Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sand Art

My little gram was a self-taught artist. Her art and creativity were gifts of herself she freely shared with others. Mostly she did oil paintings, reproductions of the Masters. But one habit of hers drove us absolutely crazy. She thought nothing of covering over the canvas of a finished work and starting again from scratch with a completely different subject. We never let her live down the fact that she once cut off Mona Lisa's hands - yes, she chopped the bottom twelve inches off that painting so she could fit it on a different wall - go figure. But you know, there was always art springing forth from her brushes.

I'm always amazed at another group of artists who specialize in disposable art: sand sculptors. (Check out this sand nativity, a yearly event on the island of Gran Canaria). I mean, they spend literally hours coaxing tiny granules of sand into representations of life, knowing full well it will eventually be ruined by erosion and the elements. But the sculptors return to the beaches, year after year, to delight crowds with the products of their imagination.

What is it about artists who can create and just as readily dismantle their creation? I think it has something to do with their ability to let go. They delight in the process as much as in the product. Not hanging onto the past enables them to move forward. In the emptying of themselves into their work, they create space in which to be filled up again with fresh ideas, much like a flowing fountain. The process is for them; the product is for others. No process, no product.

This speaks to me in so many ways. Right now I'm reading a book called Velvet Elvis, aptly subtitled "repainting the Christian faith." It's opened my eyes to how desperately we try to achieve a sense of permanence in our faith. We want cut and dried, tried and true, when the reality is, "Christianity" is always changing. Not God or the work of Christ, but how we experience it all, and more importantly, how we live out our faith.

Think about it - 100 years ago, chances are we might have attended a church where men and women sat on different sides of the aisle, and church services lasted well into the evening. Five hundred years ago, we might have been accused of witchcraft by our fellow church members, or made to sit in stockade for some infraction of rules. I think it's easy enough to recognize and accept changes that have taken place over the centuries. What's more difficult is accepting changes over recent decades. Kids today are not going to experience faith the same way we did growing up. Most likely you and I worship differently today than we did as children. It's kind of like snapshots of your kids. They capture a moment in time but they're not your kid - they're just an image. Can we accept this constant changing and reframing, or do we cling to the past, to the framed art hanging on the wall that no longer adds to the story?

This speaks to me in the area of writing as well. I'm coming to learn that writing is a continual process, and hanging onto a few well-strung words does nothing to give life to the process. It's like shutting off the fountain and staring into the still pool of water, even after it begins to stagnate. It's not the collection of water (or words) that gives life, it's the continual flow. The reaching deep inside myself and giving out and being content with that process. Always growing. Always changing. Or at least being willing to grow and change.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hand in Hand

When I was a child, my sister and I often played in the nearby creek that ran under the road down from my gram's house in the country. We fancied ourselves fishermen, squatting on the shallow banks and swooping empty tin cans through the icy cold water, hoping to come up with a few minnows. Or we'd patiently watch for crayfish to poke their scary little pinchers out of their muddy homes and try to dig them up and fling them into the same tin cans. Oh yes, we were the fearless ones, steadying each other as we stepped, hopscotch-fashion, over the smooth stones, headed for the deeper waters and hopefully better fishing. Proud little adventurers in the great outdoors.

Yes, we were mostly fearless - except for the time my sister almost fell headlong into the creek. We were sprawled on the side of the road, dipping our "fishing poles" (tin cans on strings) into the water below. Somehow my sister slipped on the gravel and almost fell into the creek. Somehow I managed to grab her and keep her in the land of the living. Not that the creek was more than a seven or eight foot drop but to a little kid, it must have seemed like Niagara Falls. For days she retold the story of how I saved her life.

Isn't life a bit like playing in that creek? At times, we are the unsteady ones, trying to figure out the next best step. And then we are the steady ones, reaching back to help another traveler navigate where we've already been. Sometimes we are the stumbling ones, taking an unexpected tumble when life throws it's curves. Other times we are the more sure-footed ones, there to lend a rescuing hand. And this reaching forward and reaching back connects us all in a unique way, not unlike the silly chains of paper dolls we used to cut out as kids.

