Monday, February 8, 2016

The Medium or The Message? Both with a Slice of Cake

I've always been a "have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too" kind of girl.
I mean, what's the use of cake if it just sits there?
Bake it! Cut it! Share it! Eat it!

No need to wait for your birthday.
Every day is somebody's birthday.
So, forget that Marie Antoinette's famed mythical speech:
"Let them eat cake!" was met by the French revolutionaries' lines "Off with her head; vive la France!"
 
Let's be revisionists shall we?
Consider this riddle.

What do you get
when you combine cake with the French Revolution esprit,  
our freedom to eat, share and belong?

What you get is, "Let us eat cake."

Okay, allow me to break down this metaphor. I'm not really talking about eating cake. Stay on your diets. What I mean is:  writers, philosophers, dreamers, doers...unite. It's time.

Storytellers, let us bake back, I mean take back the world.
Here's a recipe.
Dream first. Follow that by following through. Write your story, your play, your poem, your novel, your cake. Bake up your crazy ideas. Then, enjoy! Throw a party. Invite everyone you know, even the people who don't like cake. Take the lead to sing, slice, distribute, and then, please I beg you, let us all eat the cake.

Don't make us just stand and look at the cake. Sure, we can discuss the cake's layers. We can hear how long it took to bake it. We'd love to know if you used a recipe, or if you went rogue and it turned out great anyway. But, dammit, don't forget the point of the cake.

The point of the cake is to eat it. Together.
Last weekend I attended my first live poetry reading in years. The poet, an American liberal-arts-student-slash-soldier once stationed in Iraq penned his thoughts and observations of that experience.
His poems are really good. Really good. They do what modern poetry ought to do: his poems revisit and capture an experience which both separates and unites. Hugh Martin's poems show Americans a world we didn't experience, but (in a way) which we caused. On the page, Martin's poetry confronts us with vivid film-like "takes" of his time in Iraq, disembodied still-shots accompanied by a voice-over. I like his poems because they make me think and feel. His poems in The Stick Soldiers read viscerally to impact readers at a gut level. So, buy the book. Read the poems.

 Image result for words
But, allow me to talk about the reading. I don't mean to pick on Martin. Hugh Martin did "fine", as far as modern poetry readings go. He read his poems like all the poets I know read their poems outloud. He read his poem like words. Words on a page.
He read his poems the way modern poets do:  he removed all conversational, natural inflection from the words; he deliberately broke up lines the way they are broken on the page; he flattened the poems into a two-dimensional representation of themselves. Martin read the poems as poetry...he emphasized the medium over the message. He read those poems right back onto the page, cementing them there. 

And, in doing so, he pissed me off.
Emily Dickinson: My Brain/Wider Than the Sky is/Why/ I write to read/Alone.

I found myself envisioning the page, seeing the poem written out, conscious at once of his craft and his book. Then, I had to put myself into the realm of reading to get at the message, the heart of the poem. It's a lot of work to put your audience through. Don't get me wrong. It's not the work I mind. What worries me is that with this style of reading, the medium is more the message than the message itself. Taking out all interpretation, to me, does not open the doorway to all interpretation. It smacks it closed. Instead of bringing out the message, making it accessible, sharing meaning, such flattened reading obscures the message and hides the truth behind a veil of the medium. The poem becomes writing, rather than shared meaning.
IF that sounds familiar it is because I am referencing a media scholar, Marshall McLuhan, who in the 1970's observed technology taking over the messages it was built to relay. McLuhan observed, "the medium is the message."

I was hoping at the time I read McLuhan that he was wrong. Or, that he was lying. Or, that what he noticed was just a trend. McLuhan was himself a student of my favorite scholar, Walter Ong. Ong's pivotal treatise, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word noted that our oral culture was disappearing under the mantle of the printed word, just one technology that brought with it benefits and dangers. He predicted a second orality would one day come, an era which would treat equally medium and message.


And here's where I bring us back to cake, the French Revolution, and storytellers destined to take back the world.

A long time ago, when poetry started, it started as a way to remember, tell and share stories. Traveling bards moved from town to town singing odes of events in the public square. Some odes were penned down. Like scripture though, only the learned could decipher the scrolls. Up until the 14th century, scrolls were written in scriptura continua, without punctuation, capitalization, or even word or sentence breaks, and the scrolls were always read in public by a reader, a public servant who interpreted the transcribed code back into oral speech.
thewritingwasonlyarecordofthemessagewhichwasintendedtobeshared
(The writing was only a record of the message which was intended to be shared.)

