Friday, December 24, 2010

::joyeux noel twenty-ten

This year, it's been something of a challenge to avert the inevitable Scrooge Moments.

When I was able to transcend them, I managed to compose the following reflection, and subsequently read it at my church's Christmas concert.

Tonight, I'm reading it again at CrossPointe Community Church, performing alongside my friends Kim and Paul.

This is most certainly a first, but I do enjoy finding new methods of celebration for annual holidays, preserving the festivities with freshness.

Happy Christmas to you all.




Grand Entrance

On the fourth Thursday of November, we celebrate the discipline of gratitude, expressing thanks for the bounty that we have…and the very next morning, we frantically scurry about in search of what we do not have.

We must locate the perfect object that will express what our words cannot, or perhaps the most current and sought-after novelty, designed to make our pulses race and our endorphins sparkle.

Churches adopt the rhyming marquee slogan, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Preachers wax philosophical about postmodern culture, admonishing Americans for our shameless and frenetic greed, asking catchphrase questions like, “What crowds the Christ out of your Christmas?”

I no longer wonder why, every year, I simultaneously cherish and dread the highly commercialized and increasingly garish “holiday season.”

But the "Good News of Great Joy, which shall be for all people," is this:

Jesus Christ presents a God who plunges headlong into the fray; pushed from the helix of a teenage girl's body into a microcosm of beauty and terror.

He senses how we have, for centuries, desperately craved the tactile sensation of a Deity we could touch.

The Life who created the very idea of Life, Sculptor of synapses and capillaries, embodied the very flesh inside of which we squirm and ache and cry for restoration.

He inhabited our own bittersweet environs, tantalized by all manner of momentary bliss, afforded every opportunity for dysfunction and self-destruction, only to endure the agony of ultimate ruin.

He redeems what is tarnished and mends all that is broken, but never without knowing, in the most intimate dimension, what it is to be utterly undone.

Here is a God who boldly declares that we are both lovable and loved, precisely for who and what we are, and dares us to do what is both brave and heartbreaking: believe Him.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

::a face without freckles

Several weeks ago, I went with my friend Kim to a talent show.

One of Kim's voice students, Bailey, was slated to play and sing Natasha Bedingfield's song Freckles.

Although I had never met her, and never even heard the song before, I felt my eyes puddle with tears by the end of the performance.

Bear in mind, this girl is twelve.
Oh, if only I had internalized this timeless wisdom while I trudged through the treacherous corridors of middle school...


A face without freckles is like a sky without stars
Why waste a second not loving who you are
Those little imperfections make you beautiful, lovable, valuable,
They show your personality inside your heart
Reflecting who you are


Watch carefully...this precious girl's confidence grows as her amazing voice soars above all insecurity.



Thursday, November 18, 2010

::betrothed and beloved 2.0

Have I mentioned how much I love Camp Lake Louise?
Oh, that's right.
I have.

I hung out there for many years with Greg and Katie, way back when they were 'tweens, before they fell in love... before Greg asked Katie to marry him.

Today, I took their engagement photos.








Despite the chilly air and somewhat gloomy gray day, I had a glorious afternoon.

Love is a many-splendored thing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

::letter to a lost poem


I had such high hopes for you.

Oh, such high hopes.

You were destined to be clever and witty; even that coveted and rarest of adjectives: "punchy."

I heard the phrase "unhinged praise" on National Public Radio, felt the Nudge of Inspiration, and dashed into the local trendy book/coffee shop, whereupon I wielded my not-so-trendy-anymore Smartphone and furiously punched at tiny buttons, attempting to compose the World's Next Masterpiece.

I failed.
At that moment, my self-consciousness flared, hard and loud, and I realized what I was...one of those thirty-something hipsters trying to look like I wasn't trying to look like a thirty-something hipster.

Damn you, self-consciousness, you nefarious adversary of unbridled creativity.
You may have wrecked my Next Great Poem.

Or maybe you saved it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

::are you interested?

Just a few things I often wish I were interested in:

Sports
All the grand declarations of "Sparty On!" and the sparring of "Go Blue!" and "Go Green!" are completely lost on me.
It seems to offer a great deal of camaraderie, so I do regret my deep apathy sometimes.
But sports are simply not intriguing to me at all.
I'm so non-competitive, I feel bad when I give someone the "Draw Two" card in UNO.
During the Super Bowl, I read Entertainment Weekly.






Star Wars
I saw Return of the Jedi in the theatre when I was little...and fell asleep.
I have yet to see any of its prequels.
I can appreciate the innovative storytelling and creativity of George Lucas.
But my affinity for this series is simply nonexistent.