Hand in hand - isn't it the only way to go through life?

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Memory

I just read that this blogger needs to (among other things) install a lock on her son's bedroom door, and a rush of Christmas memories came to mind.

When we were kids, my mom never bothered to wrap our presents. Which suited us just fine. I mean, let's cut to the chase, right? Instead, she arranged my sister's and my gifts in matching piles on the couch or either side of the Christmas tree, which I think she usually set up on Christmas Eve.

Amazingly, these piles were perfectly symmetrical, mirror images of each other. Personalized bath towels. Matching, sometimes homemade, pajamas. New (also sometimes homemade) dresses - same style, different color. Cowboy outfits, complete with cap guns and holsters - just what every little tomboy wants!

And the dolls. Always the dolls. Every year there was a new doll for each of us, I guess to counter any potential negative effects of the cowboy paraphernalia and Hardy Boy books. Also amazing was the fact that every year I seemed to get the brown-haired doll with the red dress while Debbie got the blond-haired doll with the blue dress. Go figure.

Anyways, these laborious preparations kept Mom up quite late on Christmas eve. Her final touch was to secure the bi-fold doors with a rubber band, to keep little early birds at bay while she recouped from her late night endeavors.

Well, one year I decided to take matters into my own hands. As was (and still is) my habit, I was wide awake at some ridiculous hour. I tiptoed out into the hallway, pushed on the bi-fold doors until there was just enough room to get my little hand through and remove the rubber band. I then proceeded to rearrange the piles of presents a little more to my liking. I knew better than to mess with the personalized towels. My main objective was the doll. I wanted, no I needed - that blond doll with the blue dress. I was tired of red. I can't remember what else I did but after a bit, and perhaps a cereal snack, I somehow managed to secure those bifold doors again and tiptoe back to bed, quite pleased with myself.

On Christmas morning, I acted oh so surprised. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, or maybe it was the blinding light from my dad's 8mm movie camera, but my mom never caught on to my clever antics! Until years later when I revealed my little secret and she confessed to a bit of Christmas morning confusion.

So yes, Sarah. You are wise to install a lock on the little boy's door. Perhaps it should be on the outside though!

Of Christmas, the Story

Been reading Glimpses of Grace, by Madeleine L'Engle, off and on this year. It's a collection of bits and pieces of her writings, from both her fiction and non-fiction works. I thought this reading from the other day priceless and especially appropriate during this season (paragraph breaks mine):

"Let's recover our story because we'll die without it. It's a life-giving story - this magnificent narrative we find in Scripture - if we are willing to read openly and to read all of Scripture, not just the passages selected to help us prove our point.

The God of Scripture can sometimes seem brutal, seen through the eyes of the early biblical narrator, who is looking at the Creator through crudely primitive eyes. But the God of Scripture is also the God who refused to nuke Nineveh, even though that's what Jonah wanted; who forgave David for a really staggering list of wrongdoings; who wants only for us stiff-necked people to repent and come home; who goes out into the stormy night for the one lost black sheep; who throws a party when the Prodigal Son returns; who loves us so much that God did indeed send his only begotten Son to come live with us, as one of us, to help us understand our stories - each one unique, infinitely valuable, irreplaceable."

Blessings to you and yours as you celebrate this wondrous birth.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Surprise, Honey!

The other day my husband had off work. I took the afternoon off to visit my sister on her birthday and run some errands. I called home around 5:00 pm just to see how his day off was going.

"Did you get to sleep in? Are you hungry? Should I bring something home?" He hasn't had many days off this year - in fact, this was his first paid vacation day in almost two years.

Before I hung up, one last hint, "Try to keep the house clean, okay?" (I just had it cleaned the day before and silly me - was holding my breath it would stay that way until at least my family gathering on Sunday. How much mess can two adults make?)

I got home at 9:00 pm, only to find the kitchen in shambles. The kitchen cupboards seemed to have thrown up all over the place! Things I hadn't seen for years were piled high on counters and table. I peered around the corner and saw hubby camped out in front of the kitchen sink and my heart sank a bit.

