Thursday, February 25, 2010

embracing suffering [Lent, week 1]

Last evening, during a conversation where various family members were mourning the loss of sugary foods, Natalie said, "Mom, you could give up your GALL BLADDER for Lent!"  I like the way this girl thinks.

The truth is that I've been suffering about suffering for the last week.  I caught myself one day lamenting the delay of giving up the foods and activities I meant to give up for Lent because this blasted recovery from surgery was keeping me from being up and around, eating normal foods, and doing normal activities that I wanted to give up.  Written in black and white this way, it makes me sound a little loco -- and, maybe I am. Give me credit that not many minutes later -- and I'm convinced it was only because smarter people than me are praying -- it occurred to me that, perhaps, the suffering my Father wishes me to embrace is symbolized by this horseshoe pattern of  pinkish, blackish holes healing up on my quivering belly.  How perfectly ironic to miss the point of suffering while I've been staring toward my naval.

almost exactly 14 years ago to the day --
 waiting for our sweet Kendra Jenee

My husband will tell you that I am pretty hearty when it comes to tolerating pain.  After all, in my lifetime I've endured more than 55 hours of child-bearing labor plus one little darling who refused me labor pains, but chose, rather, to enter the world all plump and happy only after I allowed medical professionals to trace like a six-inch scar across my abdomen, rearranging my internal organs to give her a grand entrance to this world.  Enduring most of that suffering with a stoic cheerfulness that would make my Baptist grandmothers proud, I'm pretty confident about my ability to deal with physical pain.

But this recovery is more shadowy than childbearing. I didn't get to see the offending member, the incisions look like a pretty picture of connect-the-dots compared to that other ugly scrape lower on my belly.  Plus, there's no noble result from my pain.  Nothing I can take a picture of and post for the world to see.  Really, the gall bladder must be like the ugly stepchild of organs, right?  We don't even need gall bladders, for crying out loud, so why all the fuss once one is gone missing?

I'd go through surgery any day to get this result!

But, fussing I am.  And I can't seem to help myself.  No amount of blue-collared, bootstrap-raising, good cheer is keeping me from crying about my suffering every day.  More than a week after the event.  Still.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

needing restoration [Lent, week 1]

Today's reading is Psalm 51.  I am always comforted by the emotional honesty David displays in these words.  As a woman who has struggled her entire life with the depths and heights of tempestuous emotion, I find a kindred spirit with this ancient Hebrew king.  I would that I could express myself with as much honesty... and not get into trouble.  

Will I ever learn to speak this soul truth to my Father, who already knows each intimate detail about His created daughter -- even teaching me wisdom while I was still in my mother's womb?  Such wonder.

Today is a hard day.  I returned to work for the first time after my surgery and find all sorts of emotional strain slowing down my recovery.  But hard days are good days for music.  I hope you can take a moment to enjoy these songs with me.

Monday, February 22, 2010

shattered Shalom [Lent, week 1]

In pondering where to abstain and where to persevere for Lent I've sensed a weight toward the persevere side of the equation.  Small disciplines to be cultivated, maintained, embraced, if not enjoyed.

Fresh air and exercise
Fresh food (persevere with those colored foods, abstain the processed!)
Handwritten cards and letters of thanks, reconciliation, prayer
For that matter, prayer.

And writing.

Oh, writing, you have so much to teach me at your school. I am a ten-'o-clock scholar in your classroom.  Dillying and dallying with such nonsense.  Trying to avoid your stern glances.

Here's an attempt to persevere in thought, reflection; paltry words offered into the stream forged by the Living Word of my morning Lenten reading.

Shalom broken,
rent in two.
Guarded now by flaming swords,
we stand on the outside looking in.

Starved for shalom, 
eating stones for bread.
We cower in thistle and branch,
bursting the seams of our animal skins.

Eyes that once saw God
in the cool of the day
now watch cold metal ignite
with the glint of distant Sun.
Right and left,
back and forth, 
side to side.

Shalom barricaded,
obstructed from view.
Hypnotized by swinging metal,
we dream awake of old peace.