Cars

Top Gear bores me to tears.
Antique car shows? The auto show? I'd rather go to the dentist.
I have the highest respect for mechanics, especially the honest, gracious one who's been fixing my car for as long as I've owned one.
I can muster a vague interest in an authentic Model T at Greenfield Village.
Therein lies the apex of my fascination.


Boating/Sailing
To be fair, these things are not entirely uninteresting.
They're just terrifying.
When I was sixteen, I was in a canoe that tipped over in very deep water.
As I tried to push my way to the surface, my foot got trapped in some sort of undergrowth, and I became paralyzed by the fear of drowning.
This terror-induced paralysis has lingered; Ergo, I possess no desire to kayak, or canoe, or voluntarily operate any manner of watercraft.

::funnies


Oh, how I LOVE Modern Family.
It's the only show in recent memory that I can watch with my whole family, and it makes every one of us laugh.




Sunday, October 24, 2010

::page turners


I stole this from Stephanie.

Please, by all means, feel free to steal it from me, dear reader.

Name fifteen authors (poets included) who've influenced you and who will always stick with you.

List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.

  1. David Sedaris

  2. David Dark

  3. C.S. Lewis

  4. Roald Dahl

  5. Wally Lamb

  6. Dante Alighieri

  7. Billy Collins

  8. Garrison Keillor

  9. Anne Lamott

  10. Flannery O'Connor

  11. e.e. cummings

  12. Augusten Burroughs

  13. Ralph Waldo Emerson

  14. Walt Whitman

  15. Henry David Thoreau


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

::canine + toddler = Canon Moment

Three days a week, I care for Emma.
She is two years old.
She is my niece.
And she is utterly delightful.

She has definitely inherited our family's love of dogs.
As you might imagine, it's adorable.




See?
Yesterday morning she tried to hug Camille - the neighbors' Doberman - through the cyclone fence.
Future veterinarian?
I wouldn't be surprised.

::autumn nuptials

Perhaps I've mentioned this before, but I LOVE Autumn.
October is my favorite month of the year.

I love its colors, its implications both obvious and subtle, its chilly breezes and crunchy leaves, its celebration of apple cider and warm, cinnamon-saturated doughnuts.

Two weeks ago, I went to a wedding, and found it such a beautiful celebration of such a worthy season, and for such a worthy couple, Megan and Todd.


These two are incredibly, irrevocably Made for Each Other.

As a congregation, we sang a few songs during their ceremony.
As we lifted our voices for "How Great is Our God," I felt tears pooling inside my eyes as I watched Megan, holding Todd's hand with one arm, and raising the other toward the sky. Forging a Covenant with the man with whom God blessed her, and passionately praising Him for the blessing.

I became acquainted with Megan via my lovely friend Kim, who is a kindred spirit of the highest caliber. She looked especially gorgeous as the Maid of Honor.



Merriment continued at the reception, complete with - in the style of a salad bar - a Candy Bar, overstuffed with all manner of autumn treats.


treasure boxes filled with...


Personalized M&Ms


Kim, Emma & me (looking silly) on the dance floor


Beautiful, festive centerpiece

Capped off by an evening spent in the wonderful hospitality of Kim's house, and some good strong coffee and a delicious homemade breakfast the next morning, I felt overwhelmingly blessed to be included in the company of such loving, generous, joyful people.



Monday, September 20, 2010

::reading writing (sans 'rithmetic)

So, it's official.

I'm a teacher.

My parents are both (now retired) teachers, my older brother is a teacher who married a teacher.
And then there's me, who never harbored any desire to be one.

I tried to outrun my family's Teacher Gene, but it chased me down and tackled me.


After reading a few poems at Trinity House Theatre in June, accompanied on guitar by the brilliant Paul Murphy (proprietor of Blue Fish Music), I was asked to teach a poetry class at Palaestra, a co-op group for home-schooled children and their families.

My class has five students, which feels more akin to leading a small group; a task with which I am tremendously familiar.

I've found that it's a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

:: fred phelps

Many times, when called upon to write some sort of autobiographical paragraph, I am often compelled to write, "I believe empathy is the most paramount of all virtues."

Attempting to empathize with the plights of others has always been a very natural practice for me.
I recognize that I am very fortunate in this respect.

But it deeply disturbs me to encounter people who obviously make no attempt at empathizing.

This is particularly upsetting when the issue is homosexuality.

My younger brother Joel, whom I love immeasurably, is gay.
The day before our grandmother's funeral in 2004, he came out to me.
I had known for several years, but his official declaration left me feeling indescribably honored.
I have sat with him and listened to his story.
I try my best to share his burdens and steep uphill struggles.

I cannot even count the number of times that my poor ears have been assaulted by some ignorant blowhard, yammering on and on about Homosexuality is an Abomination! and The Gay Agenda is Taking Over! and Next Thing We Know, They'll Want to Marry Their Dogs!

