Monthly Archives: March 2009

Just for fun

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I’ve been trying to get hold of this picture for almost a month now. It was cold, and thrilling, and amazing to be in Times Square at night. Aren’t my dad and bro cute?

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When God fights back

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus is in combative mode throughout the Gospels? This has struck me as I’ve read through Matthew this week. He is often hotly defending his message, sprinting into conversations in swift idea attack (that usually ended in a checkmate in his favor, especially regarding the pharisees), pricked to fervent explanation or rebuke by the comments of the people around Him. This used to worry me. I felt a little insecure about loving such a riled-up God. It seemed pretty likely he’d be on my case before long, seeing as I am often in the ranks of those who struggle with their faith. The story of Jacob wrestling with God has always intrigued me, but I have always assumed God sort of held Jacob like a father might hold a furious toddler while he fought. The thought that God, in Jesus, might occasionally fight back is, well, a bit terrifying.

And yet, thrilling too. Because it just means he is in deadly earnest, he will provoke and stir and kindle searing questions to burn us until we finally, finally wake up to the reality of the Kingdom. I am ingesting the Kingdom into myself in a way I never have before- glimpsing the second by second possibility of what the Holy Spirit is willing to be and bring in my life as I follow Christ. There is a voice in my head of late that is this refrain of “look, see, remember, awake, and know, know, know the reality of God.” I have been a Christian most of my life, but this grace I have claimed is a flaming, life-altering redemption that is pushing me into a new place of response, recognition really, of what it really is I have believed. Throughout the Gospels, I begin to see Jesus as desperate, almost frantic, to get his wayward people to taste, to see, to respond to his salvation.

What is it in us all that is so resistant to him? I see more and more how lethargic, legalistic, lazy, staid, suspicious the world, and the human heart, are when it comes to the unfettered possibility inherent in Jesus’ Kingdom. Even in my own believing heart, even in many lovers of God, there is this sedative lethargy. It is so easy to live a life of measured goodness, to exist in the big, blank-walled box that is our expectation of a normal life bricked in by a reasonable love of God. I live in a mustard seed sized world of what is possible instead of letting a mustard seed sized faith move mountains. What would it be like to truly give all I had to the kingdom, hold nothing back, be the merchant in the parable who found that one perfect pearl and gave his whole life to own it.

I often struggle with God. To have him struggle back is shocking enough to startle me to life. Poor Jesus, grappling with such a sleepy, irate people, trying to get them to look up and see their redemption. I guess a good grapple, a sting of awakening is sometimes what I most need to rivet my sight on this Master of mine. I’m glad Jesus was a fighter. Savior, redeemer, champion wrestler. Just what I need.

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Hometown

“Well, look who’s having a good hair day,” said a thin, business-looking but beaming security guard as I ducked through the metal detector.

“You have a wonderful day” he called over his shoulder, “and break some hearts while you’re at it.”

I grinned for an hour.

I love people like that.

Meeting them is like running into someone who grew up in the same impossibly tiny town as you. The town being “Delightedness in Life” – and no matter who they are or how obscure the corner of earth in which you find them, they are neighbors. And their faces are strangely familiar.

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In a Normal (Illinois) state of mind

I think this is the closest to normal I’m ever going to be.

I’m jotting a hello to you between sessions at a conference where my mom is speaking and I am trying to finish emails in between bookfair openings.

We spent the last couple of days before this in Asheville. I think its my favorite city in the US. Hands down. There are some places where your soul comes and settles in, as if the city itself and the people and the things they eat and the way they think fit a puzzle piece of yourself without any odd, grating edges. There were a spate of warm days there that drew us out into the streets to pound up and down sidewalks with cherry blossoms strewn over them, and forsythia making tunnels of our way. Crocuses, irises, daffodils, all timid, but out. I spent my first afternoon there in an old downtown park, stretched on grass just greening. Had hordouevres on a capacious front porch that night while the sky grew old with gold. We walked down to a neighborhood Jamaican cafe and had fresh fish with spices, organic vegetables. There was funky music and a door open onto the street and the cool meandering in and we lounged at our table as long as we pleased, sopping up sauce with garlic and baguettes. We walked back, slow, the nearly full moon scrached at by oak branches just nibbed by new leaves, sat, read, talked. It’s not that life is perfect there, more that the living feels realer, as if somehow I touched more, tasted more, breathed more deeply than I’m used to. I’ll post you all some favorite places should you ever get the urge to scurry down there for a weekend sometime.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Culture Making, I’m deep into a drive to read, read, read right now. Travel gives me odd extra hours of unexpected reading time, but I am also convicted of late just how much I need to take responsibility for my thoughts, my goals, and my education. No matter where I am “educated” or what I do the rest of my life, I have the chance day in, day out, to form great thoughts and thus, great actions in myself. I have had a “someday” mentality about some of this: “when I stop traveling, I’ll read more… when I get to college, I’ll start writing regularly… when I am in a class, I will read those other classics (or poetry, or current events, or children’s literature) that I need to get myself really thinking.” But I have been suffused with a conviction of the immediacy of life lately, the glaring, pulsing chance of this present minute, something I have no surety of having in another split second. Or few days. Or month.

