Erin McMahon's house, 3619 Watson Blvd., Endwell
  • please RSVP to Tamara at this blog or at livingpalm1ATgmailDOTorg
  • bring: your book, (purchase here or here),  a discussion guide (download here), a beverage or snack to share.

And, while you're clicking around the interweb, stop by here to sign up for IAM's mailing list.

Want a chance to get February's book for free?  I've got one to give away!  Add a comment to this post by letting me know you plan to read the book in February and I'll draw a name on Monday morning, February 1.    

Also, if you read January's book but couldn't attend the meeting, I'd love to hear your thoughts!  You can post them as a comment on one of the blog posts about the book or you can email them to me at livingpalm1ATgmailDOTcom

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monday Mix Tape

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

I'll give you my thoughts about Silence,  IAM Readers Guild January selection, in the next week or so.  In the meantime, a few other titles I'm catching up on mentioning here:

I really just love this woman's writing.  I'm excited that we'll be reading her Pulitzer-prize winning work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for December's Readers Guild selection.  Dillard is one of those authors who looks, really looks at the world and then writes it in a way that's both poetic and pragmatic. The art and the science of the universe. A writer who throws out sentences like: I have been reading comparative cosmology. And then a beat later, a sentence like: The mountains are great stone bells; they clang together like nuns.  

 I love that.  I'd like to write like that.

This collection of essays could be considered a collection of noticing.  Trekking cross-country with her husband to experience an eclipse: I saw, early in the morning, the sun diminish against a backdrop of sky. I saw a circular piece of that sky appear, suddenly detached, blackened, and backlighted; from nowhere it came and overlapped the sun. ("Total Eclipse")

Winsomely comparing her new church experience (Catholic  mass) to historically grand, but oft' misguided arctic expeditions:  ...nobody said things were going to be easy. A taste for the sublime is a greed like any other, after all..." ("An Expedition to the Pole")

Some people I know think of her essay "Living Like Weasels" to be an almost mandatory text for those living in conflict about calling: The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse.

The truth is, next to the holy Scriptures, the other words I think I should be memorizing are Annie Dillard's.  Of all the words in this book, the ones I find most affirming in my current life as a crafter of corporate worship services are these most brilliant gems of Dillard-words from "An Expedition to the Pole" :
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.
...and this...
A high school stage play is more polished than this service we have been rehearsing since the year one. In two thousand years, we have not worked out the kinks. We positively glorify them. Week after week we witness the same miracle: that God is so mighty he can stifle his own laughter. Week after week, we witness the same miracle: that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens. Week after week Christ washes the disciples' dirty feet, handles their very toes, and repeats, It is all right -- believe it or not -- to be people.
Who can believe it?

Holy Bible: Mosaic, New Living Translation published by Tyndale

A delightful Christmas gift from my parents.  I've been spending time with the NLT over the past year and when I discovered I could get this translation PLUS a devotional that follows the full liturgical calendar, writings from saints on every continent and within every century, theologically-rich artwork from historic and contemporary artists AND a space for my own written reflections, well, I was smitten.  It's a beautiful book and I'm enjoying using it as part of my devotional discipline.  I highly recommend it!

  • Sara Zarr:  This is a new blog I frequent. I loved her thoughts on whether or not to "cash out" her Facebook account.  Just some good writing about the pros and cons of social networking. And human connectivity, in general.
  • Curator magazine:  Recently Brian and I were talking with friends about the challenges of counter-cultural parenting in a peer-parenting world.  A day or two later I read this article about counter-cultural parenting in the childhood mecca of Disney World.  Good stuff.
  • The Ultimate Christian Novel.  This one's just for chuckles.  And it made me grin.
  • Andrew Peterson:  I've been checking out a new-to-me artist that my blogging friend Haley Ballast recommended.  I'm still just becoming familiar with him, but I have a strong suspicion I'll be raving about him here soon.  (By the way, I love suggestions!  Books, music, films, links, artwork... I eat suggestions for breakfast and late-night snacks.  Send 'em my way!)
  • Hope for Haiti:  We didn't get to watch the telethon, but over dinner and wine with friends last night we heard about some of the performances.  Especially impressive was the heart-breaking beauty of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah as performed by Justin Timberlake and Matt Morris.  If you've been around here long you  know how I feel about that song.  And how I feel is this: pieces of it approach artistic perfection, musically poetic telling of beauty that can arrive after brokenness.  And just when you think this song can't stand the test of performance again, it does.  You can watch the telethon footage here.
Over the past couple of weeks, we caught up on two titles Andrew's been asking us to watch with him.

 This documentary of Katrina in New Orleans includes first-hand video footage as the storm was brewing, while it was pouring and after it left the city wrecked and forsaken.  It's a raw but redemptive story, no matter your political conclusions of the aftermath.
Watch a clip here.

  • The Hurt Locker: another film with Academy nods.  Another film that does not allow story to get sucked up in its potential for political preachiness.  
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:  This is our daughters' request.  Really, though, is there a much better way to spend a day off from school and work than to just cozy down with blankets, snacks and movies that take your imagination to fantastical places and creatures?  We don't think so.
Brian and I took a road trip to Durham to visit friends, pray, and seek spiritual direction for our lives.  And it was good.  All signs point to big learnings here, so I'm guessing I'll be taking up blog space on the subject soon.  For now, the reminder that, for us,  road trips are almost always spiritual pilgrimages.

