Sunday, December 26, 2010

The LORD and the Wife

I needed to read the passage of Ezekiel 16 in order to find context for some verses I was invited to recite. I was supposed to read the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation, but stumbled across the New International Version (NIV) first. Both had something unique to bring to my understanding (and each link directs you to its rendition of the passage). Wow. It's passages like these that leave me with in firm agreement that if it was not for the fact that the Bible is the basis of Christian faith, it's one of the books many would be trying to get taken off of the shelves. Its content is not tame.



The story of the adulterous wife...and some renditions are more graphic than others. And yet - I find it to be such a depiction of the Gospel message. Through Israel's example, it sets up the unmerited love of God; our vile, sinful rebellion (in shades that we would not otherwise like to admit); and God's merited wrath at such unfaithfulness. The problem of sin is clearly set up. God's pain is evident. His broken heart is there. And yet, in the face of Him promising the consequences of such actions (His wrath), He still offers restoration at the end.


Again, the heartbeat of His love carries through. He promises in verse 60, "Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you" (NIV). God, in the image of the betrayed husband, offers to His wife more than any human could ever offer considering the magnitude of betrayal.

The passage ends with Him describing the new relationship in verses 62-63, "'Thus I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, so that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you for all that you have done,' the Lord GOD declares" (NASB).





Pause for a moment and let that sink in.





This passage is directed at the nation of Israel, but we can still learn from it and see how it points to the cross. Just as Israel fell short and was unfaithful in the covenant with God, so we as indivuals also rebel. Pride fills us individually (and as a society). We are good. We are beautiful. We are young. We are strong. We don't need God. We can do it on our own.

...at least, that's what we often wish to believe. We work harder and harder to convince ourselves that these things are true, and our frenzy consumes us. And when we are faced with the truth about our character, it can be devastating. This is true of ME. This is true of YOU.



Yet, God speaks of a covenant. Looking at the covenants in scripture, they became more inclusive and more one-sided as God offered then on the contingency of His own faithfulness (rather than ours). Ezekiel 6:60 promises an eternal covenant. Through Christ, his (innocent) death on the cross (for our sins), and his resurrection, that covenant offers redemption to the unfaithful. The humiliation spoken of is not one of vindiction. I think it is merely the recognition of realizing the depth of the depravity that we were saved from. We no longer boast in our own goodness, because we realize that our goodness is there because of God.

The cost to God was unimaginable to us. In the face of the heartache at being rejected, betrayed, and stolen from, He then gave more of Himself - to the point of a sacrificial death on the cross - in order to bring about a restoration of the unfaithful. This is true of me. This is true of you. And that love is what saves us from destruction when we have our masks pealed back so that we might see how bad off we really are. The strength of God's love rescues us from being crushed beneath the weight of our sin.

I don't understand that kind of love. I mean, I cannot fully comprehend it. But it is my prayer that I come to understand it more.

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He would give His only son
To make a wretch His treasure

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Hug and a Kiss

At the end of this night, I have to tip my hat to a holiday that I love so much. Yes, "cynics" are right when they say that Christmas has been smeared with commercialism, consumerism, watered down to mean nothing more than "magic and childlike happiness," over-produced and under-enjoyed (and I have to admit that there are times when I get caught up in that)...but my heart is captured by the meaning and purpose of Christmas. I find Christ in Christmas. The wonder and love of a God who would miraculously send His son to earth does not escape me.

I've heard it said by some that Christmas is a lesser holiday compared to Easter when considering theological importance. However, I disagree. Christ's death on the cross, burial, and resurrection from/conquering over death was crucial, I agree. Yet, on the day of Christ's birth he started on that physical, linear, time-lined path to the Cross. I don't really see one holiday (holy day) as more important than the other. I see them as intermingled. Both were actions of love that stand out as markers on the Christian calendar.

Christmas was the embrace that led to the kiss of Easter.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Created Beauty" - from The Beauty of God

I'm currently reading a book given to me, called The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts. It's a series of essays and the first one is entitled, "Created Beauty," by Jeremy Begbie. Here are a few of my favorite excerpts:

"The deity celebrated in Christian faith is not an undifferentiated monad or blank "Absence," but a triunity of inexhaustible love and life, active and present to the world as triune and never more intensively than in the saving life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. " (Begbie; p. 21)

"We are not overpowered by God as a sublime truth; we are romanced by God as pure beauty." (Rosty Reno, quoted by Begbie; p. 24)

"...a theological account of created beauty will speak of creation as testifying to God's beauty, but in its own distinctive ways. Much here turns on doing full justice to a double grain in Scripture's witness: the Creator's faithful commitment to the cosmos he has made, and his commitment to the cosmos in its otherness. Creation testifies to God's beauty, but in its own ways; or better: God testifies to his own beauty through creation's own beauty." (Begbie; p. 25)

"The vision is rather of the artist, as physical and embodied, set in the midst of a God-given world vibrant with a dynamic beauty of its own, not simply "there" like a brute fact to be escaped or violently abused but there as a gift from a God of overflowing beauty, a gift for us to interact with vigorously, shape and reshape, form and transform, and in this way fashion something as consistent and dazzlingly novel as the Goldberg Variations, art that can anticipate the beauty previewed and promised in Jesus Christ." (Begbie, p. 44)

*I think I will update this with more quotes as I continue to read the rest of essays in the book.*

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"The Tree": An Attempt at an Exegesis

A little over a year ago, I got to be a camp counselor at Hume Lake for a group of wonderful freshmen girls. One particular day at camp offered the opportunity to paint for a few hours by the lake. The cost was only $3. Excited, I jumped at the offer. However, by the time I got there, they had run out of canvases. As a deal though, they offered that if I found something that I'd like to paint on, they would supply the paint to me for half the price. Deal. Along with another girl (who shared my name) I went out in search of an appropriate substitute. Along the edge of the forest, we found some bark.

I painted two and then kept the one that I liked. The other, "Good News from Distant Lands," I left on a pile of logs for the campfire when I went home. (As a side-note, one of the characteristics of beauty is it's transitory nature - that it is marked by a certain time, where it exists for a period and is then gone. What I mean is that I didn't like this, so I threw it away...but I took a picture!)

My intention in painting was to express the message of the Gospel, but in a way that was more abstract - that engaged the mind while hooking the emotion. I wanted people to feel something when they looked at the piece, and then to wonder why they felt what they did. For me, the story expressed in my painting was clear, but I still wanted it to be thoughtfully challenging for the viewer so that their heart and mind engaged in worship while pondering and finally arriving at the meaning.

And here's what I produced: "The Tree."

(I took it home like this, unfinished, and left it like that for about a year.)