"Oh no, not a leak!" Our house is prone to plumbing blessings at inopportune times. I would not be surprised if the sink were leaking.

"Oh no, I just thought it would be a good day to hook up the ice maker."

Our fridge died this summer and the replacement model has an ice maker, something about which we are both a bit ambivalent, nevertheless a fun option we thought we'd hook up eventually. But four days before Christmas! I stood there for a few minutes, not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Any man reading this blog will scratch his head - who wouldn't be happy with an ice maker that you didn't have to nag to have installed? Any woman reading will see my point immediately - the mess. Which I was assured would be remedied in about five minutes. Ah, we know better, don't we?

Anyways, I decided to laugh! At least when my husband tackles plumbing projects, it gets done and done way beyond right. All the fixtures in my house bow down in agreement on this one! We lay in bed that night, listening with delight to the occasional ice cube drop, which caused MacGyver to get his hackles up and bark at the unseen beast.

And I realized something. This was exactly what I needed. No - not an ice maker. I needed to have my grip loosened a bit. My control (okay, make that CONTROL) tendencies tend to get a little out of hand. It's not that I need to control others, but I really expend a lot of energy trying to make sure every thing's just perfect. When it doesn't need to be. The kitchen is put back together, the gifts are mostly wrapped, the house is passably clean and the things that really matter . . . time with those we love . . . will be welcomed over the next few days.

So thanks, Mike, for the surprise that is way cooler than ice cubes! The gift of your precious time and a lesson to boot!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Things I Don't Get

Some things just make me scratch my head in wonder, especially around this time of year:

  1. Inflatable lawn decorations that mostly just look like oversized deflated balloons strewn about the lawn, except for the few hours each night they "come alive." They're kind of freaky, aren't they? But put a giant inflatable snow globe out there and suddenly it all comes together. Not!
  2. Tissue paper. I hate the whole tissue paper thing. Why do we need to use tissue paper when wrapping gifts in perfectly good clean boxes and bags? It just gets thrown away, right? Unless you're like my husband who insists we save boxes (good idea) and tissue paper (kind of annoying). I'm going to see if I can get away without the tissue paper this year on the very few clothing articles I'm giving as gifts!
  3. Stockings. Who ever got the crazy idea to hide stuff in giant oversized socks? I know, it has its roots in tradition but honestly . . . do we still need to hang socks around the house?
  4. The day after Christmas. I swear, some people live for this day. Why? To stand in line to return and exchange things because everything's marked down after Christmas? I know - I worked retail in a department store one Christmas - never again. People literally told me on Christmas eve that they'd be back the day after to exchange things so they could get a better deal! Go figure.
  5. Giving to get. By this I mean those super deals where YOU get something for yourself when you spend so much money. You know - buy $100 in gift cards and get a $20 gift card for yourself. Huh? Even Christian organizations do this . . . when you call now and pledge so much money, we'll send you a really nice calendar that you really don't need but we'll send it anyways cuz we're just nice that way and besides we have 5000 extra we need to get rid of. Really now, is it about the giving or the getting?
Now lest you think I'm a total Grinch, let me share a few things I totally "get" about Christmas.
  1. Olives. It's the one time a year I can eat entire cans of black olives and not feel bad (well, a little sick, yes but no guilt!)
  2. Nut roll. Nuff said!
  3. Starbuck's gift cards. Sorry but you can never have too many of these.
  4. Family Christmas newsletters. I know these have taken their share of bashing over the years but I truly love hearing what's going on in people's lives and hey, if Christmas is the time they feel compelled to share . . . bring it on! BTW . . . I still hear from my dear 7th grade teacher Mr. Witt every year. Well, actually it's his wife that sends a handwritten card updating me on their family doings. What a blessing to keep in touch with people, even if it only happens at Christmas.
  5. Kenny G "Miracles" CD playing on Christmas eve, sitting with Mike in front of the Christmas tree (which is barely decorated this year but with the lights on, you can hardly tell!) Just sitting, savoring the moment . . . until he can't take it anymore and the TV goes back on!