Image result for gutenberg bible under glass
Gutenberg Bible under glass.
Image result for gutenberg bible under glass


Centuries later, the printing press blazed a new trail of accessibility of written word and not long after we became readers. And, reading is good. So good. Reading the written word sets up a lovely relationship between the writer, the story, and the reader.
It allows access to the world of the Other. Reading, if done right, moves us beyond the act of reading a book into a new world of the story. We experience that world, see it through another's eyes, feel and recognize the connection that exists between us. But when reading emphasizes "words placed on a page" doesn't it lose it's ability to unite, to transform, to share meaning?

Image result for read together 
Maybe the Second Orality has hit. Maybe it is time to read together.  Ooh. Maybe even outloud.

Maybe, storytellers, story-readers, and story-writers, and yes, that includes you poets! we can come together and without losing the rationality, observation, accessibility and craft that accompanies literacy and the written word,
we can bring back her older sister,
the spoken word.

We can read with feeling and meaning
together, as we leap
off the page.




When we take this leap:  we can have our cake; and, we
can eat it too.

Everyone gets a slice. So let's read like it feeds us.

Because it can.



 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Butterfly Hamlet: Metaphors For Writers in the Throes of Becoming



To become, or not to become? Today's post is Hamlet revamped. When you consider change, prepare for resistance. Sometimes resistance takes the shape of disapproval from our social sphere.

 

Other times the source of resistance is, well, ourselves.
We resist becoming all we can be, because it is hard work saying goodbye to an old life. Especially when you don't know what shape the new life will take...We're like worms.
My buddies and me. I think I'm the one on the right.
Worms work long and hard before the wings take over.

Writing is isolating. Writing is preparing for a storm on a deserted island.
Hello? Is anybunny out there?
Writing is building a temporary shelter around you of shredded paper and dreams and watching the dreams melt in the first tropical rain that comes along.

Day Three since I picked this back up. Day 600 + [something] if you count the last three years of fiddling. Day whatever.
It's only been three days and already I'm low on hope?

Confession: this morning I cried as I grabbed my coffee. Good Lord, I thought. I have to go back there? Yes, go back. Go back there. You'll only know what it's like if you see it through. Get to work. Build another shelter. There's either a burning sun coming or it's going to rain. After you are finished building, you can rest. Maybe drink out of a coconut. Watch for ships. Talk to a soccerball, if you're Tom Hanks. If you are indeed Hamlet, you can always talk to Yorick, or, you know, what's left of him.
Yorick, I've been thinking. It's time for me to move on.
Good, Bessie. 'Atta girl, Bessie.
Hard writing is sacrifice, giving up. 
Sometimes writing means giving up "giving up".

I've written these posts, read by a few. And I am dragging myself to the screen in the morning. Milking the coffee pot.  Inner resources exhausted. Knowing that if I take time to write this blog post that I'll most likely be late to work, behind on grading, miss family time in the morning, have a crick in my neck that after four years may develop into a hump or rheumatoid arthritis, have lost time for exercise, showering, you name it, I've lost it. I can't help but ask, is it worth it? Am I on the right track?

The sun is rising right now. Right now. But, I'm writing about it, recording it, so I can share it para-socially, rather than just enjoying it in my Da-Sein.

Why can't writers just "be"? Why do we think we need to process and record everything that comes our way? If and when we do, how can readers be expected to sift through the mad minutiae to find anything worthwhile, useful, unique or lasting?

Go ahead. Look for meaning. I dare you.
Writing is waiting, waiting for something good.
There's a lot of waiting involved in writing. And writers pick and peck at their keypads, scratch at their notepads, maybe even compose in their minds. I'd love to write the books I have on hold. Books like Out of the Kill Pen and Journey to Long Nose and Slowpoke and Copycat Take a Look At Their World in What May Seem Like Small Doses. These are books I've partially written in my mind, partially on paper. I have plays that are waiting too, a novel 50,000 words in and 35,000 words to go. But writing takes time. There's planning involved in longer writing projects. And after you finish a grand project that's been drafted and revised and read and revised and sent out and edited and then submitted somewhere, there's more waiting.

We writers are saints and devils of waiting. Writing is what we do, not all of it good, while we are waiting to be read. To be read is to be seen. To be heard. To be listened to and sometimes loved. But the real miracle writers wait for is to move beyond the connection, the shared meaning, into an invisible sphere of having written something that matters to someone else. Writing a good story, or novel, memoir or poem, play or blog post is a little like going to your pantry and prepping a meal, or mixing then proofing a loaf of bread. You do this in the hopes of sharing what you have gathered and feeding someone at your table. You select and work and wait some more in the hopes soon people will pick up a fork, eat and enjoy.I am holding out hope that this waiting time is important. Not just for me, but maybe for anyone who is trying hard to become.