For me, it's a piece that tells the story of redemption. The vibrant colors painted into the cracks and multidimensional surface of the bark represent the beauty of life. However, the black that covers and threatens to completely hide the vibrancy represents the destructive power of sin in our life. Through the work that Christ did on the cross when He died for our sins (and then resurrected three days later), we are restored to life. Thus, the only space I left "unpainted" was the area that leaves the shape of the cross - pure and untainted. His perfection and glory shines as it covers us, washed in his blood. At the cross, also referred to as "the tree," our sins were atoned for and God proved the victor in the battle for eternity. Red splashes across the piece signify the shedding of Christ's blood.

"The Tree" does not exist as a linear piece. We are redeemed, but we still struggle with sin. In Romans 7:15,18a Paul confesses his own weakness, " For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. [...] For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out." Our process of sanctification is ongoing as we continue to struggle with our fallenness while simultaneously growing in holiness (a continual process of restoring the "vibrancy" marred by sin). Thus, this piece is meant to convey the continual grace provided by God as the Holy Spirit works in us towards that restoration. Our ability to desire and do "good" can only have deep and lasting progression if it is fueled by the gift and power of God. We are too weak to be righteous out of our own strength or pride. However, as a static piece of art, it also serves as a reminder that the justification of our souls, bought with the blood of Christ, only needed to happen once and for all. Christ's words, "It is finished," come to my mind (John 19:30). Paul writes in Romans 5:9 "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." (Actually, Romans 4-10 seem to have a lot of things to say about justification. I encourage you to check it out if you're curious.) It's a tension reflected in 1 John 3:1-2 that we are legally and eternally considered innocent and children of God, but practically speaking, we still have to deal with the sin-nature embedded in us as we live our linear lives.

Basically, what it comes down to is this: I wanted to paint something beautiful that presented the Gospel message in a way that wasn't cliche and that dramatically expressed what happened at the Tree. Really, just as an individual must work out his or her own personal faith with God, so I want the viewer to come to his or her own understanding of what is found to be the meaning of the painting.

I had no sermon to guide my intentions, but in looking back on my original intent, I think it was fueled by statements made in things like the old hymns. The Catholic hymns for Lent, "En, Acetum, Fel, Arundo" and "Vexilla Regis Prodeunt," provide a good example.

The lyrics of the hymn "Alas! and Did my Savior Bleed?" by Isaac Watts also fit well with my thoughts on what was done on the tree.

Here, I will include one final piece that I think captures my intent. "Not Without Love (Benediction)" by Jimmy Needham.


I should probably mention that I DID finally finish the piece a few months ago in time for an exhibit. All I had to do was add the nails and cord...

(And here it is again with a different setting for better color capture, but with annoying shadows. Meh. I guess I'm not a photographer.)

Drama. Trauma. Struggle. Life and Death and Resurrection. Redemption. Rescue. Absolute love. Absolute sacrifice.

I don't think that the Gospel should ever be tame.

Statement of Intent

I've found myself experiencing push-back over my desire to go to grad school. Honestly, it's hard to hear when what I would like most is to have what I think the desires of my heart to be supported by those whom I love. However, I think that it's actually a good thing because in experiencing opposition, I go through a refining process. In having everything questioned, my motives and intentions are kept in check. If anything, it proves to me the absolute need that I have to ground myself more in seeking discernment through communication with God - prayer, His word, and keeping alert to how else He might guide me. Oh, it would seem that I have a long way to go. However, in the refining, here are my thoughts:

I do not want to make the worship experience "cooler" for the participants. In looking at worship arts and trying to bring that into the corporate experience at church, I want it to be something that unifies the body for the glorification of the Lord. I want it to be something that at all times challenges or moves (intellectually or emotionally) the congregation into a closer relationship with God. I think it should be led, of course. But I think that it should never be a one-man show. The whole purpose of corporate worship is that we come together as one to glorify He who is worthy. Thus, I think it should be something that is contributed to by as many people as possible. And since we are multi-sensory beings, I think that worship should be as holistic as possible.

However, it is never about a show. It is never about being cool. The purpose or value of art and beauty is not for art and beauty in itself. Art and beauty are only the means to a goal - tools that move, inspire, and enliven us as they point to God. When we stop and use them as a way to glorify ourselves they, like cut flowers, quickly wither and fade from the depth of life from which they came.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fitting

I started listening to Christmas music today. I made a really great station that combines contemporary songs, classic carols, hymns, and worship music. In my mind, it does a good job at capturing the excitement of Christmas. I had a small epiphany the other day that Christmas is not just one day - it's a season. So, I want to celebrate everyday of it.

My brother, Jon, pointed out to me a few minutes ago that today is also the first day of Advent - that season where we celebrate the coming birth of Christ in the Church calender. The fittingness of it just leaves me with a smile on my face at how God orchestrates even the simple things that bless our hearts...and all for His glory. Jon encouraged me to look up Jeremiah 33:14-16.

I then found this.



In further searching on Advent, I discovered that the lighting of the first candle is to represent Hope.


What a wonderful season of joyful expectation for promises made and kept.


And here's something to contemplate. It's initially a little hard to sit through because of the silence, but I think that's a good thing. My soul could use a little quieting every now and again.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Trot, prance, fly, marvel ...alive

Last night, I tried to get some journaling done at Starbucks but got distracted by what ended up being a conversation held with some friends for about 90 minutes. Our conversation finally ended not because we ran out of things to talk about, but because we were sitting outside and it started to rain. The rain reminded us all that we had other things we were "supposed" to be doing. As we scattered, one of them apologized for keeping me from getting my work done. I said it was alright because - honestly - I'd get distracted if I were home too. I prefer, though, to be interrupted by the interaction with real life, as opposed to wasting my life away doing something numbing like incessantly surfing Facebook.

I'm dog sitting this weekend and this morning I set out to take Lucy and Trotsky on a walk. The rain continued off and on, but left me with a waiting, cloudy sky for the duration of our walk. I realized that although I love the rain, it's been a while since I've actually been in it. There's something about being outside that allows one to experience the full magic and beauty of a rainy day. As we walked, gusts of wind blew the trees, sending small, but fierce showers down on whatever might be nearby. The clouds hung in steely blue and even the air held the smell of rain. I took the dogs down to the park near the neighborhood and we walked around the baseball field. My rainboots made delightful sloppy, squishing sounds in the wet grass as I watched the dogs splash through puddles.
In the outfield, Trotsky suddenly burst into so much excited energy that he started racing around in frenzied circles, unable to contain himself or his happiness at...I don't know what. Perhaps his delight simply came from being a dog on a rainy day in a great field for running in. I kept him on the extended leash at first and let him race around and around like a powerful kite. Finally, though, I decided that I was putting my arm at risk for being dislocated with some of the quick jerks and tugs he made, so I let him off the leash. I wish I could express what a joy it was to watch him. A Saluki - a sort of Egyptian greyhound - he was made to run, but "run" might be an understatement. He raced as fast as he could in large circles around me, occasionally prancing to a halt to wait for me to egg him on. Then, he'd tear off again or perhaps make rushes at Lucy in attempts at antagonizing her into play. (She's old and didn't feel much like running.) Gracefully jumping through the air, the feathers on his legs, tail, and long ears made it seem even more like he had wings and was flying. I laughed, cheered him on, rushed at him to keep him from harassing Lucy too much, and also rubbed Lucy's ears and neck to keep her from feeling neglected. When I finally put him back on his leash, his legs and underbelly were soaked.