Capturing shalom,
in memories,
ancient instincts.
Could we crash the cherubim,
lay siege on contentment?

Rotten fruit falls,
teeters into sight.
Capturing for a moment,
our attention from the angels.

Slurping up shalom,
a dripping,
stew bloats our bellies.
Pretending we are full,
we nap at the eastern gate of Paradise.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

two more days until the next gathering of the Endwell Readers Guild!

It took an emergency surgery and a week of convalescence to finally sit down with this book.  I'd been saving it as a treat until after I finished a final exam and ten-page paper for the class I'm taking.  Since the gall bladder attack came right in the middle of doing classwork I've got a little grudge against it right now (that, and my sister-in-law's delicious, but ill-timed, tortilla soup).  So I put my textbooks in the corner, gave them a cold shoulder and picked up this bright and homey read instead.

If you're joining us this month for the Endwell location of the IAM Reader's Guild, we're looking forward to hearing what you thought about the reading.  Also, did you sample some of the author's recipes?!?  If you can't join us, but you've read the book, leave some comments here.  I'll add my review for the IAM blog later next week.

Here's the details for you local readers:
Tuesday, February 23, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Erin McMahon's house, 3619 Watson Blvd., Endwell
please RSVP in the comment section of this post or via email: tmurphyATunioncenterDOTorg
bring your book, your copy of the discussion guide, and a small snack or beverage to share

Next month we dive into some fiction from revered and oft-misunderstood author Flannery O'Connor -- The Violent Bear It Away.  I spent quite a bit of last year trying to understand and appreciate this eccentric and devoted woman.  I'm so eager to share this reading experience with friends.  If you plan to read this book during the month of March -- whether you are able to join us in person or not, tell me that in a comment on this post and on Saturday, February 28 I'll draw one name at random for a free book.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

i wanna get snowed in with you

It sounds a little bit whiney, I'm certain. But winter just isn't winter without one or two good, old-fashioned stop-the-world snow storms. The one that showed up in upstate NY Tuesday night barely squeaked into that category, but we enjoyed it all the same! Here's the highlights:

(first, though, I highly recommend you listen to this song while you are visiting this post)

Brian was hidden away most of the day doing sermon prep, but every once in awhile he'd stop in to play a game or stoke the wood in the fireplace.  He's a good man that way.


Comfort Food
Brian prepared a "traditional" Senegalese meal (thiebou dien?) of meat, vegetables and rice because we don't happen to keep millet in the house.  We did our best to share the tradition with our new friends, but eating out from a common dish, eating with our right hand only and waiting patiently for the "boss of the bowl" (Brian's term!) to flick the bits and pieces of meat to our portion of the platter.  It was delicious (and sure saves on dirty dishes!)

first the ingredients in their beautiful raw form 
(plus, part of my new chandelier!)
making a plan for the best dish

much better

did anyone notice that I used the wrong hand on my very first bite - d'oh!

General Silliness
you're not supposed to be able to see Kendra's hand 
holding up that spoon

and, Snow, of course!
rumor has it that her two big brothers joined in, no photographs could confirm this...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

stuff that is forming me on a snowy day

It's the final month of my undergrad class and I've got a 10-12 page paper hanging over my head.  These excerpts from this week's reading combine dual passions:  lives transformed at the feet of Jesus and the expression of worship through the arts.

Senegalese drummers
The emerging Mongolian church looked far different from any of our team's home churches in Sweden, Russia or America. Dramas and testimonies quickly became prominent features of the large celebration meetings...The "drama team" wrote and produced their own skits, plays and dramatic dances from Bible stories and everyday Mongolian life. This became a powerful teaching and evangelistic tool. Time was always set aside for testimonies from "real Mongols" -- often new believers in their '60s just come from the steppes. These long and, to Western ears, rambling stories of salvation gripped the fellowship in a state of rapt wonder and awe. God was on the move among their people--dressed in the most traditional of Mongolian clothing. worship rose from their hearts as they sang new songs written by their own people in their own language and unique musical style. This was no foreign fad or import!  (Brian Hogan, Distant Thunder)

