Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Mix Tape [bleak-midwinter edition]

The weeks following Epiphany and before Easter sit icy on impenetrable earth.  I am tempted to only endure rather than live these weeks. But, if I determine to find the pockets of warm comfort subverting the cracking darkness, I find joys that feel almost pagan to the dry religiosity of my years.
Shimmering under cover of hoarfrost, winter settled-in does not demand our affection.   It's very indolence toward our opinion places all the burden of relationship on our bundled selves.  Winter is not for those who wish painless romance, easy amenity.  You have to sit with winter, in it -- embracing the beauty of its blanketed melancholy.  Slice into the crust of it to discover its inherent delights.

In that spirit, all week long I'll be sharing bits and pieces of  assorted comforts.
Monday is for music: 

the prelude

Lyrics (seriously, have you ever paid attention to these lyrics?  past the Christmas-y verse about the Wisemen?  Verse three on its own is a graduate level lesson on the theology of Incarnation!)
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a manger full of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my hea

Music for wintertime:  what's your favorite? 
Bloggers, use the Simply Linked function below to share the link from your post with us.  I'd be honored if you included a link back to me on your blog.  Not a blogger? Share with us through the comment feature!  Neither of these work for you?  I also accept carrier pigeons.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

post script

Typically, time made its normal flight pattern this week. Whirring by by so that seven days takes place without our permission.  Seven days ago today we drove our son to Washington D.C. and seven days ago tomorrow, we left him there.  I think I've been in shock ever since.  Also, I've been sick .. again.  It feels the older I get the more frequently these colds disable me.  I'm beginning to wonder how long I'll be able to live in the Northeast and get anything done during the winter?  Or during any of the seasonal transitions. Basically, I'm productive for a total of  two months out of the year.  Wondering when my boss is going to notice?

A few p.s. notes on recent topics:

1.  In last week's mixtape I bragged on the artists in my family tree, including GrantDeb Photographers. 
     p.s., The Knot: Virginia Best of Weddings 2011: looks like I'm not the only one bragging.  Bravo, Grant & Deb!

2.  This week's mixtape focused on the art of "recovering" lost forms. 

     p.s., Diary of an Arts Pastor: A Landscape of Church & Arts: not only is this guy committed his life to the recovery of a thriving relationship (aka, "theology") between the Church and art, but his blog will introduce you to many other great advocates for the cause.  Don't miss this series of posts on the subject. ( "prologue" here)

his path to work

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Mixtape [the art-as-buried-treasure edition]

Bravo to the musicians, poets, painters, photographers, architects, crafters, writers, filmmakers who do the work of uncovering the works of the great community of artists and craftsmen who have gone on before.  Works hidden under layers of amnesia with each new generation.   Or buried underneath the surprise devastations of life.  I'm certain there are heaps of examples of this sort of good work, I'm only sharing a few examples from my own recent discoveries.

In honor of all those wise souls who take the time to look beyond their own experience to learn the lessons buried like treasure waiting to be polished and shared with a new age, I share this week's mix tape.

the prelude: listen while you read!

track 1: old hymns made new

The baby boomer generation and those of us following in their footsteps have not handled with care the rich treasury of the hymnody passed down through the centuries.  We've either grasped them, white-knuckled, as we might old rusty muskets aimed at anyone who dare imagine any other type of musical praise and worship.  Or we've all but heaved them overboard like so much baggage weighing us down from our lofty dreams of "authentic" worship.

I've spent the last couple of years re-discovering the poetic catechism of the hymns.  Some familiar, most completely overlooked in my generic evangelical upbringing.  I've learned to love new melodies to old lyrics and new instrumentation of the timeless melodies that, hopefully, will never change.

And, for those of my dear friends and readers, who still believe that the drums on their church stage indicates their worship services are "contemporary" should pay close attention the agegroup resurrecting and renewing the ecclesial coffers of the hymnody written by those who've gone before us. 

Since this is a mixtape, I don't want to take up any more editorial space.  Here's a few links you should totally check out:

track 2: unknown street photographer's work discovered

Vivian Maier

Please notice all the layers of meaning uncovered in this story.  First, the young woman who paid attention to the craft of photography and the mysterious beauty in the everyday going on around her.  Then the young entrepreneur/author/photographer/archiver who paid attention to a box full of negatives.  Then the curators, publishers and filmmakers who paid attention to the discovered work in order to tell the story on a bigger stage.  Kudos, John Maloof, for the blood, sweat and tears you are investing in this sort of anthropological dig.