I learned a lesson from this dog - simply delighting in being alive and in the world on a day like today.

Walking back, feeling the warmth of my body in my jacket contrasted with the cold wind chilling my face - blowing through my hair, tussling and curling it - I understood how Elizabeth Bennet must have felt when she took her walk through the wet fields to see her sister at Mr. Bingly's. She arrived, much to the horror of the other ladies, a "mess" but filled with exuberant life after tactually experiencing the beauty of the world around her. I thought also of how C.S. Lewis experienced the world around him - with a sense of awe and mystery, convinced that the magical beauty around him pointed to an absolute Creator God.

Walking back, I rejoiced at a God who would interrupt me with conversations of theology and laughter and bless me with walks of beauty and life.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Break from the Mundane

I woke up upset today. And exhausted. Exhausted and upset.
I dawdled my morning away and then took a shower until I ran out of hot water. I then planned on walking the dogs so that I could give vent of my frustrations to God and thus add to the wind that blew the clouds across the sky.

How narcissistic.

I never made it out though. Instead, I continued to waste my day away, feeling sorry for myself.

Finally, exasperated with my own immobility and tired of feeling unhappy, I packed up a couple things that I want to/need to work on and headed out the door to Starbucks. There, I got my Orange Blossom Tea Latte with soy and vanilla (my own creation) and then sat at a table and (for lack of a better word) lived.

For hours, I sketched out an idea I need to work on, took breaks by chatting with the baristas or friends who walked in, shifted over to editing a long overdue letter once I got stuck on my drawing, and then decided it was time for me to go home after I finished that. However, I instead ran into a former co-worker and ended up talking to him for about an hour about our plans for life and how we're working at getting there. He encouraged me to make the necessary steps towards going after those goals.

After all - I'm 24, have my degree, and work at Starbucks. I have dreams and goals. It's time to go.

I just got home, feeling refreshed and enlivened, still aware that I have woes...but not dwelling on them.

Nothing reminds me of the fullness of life more than actually living it.




What a sin to sit and do nothing with the great potential of life that we have.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Our Song

Driving up the 57 freeway a few days ago, I sat talking with God, captured by the view in front of me: the bright blue sky spreading over the golden-brown hills rolling around me. The vastness. The fresh cleanness of it. It was hot outside and while the experience was familiar, it also felt new - fresh - as if I was seeing it for the very first time. It brought back memories of seeing North Africa for the first time. There was no distinct emotional reaction, simply an acceptance of being.

My heart ached slightly and I knew I was alone...

The music playing started to a new song. I don't normally listen to Future of Forestry, but I'd had a hankering to since early that morning, so that's what I was doing. A song with beautiful guitar started and but I was half-distracted from the lyrics by my own thoughts and the view in front of me. However, the lyrics caught me, pulling me from thinking over the conversation I'd had with Abba a few moments earlier. It was one of those, "Wait - what?" moments. A quick glance - the song was called, "If You Find Her." *Replay*

She won't falter easy, she'll be careful, she'll be coy
Mmmm-mmm-mmmmm...
But still she paints her heart among the musings of a boy
Mmmm-mmm-mmmmm...

If you find her, tell her that I love her
If she hears you, ask her heart to come
Mmmm-mmm-mmmmm...

At the break of morning, the day awaits her when she sleeps
Mmmm-mmm-mmmmm...
Deep inside her dreams is all the beauty that she keeps
Mmmm-mmm-mmmmm...

If you find her, tell her that I love her
If she hears you, ask her heart to come
Mmmm-mmm-mmmmm...

A catch in my throat and the tears fell down my face. In this alone-ness, I felt God whisper to my heart, "this is you."
I am alone for now - no prospects near me, with many of my loved ones away (although even in this "lack" I am so incredibly blessed with what He has given me). Yet, I am coming to a realization of things I already knew: when you have nothing left - there is nothing left to lose. In having nothing left to lose, I have nothing left to distract myself from the filling love of Christ. Now is a time for me to be with Him - to let Him pour His love into me as I try my feeble best to return.
Mother Theresa said that if you love to the point of pain, then there can be no more pain - only more love. The stripping away hurts like none other (I'm reminded of Eugene having his dragon scales clawed off of him by Aslan in order to free him to his real human-self in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), but the simplicity of pure life is so much better than all the complex trappings I could ever distract myself with.

So, here I sit now - in front of my computer a few days later, doing my best to write about where I am right now. I'm alone, but so very not. I'm in a place where my "job" is to listen, receive, and be surrounded by Abba's healing love. And THEN, dear ones, I can pour that out to those around me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Like a Foghorn in the Dark

I've been there. Maybe you've been there too. Maybe you're there now: a point in your life where you have no idea where you're going or what you're supposed to be doing. We pray for direction in life. We pray, "God, tell me what you want. Show me where you want me to go. Just tell me!" We pray for something like the Israelites had - obvious direction in the form of pillars of fire or cloud.


I experienced and continue to experience this since leaving for college. I wanted to be so very sure of where God wanted me to go. I actually had anxiety over "getting it wrong" (as if God would punish me for not following Him "right"). I prayed but felt no sure direction of where I was supposed to go. So, as I waited, opportunities passed me by and God shut doors. I went to a junior college I swore I'd never go to. *Surprisingly*, God grew and stretched me there. Then came the time to transfer. Again I prayed and this time God made it obviously clear where He wanted me to go. So, I went. I didn't know what my purpose was for going there, but it was enough for me to know that I was going where I was meant to be. Upon graduating I faced the issue of still not knowing why I went to the university that I did. What was the great purpose? Even more muddle-some, I didn't know what to do with my life after graduating. So, I moved home, got a job to pay the bills, and have been figuring it out ever since.

I'm learning that in the process of not knowing what to do, God still directs me. He gently moves me where He will as I stay in communication, desperately returning to Him because - to be frankly honest - what I call a "lack of direction" drives me up the wall. We want purpose in our lives. Rather, we want to know what we're supposed to do. Once, in sharing my frustration with a friend, he responded that he had another friend like me - not sure of direction or purpose, and then he added, "I'm the kind of person who would make up my own direction if I didn't have any, though. I would go mad without any direction."
Why do we have such a hard time sitting still?


So many times in our lives, we get upset when we don't know what we're supposed to be doing or don't know where we're supposed to be going. We feel like we're paddling in the dark on an ocean surrounded by fog, desperately listening for the sound of the lighthouse horn.


Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

We forget that while the Israelites had pillars to lead them by day and night - they still didn't know where they were going the next day.