Monday, December 17, 2007

When Less Is More

There something unsettling about the consumerist mentality that rears its ugliest head this time of year. And most of us will admit, there's something unsatisfying about it all. At least for me, it's been an increasing realization over the past few years, that when all the fluff has been stripped away, when the wrappings and the trappings have been put aside, the stuff doesn't really matter at all. It's not often I blog about a sermon but two words from yesterday's message keep ringing in my head: consume less. A timely message indeed.

The focus of the message flipped between a look at what a consumerist society we've become, to Mary and Joseph, and what they gave up in obedience to God's plan. For Joseph, it meant giving up his rights, his pride, his social standing. Mary gave her very body to carry the Son of God. In short, they realized it was not about them. As I consider how to live out this idea of consuming less, it seems I must flip the phrase around and ask a few more questions:

What consumes me? What passions fuel my thoughts and drive my actions? And what if I were less consumed with me? If that were the case, wouldn't I naturally consume less? To me, the idea of consuming less ultimately implies a letting go of things temporal and taking hold of the eternal.

Christ came to change the way we relate to God. Shouldn't our celebration of his birth change the way we live? Right now, all I have is questions but hopefully the coming year will bring some answers.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Word of the Season: Wait

I've been torn between a "Word of the Week" post (but couldn't decide on a word), and a post about Advent. But it seems the Word of the Week takes care of both. Wait. And so a compromise, a word for the season.

Advent is a relatively new idea to me but over the past few years has become a beautiful and meaningful part of my holiday observance. Actually it's more like Christmas itself now has a proper place, a frame of reference within the bigger picture. It puts all the prophecies in perspective. And it speaks to me today, as I learn to wait, not only for the celebration of his birth, not only his coming again, but everyday, learning to wait on God and what he has for me to learn and do.

And yet . . . how do we wait? Is waiting passive? Or is it active? Is it a time to sit back and rest and do nothing? Or is it a time of doing, of moving ahead in obedience, of learning and preparation of our own hearts? Or is it both?

Having watched my sister go through five pregnancies, it seems waiting involves both. There was the doing - the planning, picking of names, preparing the nursery. And yet, I'm sure she'd say the resting was also important. The times of just praying and getting used to the idea, first of being a parent, then thinking about how each addition would change their family dynamic. Yes, it seems waiting well involves both a sense of expectation as well as preparation.

My last thought about waiting. I always thought of myself as a patient person. I'm not sure patience can be equated with waiting though. And as I've pondered this word over the past few days, I'm certain that waiting is more a skill to be learned than an innate character trait.

So that's it - the Word of the Season. What's on my mind these days! Something for us all to ponder during this season: how are you waiting?

Friday, December 07, 2007

1923 and Girl's Night In

Some interesting events of 1923:

  • March 1 USS Connecticut decommissioned.
  •  March 2 - Time Magazine hits newsstands for the first time.
  • April - End of Irish Civil War.
  • The House that Ruth Built: Yankee Stadium opens in New York City.
  • June 18 - Etna volcano erupts - 60,000 made homeless.
  • July 19-20 night - Assassination of Pancho Villa.
  • August 2 - Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States, (1921 - 1923) dies in office and is succeeded by Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929).
  • September 10 - Ireland joins League of Nations.
  • November 12- Her Highness Princess Maud of Fife marries Captain Charles Alexander Carnegie in Wellington Barracks, London.
  • December 12 - In Italy, the Po river dam bursts - 600 dead.
  • Rainbow Trout introduced into the upper Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park
But wait . . . this post is not about the year 1923! It's about the number of emails in my inbox (work). HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN??? My friend Katrina will be so ashamed of me. Now I do manage my personal email much better, thanks to her challenge - I keep it to 20 or less usually and the ones in my inbox are there for a reason.