*thank you to bearing blog for being the first to share this story.

track 3: links from artistic treasure-finders
  • Davey's Daily Poetry - I receive this daily email and as often as possible keep my hope to read poetry out loud in 2011.
  • Banish Misfortune: Arthouse America tells the story of a group of musicians meeting together for years to keep alive the joyous tradition of Irish folk music (and Irish ale!)

track 4: books!

The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald

Thank you, Sally Fitzgerald, for archiving, collating and publishing the delightful letters of Flannery O'Connor.  You have done the world a great favor. I've been reading this since Christmas and continue to absorb the treasure Ms. O'Connor is to those of us who cherish excellent story-telling, deep faith and good humor.

How To Sew A Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew by Erin Bried

In the world of how-to books, How to Sew a Button deserves it's very own shelf.  Author Erin Bried  interviewed ten real, authentic-down-to-their-homemade-jam-stained fingertips grandmamas from around the nation. The fun and easy-to-read manual uncovers the lost art of making a home: shining shoes, gardening  and storing vegetables, folding crisp fitted sheets, and, yes, sewing those loose buttons.

I'm putting this book on my shelf right next to Edith Schaeffer -- a harmonious duet of artful homemaking.

Dark Water: Art, Disaster, and Redemption in Florence by Robert Clark

I read this with my Reader's Guild last year and wrote about it on IAM's blog.  You want to get an in-depth description of the tedious craft of art restoration, this is your book. I  know that doesn't sound very interesting, but Robert Clark won us over with his passion and his storytelling.

 When I was discussing with my children this piece of history (the Florence floods), they understood better than most adults might:  "All those works of art represented the history of man.  When one person dies in a flood, it's one life.  When the artwork is destroyed, it's the story of mankind."

track 5: your turn!

What old-time art have you been able to appreciate because someone did the work of preserving or unearthing or renewing it? Share your story, link, video, photographs below.  Who's creating and cultivating in your family? Bloggers, use the Simply Linked function below to share the link from your post with us.  I'd be honored if you included a link back to me on your blog.  Not a blogger? Share with us through the comment feature!  Neither of these work for you?  I also accept carrier pigeons.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

dismantling the family enterprise

Maybe I was nine years old? Ten? Whatever the age, I felt much older and wiser -- at least 60 or 32.  In my mind, something needed to be done about the creative culture of our extended family. Ten of us cousins snarled up together at every church meeting, every family celebration, every summer picnic.  Some might have seen the perfect opportunity for legendary whiffle ball tournaments, starry-night manhunt sessions.  Not I.  I saw the ideal set-up for creative productions.

We had manpower and we had skills.  Obsessively, I cataloged our gifts -- James, Jack and Jeremy* could build stuff.  Jeff liked to do magic tricks.  Tim told jokes.  Karen and Mandy could sing.  And do acrobatic tricks.  Kimberly was, at that time, the adorable baby of us all. A true cherub, haloed in the sweetest, palest yellow ringlets of hair.  

I was the oldest girl in this mess of cousins.  I figured my birthright was to inspire the youngsters toward creative greatness.  If we could make a couple of bucks while we were at it, even better. And, so, we gathered after church services, sitting around a wobbly aluminum table in the  church basement kitchen. While parents shuffled metal chairs and small talk on the floor above our heads, we dreamed and we schemed. In my memory, it seems our grandiose-est dream was to pull off a family circus.  A real live three-ring affair -- magic tricks, acrobats, matching costumes, live animals.  Surely Grandpa would allow us to use his back yard?  And Grandma would provide popcorn for free and let us charge people for it?

It was an audacious dream. We loved to talk about it every possible moment.  At least I loved to talk about it; naturally, I assumed they loved to listen.  The only thing I liked better than discussing plans for our future glory was the hours absorbed scribbling to-do lists in my orange-covered spiral notebook: talk to James about pet tricks.  get joke book from the library.  find somewhere to buy tickets.

In retrospect, I'm not entirely certain what everyone else was thinking, so enthralled was I with the Grand Idea.  Now I realize they were probably thinking, "When's this meeting gonna be over so we can go outside and play whiffle ball?"