Some photographs:

David makes charts (and prayers).

Also, Phaedra makes art in the kitchen.

Brian humors me by packing his pockets with prickly pinecones from the Sarah P. Duke gardens.

 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
 Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
 He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Psalm 91: 1-4

January reading

Our first gathering for the IAM Reader's Guild is almost here -- this Tuesday, January 26 from 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm.  We're meeting at Erin McMahon's house, 3619 Watson Blvd., Endwell.   Bring a beverage or snack to share. Also, RSVP with me here if you haven't already.

Whether you're joining us or not, here's some great info about IAM, the Readers Guild and Silence

International Arts Movement site
Sign up for IAM mailing list
Readers Guild page
Mako Fujimura talks about Silence at this podcas
Silence the movie?!?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

IAM Reader's Guild review: Silence by Shusaku Endo

My blog reviews of the IAM Reader's Guild gatherings in 2010.  (see previous Readers Guild posts here)

January 2010:  Silence by Shusaku Endo
Endicott, NY chapter of the IAM Readers Guild

Exactly ten people attended our first gathering of the Endicott Readers Guild.  Ten people bringing a wonderful assortment of snacks and beverages capped  by the thoughtful addition of Japanese-inspired wasabi peas and gummy koi fish.

Although it is most likely a discussion group taboo, I couldn’t help myself by asking right at the top of the evening: “Thumbs up or thumbs down?”  The answer was predominantly, “Thumbs in the middle.”  The explanation many of the readers gave was that they felt the book was written and very readable, but they were disappointed by the story and feeling weighted down by the subject matter.

This was an honest response and a perfect way to launch almost two straight hours of discussion.  For starters, most of us found we did not have a lot of sympathy for Rodrigues or Ferreira, and only a tiny bit for the decidedly, Gollum-like Kichijoro.  Many of the readers wished we could have spent more time with Garrpe.  While most did not identify with a character so  much as an identification  from our own struggles experiencing the silence of God.  We represented a few different faith backgrounds and there seemed to be a direct correlation between where we had come from, where we were now and what we believed about the silence of God.  Is He not listening?  Not answering?  Answering, but saying no? Are we trying to hear Him through religious practices or a living, breathing relationship? 

Several expressed a sense of sorrow for Rodrigues, thinking that he was missing an understanding of relationship with the God he was so desperate to hear.  Others expressed something like a frustration that Rodrigues insisted God was silent in the midst of the suffering around him, when, in fact, there were several descriptions of very clear communication from Christ.  The pinnacle description of this Voice is written in Chapter 9:  “It was this concave face that had looked at the priest in sorrow. In sorrow it had gazed up at him as the eyes spoke appealingly: ‘Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here.’

The second half of the evening we discussed the conflict Rodrigues – and his fellow Western missionaries – face introducing the God of their religious conviction to the Eastern values and beliefs of the Japanese people.  This discussion included thoughts about the motivation for the mission:  to love and serve the people or to satisfy their curiosity about Ferriera’s rumored apostasy.  This line of conversation was related to Mako’s podcast comments about Endo’s lack of description of the priest’s sense of call

We wondered together if this would have affected the outcome.  Had his purpose been to introduce the suffering Christ he often imagines during his confinement, would the younger priest been less easily-influenced by the existentialistic judgments of former mentor priest: “‘They did not believe in the Christian God.’ Ferreira spoke clearly and with self-confidence, deliberately emphasizing every word. ‘The Japanese till this day have never had the concept of God, and they never will.’ “

Toward the end of our discussion time, we wondered aloud if a differently motivated Rodrigues would have resulted in a different outcome.  Perhaps, he would have been more willing to resist trampling the fumie if he had more fully believed the suffering Japanese would become martyrs given over to a present God.  Rather, he seemed to conclude that God was not listening and that their fate was in his ineffective hands.  He eventually behaved as if he had no option but to “love” the suffering Christians by performing an act of apostasy.  The fruit of this decision is that he goes on to live a solitary, self-loathing life, giving paltry aid to the Japanese magistrate.  As our time ran out, we couldn’t help but talk about the contrast between Garrpe’s response to coercion and Rodrigues’.  Two kinds of torture, yes, but only one had to go on living with that torment.

Endo masterfully depicts a stark and silent world -- in the subtle descriptions of buzzing insects, withering heat and rotten food, dark water and crimson blood stains on dusty courtyards.  His storytelling had a sobering effect on us all and we were grateful for the chance to come in from the cold January evening and cheer each other with brisk conversation, merlot and gummy fish. It was a good evening and we are looking forward to gathering again.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday Mixtape [reveiw of 2009 edition]

What exactly is the deadline for reflecting on 2009?  I mean, has the ship sailed yet?

I've been keeping a list of books, films, music and other forms of culture that made a difference in my life last year.  I just didn't post them yet because I...
a.  didn't know the acceptable deadline to blog about 2009.
b.  didn't have time to write lengthy thoughtful explanations about why these particular pieces made a difference.