Uncertainty keeps us from doing things in our own power and instead forces us to rely on God. The reason? There is no other option. Either we are completely with God, or we can walk away and say, "forget it." And if we say that we want to be with God, then we struggle through in communication with Him. The blessing is this: instead of working to do something great for God - as if we could ever earn His blessings, favor, or love that we so desperately and deeply want to be told, "you deserve this" - we instead work with Him. The focus shifts from ourselves to Him. It becomes about the work HE is doing as He blesses us in the opportunity to be used by Him. It's almost like the wonderful invitation we all craved as children from our best friends, "Do you want to come play?"
In being never able to work on our own, we are stripped from the ability to work in our own power. Thus, we are never able to earn love. It is simply given to us. Even the opportunity to be used by God to bless a dying world around us is an expression of unmerited mercy and grace.


Maybe we don't need to know what's going to happen tomorrow or where we're going anyway - as if we could ever really know that. Maybe it's enough for us to follow that pillar of fire, that could of lighting, to listen for that metaphorical sound of the lighthouse in the foggy night - and to simply follow Him one day at a time, one step at a time, one moment by moment...not really sure of where we're going, but absolutely sure that we're with Him wherever we go.


That's what relationship is, after all.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Slide

It seems I'm right at where I was before I left for North Africa...before I even knew I was going to North Africa...falling right into the pattern of self-complacency that I found myself so very entrenched in back in January.

A month after returning home and the pain and confusion (from processing the trip, missing a country that isn't really my home, and losing my grandpa) is finally easing up and what do I do? I return to my old habits of simply coasting. It's like I turn on the cruise control and tell God that I'll "get back to Him later...when I have time." And then I justify or ease my guilt by telling myself, "He's my Abba. He loves me. He understands." (And He does, but that doesn't make my behavior "okay.")

Ugh. I disgust myself. And it breaks my heart. I pray that He won't let me get away from Him - and if it takes more heartache to be in a place where I realize my absolute dependence on Him...well, that's not something I'd wish for - but so be it.

We sang a song tonight in church that was so appropriate. "In the Light" by DC Talk:

(Verse 1)
I keep trying to find a life
On my own, apart from You
I am the king of excuses
I've got one for every selfish thing I do

(Chorus)
What's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I'm still a man in need of a Savior

I wanna be in the light
As You are in the light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh Lord be my light and be my Salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the light

(Verse 2)
The disease of self runs through my blood
It's a cancer that's fatal to my soul
Every attempt on my behalf has failed
To bring this sickness under control

(Chorus)

(Verse 3)
Honesty becomes me - there's nothing left to lose
The secrets that did run me - in Your presence are diffused
Pride has no position - and riches have no worth
The fame that once did cover me - has been sentenced to this earth
Has been sentenced to this earth

Tell me what's going on inside of me
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I'm still a man in need of a Savior

I wanna be in the light
As You are in the light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh Lord be my light and be my Salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the light

* * *

Abba-Father, I need you now just as much as ever.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Appology

Dear Blog of Mine,

Sorry you've felt neglected. It wasn't you, I promise. It was me.
I've just had a lot going on...a lot to process...to think about and feel and mull over. (I'm being redundant, I know.) But I think I'm starting to get to a point where I'm ready to start writing here again. I felt the urge last night - so we both know that's a good sign! In the meantime, sorry I've been absent. Don't worry though, I still think you're nifty. See you soon (hopefully).

Sincerely,
Your Writer

Sunday, July 25, 2010

March

Some time around junior high I remember visiting a place akin to Heritage Park in San Diego and touring an old Victorian home. (Perhaps it was the Christian Home there. I really don't remember.) The thing that stood out to me the most was that the home still displayed the wedding photo of the lady of the house. Shortly before she married, her sister unexpectedly died. In remembrance and honor of her, the woman had two black stripes placed on each sleeve of her wedding dress to signify mourning during what would have otherwise been such a joyous occasion.



I returned home yesterday after two amazing weeks of being out of country, during which I experienced how much God desperately, deeply loves His people. After sharing some of my stories of the trip over breakfast, I was told that while I was gone my grandpa had an accident and died. The grave-side service was last week.

I feel much like that bride.

Emotionally, I feel filled with this chaotic mixture of excitement and expectation combined with deep grief and a sense of loss. Yet, when I think about it I also can't escape how much death is like a wedding. Scriptures describe Christ as a bridegroom and we, his people, as his bride. We march down the aisle of life to meet him at the alter where he takes us and lovingly joins us for all eternity. We all die. What a blessing that my grandpa had Christ to meet him at the end of his march.

When describing him, I often said, "My grandpa is a super hero." To be honest, aside from how many times he cheated death, he lived a quiet life. But he left a great legacy. My grandpa was a giant among men with how well he loved.
Grandpa loved his farm (where he died).
He loved his trees.
He loved animals.
He loved God.
He loved his family - children and grandchildren.
He very much loved his wife.
He loved telling stories and sharing his knowledge.
He loved to laugh.
He had an unquenchable sense of curiosity for the world around him. He loved life.

Grandpa always had a twinkle in his eye and a smart aleck response ready for anyone and everyone around him. He had rough, strong hands after years of working in his orchard that readily clasped for a hug. He was an ornery old coot who did things just to get a response from people. He loved practical jokes. He was a father to many of us. And he will be dearly missed.

Yet, as one who also walks down the aisle towards death and the ultimate, loving uniting with Christ, I know that I will see him again some day in a time when all our tears are wiped away. In the meantime, in joyful, brokenhearted expectation, I march.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

She said. So I'm doing.

A few weeks ago I stopped by the church to drop off a pound of coffee to my college pastor as a "surprise." The surprise seemed to be on me, though, because when I got there everybody had left for lunch. The idea was presented before me to go leave the beans with the church secretary to deliver.

I walked up the stairs, opened the door into the office and almost immediately exclaimed, "Sweet Peas!" She had a lovely bouquet sitting on the ledge and we almost immediately started talking about flowers...and then coffee...and then trips we're going on this summer... my involvement with the college group...and then she asked me what my dreams are. Seriously, I barely knew this woman and she wanted to know what my heart looked like...so I shared with her! At the end of our conversation, she told me that I should talk to another woman in the church about my passions for art (networking) and to write this all down. According to her, if I don't write it down, my dreams and ideas will stay at just that - dreams and ideas. I'm not sure I agreed with her fully, since these thus said things have been in my mind and on my heart (relatively unchanged) for a year now, but she seemed like a kind, wise woman. She also asked me for my name and told me that she'd be praying for me. So, here I am, taking her advice. Nancy, this is for you. :)

Becca's Dreams:
~ I want to write. Not only do I want to write, but I want to be published. And I want to write meaningful things that encourage or challenge others toward growth. I have two main heroes, authorically speaking: C.S. Lewis because the man was brilliant and because of the impact that he made/had on modern Christian thought; and Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, a book honestly written and which helped me get through some really dark times in my life. I love his writing style, and it helped me realize that I wasn't alone in my struggle. When those around me at church were unable to speak to me, God used his book to fill in their place. I also want others to know that they're not alone in their pain and their questioning.
(Two things: I know that "authorically" isn't a word, but I like it and it makes me happy. Hehe. Also, I have this secret dream that maybe Donald Miller and I would be friends if we ever met.)