Writing is throwing a party, preparing a meal, killing the fatted calf for a celebration of life, and then waiting for your dinner guests to show up. In light of that metaphor, I'm reminded of Jesus' story of what the Kingdom of heaven is like...a feast, a party where the invited guests don't show because they have better things to do. So, then the master of the house sends out servants to find anyone who is willing to come to the party.

Jesus, I feel you.

To write is to change things up. Change is hard, but necessary.  
Deliberate change is wrestling with a promise.
Here are a plot and a thought for you.
Are you familiar with the story of "Rachel" and "Jacob" in the Bible's Old Testament?

Plot:  Rachel was chosen by Jacob, her cousin, as a bride. Jacob agreed to work seven years for her Dad, Laban as a shepherd on his sheep farm. Then Jacob ends up bamboozled by Laban to work double the amount of time because Laban subs in his first-born daughter Leah. Fourteen years Jacob works. He works while he's waiting for what he really wants. But in the meantime he gets a loyal wife, many sons, a few daughters, lots of striped sheep. Then he goes home to face the music and ask his twin bro' Esau for forgiveness for tricking him out of his inheritance.

Thought:  What was Old Testament Rachel doing as she waited for Jacob? What was Jacob doing as he waited on Laban? What was everybody else, Leah and the kids, the handmaidens, Laban and his workers doing while Jacob was working toward this promise and before that, the blessing Jacob wrestled out of God as he was running away from his old life? My guess is they prepared for a blessed future.

Writing is redirection on your way back home.
We, this, our lives are all over in an instant. We are so temporary and fleeting we really need to keep our eyes focused on what is true, lasting, good, and worthwhile. And honestly, that is not anything I can accomplish on my own. Why? Because I, who am not love, would feign love Love. (See Christina Rosetti)
http://www.cuteasafox.com/2013/08/butterfly-word-art.html

Hamlet is not known for his positive attitude.
Like Hamlet, many writers are melancholy, prone to despair. Like Hamlet we have a mystery to solve and a kingdom to inherit.  Unlike Hamlet, our future doesn't have to be tragic.

Where do you think that redirection comes from?
We need a way to see our thoughts. Writing, and playing, thank God, help us do that.

"If the whole world as representation is only the visibility of the will, then art is the elucidation of this visibility, the camera obscura which shows the objects more purely, and enables us to survey and comprehend them better. It is the play within the play, the stage on the stage in Hamlet." [81]

I can tell you truly: there's no way I am doing this on my own. I'm writing, and playing, on a wing and a prayer.






Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Tribal Beat: Hear Me Out

https://whenthisinspiresthat.wordpress.com
"You ain't alone, so why are you lonely?

Are you scared what's somebody gonna think?
Are you scared to wear your heart out on your sleeve?
But I really don't know what I got to say...
We really ain't that different, you and me. Alright, hold on. Hold on.
If you're gonna cry. Come on, cry with me. 

You ain't alone. Just let me be your ticket home." 
(Alabama Shakes)

In a theatre magazine I read this morning a sentence I heartily agree with:  that we are looking for our tribe. Millenials especially crave this community, the sense of unity that social media can provide.

When I read that, I had two thoughts:
  1. Am I a Millennial? 
  2. We are all looking for a tribe, for a home. That's what our lives are about.
Let's address these thoughts in turn.

#1 Am I a Millennial? Are you?  Before you go thinking of me as completely clueless, let me say I know the term "Millenial" refers to people younger than me. I'm not that clueless. I'm just in denial. Although I look at least 42 years old, I am stunted emotionally at nineteen, possibly twenty. That would put me in the age range of these Millittles...the folks who write about such trends put Millenials' qualifying birth dates between 1980 and 1996. But, my backwards development aside, when I check out the rest of the qualifications, I fall (thankfully) short. The most neutral difference here is that Millenials reportedly love technology, are highly addicted to social networking, and are the first generation to have grown up surrounded by laptops, MP3s, mobile phones, the internet. In otherwords, Millenials are digital natives (Prensky, 2001).

No, I am not a Millenial.
When it comes to technology, I'm not Amish. I don't scorn it. I wear buttons. I use the remote control for my infinitely complex television system (Okay that's a lie. I use my nine year old son. I use voice commands, bleating, pleading and bribing. Then, he uses his tiny fingers to push the buttons in some remarkable sequence so the flat black window turns to blue and after telling us, "Please wait..." at last shows me those magical talking people I have come to love.) But this techno-living for me is a love-hate relationship. I prefer Walden Pond to the Kingdom of Twitter and live theater to the modern ether of Snapchat. 