Eventually the Family Circus idea morphed into a Family Musical idea.  Smaller scale -- Grandma's living room.  We'd act out parts and lip-sync to the vinyl melodies spinning on my grandparents' record player.  We -- or was it I? -- selected the crowd favorite for all good little church families in my day:  Bullfrogs & Butterflies.  Perfection.  

The big day came. Probably after a birthday dinner; maybe it was Thanksgiving, half-time of the football games playing on both upstairs and downstairs television sets.  To this day, I'm not sure how I ever wangled all those burly boy cousins to dramatize music spitting from the fuzzy brown stereo speakers perched behind Grandma's orange recliner rocker.  But I did and they did.

 In fact, everything was running smoothly. Our parents crammed onto the living room furniture, leaving a small pathway of brown carpet for us to make our distinguished entrances through the kitchen doorway onto our stage, indicated by small empty space in front of the brown cabinet television in the corner of room. My long-imagined dreams of pulling off a creative enterprise with this troupe of little relatives was about to come off without a hitch.  Sure, we didn't charge for tickets or publicize in the family newsletter that I slaved over on a plastic blue typewriter in my walk-in bedroom closet.  Nor did we publicize in the local newspaper or the church bulletin as we'd planned for the Family Circus.  But, we were all together making art happen. And it was good.

Good, that is, until the well-planned, and certainly well-directed, Grand Finale of Cuteness from the littlest cousin.  The darling with the blonde ringlets was to enter the room on all fours as the littlest bug from the spectacle of critters being acted out that day -- frogs, butterflies, caterpillars, snails.  Kimberly was to play the littlest snail.  Waiting for her entrance from my place behind Grandma's rocker, my entire body tingled with desire, imagining the consummation of this final scene..  I pictured the adorable entrance, the oohs and aahs of the adults, who would surely be overcome with waves of emotion at the sheer genius of this director.  What style!  What substance!  What depths of passion and heights of spiritual ecstasy wrought from this  musical score.  Hand trembling on the phonograph needle ready to descend onto the spinning sphere, I held my breath, watching the kitchen door, certain that all the inspired instruction I'd given the actors backstage was being carried out to the final detail.  

The door did not open. My ears puzzled at the sounds of hissed commotion going on backstage.  What could possibly be happening back there?  All our plans!  All our meetings!  All my lists scratched on notebook page left no room for backstage commotion.

 At some point, the door did open. As I remember it, my hand was still poised over the whirling disc and I began to drop the needle, sighing relief as I did.  Smiling to myself, I even imagined the story we'd have to laugh about over cake and ice cream later -- about the moment that almost wrecked the whole show.  And how the bonds of family held us together through thick and thin to keep the show on track.  

Through a crack in the door, I think it was the Garanimal-striped arm of a middle-age cousin that pushed the little diva out onto the carpet.  And, to this day, I have experienced no greater shock than when I realized this truth: Kimberly was not adorably nervous with stage fright as I had assumed.  My internal response to this truth lit a short fuse of fury and indignation that not even the darkest hours of crisis in all my 39 years since have overshadowed. in 39 years, no recognition more jarring than that moment when I realized the  darling was MAD! Her eyes were red not with tears of fear, rather, of plain old stubborn disgust that she had to be in this stupid show at all.  

If I'm remembering correctly, I began wheezing instructions to her from my hidden seat in the corner.  A battle of wills ensued between oldest girl cousin and littlest girl cousin.  Nothing mattered.  She sat on her tiny haunches, unmoved by my pleas.  Eventually, the show broke up.  Uncle picked up the stubborn little snail who was by this point bawling tears of anger, whisked her backstage into the kitchen, flushing out the rest of the cast and crew waiting ears pressed up to the other side of the kitchen door.  Awkward moments lapsed while I sat, stupefied, behind Grandma's chair.  Aunts and uncles began to lift their polite theatre voices to regular conversation.  Boy cousins began digging through the closet for jackets, caps, ballgloves.  The spell of my imagined perspicacity with this undiscovered troupe of artists had been shattered.  My dreams of assembling  familial brilliance, my ground-breaking innovation, unnoticed.  Uncle still arguing with baby cousin in the kitchen, trying to persuade at least an apology.  
That was the moment I think I gave up my dreams of artistic camaraderie and decided to like boys instead.

And that is a whole other story.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent.  Even Kimberly, whom I forgave a long time ago, and whom I still believe to be adorable.