~ Since the age of about 7, I've dreamed of the Red Carpet. I went to school and became a Theatre major with this ultimate goal in mind. After facing drama (not the kind on stage) and dealing with the politics of the department, I decided to take "a break" from the whole thing. I was just burned out. I currently still sit with doubts as to whether I could actually survive in the industry (I'm a sensitive soul and don't want to change the way that I look so that I can get roles), but something in my heart still longs for it. I got to get a taste of acting again when I took a roll in a grad student film at Chapman U., and it's left me hungry for more.
I'd like to start auditioning. This is such a huge mission-field in the secular realm; and such a potentially powerful means through which to express our God-freed voices, if we can work past the cliche mediocrity that we face now.

~ My last semester at school, I decided to take a class with a professor simply because I'd heard that he was amazing. "Beauty and the Christian Life" seemed like a really cool class anyway. I really had no idea.
The class almost completely changed my paradigm...awakening a realization about my passion for art and beauty, for the church, and for people. (This realization was subsidized by my Christian Heritage class.)
What it comes down to is this: as a theatrically trained artist; with giftings, passions, or at least appreciation for fine art, dance, the written word, and dramatic representation; I have a huge desire in my heart to see the aesthetic of worship within the church setting to grow beyond what is oral (and by this I mean what is spoken, read, or sung). Words are hugely important, but I think that we are really missing out on the power of what good art can do when harnessed to convey the beauty of the Gospel. Currently, my dream is to join a church where I could work alongside a worship leader in order to collaborate about creating a worship space where the congregation is exposed to the multifaceted nature of God's character.

~ I'd also like to continue swing dancing, improving to a level where I can start competing.

~ I've thought about grad school: writing (creative or analytical/research), acting (perhaps within a conservatory), and seminary.
For the past year, I've been leaning towards the third out of that list. Fuller Seminary offers an MA in Worship, Arts, and Theology - basically a theology degree for artists. My next step is to look into the school, consider the cost (and amount of debt I'll wind up with), and then decide if it's truly worth it.

We'll just have to see...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Saturday Night's Alright...

It's Saturday. I'm excited. I'm listening to Elton John and his music has me pumped. It's been a beautiful day.

It's the kind of day that has me wanting to say that I'm a "picnic and a dance."

I am a picnic and a dance.

Okay, so there we go. (Anybody needing a hint as to what I did today and what I'm doing tonight?)

Listen to this, it'll have you bouncing. :)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

They say it's just a part of life...

He went home to be with the Lord on Tuesday.

The memorial service for Hawaiian Brian is this Wednesday. I'm not going to deny that I'm hurting. But, once again, I'm not exactly sure why this hurts.

I wasn't super close with him...but I worked on his living room for 9 months. He was a nice guy. I cared about him...and his son.

Sometimes, you just get hit really hard with things. Personally, the past two months (with the passing of Grandpa Bill and a slew of other things) have felt like a barrage - like getting pounded over and over again with the crashing of new waves. Over. And over. And over again.

I currently don't like hospitals.

But I currently love people a whole lot. And I know that Christ is here with me in this. He's what's keeping me from getting my face planted in the ground. And if this is what it takes...to get me to a place where I realize the value of people even more...to get me to a place where I cling to the love of God and realize my absolute dependence on Him (in the good days as well as the bad)...

then, okay, so be it. Here we go. Continue.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tips from a Wing Girl

From Target, the other day, when I *ahem* wasn't feeling good.

Here's a note of suggestion for the gentlemen: if you want to start up and conversation with a girl, slightly catch up, chat her up, or see how she's doing - that's great. Just don't do when you see her shopping in the feminine hygiene aisle. If you, as a security guard, find her in the...oh...movies section, that could be a good time to get friendly. However, if you catch her when she's shopping for "supplies," your rate of success automatically drops by about one-thousand percent. If she hands you a misplaced item that she finds in the aisle, take that as a really good opportunity to say you'll see her later. It's your call, but sticking around and trying to sympathize a conversation out of her won't really help your situation when she's already told you she doesn't feel good, and has made it pretty much as clearly clear as possible that she doesn't feel like talking...much less interacting with any human on the planet at the moment. The sad humor of the matter is she'll know exactly what's going on but will probably make little effort to relieve your sense of awkwardness.

A quick "hello" is fine, but a conversation probably isn't wanted.

If you should happen to find yourself in such a situation where you've tried to start a conversation in thus designated area and find it going towards the spectrum designated "unsuccessful," it is not recommended that you stick around to further try and fix the situation. If "that kind of stuff" doesn't bother you, that's great. However, in the silent awkwardness, if you try to break the ice by turning from her to stare at the shelves in front of her, you and she will both know that you really have no clue what you're looking at. She really doesn't need your help buying a box of tampons, anyway.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Scripted. (almost)

Scene 1: A coffee shop

Girl: Hello! How can I help you today?

Cop: What are you smiling about?

Girl adopts a very stern face, holds it for a second, and then breaks with a giggle.

Cop: Did you spit in my coffee?

Girl:...yes. It's what gives it its special flavor!

Cop: Well, I don't like special flavor.

Girl (to cop's silent partner): Did you not come in this morning, or was I on my break and I missed you?

Cop: Why are you stalking my partner?

Girl: I'm not stalking your partner! You're the one who told me his name!

Cop: Hey, I don't even know this guy.

Girl: Why are you picking on me today, anyway?

Cop (gesturing): ...You see this badge?

Girl (gesturing): You see this apron? It means I can spit in your coffee.

Scene 2: The next day

The cops enter.

Cop: Are you going to give me attitude today?

Girl: Only if you start it.

Cop: Good.

Scene 3: A few days later, as she is getting off of work

Girl sees the cops and waves goodbye as she leaves.

Cop: Bye! Drive safe!

Girl: Thanks! You too!

Cop: I will.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Voices: Who is “you,” and where am I?

I'm normally hesitant to post my original "work" on here (at least without some sort of protection), but since this has been published I thought I'd put it up. Actual copyrights - gotta love 'em. It's my first scholarly article to find its way into publication. It's long and FULL of contemporary literary criticism (it was my final paper for the class - go figure), but if you like (and can follow) that kind of stuff, you might enjoy my paper...
Or, you might hate it.
At any rate, I'm posting it here.

(Side note: I would encourage you to do a separate reading of only the poem before you really read my paper. Get a feel for it yourself. Get an idea of what it means to you and how it makes you feel, etc. Then, go ahead and read my paper...if you want. Or, you may just want to stop and leave it at the poem.)

* * *

"Voices: Who is "you," and where where am I?" Synecdoche. Vol. 7. Eds.
Hannah Petrak and Ashley Wells. Costa Mesa: Synecdoche Literary Journal of Vanguard University, 2010. 77-87.