I am also not a digital native.
In fact, I fear the cannibalistic qualities of their home country, Digitus. I visit Digitus like a cultural anthropologist...with great curiosity and caution, asking questions about their lifestyle and pretending to fit in, but all the while I am really mapping an escape route whilst tightly gripping my pith safari helmet so no one tries to eat my brain. 

Which brings me at once to thought #2 .
#2 We are all looking for a tribe, for a home. That's what our lives are about.  We are all, regardless of age still looking for our tribe. Artists, dreamers, seekers, we are looking for each other. I'm sure of it. We are displaced. We are searching for home. And that makes us part of the same tribe.
It reminds me of a story. Loren Eisley, a favorite anthropologist storyteller of mine who tramped across the United States, was asked to write an introduction to the Encyclopedia Brittanica. 

**A Note for Millenials, do you know what I mean by encyclopedias? Before Wikipedia, there was Encyclopedia Brittanica, individual libraries of alphabetized human knowledge published in annual volumes by British people and then brought to individual's homes via traveling salesmen in ties.

Back to the story.
So, this guy, Loren Eisley, one year the Brits requested he write the Propaedia, an introduction to the encyclopedia. Consider this. For one year, one volume only, before what we thought we knew about the world changed, Eisley would become solely responsible for introducing the wealth of all human knowledge. He took this charge very seriously.

He took this charge so seriously in fact, that he used all truth-telling tools available to him at the time. The tools he used predated the technology of his time, that is, the written word. Eisley used the oral tradition to help us understand the gravity of our situation, that unfortunately at this time in human history we don't know who we are, or where we belong, or where we're going, or why we're here. And that search is what defines our time here together.

Eisley called us cosmic orphans. People out of place in the universe.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51nUe1nJVSL._SL110_.jpgLoren Eisley is right. He wasn't the first to say it, nor was he the only one to use stories, parables, and metaphors to get behind the veil (Jesus), beyond the shadow (Plato), or tear down the wall (Reagan).
Side-note:  I bet those guys never thought they'd appear in the same sentence!

But, it's true, right?  If we really belong to this world, then we are way off track. Yet, we still crave acceptance. And we still are looking for a place where we belong. And we are also looking for someone brave enough and smart enough to lead the way home.

Well, I don't have the answers. I'm just the clueless nobody who writes stuff down. But Eisley's categorization reminded me of another anthropologist whose work I love to read: 
"Jesus replied to him, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Matthew 8:20
Jesus was talking cosmic orphans. He was also talking to a scribe. Another clueless nobody like myself, somehow called to write things down.

"The foxes have holes.—Our Lord’s answer seems to indicate that it was hardly more than the show. The scribe had not counted the cost, and, like the young ruler that had great possessions, needed to be taught. To follow the Son of Man was not to be the adherent of a new sect or party, or the servant of a king marching onward to an earthly throne, but to share in poverty, privation, homelessness." (Elliot's Commentary for English Readers)

Millenials and Bloggers:  Why? Why do we write things down? What are we trying to do? Who are we trying to reach? Are we telling the truth, driven to call out and to find each other? Are we collectively the voice crying in the wilderness, destined to be heard but not listened to? What is the cost of belonging?
More importantly, will I have to wear a loincloth?
How do you make a unicorn cry? Tell her she's the only one.

We are a beautiful mystery worth crying over.

And in this digital age, I fear...by writing short stories, plays, memoirs, and even novels,
I am trying to send salty poetic tears in a bottle to a highly advanced tribe attached to their I-phones and nowhere near the ocean.

Yes, we are cosmic orphans. But, I think I found a map home. 

I consider stories our topography, our map of the invisible world to come. We look for this world when we seek out each other in truth. In other words, we tell stories to explain ourselves and to find each other. Sometimes that story is a selfie with your buds. Sometimes it's, gulp, a blog.

Despite this blog medium, can you still hear me? 

If you can, it's because of this truth. Perfect love drives out fear. 
Heartbeat to you, friends. xxoo.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Carpe Coffee: Picture This [NEW audio version]

Carpe Diem. Seize the day.
Writers, artists, seekers, try-ers...How are we doing on our goals?
I awoke, thank you Jesus at 4:30 a.m. this morning energized and ready to fail. Couldn't wait.

Truthfully though, despite the moon brightly shining as much as a sunrise, I talked myself out of writing for a good thirty minutes. Thirty minutes turned to forty five. I kept thinking 4:30 a.m.? Isn't that too early? Won't I be tired later?

The time in bed sharing air with my happily CO2 breathing factory of a husband on a marriage bed which after twenty years is more skateboard ramp than mattress...well it wasn't a total loss. In addition to wondering why I was awake, I found myself praying.