It’s reading for me (for other people I’m sure its other things), the push to think deeper, write more poignantly. My new excitement about this expressed itself in a near mad rush at an antiques shop in Asheville that was dumping its entire stock of old hardbacks for $1 a piece. I bought ten. And, oh, that was after The Strand visit (famous NYC bookshop right on Union Square), and oh, before that the visit with Miss Lynn (the consummate book pal) to the thrift store. Sigh. I’m just going to have to start a library someday. Actually, I’m going to, but that’s a dream for another day.

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Go. Read. Now.

There’s nothing like finishing an engrossing and highly intelligent book on culture from the third story of an old apartment in the arts and culture capital of the states. I read this book and then walked down Park Ave. through a river flow of people, past a parade of museums, and the words of this book were an exhilarating rhythm pounding in every thought and step.

312-vehoppl_sl160_What is culture? There is this rut in my mind into which all my ruminations on “changing culture” get stuck. I tend to perceive “culture” as this nebulous force that dwells in cities, drives moral decisions, and is the arbiter of the arts world. From my tiny perspective the idea of culture can often seem like a thunderstorm stalking the horizon; gigantic, ominous, entirely beyond my control, and sure to catch me in its deluge. So I loved it when Andy Crouch opened his enlightening book by declaring that culture is simply what I as a human, in the company of other humans, make of the world. Literally. Culture is (in Crouch’s example) the making of an omelette, the stewing of chili, the crafting of a house, the jotting of a poem. It is nothing more and nothing less than the meaning and creation that each person on earth brings to their daily world.

With this concise and incredibly clarifying definition of culture (the whole world brought to the level of my doorstep), Crouch goes on to explain that from the beginning of the world, God made us to be involved in the crafting of a culture that reflected every facet of His possible goodness. Crouch covers the many possible “gestures” with which people (specifically Christians) encounter culture (and he does it with charming alliteration): critiquing, condemning, consuming, and copying. Each, he says, is insufficient as a life “posture” to culture and he proposes instead that we posture ourselves as creators (co-creators made in the image of God who create new beauty out of the created world) and cultivators (stewards and protectors of the valuable and worthy culture already in existence). The only way we can change culture, he claims, is by creating new culture.

This book has got my pulse racing and my mind on adrenaline high. I’m a dreamer, I’m constantly feeling dissatisfied with the world, ceaselessly yearning to “change the world”, “take culture by storm”, and here this guy is saying that to do it I need to be a creator. That storming or ideology or head-shaking or the right system isn’t the answer, but instead, new creation. Creating art, music, and literature that pictures redemption. Creating life and encouragement for broken people, creating practical solutions to social problems. I love this current of energetic life, this idea that we ARE made to change culture, but not by some power play or perfectly appointed system. By loving creation. By redemptive action. By tender stewardship of all that is good, beautiful, and true.

Go read this book. Please do. The above is just a smidgen of the excitement you will find in this highly intelligent, but conversationally written book. Crouch surveys God’s activity in culture throughout Scripture, talks about what earthly culture will be present in heaven, and contemplates what it means to live creatively in our time. I usually have a reservation or argument in my head on any given book. I don’t have any on this one. I’m just excited. You should be too.

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My morning view. From my fifth floor room. On W. 75th St.

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From Times Square…

A quick hello from the maze and brilliance and hum of life that is this famous New York City. I am here for a few days for a small arts and faith conference by an intuitive movement called International Arts Movement. Our conferences rooms have been small classrooms on the 13th and 14th floors of a building just blocks away from Ground Zero. I have been fascinated, perching in my corner on the windowsill during the talks, staring out at a world made of dark-eyed windows in long, brick faces of ruddy red, or faded yellow, or steeled gray. I think it added flavor to my enjoyment of the talks on how to have faith within the arts, how to communicate what is essentially true about humanity, discussions on film, poetry, literature. And of course, since its NY, the spice and fun of great performances by Billy Collins (poet) and Helen Sung (jazz pianist). Much of this is territory unfamiliar to me, jazz isn’t my usual favorite music, but I delight in the sheer brilliance of the musical ability of the people I’ve met, love the tang of unfamiliar ways of thinking, the spurring thrill of being exposed to different ways of channeling God’s relentless creativity.

Anyway. Joel took a photo of me in Times Square, so I’ll try to insert that here as soon as I manage to get hold of the photo. For now, here’s a quote (or actually, several lines cobbled together from my notes) from an essay and talk given by Makoto Fujimura, artist and founder of IAM:

Where there is no gift, there is no art. Art is driven by generosity. Art pushes us into that moment where we might leap in faith. Every action is a gift or a curse. Every act humanizes or dehumanizes. So in your art and in your life, create generously.

That’s worth a healthy few minutes of contemplation, don’t you think?

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