American bluegrass

The salt metaphor also means Christians (like salt) must spread out and penetrate to be effective. We not only affect the world as a counter-cultural community ("light") but also as dispersed indivduals who take the Christian message and worldview into every circle and sector of society. The salt metaphor leads me to borrow a phrase from James Hunter that strikes what I think is the right balance in our relationship with culture. Hunter speaks of Christians' faithful presence -- not cultural absence, nor cultural "redemption." We should not be as pessimistic about cultural change as some believers, nor as triumphalistic and confident as others. (Tim Keller, Cities and Salt)

Senegalese weaver

The church's gospel ministry includes both evangelizing non-believers and shaping every area of believers' lives with the gospel,but that doesn't mean that the church as an institution under its elders is to corporately carry out all the activity that we equip our members to do. For example, while it should disciple its church members who are film-makers so that their cinematic art will be profoundly influenced by the gospel, the church should not operate a film production company -- that should be done by the film-makers themselves.  (Keller)

American sculptors

I'm eager to learn more from Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church.  Expect more on the subject in this space!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Monday Mix Tape

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

With the exhaustion of being a single mom for a week (God bless all you single mothers out there.  My respect for you continues to grow and grow!), it was a weekend for light reading only.  No heavy thinking allowed!  This book from my monthly book club was the perfect choice:

If you've been around this site at all, you should know how I feel about this author.  I want to be like her:  a woman of deep conviction and creative discipline plus the ability to treat subject matter with a light touch.  May I never grow toward a heavy-handed, thick-hearted, thin-lipped stingy religious woman. Shudder, shudder, shudder.

So a regular dose of Madeline does my heart good. Yes it does.  And this brief romantic novel was a light touch of the author's skill in storytelling -- as fiction and as memoir.  A young college graduate eager to make it in the post-war world of theatre spends a summer as a theatre apprentice in a little beach town.  She has no money, no family and not much experience -- in theatre or in love.  Spend some time reading L'Engle's life story and you may get the two stories confused.  Elizabeth Jerrold, in Joys... is intelligent, sensitive, and tall.  So was L'Engle.  It kind of makes me want to write a story about a young girl -- passionate, creative, and short -- coming of age in the Baptist circles of the mid-80's.

Also, this book may have the most purely romantic lines I've ever read in any of L'Engle's books:
Then she said, "Ben, I - I can tell you how I feel about -- about everything. I think you're the best friend I've ever had. I -- I'd lie down and die for you if you wanted me to. "
"Honey," Ben said. "When I get you to lie down for me it won't be to die."
Click the link to pre-order this book, due out in the beginning of March.  If you care at all about a "theologically informed, biblically grounded, liturgically sensitive, artistically alive and missionally shrewd vision for the Church and the arts" (David Taylor) you will place this book on your bookshelf between Schaeffer and Willard.  With contributing authors such as Eugene Peterson and Jeremy Begbie, that's no stretch. The content is taken from the Transforming Culture Symposium, April 2008 and includes chapters from Andy Crouch, John Witvliet, Barbara Nicolosi and Joshua Banner, in addition to David Taylor.   David has been sharing excerpts from his book over at his blog.  If you're stressing about the ten bucks Amazon's gonna rake in, you can kick the tires of the thing over there.  Also -- for whatever it's worth -- I've blogged about the content here.  (Barbara Nicolosi actually called me a "zealous soul" for all the cyber-space I dedicated to the symposium.  I'm taking that as a big compliment. Huge.)