BUT THEN, I read this post at my new friend Haley's blog and was inspired to follow her lead to share just the best of the best.  In Haley's words I give you "bits and pieces of life and culture that made me laugh, cry, think, and become more like myself in 2009":



  • all seasons of West Wing on Netflix
  • all seasons of MadMen on Netflix
  •  Rick Steves Europe

Visual Art:  
  • Forgive Thy Brother by Scott Erickson (I really didn't discover this until 2010, but the impact it had on me had everything to do with 2009)

Miscellaneous: flower gardens, spiritual disciplines, tequila-soaked watermelon, New York, New York, and....

the Summer of Thriller!

Summer of Thriller from Tamara Murphy on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

i surrender...

Forgive Thy Brother by Scott Erickson

Thank you to Haley Ballast for introducing me to this piece.  I can't stop staring at it.
If you're interested in the part of my story that this painting shatters like a velvet hammer, you can read it here.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

12 days left until our first Readers Guild gathering!

True confession.  I have lots of reading to do before January 26.  How about you?  Anyone else want to 'fess up?  I had a mid-term exam this week for a class I'm taking and I've been saving Endo's novel as a kind of reward for making it through.  Brian and I are taking a road trip this weekend and I'm hoping to have lots of lovely miles for reading.

If you're participating in the Readers Guild -- or are just interested in this novel -- here are a couple of helpful resources to help you prepare for the discussion group:

  • IAM Reader's Guild Discussion Guide for Silence
  • Mako Fujimura on Silence (IAM podcast) -- excellent insight about the novel from this Japanese American artist. 

If you'd like to join this month's discussion group, here's all the stuff you need to know:

When:  Tuesday, January 26, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Where:  THE LOCATION HAS CHANGED -- With such a great response, we outgrew the studio location before we even began.  Erin McMahon has graciously invited us to use her house at 3619 Watson Blvd, Endwell.  Thank you, Erin!
What to bring:  your thoughts about your reading (use the discussion guide to help you prepare), an open mind to hear others' opinions and perspectives, and a snack or drink to share.

If you haven't already, please RSVP in the comment section of this blog or at my email address, tmurphyATunioncenterDOTorg

Can't join us this month?  Check out IAM Reader's Guild site for the 2010 book list.  It's pretty sweet!

Friday, January 08, 2010

And the winner is.....

I know I promised this by 9am this morning, but I feel compelled to tell you that I had to spend some time quashing rumors that started with my eighteen-year-old son's anguished facebook status.  You see, he was only using the word "robbed" in the sense that the roads are covered with snow, he's got a nasty case of senioritis and, well, there he was on facebook at 8:00 this morning, still having to go out the door for school; he just couldn't help himself.  I assure all our caring friends and family that all the crap stuff that was in our house when we went to bed last night is still here this morning.

Also, I know that I could have used to do the drawing like all those fancy blogs, but it was way too much fun writing all of your names on little slips of torn-up paper and having Brian draw one out of a mug, because he's working from home this morning and I wanted an excuse to interrupt him.  Come to think of it, we should have done a drum roll for you.

Plus, I know I could have posted a cute picture of us huddled around the coffee mug of paper slips, breathless with anticipation to discover the lucky, lucky winner.  Have I mentioned I'm still in my pajamas?  Enough said.

Also, you should know that our little dog Duchess observed to make sure there was no funny business with the drawing of the name.  Everything's above board here.

So, join me, won't you, with a drum roll (go ahead, your co-workers need a laugh, I'm sure, and your kids will think it's the best!)  The winner of our first-ever book for the first-ever month of the first-ever Readers Guild IS...........................[this is where you do the drum roll].............................................................

[insert loud applause here]

I bet you'd like to see a picture of Nancy?

Here she is gracing us during this year's Coffeehouse on Main with her song The Church in Chains Is Free.  Which is quite fitting, actually, that she win this particular book in which we will read about persecuted Christians in 17th century Japan.

Congratulations, Nancy!   And, now that the excitement's over, everyone needs to crack open those books (available at and....

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

One more day for book giveaway!

Today was the day that this arrived in my mail.

Not just one copy, but two.  One for me and one for one of you.

Go here, add a comment and be included in my random drawing for a free copy of this book.  I'll notify the winner by email by Friday morning at 9:00 a.m.

If you live in the central NY area, consider joining us for our monthly
Readers Guild sponsored by the International Arts Movement.
You can get the information, book list, discussion guides and purchase books from this link.

Our group will meet on the fourth Tuesday of each month from 6:30 - 8:30 pm, starting January 26
We'll be meeting at Erin McMahon's art studio in the Lackawanna Train Station, 45 Lewis Street, Binghamton, second floor.
Bring your book, your thoughts, questions and your own munchies/beverages.
Please do rsvp each month you plan to attend.  You can do that here at the blog or at this email address:

Now, I've got some great reading to do!

p.s.This book has been on my reading list for so long, it felt like Christmas getting my package today!
p.p.s.  Rumor has it that Scorsese is planning on the movie version in 2011.  I insist on reading the book first.

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