Monday, March 31, 2008

I Did Not Try

striated rock

The night before I went to Mount Hermon, a dear friend of ours passed away quite unexpectedly— a massive stroke, in a young man. The day I returned, I had news from another friend, whose sister just lost her newborn son. My trip, so life giving in many ways, was bookended by death.

Yesterday, a wonderful speaker, Jason Gaboury, came to our church. He talked about what it is like when we have a bad day, a bad year, or even a bad decade. I realize that when it comes to the issue of death, I, along with my community, have had a bad decade, striated with seemingly senseless deaths (all death of course is senseless in its way, but we more readily accept the passing of a person who has had a "fullness of years").

Gaboury, looking at the book of Daniel, asked us to consider whether we could see God in the midst of dark times of captivity. Indeed, he urged us to listen for God's footfall in the shadows. Somehow this came together for me in the words of Krista Tippett, regarding the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer "just weeks before the collapse of the Reich."

She says, "His death seemed to me a puzzle, a piece of religious irony. Wasn't this a failure of God, a rebuttal of the very idea of God? Yet some irrational aura of triumph— defying my sense of time as flat and contained — surrounded Bonhoeffer's legacy. I could not fathom this... and I did not try." (p.42)

In her words, I realize that I am two-dimensional when it comes to trying to understand these matters. My sense of time is flat and contained. I cannot fathom the whys and hows, the shape of death and the mystery of eternal life that transcends it. And, in her words, I find the comforting thought that it is okay to put my head down and weep. To say, along with Tippet, "I did not [even] try."

Striated Rock photo, by L.L. Barkat.


LL's Tired of Dying

Christine's Gabriel Gifford Scheller

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Into the Ordinary

Deseo Sculpture

The High Callling people have memed me. I am feeling oddly compliant today and will break LL Meme Tradition and simply do what I've been asked to do. (Footnote to all would-be LL memers; wait until LL has been to a six-day conference and is suffering from jetlag and post-conference blues; you will get your meme as you assigned it!)

I'm supposed to:

1. Write about the Strangest Job I Ever Had and tell what I learned from it.

2. Link to other "Lessons from Odd Jobs" posts.

3. Tag my post "Lessons from Odd Jobs".

4. Tag other bloggers, in or out of the HC network.

5. Link back to the Lessons from Odd Jobs page and and email this month’s host at “Marcus AT highcallingblogs DOT com”.

As I considered my task and my promise to be compliant, I realized right away I had issues. I've never really had an odd job. Flipping burgers didn't seem to count. Nor did cleaning rooms at a country club (though perhaps being asked to scrub the corner of one particular shower with a toothbrush and acid might count for something... um, I refused on the basis of my youthful skin and the absence of gloves.)

Teaching school wasn't really odd, though maybe the way I sometimes taught could be considered other than standard. Being made to pick stones from the garden wasn't really too weird for a country kid. Maybe it was odd that I had to clean out the deer-hanging cellar to satisfy my hunter stepfather.

Being an artist for an ad agency wasn't odd; refusing to do beer ads with the air-brushed promise of attractive women didn't get me fired (which I guess is kind of odd). Counseling drug addicts and supervising schizophrenics (oops, there was that time one got away) was also not particularly odd.

So at the end of it all, I find that I am rather ordinary. I have never been a guinea pig, nor a magician's assistant. I haven't even sold yo-yos.

What can I say, except that maybe there is hope for the ordinary person. He, or she, can also be memed and pass along a little meme love. The world has a place for the ordinary too.

(Meme love now goes to Rebecca Miller, Dave Zimmerman, Nikki, Lynet, Jim Martin, and Brandon Satrom.)

Extra-Ordinary Sculpture for the J-Lo "Deseo" opening at Macy's, by designer Andy Chui. I met Andy on a plane from San Jose to Chicago, and we talked for the whole 4 hours and 20 minutes. We were shocked when they announced it was time to land.


Some Newbies...

The lively, wonderful Mount Hermon blogosphere newcomer Long Island Express Girl, A. Anjeanette Brown

Sweet and humorous MH newcomer The Oho Report, Otto Haugland

Other MH new friends...

Spilt Milk, by Linda Vujnov


Thanks to Michelle Gregory for sharing these pics, including one of the two of us (of course my back is to the camera).

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Writer's Confession

At the Pacific

In the past few days, I've been envious.

My Mount Hermon companions have been expressing things I can hardly say or show. There are Kirsten's luminous photos, Becky's trim summaries, and Mark's poetic expressions about finding God on a closed trail. He uses words like "yawp" and "swordfern", "peek" and "shock" and makes me want to find that place.

Here, at my own keyboard, I struggle beside my writing friends' accomplishments. Struggle to find ways to discuss the Pacific, the winding trail under redwoods, the sandy banks of a creek. Squirm at the failure to describe what I have discovered about myself... that I am like the golden anemones that cling to the rocks at the sea, who send off a bit of electric sensation to anyone who reaches towards them— a person of tingle and not retreat (like the snails who sucked themselves into their shells post-haste when we lifted them heavenward). I feel bent beneath the task of trying to explain what it is like to see the souls of my cyberfriends embodied for a few short days— only to lose their touch again as journeys homeward turn them back into cyberghosts.