  • Through A Glass, Darkly:  I guess I read a lot of blogs.  I'm not sure if this is a good thing to do or not.  Every once in awhile I consider just dropping the whole habit.  But then I read a post like this and understand that -- in moderation, as all good things -- there is spiritual formation to be had in the reading and wrestling in prayer with the learnings of others.  Even the others I may never meet before the new heaven and earth. For me, this post is one of those posts.  
  • Plywood People:  The undergrad course I'm taking (Perspectives on the World Christian Movement) has enlarged my understanding of cross-cultural work throughout the world.  Recently we were discussing how to know the safest places to give toward agencies committed to bringing justice to the overlooked and abused throughout the world.  I'm hoping this site will add to my awareness and learning on this topic.  I was especially attentive to the question in this interview about the products we purchase.  During one of our classes we watched the dramatic retelling of a Chinese Christian woman's persecution.  Part of her duties during her imprisonment and torture was to assemble Christmas lights for Western retailers.  God help us. 
  • The Apparent Project Blog:  From the home page: The web log of the staff of the Apparent Project...serving the poor in Haiti and making their needs known through media and the arts.  I stumbled on this site as I've been learning about the rescue efforts in Haiti and want to spend a lot more time getting to know about these people and this project.
  • The High Calling Blogs:  This post was a great start to my weekend.  After reading it I decided my title for the weekend would be Tamara Stewards Her Sense of Humor
Films & Television:
  • Flight of the Conchords: Dry, hilarious, slightly-sweet, occasionally crude, and the perfect way for the artist-types in our house to laugh at themselves just a little bit.  Andrew received season two for Christmas and I'm still catching up on it whenever he and I get a chance to watch together.  We watched several episodes on DVD on Friday night. (I giggled so hard during a songwriting scene with Bret, Jermaine and Murray that I think I scared  annoyed Drew.  Just too perfect...)
  • In the not-so-funny category:  District 9.  We watched it at the theater this summer.  It impacted me so deeply, I sat through the credits and cried.  There's something about the innocence of the main character getting swallowed up, literally, into the nightmare life of an alien prawn.  It's like Beauty and the Beast, only backwards.  I cried again in the last scene when the creature sits designing delicate flowers out of the refuse of the dump he lives in.  And I can't help but think of the Fall and the promise of a new Heaven and a new Earth (and new bodies) someday. And making art to relieve some of the suffering of a cursed Earth.  These are just my thoughts, you might just see an action/adventure blockbuster, I don't know.
Places:  Some photographs from Brian's trip to Senegal.

Saturday, February 06, 2010


January was too busy to do much cozying up of our house.  And, really, once Christmas decorations come down I have to sit in darkness and mourn for a little while, anyway.  Although, this year my son and husband had the brilliant idea to leave some white lights strung ,all naked-like, across the windows in the family room.  And a few underneath the mantle.  That sure does help.

And a couple of weeks ago, I poured some epsom salt into four canning jars, added tea lights and put them on the window sill over my kitchen sink.  That helps, too.

Today, we finally chose a spot to hang a piece of artwork that I'd been counting down time until I could purchase from Phaedra Taylor, aka PhaedraJean ArtMachine.  When we visited a couple of weeks ago, this sweet trio came home with us.

Meet Ambrose, Thornburn and Addie Share Secrets (or Norm, Claude and Beverly, as Brian has dubbed them because, apparently, he was too macho busy to remember the perfection of their real names.)

I think I first fell in love with this piece during Phaedra's presentation at Art Show on Main 2008.  She told us that even she was not sure what secrets these three had to tell, and that, perhaps, we'll never know.  What mysterious delight!  Now, as my family scurries down the stairs each morning, headed out into the mysteries of our own busy days we will pause and look into the world of Ambrose, Thornburn, and Addie, and remember to wonder.  As we head upstairs each night, we will take this irresistable image of innocence into our own secret, sleepy dreams.  Now, I think I need to add a bookshelf or thinking chair to that corner.  Ideas anyone??

Today also is the big day to remove the horrific light fixture that came with our kitchen when we bought the house almost two years ago.  I really don't try to be a complicated woman.  Honest.  But when I saw this chandelier in a library book and then on the Pottery Barn website, well....

Over the last year, I've been saving MyPoints to earn PB gift cards.  My husband and mother and sister added to the nest egg with Christmas gift money.  It's been sitting in a box in the corner of the kitchen until today.  Now, thanks to the mercy of my jet-lagged husband it's hanging over our kitchen table.  Naked as a jaybird.  The rest of my day will be spent dressing it in lovely papers and found-objects.  Suggestions anyone?