OR a more accurate description is:  I watched my thoughts moving in and out: thanking God, asking for blessings on my family and help for friends, and then conversely and selfishly coming back to me and my new goals. I thought about what to write (re: blogging), what to eat (re: counting calories), when to rise (now, not now?), when to exercise (later), when to go to work and start torturing students and colleagues with my morning self. My coffee-self, chipper and cheery, a sight to behold. I envisioned at the end of the day returning to bed, exhausted but happy, rolling into the mattress-crevasse, grateful for the day. Here's some true inspiration. I prayed for help with this epic fail, then saw myself joyful at having accomplished the goal of writing ...and that got me out of bed.

Let's hope it works tomorrow.

Surely, though you've read the studies on motivation and goal-keeping. Maybe you haven't. But I seem to recall that people who keep their goals in the forefronts of their minds are much more likely to achieve them. A list of your goals, I've heard it said, can also help, if you take out that list and look at it daily, weekly, or even monthly.
I remember a story about Jim Carey, who while a poor starving out-of-work equity actor wrote himself a check for a million dollars and put it in his wallet. Years later, the dog-eared check faded and tattered for him was a reminder of how he accomplished his goals. The man became a millionaire. Making funny faces whilst looking in his wallet. Amazing.

Funny faces aside, we need to revisit our goals daily. We need visual reminders of where we are and where we'd like to be.
Why do you think that is?
  1. Goals require discipline, discipline requires motivation, motivation requires a refocused combination of remembering, prioritizing, and choosing to do what you want later over what you want now. 
  2. Thoughts are like prayers. 

But be careful, dreamers and changers, artists and seekers. Calorie counters, job hunters, fit-bitters and bloggers. Watch out!

In our line of work (which is dreaming), we require caution with what goals we write on our checks. What is in the forefront of my mind, which I look to again and again as the guiding factor for my day, it can quickly take over. In other words, our goals can become idols, substituting themselves for the guiding spirit of Love for God and each other.

Goals, those tricky bastards, will take over our thoughts if we let them. The only way I've found to achieve goals as a follower of Jesus is to embrace the paradox:  make the goal, check it for soundness against the driving principle of Love, then give it up.
So, how are we doing on our goals? 
Carpe diem.  Day one, down. Tomorrow?
Take a look at this.
From Horace, Odes I.xi.8: Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, meaning “seize the day while trusting little on what tomorrow might bring.”

From Jesus, Matthew 6:34 (KJV): "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

I got up early enough to make a pot of coffee and write these thoughts. I did discover when I began to write that alarmingly, there was only enough coffee for one, maybe two cups.
I drank most of the coffee as I was writing, but then I remembered my husband who enjoys his morning joe almost as much as he enjoys air. And, by the grace of God, I left him half a cup. That's love, people.

"Enough coffee to get you to the store," I said. He smiled through his determination. He congratulated me on Day One of writing. Then, he warmed up the car. "Watch out, local grocery."
Carpe Coffee.
Goal-setting is a little like being low on coffee. Sometimes there's just enough there to make us dangerous...





Click here for an audio version of this blog entry.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

EPIC FAILURE


I have a new goal. I want to be a failure.

Dare to dream, right?

My goal isn't just to fail. It is to fail epic-ally. That's right, I am seeking failure of an epic proportion.

I didn't come up with this idea on my own. This morning I rifled through the basket of reading material in my front bathroom and found an article that describes exactly what I mean.
Smithsonian Phenomena (November, 2015) "Fantasia erased the line between high art and pop culture" by Neil Gabler 
Ta Daa! 75 years of failure & still counting.
Turns out, Walt Disney's cartoon opera Fantasia celebrated its 75th birthday last November. Disney had a lofty goal with Fantasia. He sought to "change the history of motion pictures." Like most history-changers, Disney's efforts were not met with high acclaim. His fans thought he ought to stick with what he knew. Disney confessed to trying to be a "little smarty-pants" with his highfalutin' attempts to marry folk art and pop culture via cartoons performing Beethoven. He lost a lot of money, and damaged his reputation. But, Gabler writes, 
"Fantasia has achieved that rare cultural stature: It's a grand failure that became a trailblazer and a part of the national consciousness."
I read that. And I thought to myself...I want to do that! I want to fail like that. But how?

"Subject-4-change" is registering as a tiny failure. An almost failure. An "it's-not-over-yet-there's-still-hope-to-make-this-work" failure.
Maybe if I work really hard, I may be able to turn this around, to raise this blog to the level of an "epic fail".