* * *

This is not the poem that you will never see.
That poem
I have buried in my heart
So deeply
That I'm not sure that I can even find it.

And so you see the product:
See the many poems that I have cranked out –
Perhaps in search of the one that is hidden.

Wouldn't you like to know what it says?
I'll bet you would.
But perhaps behind the many words
Of so many poems
Is the fear
That the poem of my heart
Cannot be set to words
And yet you would be able to read it anyway.

Grammatically straight lines
Give way to cryptic messages,
And skewed codes of language
Are obvious in their meaning.

When I write,
My messages
Are so encoded
That so often
I don't even catch their meaning
Until it’s too late.
And that frightens me.
Much like you frighten me.

And so,
This poem
That you will never see –
I dedicate it to you.

The first line and the title are the same, “This is not the poem you will never see,” warns the author. But, if I as the reader then become the character in the poem, according to reader-response theory, then who is the “you” that I am speaking to? You can’t do that. What? Can’t do what? You can’t do that. You can’t just use start using a poem and then not provide proper citation. Yes, I can. No, you can’t. It’s plagiarism. No, it’s not. Yes, it is. If you don’t cite your sources, then it’s plagiarism. Okay, fine. I’ll try again.

The first line and the title are the same, “This is not the poem you will never see,” warns the author (Testrake 98). There, are you happy? I’ve even put it in the works cited page. You can check it and see for yourself, if you want to. No, you really can’t do that. Yes, I can! I correctly cited the poem. I can write a paper about reader-response theory on it if I want to. What’s to stop me? You can’t write this paper because you wrote the poem that you’re analyzing. Says who? According to transactional theory under reader-response criticism, “Even authors’ stated intentions in writing their texts, as well as any interpretations they may offer afterwards, are but additional readings of the text, which must be submitted for evaluation to the text-as-blueprint just as all other readings are.” (Tyson 159-160). A text becomes its own entity after being published. So, yes, maybe I wrote this poem. However, if my intent as an author when writing this piece no longer matters, then my response to the poem is also valid according to reader-response Theory. I see. Yes. Now, will you please stop interrupting? It’s rude and I’m trying to write a paper. Sorry, I’ll try. Thanks.

So, the initial question is who is “you”? If the reader were to read the poem from the standpoint that the narrator’s voice was speaking, then the reader could assume that he or she became the “you” who was being spoken to. In fact, when I wrote this poem, I was thinking about a specific boy. I told you that this would get in the way. Excuse me? Your memories of writing the poem, the emotional connection that you still have to it – they all get in the way and make it impossible for you to read this poem from the standpoint of the reader. You can’t escape being the author. Yes I can. It might take a little bit more work, but I can do it. It might just take a little bit more focusing to think about what this poem makes me feel now instead of dwelling on my original intent, but I can do it. Okay, fine. But don’t say that I didn’t warn you. This was originally one of those semi-angsty love poems and was in reference to a very long and secret love poem that I had written, but had no intention of ever showing him. This is a sort of break-up poem. I rarely admit that aloud, but on page the admission seems somehow safer, more private. It’s almost like the secret of the poem – the page is a safer place to express the inner thoughts than if spoken aloud. When ideas are spoken, then the individual must claim them as his or her own. However, when ideas are printed on a page, the author can (forgive the pun) write them off as “artistic expression of an ‘idea’”. However, as a reader, I have been stripped of my original narrator’s voice. My target audience is taken out of the picture and I am left with an undefined audience. And yet, I can’t escape the nagging feeling that I’m being spoken to in this poem. The “you” is me. I am talking to myself. And honestly, when I read it that way, the poem becomes completely different than how I originally wrote it.

Are you kidding me? What now? I thought this was an academic research paper. It is. Right. Well, as far as I can tell, you’ve basically turned this into a creative writing exercise as part of a lame excuse to talk about analyzing your poem. It is a research paper. I’m not seeing much research so far. Well, that’s because you keep interrupting me. Sorry. I hate it when I interrupt myself. And this is a research paper. I have sources. Look, here are a few:

The purpose of criticism as “in all branches of knowledge, theology, philosophy, history, art, science, [is] to see the object as in itself it really is” (Arnold 809).

“Reader-response theory, by contrast, is properly an effort to provide a generalized account of what happens when human beings engage in a process they call ‘reading’” (Harkin 411).

Also, “different readers may read the same text quite differently. In fact, reader-response theorists believe that even the same reader reading the same text on two different occasions will probably produce different meanings because so many variables contribute to our experience of the text” (Tyson 154).

Okay, so what are these supposed to mean? Well, in his article, “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time,” Matthew Arnold explains that the purpose of reading is to find an understanding of reality, as we know it. However, our life experiences and knowledge influence our understanding of reality. To approach a text without the sum total of what we know is impossible for us as human beings. So, what does that have to do with the rest of your argument? I’m getting there. Patricia Harkin says in her article entitled “The Reception of Reader-Response Theory” that reader-response happens when a person reads. Thus, since I am literate, I am qualified to write about my reader-response to the poem that I wrote. Oh. And the third? I’m telling you: in Lois Tyson’s book Critical Theory Today, she explains that not only do reader-responses vary from individual to individual, but the reader-response of an individual can vary from reading to reading. Experiences or knowledge gained can change our understanding of a text. This explains why when I read my poem, I have two different responses running through my head. The first is, of course, remembering writing this poem to Eric – although he never knew that I wrote it for him. Of course, I don’t think that there’s much in the poem that gives way to the idea that the poem was born out of thwarted romantic inspirations. There are a few hints, I suppose. I wrote that the poem that “you will never see” is “buried in my heart.” I confessed that “you frighten me,” like having my soul exposed and recognized despite my best attempts at creating a clever fa├žade. You didn’t cite this. I don’t need to. I wrote the poem, so, as the author, I give myself permission to write a paper about it. Oh. The poem closes with a dedication:

And so,
This poem
That you will never see –
I dedicate it to you.

However, even the dedication is not overtly romantic. People dedicate books to their mothers, mentors, pets – the relationship does not have to be romantic. However, the irony of the poem is that I am trying so hard to mask the fact that its origins are romantic. I am mildly successful in the use of my “skewed codes of language” that still give way to the impression that the intended reader holds some special place in my heart. Despite my effort to hide what I am really saying in this poem, my words were proved “obvious in their meaning” when my roommate, after hearing it read aloud asked, “is it about a boy?” I still don’t see why you just listed off those sources – one right after the other. It doesn’t provide for a very smooth flow in your paper. It doesn’t look very professional. Well, I just wanted to show you that I’d done some research. You have this annoying habit of interrupting, after all.