Linking up with Emily at Imperfect Prose
and with L.L.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Monday Mix Tape: [the family edition]

This week I highlight the creators and cultivators I can say are my all-time favorite in the whole world even though I am biased.  With four children, 5 siblings, lots of in-laws, 15 nieces & nephews, 7 aunts & uncles, and 21 first cousins, this post doesn't even scratch the surface! These just happen to be the few with websites and photos, easy for me to share.

Meet some of the artists and culture-makers in my family tree:

the prelude: listen while you read!

Standalone player

track 1: Where's Ulysses
The Wilderness EP , by Where's Ulysses
listen here
Through the years my sons have spent hours, hours and more hours making music with their buddies.  They've played out off and on, navigating the ebb and flow of adolescent interests and energies.  Over Christmas break they spent five days shacked up in a cabin in the woods with no plumbing and only wood fire to keep them warm.  This is what they made while they were together.

Why, yes, I am proud. 
Thank you for asking.

track 2: world-famous website
Cha-Ching on a Shoestring
Cha-Ching on a Shoestring
Living Large on a Limited Budget
My sister, Kaley, with the help of her husband, Wes, have created a coupon-clipper's empire at their website Cha-Ching on a Shoestring.  Over 5,000 readers stop by to learn how to score free stuff and make money back from working the system.  I am a lazy couponer and totally lack shopping savvy, but I've learned enough from Kaley's advice to earn free gift cards to some of my favorite stores several times a year.  You should subscribe -- unless you like paying more money for your stuff than necessary?

track 3: interior design. furnishings. gallery.
studio christensen

My cousin Jt Christensen owns this gallery space in center city Philadelphia.  I'm just all kinds of impressed with his taste and his courage.  

Bravo, Jt!

track 4: photography
I told you about them here; showed you some of their work here.  If you live in the Richmond/Norfolk/Hampton Roads/Newport News area, schedule a sitting with them for any reason. Right away.  Not only will your photos be gorgeous, but my cousin Grant and his wife, Deb, will be two of the most fun people you'll ever meet.  You'll make new friends, I promise!
 (some samples from our photo shoot)


[photo credit: Rearranged Design]

What artists are sitting in the branches of your family tree? Share your story, link, video, photographs below.  Who's creating and cultivating in your family? Bloggers, use the Simply Linked function below to share the link from your post with us.  I'd be honored if you included a link back to me on your blog.  Not a blogger? Share with us through the comment feature!  Neither of these work for you?  I also accept carrier pigeons.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

a forgotten Advent post: Of candle wax and animal skins

Oops...found this Christmas Eve post in my draft folder!

Advent reminds us we are like the people of old who waited in darkness for light.  If I could wrap myself up in the glorious melancholy of its music, poetry and candlelight all four weeks I would.  In this perfect scenario, imagine the delight going into Grand Christmas Day, lights and delights ablaze.  

But, in our real life, there are so many legitimate -- delightful, even -- disruptions to the waiting in darkness of Advent.  One wedding anniversary and two Murphy kid birthdays mean a celebration every week during the four weeks leading to Christmas.  And, lots of chaos.  Much of it, happy chaos, to be certain; commotion and hoopla, nonetheless.  Not exactly quiet evenings meditating by the fireplace. 

Also, I work for the Church. You probably understand that Christmas is a big deal in the Church.  We have extra services and many expectations.  On most days, I look at my opportunity to serve our community with gratitude, but, I'll confess, it's always tempting to become resentful during Advent.

Yesterday I would have loved to take the day off to finish many tasks waiting for me at home for our own family Christmas.  Instead I sat at a table with a few fellow laborers and inserted 1200 little candles into 1200 paper wrappers for our Christmas Eve candlelight service.  All day long I rode the bumpy ride between gratitude and resentment.

Last night, a small band of musicians and tech volunteers met together at the Church to prepare music for Sunday's service.  They left the pretty lights on their family tree, drove out in the blustery, achy cold night to prepare for Sunday.  Because, Christmas or not, Sundays keep coming.  