The "Subject-4-change" description clearly promises...
 "Weekly Blog (52 weeks of essays) by a wanna-be humorist, playwright, and visual artist hoping to spark a cultural-bridging movement before she turns 42. In other words, the completely fanciful world-view of a 41 year-old as she rockets toward middle-age in a Postmodern Midwestern American Christian culture. Reader Beware. This blog is a blatant attempt to find friends willing to read and explore new original work for the stage."
Let's break this down in terms of epic failure.
  • "Weekly Blog"              
Let's say monthly. And instead of "52" essays, let's try "15"

  • "Before she turns 42"     
It is January, 2016. I turned 42 years old three and a half months ago. Come to think of it, I started this blog when I was 39. I just changed the description sometime last year to reflect reality. I'm not changing it again. We have to live with it this time. Not bad. The rest, well, unfortunately it shows some progress.
  • I was hoping to spark something, though a "cultural-bridging movement" might have been a little high-reaching of me. There are multiple views (14,000+) from an audience across the world. That's cool. Most seem to generate from a Chinese search engine mix-up.
  • I did rocket toward middle age, slowly. It's not like I had any control over that. Age happens.
  • My cultural worldview is still Postmodern, Midwestern American, and Christian. In other words, I still live in Ohio, am still married, still have 2.2 kids, a cat, a job teaching, a few friends who have stuck it out, and I'm still trying to become a Christian and an artist. Some days I try harder than others.

    Oh! And I did write and post and submit and produce and perform new original work for the stage. Most recently, check out this new release on Amazon.com:  Remember How He Told You   According to Amazon, our book sales have us in 1,158,948th place. Not too shabby. Could be 1,1158,949. Pity that loser.
    TO sum, I guess the bad news is...well, so far I failed to succeed. And I have not yet succeeded in failing. Not like Disney, anyway. This is not yet an epic failure.

    That brings me to the good news. I still have time to fail on a grand scale!!

    That's right, I am seeking a failure of epic proportions. And the good news is:  no matter the outcome, if you set out to fail epic-ally, all outcomes point to success! If I continue to fail in small ways, I reach my goal. If I fail in large ways, I reach my goal. And, if I succeed by failing at failing, well then, I have won. Striving for an "epic failure" means there is no way to lose.

    But how? How to do it?  There's only one way to find out. Still, I think a checklist is in order.

    To epic-ally fail...
    1. Dream big (check). 
    2. Hope bigger (check). 
    3. Keep hoping, even after sources seem to indicate you are off your rocker. (check) To do so, remember the example of other epic failures:  Moses, Jesus, Van Gogh, MLK, Jr., most Pinterest fans...
    4. Hope works. So work. (checking)
    5. Spend time with optimists. (check. Married one.)
    6. To fail epic-ally, find someone willing to watch and laugh. Be willing to laugh at your own mistakes. (check, check! CHECK!!!)
     As they say, go big or go home. We could always go big AND go home. Or, go big at home.
    For the next 30 or so blog posts...Welcome to my home.


    Tuesday, August 18, 2015

    Turning Things Upside Down




    Presented in some version August 16, 2015 at the Little Church on a hill...

    Let me tell you a story about a time I met some Christians.
    Once upon a time, I was sitting at home on a Sunday morning dreading a home church session with my family, because: 

    1) A home space can feel a little squeezed at times; and
    2) In order to grow, sometimes you need an adventure with new faces and new places. I believe God facilitates both.

    Back before my husband was pastor at a country church up the road, before the thought had even entered his mind or our lives, we were worshiping Sundays at home. The day came when I couldn’t stand the isolation anymore. I prayed, “God, I love 'em [my family], but I need to see new faces. Help me find someplace new to worship You today.” I got a sense to pack a bible in my backpack and head out, which I did. I walked all around town, each time I’d come to a church I’d ask, is this the place? I wondered just how far I was going to have to walk, and maybe the plan was to stop beneath a tree, or keep walking forever. I passed quite a few spots, until I came to the steps of a little white church on a hill I'd never noticed. The sign outside said there would be a service, but I saw no one. The doors were closed and locked. So I parked myself on the steps outside, thinking, well, I can read the bible here. And, at least I'm out of my house. I heard music inside. Upon further investigation, I found a door that was open, went inside and found a pew. When it was time for the service to begin, a lady I'd never met came and sat beside me with the question, "Do you like to sing?" Despite the fact I was a sweaty mess and a stranger, she asked me to sing in the choir, which I did. No one cared what I looked like, what I wore, even if I could sing. They just genuinely seemed to believe I belonged there. Despite the fact I'd never been there before.