Back to the question “you:” Wolfgang Iser, in his article entitled “Interaction between Text and Reader” explains, “a narrative text […] is comprised of a variety of perspectives, which outline the author’s view and also provide access to what the reader is meant to visualize. As a rule, there are four main perspectives in narration: those of the narrator, the characters, the plot, and the fictitious reader” (Iser 1677). However, since the narrator has a voice, this mysterious entity becomes a character in the text, as does the so-called “fictitious reader” when he or she interprets the text. The reader has the options of assuming the role of the narrator’s voice, the role of “you,” or the role of an uninvolved third-party who is observing a confession between the narrator and “you.” Since I directly address “you,” and since my poem elicits an emotional response from the reader, the option of assuming the role of the eavesdropping third party becomes weak, if not inaccurate. The reader is left with two roles to assume in the story of this poem, then: the narrator or “you.”

Laura Mulvey in her article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” discusses narrative and audience participation in the gaze. Oh boy! Psychological Theory! This is great! I had to study this a lot for a presentation, so I really know what I’m talking about here! Oh, no. What? I’m being interrupted again. Hey, I’ve been quiet. I let you write a whole paragraph without butting in. But I’m being supportive! I’m excited about this! This is ridiculous. How am I going ever going to write a paper analyzing my poem if I keep getting interrupted? Personally, I think it’s fitting that you’re having all these voices interrupt you now that you’re getting psychological with your reader-response criticism. I think we should analyze you. Now’s not a good time. It’s never a “good” time. I think it’s a great idea! Let’s do it now! No, but – it might be a better use of time than the paper you’ve been trying to write. Are we going to do it? No, I don’t think that it’s a good idea – yes, we’re going to do it. YAY! Ooh, ooh – are we going to use Freud? No, Freud is overrated. We’re going to apply Lacan’s theories because that’s more interesting to me. That’s pretty arbitrary, don’t you think? I don’t care. I’m the one doing the analyzing here, not you.

Let’s see…in looking through “The Mirror Stage as Formative,” by Jacques Lacan, I’m able to find a few things that I think you might be dealing with here. I’m of the opinion you suffer from “a certain dehiscence of the heart of the organism [you], a primordial Discord betrayed by the signs of uneasiness” (Lacan 1287). Clearly, you still struggle with feelings of chaos and fragmentation since you are fighting with the rest of us. You have a “fragmented body-image” so you have assumed “the armour of an alienating identity, which will mark with its rigid structure [your] entire mental development” (Lacan 1288). The libido of your “primary narcissism” for self-preservation makes itself apparent in your struggle to control this paper, and your sexual libido produces itself in your poem and in your attempted analysis of your poem (Lacan 1289). Your anxiety that you experience reflects the realization that you are isolated from your parents. You simultaneously fear your mother and envy her for the lack of connection that you have with her. You feel abandoned. I’m pretty sure that I just experienced a death impulse. Ha ha! That’s funny! Basically, you just might be crazy. No, that’s not the point. Your neurosis is actually normal. We “understand the inertial characteristic of the formations of the I [the id], and find there the most extensive definition of neurosis – just as the captation of the subject by the situation gives us the most general formula for madness, not only the madness that lies behind the walls of asylums, but also the madness that deafens the world with its sound and fury” (Lacan 1290). So, basically, I’m normal. Yes, you just suffer from anxiety brought on after the mirroring stage. Clearly, that anxiety is manifesting itself in your inability to get along with others. Are you a doctor? No. Have you studied this in depth? Well, I read this article. Alright then, I’m going to ask you to please be quiet from here on out. You are not qualified to analyze me and this conflict that you keep referencing is brought about by an irritation of being constantly interrupted. Oh, but I thought that – you too. It just seemed to me like you keep othering yourself throughout this whole process. I don’t even want to get into that. Sorry.

Going back to Mulvey, she explains that in a film, there are three gazes: the gaze of the main character(s) in the film, the gaze of the camera, and the gaze of the audience members. The gaze of the audience is subject to the gaze of the character, with the gaze of the camera serving as an intermediary to smoothly bring the viewpoint of the audience into alignment with the characters in the story. The audience has no choice but to become a character in the film. Similarly, the reader comes to identify with the characters of a text. Yet, because of my experiences (of writing this poem) I have the interesting position as a reader of identifying with both the narrative voice and “you.” This poem then becomes a question of identity.

As the reader, I can analyze myself as the narrative voice. In her brief analysis of my poem, guest editor of the literary journal Synecdoche and author, Rhoda Huffey, writes, “the poet uses negative constructions, what is not, to tell us who she is, to tell us of the fragile and passionate entity who almost cannot bear to be seen, but who must be seen. Don’t Look Up Here! it screams, like the sign on the Crab Cooker Restaurant in Newport Beach” (Huffey v-vi). To phrase her assessment differently, I might tell you that the message of this poem is, “I can’t not be loved, but I’m not going to ask you to love me.” With lines about the unseen poem that “I have buried in my heart so deeply” to the point where “I’m not sure that even I can find it,” and with comments like, “you frighten me” in regards to the idea of perceptively being known and understood, a fragile invitation presents itself to play seek-and-find with a person who, for so long, has kept their heart in hiding. Of course, this interpretation lends itself if I adopt the role of “you” only. When I accept the role of the narrative voice and the role of “you,” I am presented with a different interpretation.

In the first line, I inform myself, “This poem is not the poem that you will never see.” In response to the question of where that unseen poem is hidden lies the response, that I have buried it deeply within my heart. The poem is inside of me. In an attempt at reaching self-discovery I produce “the many poems that I have cranked out.” I will never be able to find the unseen poem because, as a human, I am so multi-faceted that one literary piece cannot capture all of who I am. I am constantly growing, learning, and changing. The thought of full self-discovery frightens me because a full recognition of my identity would reveal aspects about myself that I do not like. However, the search for identity continues because without an awareness of who I am, I am lost. Thus, as a closing line, I acknowledge my unending search for self-discovery with a dedication to myself. I offer “this poem that you will never see” like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I may never fully arrive at self-discovery, but the further I travel towards my destination, the more I grow. “I dedicate it to you.”

Wow, you actually did it. Yeah, I told you that I could. Is this a sort of “congratulations?” I guess it is. I’m impressed. I didn’t think you could do it. I did! I did! And I’m so proud of you! I especially liked how you brought in the psychological stuff about Mulvey – although I wish you’d talked more about othering. I’m particularly pleased that you finally came to a place where you were able to analyze yourself. You brought up questions of identity, that was good. Okay, well thanks. I worked pretty hard on this, and I’m glad to finally have a finished product in front of me. I just have one question. Yeah? What’s your point? My point? I’ve been trying to prove you wrong. I’ve been trying to prove that I can analyze my poem. I’ve been trying to combat your incessant interrupting and mutinying of my paper in order to show that I can analyze my poem according to reader-response theory. I’ve been trying to show how my voice as an author holds legitimacy as a reader of the same text. That’s what you’ve been trying to do? Yes, that’s it. Oh, well then…I guess you did it. Thank you. I’m glad it’s finally over.

Bibliography
Arnold, Matthew. “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2001. 806-825.