Just this week, I stumbled onto an old home movie from the week before my wedding. In one particular scene,  my bleary-eyed family sat on couches and chairs in my parents' living room, folding wedding programs.  We were actually running the bulletins through the copy machine in a small room across the hall, in a small corner of an already-overflowing house that served as our church's main office.  Being as our congregation met in an old chicken barn that was slowly being renovated, this tiny room served as my father's study, church office, and copy room. Each week, in addition to all the responsibilities my Dad had in preparing a sermon, visiting the sick, discouraged and faithless, he also wrote church bulletins and ran them through that copy machine across the hall from the living room.

While I was watching the home video I noticed my father comment, under his breath, I wonder if we could just change a couple things on this program and make it our bulletin for Sunday.  Yep, here he was getting ready to walk his daughter down the aisle on Saturday and still needed to prepare a sermon -- and a bulletin -- for Sunday.  

And it dawned on me.  This has been my life.  It's in my DNA -- doing the work of worship, which is most often tedious and messy and unnoticed.  Maybe I'm a long-lost descendant of the tribe of Levi.  If that is true, then it's very good for me to remember the history of worship servants. The Hebrew word, abad, designates the Levitic work of worship in lighting lamps, burning incense, preparing animals for sacrifice.  Sweaty, messy, dutiful worship.  

The Levites lugged bloody blades and animal hide; I have to worry about melty candle wax.

We've come a long way, baby.

photo credit: Anthony Allen


Linking today with Imperfect Prose 
and with L.L. 
On In Around button

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday Mixtape: [hopes-for-2011 edition]

Every Advent I try to slow down in the cyber world.  I try to slow down in the real world, too, but that's a harder goal, altogether.  By the time January comes, I seem to forget why I liked blogging in the first place.  

And then, long about January 4 or January 10, I decide I don't care and begin posting again.  Today -- in the  mix tape format --  I post my list of hopes for personal renewal in 2011.  I hope you'll participate by sharing your own list; use the comment box, share a link, send a carrier pigeon -- any little thing will do. 

Here we go....

 the prelude

Standalone player

track 1: home
(source: Molly Irwin)

1.  drink more tea, preferably out of these dishes in a newly painted kitchen

track 2:  music
The Long Surrender by Over the Rhine
I. Can't. Stop. Listening!
2.  Listen to more real albums -- all the way through each track -- in a stereo, preferably with the volume way up and nothing else to do.

track 3: poetry
Jagged With Love by Susanna Childress
3.  read poetry out loud, preferably with someone else listening (even the dog)

4.  read more books instead of more facebook, preferably starting with all the books toppling out of my nightstand [see shelfari widget over there on the sidebar -- such a marvelous Christmas bounty!]

track 5: writing 
The Glen Workshop, 2011
5.  take writing class through the Glen Online, preferably begin to write stuff about which I earnestly care and believe:

  •   art in church and the spiritual discipline of art-making
  •   my story of woundedness as a pastor's daughter and as a sexually-abused child
  •  my story as a woman fighting to take in deeply all the means of grace - including the hilarity of the world around me (like the cute little old woman with dangly earrings talking her stumbling husband down the stairs after a church potluck yesterday and my sister and I trying to figure out if we should help him out and how my sister whispered to me and I whispered back like I was her mother because I was so nervous that little old man was going to fall down those stairs)

track 6: all the other stuff

6.  get my nose re-pierced 

7.  lose weight, buy a new dress, and generally look hot at my sister's wedding in July

8.  figure out how to get money and time to attend every single conference and retreat I'd like to attend in 2011.

9.  love and adore and serve my husband while he tries to figure out what he's supposed to be when he grows up

10.  listen to my two sons' new EP over and over and over again, visit my 17-year-old in Washington, D.C. while he serves in the House of Representatives as often as possible, read or watch Le Mis immediately so I can totally dig my daughter's role in the school production in February, pray about homeschooling my 13-year-old daughter next year.

11. give myself to rousing a sleeping worship liturgy at Union Center Christian Church, by loving, shepherding and serving its community of saints

Forgive Thy Brother by Scott Erickson
12.  in all things -- job, ministry, relationships, parenting, personal ambitions, recreation, prayer, personal disciplines.... motivated by love

poetry for desire

Thinking still on the subject of desire

What We Say We Want
Luci Shaw

What do we say when
that hunger harrows our bodies?

I desire you. But it's not
that, or not only that.

Desire is the word we use as an excuse
for all the pain, a white flag
dropped into the battle that rages
between urgency and fulfillment.

A time of exhaustion comes
when nothing is left to want;

or when what we still want
is too large to name.
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