    The rest, as they say, is history. 


    http://s3.amazonaws.com/newscloud-production/daily-jeff/2015/05/5568b6302d612863cd007dbb/photos/cam8256491/original.jpg?1432925763
    Westminster's Heritage Day. They don't always dress like this.
    My family later joined and our worship at the little church on a hill was one in a series of steps that brought us further on our journey of faith. The little church adopted my family, sweetly sponsored my husband for his first call as a "commissioned Elder", and we waved & prayed goodbye, knowing we’d be together again.  And today, August 16, 2015 here we are:  reunited and it feels so good.
    Image result for reunited peaches and herb album cover
    (Peaches & Herb, ca. 1978) Yes, I actually did sing this at the pulpit. 
    Thank you Lord for bringing me here and bringing me back. In the work of our lives here on earth, we know it’s all God, don’t we? And yet, we have this charge to remember and mark our need to remain vigilant in relying on Yahweh, the Great I-AM who sends us forth. Thank God we are not self-made men and women. It means we don’t only have the option to choose God, we have a choice to belong to God and to each other! 

    Our radical choice to belong rests in two ideas:  Seeing God’s Design For What It is, and Learning How to Use It.

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    Googly Eyes Cinematic Experience from BuzzFeed


    First, Seeing God’s Design For What It Is:  in the first reading Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we learn about God’s response to a world turned upside down. He turns it right side up, or rather “on its ear” to hear the Good News. When God lifts up the humble and humbles the proud, it is all good news. But [on the surface] it only looks like Good News for the humble, the low, the despised—what none of us (if we're honest with ourselves) want to be! 

    For the proud, this kind of change looks like bad news, because when we are wise, strong, comfortable and self-righteous, (we’ve all been there) it is not so much fun to be brought low (thank God we’ve been there too). When the old order benefits us, especially when we are successful in it and admired, it is often at the exclusion of others and forgetful of God’s grace. This starts a harmful cycle where we think our success is well-deserved and a product of our own power or we look at others who seem successful, compare ourselves falsely and either envy them/lift them up, put ourselves down, or try to emulate them.  This takes our eyes away from seeing God and moves them in the direction of believing lies. 
    Make-up ads:
    Drew Barrymore turns 40.
    I met a woman on my walks in Cambridge who is a motivational speaker particularly for young girls. She shared the story of homeschooling her daughter, who had been damaged by cruelty in her middleschool and false expectations of beauty and worth. At the age of 12, her daughter felt worthless, measuring herself against magazine images and those in her school who taunted her. This mother speaks to women her own age too, holding up a photo of Michelle Pfeiffer. She says, "Look at her. Look at me. Do I look like this? I’m 50. She’s 50. I’ve got news, Michelle Pfeiffer doesn’t even look like Michelle Pfeiffer! It’s 3 hours of hair and make-up stylists and Photo shop."

    There is nothing inherently wrong with being a celebrity actor with a team of experts any more than any other field of work. We are all leaders, responsible for the example we present to others. It’s not the magazine that’s the problem. It’s us, when we fail to see God’s design for us and choose instead to buy into the lies. Do we understand that all good gifts come from God according to His will for the building of His Kingdom OR do we believe our lives are to benefit ourselves and the sole product of our own wills?

    In the end, the Good News presents two choices:  His Kingdom Come or His Kingdom Gone. 

    For the proud and the humble it is still Good News, though our response to this new order rightly ranges from panic to amazement… it’s the crucifixion and resurrection in our lives all over again. When God’s newness overcomes our old arrangements, we rightly give up, recognizing we know nothing and are nothing and have nothing. Then once we are crucified to our old lives, there’s resurrection:  God reveals Himself to us with the reminder that we are nothing if not His. We choose Jesus and a new way [which is really God’s original design, we just needed to get on board] We Learn to see God’s design for what it is: perfect.  “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”

    If you want cliffnotes on the whole design, read  Isaiah 41:14-42:10a. Then sing a new song.

    In addition to Learning How to See God’s Design, the second idea we find in today’s scripture lessons is Learning How to Respond to It. 
      
    Walter Bruegemann, author of the book, “The Bible Makes Sense” explains that many people in Jesus’ time and now are not poor but alienated, because they do not belong anywhere. Do we welcome them? Do we take time to love them? Do we seek them out, despite their wounds, their sickness, their ugliness, their anger at being unloved, rejected, abused, neglected, left behind, left out, ridiculed, forgotten? When we do this for the least of our brethren, Jesus says we do this for Him. When Jesus brought the good news that God is in charge and making all things new, he had to “expose the exile-producing powers of culture” (Bruegemann, 104). 

    Our world is so broken:  with vanity and violence and meanness and selfishness and envy and superiority. Our churches are not immune. At Westminster I was welcomed in, though I was dressed like a sweaty hiker and not from the area. God knew what he was doing when he brought me there to be healed. Many churches are not this way because they fear the outsider. We are active participants in exiling others as well as ourselves due to class, race, religion, political beliefs, occupation, health and wellness. Receiving the Good News means we must accept the idea that we can condemn no one! 