Enough about email though. For the first time in a while, I was home tonight before 6:30pm. Mike started a fire in the wood stove before he left to go help a buddy (gotta love those guy things!) and I'm fixing to hang out in front of the fire tonight and watch The Wool Cap (a remake of Gigot which I've never seen). I'll probably start to drag out the Christmas stuff while I'm at it. The tree will have to wait until Mike is around. It's kind of a tradition for me to put it up on Sunday nights during the football game, taking time to reminisce about the various ornaments we've picked up on vacation, and read through our growing pile of Christmas cards we've given each other over the years. The ornament thing has become a fun cheap vacation souvenir thing for us, and the cards . . . well it's just a silly tradition but we always mark each card with the year and it's fun to look back over the years and remember stuff.

No More Lies

Still poking my way through Ephesians. Wow, I just looked back and I've been reading Ephesians since July, interspersed with the Psalms and different scripture passages associated with the weekly messages at church. I felt like I was cruising right along, reveling in glorious passages like the following verses from Chapter 1:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Chapter 2 was reassuring - that because of Christ, I belong - plain and simple. Chapter 3 was enlightening - full of good words like grace and power and freedom and confidence.

And then I hit Chapter 4. Or it hit me - still not sure which is accurate! Ever come to one of those passages in scripture that just won't let you go? Starting out in vs. 1-16 with this idea of calling, or vocation (which is a beautiful word) that Paul speaks of, followed by a challenge to "grow up in Christ." And then, as if God knew I wasn't getting it on my own, two weeks of messages at church were focused on this passage - thanks God!

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Coming down to verse 25 now, Paul gets very practical. How does all this look in our daily lives? And he starts with this challenge:

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

Huh? I think the KJV puts it this way: Lie not one to another. Pretty basic, isn't it? I like how the Message puts it:

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ's body we're all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.

Um. Ouch! So I've been thinking about this lying thing lately. Wondering what kind of lying the first century Christians struggled with, such that Paul needed to come right out and admonish them to stop. I have a feeling it went a little deeper than "no, I didn't take any cookies from the cookie jar." And I know it goes deeper for us today. Hasn't this issue of truth-telling been the great struggle since Eve's conversation with the serpent back in the garden?

So what kind of falsehoods do we need to put off? And how do we speak truth to our neighbor? Is it just the "speaking the truth in love" type of truth - "you've got spinach in your teeth" - that kind of truth we dare to share with someone we love? Have you ever done that and what was the outcome? What about being honest about ourselves with one another? And what about this idea of lying to ourselves - why and how do we do that? (I thought it was a bit of a stretch at first, that phrasing from the Message, but then if we are really members of one body, isn't lying to ourselves connected with being honest with each other?)

These are just questions - things I'm pondering. I'd like some input here if you have any thoughts. Since I don't have comments enabled (maybe in January) shoot me an email and I'll work them into a follow-up post on this topic (I won't use any names, just a first initial).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Kindness of God

I'm in my car for over an hour every day, and this is my primary time for worship and reflection. Once again I find myself contemplating some words from a Chris Tomlin song Kindness from his album Live:

Open up the skies of mercy
And rain down the cleansing flood
Healing waters rise around us
Hear our cries lord let 'em rise
Open up the skies of mercy
And rain down the cleansing flood
Healing waters rise around us
Hear our cries lord let 'em rise

It's your kindness lord
That leads us to repentance

Your favor lord, is our desire
It's your beauty lord
That makes us stand in silence
Your love
Your love
Is better than life

I've been thinking about this kindness of God over the past few days. It's one of those concepts that I can't quite get my head around. It goes along with the idea of grace that I posted about recently, that God is for us. But this being for us, this kindness does more than just make us feel secure and accepted. It changes us, transforms us. It leads us to repent, to change our ways, what we could not otherwise do on our own.

Looking this phrase up online, I found it (among other places) in Romans 2:

Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?

I can't ignore the first part of that verse: how do I show contempt for God's kindness? It seems preposterous, that I would thumb my nose at God's goodness towards me. And yet the context seems to indicate that's exactly what I do when I dare pass judgment on others, when I fail to see others as Jesus does. Yikes. Once again, I am reminded that my relationship with God goes hand in hand with how I relate to others.

The kindness of God. It's for you. It's for me. It's for everyone, without partiality. Do we believe it? Accept it for ourselves? Live in the wonder of it? Share it with others?