Whenever I have been able to summon the strength to actually engage these people in conversation, I find that they are not personally acquainted with anyone who is gay - surprise surprise! - nor do they have any desire to be.
They are speaking from those all-too-familiar perches of As Far As I Know and As Far As I Can Tell.

As David Dark reminds us in The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, "as far as I know" and "as far as I can tell" are not far at all.

Many who make these ill-informed, hateful statements also claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, which is even more tragic.
They don't even have one iota of interest in meeting an actual gay person, much less (gasp!) hearing their story and attempting to see the world through their eyes.

I write these reflections for the all-important task of drawing attention to the ineffable role of empathy in the human experience.
It's one of the best gifts we have to offer, dear reader.
Give freely, and often, and with humble sincerity.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

::"What I Did Last Summer..."

For seven summers of my childhood, I lived at Camp Lake Louise while my father was its manager.
Both sets of my grandparents worked there as well.
This place is a thriving, vibrant force at the heart of our family's legacy.
Ergo, I spend as much time there as is humanly possible.

The summer of 2010 blessed me with two full weeks in this glorious locale, surrounded by friends both old and new, and by family, both biological and honorary.


Robin = Lovely Model


Lake at Sunset


First night's dusk


Worship session



Tall, gorgeous trees


Emma & Calvin with Bubbles


I sincerely doubt that my passion for this place could ever be captured by any expression, but I will persist with photo-snapping and virtue-extolling, because its majesty must be honored.

Monday, September 6, 2010

::theology by Michael Stipe

Sometimes this happens: I seriously dislike someone, and then they say something that tickles my fancy, and I warm up a bit.

It happened several years ago, when a dude I severely disliked was talking about God, and he said, 'You know, God isn't all love, luck, and lollipops."

Brilliant.

When describing the character of God and/or Jesus Christ, it's very dishonest to present Him as "warm and fuzzy."
He's not.

I am convinced that there are Christians who believe that our goal is to embody the chorus of REM's "Shiny Happy People."

A true encounter with God is not comfortable, nor is it supposed to be.

When I read the Bible and observe how Jesus interacted with people, even His disciples, He certainly was not Sunny and Nice all the time.
He provoked them, He challenged them, and I suspect He sometimes hurt their feelings.
He was confrontational.
He asked difficult, painful questions.
He probed people to their deepest recesses.

I love the scene in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, when the children have heard of Aslan - the great, powerful lion of Narnia (the story's Christ figure).
One of the children, Susan, inquires about Aslan to Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, long-time residents of Narnia.

"Is he—quite safe?" asked Susan." I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

======

He is NOT safe.
But He is good.
And He's the King.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

::walk with me quiet, walk with me slow...


Sometimes, when the pistons of anxiety fire and conspire to churn my guts into some twisted primordial stew of panic, I like to take a walk.
Oh, wait.
I also kind of have to.
My diabetes pretty much demands it.

[Also? Garrison Keillor says that writers should take long walks.
I'm on it, GK.]

This evening, I strolled through the acreage adjacent to a local park, where the four bodies of my parents' parents are buried.

When I take strolls, I often fill my ears with melodic, moody, guitar-driven ballads.
Their lyrical content usually smacks of lovelorn loneliness, which seems highly appropriate somehow.

I amble about, and I ponder, and it never fails to occur to me that I worry constantly about things that do. not. matter.

Surrounded on all sides by tombstones etched with heartfelt epitaphs, my mind swarms with memories of all those whom I love, whose burial services I have attended, standing silent as their respective virtues were extolled.

It's slightly ironic to be exercising on an expanse of land dedicated to housing the dead; the truth is, I'm there doing something I hope will postpone my own arrival.



Friday, August 6, 2010

::you talkin' to me?


Lately it seems I think a lot about conflict.
It is 2:37 a.m. as I sit to process this.
Hence, conflict = insomnia.

I hate it.
Despise it.
I will spare no expense to scurry away from its talons.

Sometimes, however, it catches me.
And then I am forced to engage in confrontation.
It's never pretty.

But it's ugly for peculiar reasons.
I cower in the face of any accusatory anger, and spray it with apology after apology until its flames are completely drowned.

The problem is, I do this even when I don't need to apologize.
It could be that the other person has grossly mistreated me, and is still emotionally abusive enough to suggest that I provoked them.
Even if I know I've done nothing wrong, I still apologize.
I kowtow.
No matter how much you've hurt me, I will gladly admit guilt and full responsibility, if only for the sake of temporary truce.
Even if it is, in truth, as useless as sticking a tiny Band-Aid on a broken leg.

I'm a coward.
I must learn to defend myself against disrespect and voice my displeasure at undeserved, unprovoked cruelty.

Turning the other cheek is one thing.

Allowing oneself to be repeatedly abused, is quite another.



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