    Think of the June 17, 2015 shooting at the Episcopal Methodist church in South Carolina. They received a mentally ill, damaged young soul into their congregation who was a racist. Their response was shockingly Christian—in all respects. They welcomed him, they witnessed to him, they willingly traveled the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows, they did not condemn him but publicly forgave him, and took on the pain of hate crimes into their lives, their home, and their families. Following Christ’s example, nine people sacrificed their lives for this message. Christ showed us only love and sacrifice can defeat evil. The Good News is this:  evil is defeated. It is done. Christ says, “Behold I make all things new.”  We have a choice how to respond. A correct response to the Good News is to receive it gladly, as many did and do. Receiving good news gladly requires humility, faith and a new heart. Only humility can expose the lies and hatred of this world which if we’re honest, rests in our own hearts. Bruegemann goes on to explain in his book, that the old heart, a hard heart, is a heart that doesn’t believe that God is in charge, but that the world is

    “The ministry of Jesus is to bring people to decide between these two ways of organizing life…it is not a churchy decision but has to do with the loyalties we embrace, the tasks we accept, the values we serve and fear.”

    https://living2fullest.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/dare-to-ask-god-for-a-new-heart/
    How do we get such a new heart? Well, here’s the funny thing. We already have it. We’ve been given a heart of flesh. We’re given it again and again. God softens our hearts when we give them over to Him. And then we see not only that we belong to Him, but what He can do for all his other children through increasing our love.
    For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
    This list sounds like a lot to do, doesn’t it? Peter writes, you have God’s perfect heart, now make every effort to use it perfectly! Paul writes, in our perfection we have nothing to boast about…God’s heart is on loan to us, and everything He accomplishes He accomplishes due to His Word, His Will, and His Grace. Still, here we are faced with this challenge. How do we go about it? Look at the scripture with me.
    “To possess these qualities in increasing measure”, We pray for it.  With our advocate, the Holy Spirit, we pray for these qualities, believing like James says, that we already have received it as soon as we pray for it. When it is a good gift and God’s will, It’s guaranteed as a part of His design. God says regarding these spiritual gifts “You do not have because you do not ask. Ask and you will receive.” We can only make “an effort to add to our basic faith” these good qualities if we keep our relationship with God alive through prayer, making Immanuel, “God with us” the main business of our lives. Prayer puts God and His Kingdom first.
    “[To be kept] from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus ChristWe teach. I cannot wait until I achieve perfection myself before teaching others. I myself cannot ever achieve it, so I would be waiting for ever! Instead, I must do my best to allow the perfection that is in me, the perfect Spirit of Christ to counsel us all. And so must you!I'm no different than you. If there is a difference, it's that to complete this message, I asked for it. 


    “[To] make every effort to add to our faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love,” We learn. We must consistently yield the path when the Spirit puts another in the lead, on the Way to and with and in Jesus. For this, I return to the children’s sermon and the idea of a social structure which is upside down, which Jesus’ birth, life, and ministry turns “right side up”. What did Jesus teach us when he said in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke… “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these”? 
    Regardless of age, Jesus taught us discipleship, being a part of the Kingdom of Heaven begins with coming to Jesus and spending time resting in his arms, or sitting at his feet. We can follow the examples of those little ones in our lives, who show absolute and unconditional love and affection even when we behave badly, who show great sympathy for us when we hurt, who display sweetness and trust, who don’t hide their desire to rest and share joy. Is this not an example of how Jesus loves us?

    Children aren’t perfect, but they seem to command this Da-sein so effortlessly. They insist on being loved. They run away from the dark into the light. They laugh and forgive easily. They expect to be forgiven! They hug without fear. They cry for others and themselves. They understand “no” and “yes” and not much in between. They learn when they listen. They listen beyond our words to our actions. They recognize hypocrisy and long for social justice and also long for grace. They expect grace! They say it like it is, or at least how they see it. They are humble, without power or position or authority. And because of it, they are frequently (both literally and figuratively) “lifted up”. 

    Let us remember, all spirituality rests in our humble reliance on the Spirit.
    We are God’s children, holding up our arms to Him, expecting to be picked up and held close. 

    As a charge, I’ll leave you with 2 Peter 1The Message.
    "1 1-2 I, Simon Peter, am a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. I write this to you whose experience with God is as life-changing as ours, all due to our God’s straight dealing and the intervention of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Grace and peace to you many times over as you deepen in your experience with God and Jesus, our Master.
    Don’t Put It Off
    3-4 Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.

    Image result for admission ticket
    Image of ticket added. You might not find this illustration in your Bible.

    5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.
    10-11 So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ."
    AMEN.