I can't wait until Christmas to do this....

Brian wants to hang some pictures from Africa.  Perhaps, we'll start with this one.

What do you think?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Monday Mix Tape

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

**note:  for some reason blogger is giving me html fits today!  Sorry about the way this post looks.**
Silence by Shusaku Endo
A couple of excerpts from the review of our book discussion I sent to IAM Readers Guild. 

"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."

"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 well 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? "

Here's the whole review at IAM's website.
Also, while you're there, sign up for their mailing list.


  • Sara Groves: a short post about a beautiful story of rescue in Haiti.

  • The story in video from CNN. I know that, by now, this story is old news, but it's beauty has captured my imagination.  I may have to write a follow-up post to this.

  • Color Me Katie:  a new blog I discovered and there's just something about this artist that is so refreshing.  Simply sweet with a hint of wicked humor. I am totally in love with this video of her work. See for yourself...

  • Music:

    Fireflies and Songs, Sara Groves:  I guess it was my week to reconnect with this songwriter, woman, Christ-follower, wife, mother, and advocate.  I tend to be very slow to purchase music with a Christian label.  I hope it's not because I'm one of those cranky CCM-cynics.  But I am trying to be discerning.  But I haven't been disappointed by this musician yet.  Not once.  She writes simple tunes, wraps them around words expressing both the mundane and the sublime and then sings them to us, beautifully,  from a place that sounds like the bottom of her heart. This album seals the deal: I am a Sara Groves FAN and I'll tell everyone who wants to know.  

    The album is completely intact with beautiful songs, but the one that almost wrecks me every time I listen to it? 

    Different Kinds of Happy:

    it's a sweet, sweet thing/ standing here with you and nothing to hide / light shining down to our very insides/sharing our secrets, bearing our souls / helpingeach other come clean

    Good Lord, these words are true -- and beautiful.  And they make me think of this story from my own journey in my marriage and in a grace community.

    At the risk of sounding like a stalker I have to thank Haley at carrying ballast yet again.  It was her post about  another inspiriting song on the album, This House, that reminded me I hadn't yet listened to this album. Thanks again, Haley!   

    Films & Television:
    Too many projects this week to watch much on the big or small screen.

      • Moon Friday night, we threw a movie night, of sorts, while Brian was away.  My brother and sister brought over film and icecream for Andrew, Alex and me.  It may or may not have been a very good movie.  I couldn't say because [i fell asleep].  (those are brackets of shame, in case you couldn't tell.)  I hate it when that happens, but I wasn't the only one. *ahem, Alicia*  The guys said it was a good movie and, from what I did see it was a unique, plot-twisting, 2001: A Space Oddyssey-esque film.  I'll try to watch it again because, believe it or not, I loved that movie.  Watched it when I was in junior high with a short-term friend whom I barely remember.  But I've never, ever forgotten that movie.  It was probably the first time I watched a movie and realized it could be art.

      • Grammys:  I let the kids all stay up last night so we could watch this together.  Of course, it's a televised awards show, and, thus, open to much mocking and scorn from the Murphy household.  But it's also a chance for me to get a clue about why they like the musicians and band and songs they do.  Want to know the biggest surprise of the night?  Pink.  Out of all the angry, hip-jerking, military-boot-wearing women throwing their hair at the world last night, she came out and stopped the show with this beautiful, feminine, but still death-defying,  performance.  Once we all got over feeling awkward about her bodysuit, we all just kind of got mesmerized by it.  So, there you have it -- beauty at the Grammy's.  Plus Michael Jackson's death is just purely tragic -- still

    • Places:

    I just sent in my registration for this retreat for those involved with the shepherding of artists..  Joy!

    And please forgive me for not posting the winner of this month's Readers Guild book this morning, as promised.  The winner is Melinda Jahn!  And, since I don't happen to have a photograph of Melinda, here is one of her adorable son at last fall's Art Show on Main.  Isn't he a cultured little fellow and isn't his daddy nice to give him such a great view?

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