In this hard place, where I try to take the crooked, round, long, bubbling, shadowy experiences of an amazing week and squeeze them into words, I find that words are my enemies. They are a mean shack with the key broken off in the lock. They are boxes whose lids are fastened with pneumatic seals, bottles whose caps are writer-proof, trails that beckon but are taped off with yellow "do not cross: police line" ribbons.

And so I have been envious of others who have ways to say and show what I cannot. This is my writer's confession.

Quartz Rocks at the Pacific photo, by L.L. Barkat.


LL's Return

LL's Ancient Cathedral


Mount Hermon blogosphere newcomer Long Island Express Girl. A very cool up-and-coming blogger (we had the best dinner conversation at MH!).

Mount Hermon blogosphere newcomer The Oho Report, by Otto Haugland.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Slow Emergence

Chicago Ohare

It was dark when I woke. 4:30 in the morning. All was quiet except for the frogs, who never seemed to set love's call aside. (Their wooing task was my constant companion at the conference, often waking me throughout my five consecutive nights.) I dressed slowly, did all the business of what should have been morning and finally stepped outside into the cool mist.

My thoughts were secret goodbyes to many of my sleeping friends, as I passed their various cabins. I made my way past the red-berried holly tree one last time, to the waiting airport shuttle. We rode through the edge of night, chatting. The driver gave me sage advice on being a real person, even as upcoming changes will put me more clearly into the public eye.

On the plane, I meant to nap, but instead met an amazing artist who was on his way to Chicago for the opening of a J-Lo perfume promotion at Macy's. His sculpture was to be the centerpiece at the premiere, and part of me wished I could stay on in Chicago just to see his vision unveiled.

I did stay on in Chicago, as it went, but not for shopping and art appreciation. Fog had put all planes in a "floating" pattern. My flight was significantly delayed. I sat on the floor and wrote and daydreamed, trying to begin processing all that had happened in the week behind me.

It was a slow trip home, and this morning I realize it defines what is ahead of me. I have much to tell about woods and ocean, faces and voices, spiritual awakenings. But it will be a slow emergence. As all real growth and insight must be.

So come, sit beside me, and over the days we shall see.

Chicago O'Hare photo, by L.L. Barkat.


L.L. reads from the real SC book, out in the redwood forest at Mount Hermon. Find the video on Zimbio: Stone Crossings

Please welcome a Mount Hermon blogosphere newcomer with your visit: The Oho Report, by Otto Haugland.

Kirsten's Mount Hermon photos

Mark's thoughts about finding God on a closed trail

Becky's Mount Hermon Report

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Time to Be

clock horizontal

Sabbath. I love how Lauren Winner explains the Jewish concept, in Mudhouse Sabbath, even as she admits she is out sipping coffee and writing in the margins of a book.

The time period, she tells us, is called "Queen Sabbath" and is described as a bride. Most brides get quite stressed, but as my children's Hebrew lesson reminded us today, Sabbath means "rest". Queen Sabbath is no ordinary bride! She is royal, beautiful, filled with promise and calm.

I'm looking forward to a Sabbath of sorts over the next week. On Thursday, I'll head off to California, a place apart. Redwoods and mist, a room of my own, quiet mornings when no one else is up (the time difference assures this for me). Not quite a Jewish Sabbath, but not my usual fare either.

If all goes well, I'll hold my book for the first time, smell the new pages, remember that God took a mess and turned it into a gift to others, through the careful shaping of words and memories entwined with His Own Word.

Overall, I'm looking forward to a time to simply be...

Antique Clock in Mother's House photo, by J Barkat. Used with permission.


Dave Zimmerman's On Birthing a Book

New Waiting for Stone Crossings photos at Zimbio

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Speaking of Faith

Nature's Abstract

I admit I'm only in chapter 2, but I already love Speaking of Faith. The final test of my enthusiasm will be if I finish the book (which as I've mentioned before is a rare thing for me to do).

Tippett grabbed me in the first chapter, saying, "I believe what most Americans want, whether they are religious or not, is for the religious voice in our public life to be more constructive— to reflect the capacity of religion to nourish lives and communities." (p.2)

Though "some say... that religious passions are the cause of our culture's worst divisions, and a threat to democracy here and abroad", Tippett asks us to consider the truth that is "more broadly and deeply rooted in the human psyche and spirit." She describes this truth as a "tapestry unfurled, both ancient and in progress like the whole of creation... that arguments cannot contain." (p.4)

These words resonate with me. I can and sometimes do engage in argument for religion (argument in the formal sense of the term, not meaning "quibble"). Argument has its place. But there is so much more than argument through which to explore the claims and nuances of religious experience.

I think this is why I was so taken with that picture in Chronicles, of the full spectrum of players needed to "show" and "declare" the glory of God. Because, as it goes, some of the greatest speech on faith is not speech at all.

Nature's Abstract photo by Sara B. Used with permission.

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