Harkin, Patricia. "The Reception of Reader-Response Theory." College Composition and Communication. Vol. 56. Feb. 2005: 410-25. JSTOR. 1 May 2009. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30037873.

Huffey, Rhoda. “Introduction: Voices.” Synecdoche. Vol. 4. Eds. Allison Blackwell and Kimberly Love. Costa Mesa: Synecdoche Literary Journal of Vanguard University, 2007. iii-vi.

Iser, Wolfgang. “”Interaction between Text and Reader.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2001. 1673-682.

Lacan, Jacques. “The Mirror Stage as Formative.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2001. 1285-1290.

Testrake, Rebecca. “This is not the poem that you will never see.” Synecdoche. Vol. 4. Eds. Allison Blackwell and Kimberly Love. Costa Mesa: Synecdoche Literary Journal of Vanguard University, 2007. 98-99.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. Garland, Inc.: New York, 1999.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fear blooms into Freedom when stared straight in the face

So, I just got in the mail notification that what I was worried about has already happened: I wasn't able to work enough hours and I lost my benefits. Well, there goes my health insurance...guess it's time to look into a private plan...again.

On the plus side, this opens up a lot of opportunities that have been offered to me but I've been hesitant to take lest I should risk "losing my benefits." Benefits = gone.
Opportunities: here I come.

It's kind of exciting, really.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

In which the writer writes...

So then I shot that sucker right out of the air. Bam. Right out of the sky.

My house is under attack by moths. Of course, we've responded to the challenge.
The problem with moths is that they leave grossness all over your hands when you smack 'em.
Somehow, I feel like there's metaphor in this.

I ran out of deodorant the other day...as in completely ran out...for a few days, actually. Oh, of course I was able to borrow some from the "emergency" ration at the end of the hall, but I hated it. I think it smelled weird. It was kind of a masculine smell, which I thought was interesting because it was labeled as "Jordache for Women." To make up for it I bought three different kinds from the store...and razors...and shaving cream. (So much for sticking to my shopping plan.) Ironically enough, one of them was a man's deoderant. (Why can't I properly spell that word on my own?) It's called "Wild Country" and I like it. Go figure.

So, things as of late:
~ I thought Grandpa Russ was going to die. But he didn't and he hasn't. It was the kind of thing where I had stopped praying for healing. And then God did it anyway. Oh me of little faith. And oh, what a great and loving God.

~ I wasn't sure how long my client has. I was told he's "living on borrowed time." But aren't we all? It turns out that he could go tomorrow...or he could go 30 years from now. That's the way it is with hearts. I've been praying this time. I have more peace about it. Funny though, how I can pray for him, but give up so easily on Grandpa Russ. I think God sees how bruised my heart is...
it's like He whispers, "Don't give up. Have faith in me."

~ Funny - how I'll give up on praying for the plausible, but hold on so fiercely to praying for the impossible.

~ I'm going to be in a film tomorrow for a grad student at Chapman. I'm just excited.

~ I finished my painting on Sunday.

~ After my success with TEN, I've been encouraged to submit my ten-minute plays to another, bigger festival in northern Arizona. There's a small entrance/submission fee, but I think I'm going to do it.

~ I found out on Monday that I'm going to be published at the undergrad level in the literary journal Synecdoche, again. I remembered yesterday that I submitted two pieces. I'm not sure which got chosen. (maybe one...or the other...or both!) However, the point is: I'm excited.

~ Today is April Fool's Day, which I hate.

~ Today is Maundy Thursday, which I don't know much about but feel irresistibly pulled to anyway. I can't help but feel drawn in by a sense of holy mystery. Even the term "holy week" has a gravitational feel to it for me.

~ I need to file my taxes.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Psalm 88"...not to be confused with 87

I finished this on Sunday. Unlike my last painting, "Sodom and Gomorrah," I've had the name for this one in mind all along...although I got the two of the Psalms mixed up and have been calling it by the wrong name for the past...oh, few months.

I'm not gonna deny it: this is has been the hardest painting for me to produce so far. I struggled with major blockage, fear over not wanting to screw it up, and also learning how to paint things like clouds and rain (of all things). However, although I don't think it's perfect, I'm still really satisfied with the outcome.



I've been asked what it means several times (well, basically every time a person sees it) and although there's very much a part of me that wants people to look at it and figure it out for themselves, I think it's also fair to offer my thoughts of intention. So, here we go:

Back in October, our pastor at The Paradigm Shift spoke on "The God who is Silent" (you guessed it) mostly based on Psalm 88.
When crisis or hard times hit our life, we often cry out to God...wondering where He is in the midst of our pain. When He remains silent, we often struggle with guilt and shame. We must have done something wrong. God, where are you? Why did you leave me? As Christians, we often try to just muscle through it and "be good enough" or "fix" ourselves. And yet, these efforts fail. In the psalm, there is no resolution. There is no happy ending. The psalmist remains in his uncertainty and his paint. The pain continues and we remain feeling isolated - abandoned - as though God has turned His back on us.

The psalmist in Psalm 88 calls God out - falsely accuses Him of basically screwing him over his entire life. God, You're the one who put me in this hellhole, and You've been doing this to me all my life. But we know from scripture that God is a good God, a God of love and justice and mercy...which might bring us to the point: "Psalm 88 is in the Bible?" Desperation leads to dangerously blasphemous tones. What we know about God objectively comes into conflict with what we feel about Him subjectively in times like these.

Saint John of the Cross said that silence purges (a violent expulsion) the heart. It shows how consumed we are with ourselves and how much we need pleasure to measure how we're doing with God. Darkness shows us how deep our vice is and how shallow our character is. It's also a great place to start having adult conversations with God. In actuality, when the psalmist writes that darkness brings more comfort than God, the statement actually points to God's understanding (along with others like it in the Bible). As explained by Bible commentator Derek Kidner, "The very presence of these prayers in scripture are a witness to God’s understanding. He knows how men speak when they are desperate.”

In Philipeans 3:8-11 Paul talks about sharing in Christ's sufferings on the cross (and the benefits/joy of that). To flesh that out a bit and tie it in, consider this: in Matthew 25:47 Jesus hangs on the cross and cries out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" before He dies. Although we may feel abandoned at times, Christ is truly the only One who has ever been so - when He took upon His innocent shoulders the guilt, sin, and shame of the world...and God, in His perfect holiness dealt righteous judgment upon that sin (He in our place), turning His back upon Christ in the process. If anybody ever truly was abandoned - it was Jesus. When we experience places of darkness, we experience what Christ went through on the Cross. Your pain points you to the Cross. And in that, you are pointed to how much God absolutely loves you.

Towards the end of the psalm (vs. 10-12) a question is posed which might look sarcastic:

Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah

Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?

Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

But to this, God responds with a resounding, loving answer of, "yes." The silence we experience is not intended to destroy us. It is intended to shape our souls.

None of these ideas are mine. I simply listened to them coming from Jon Nitta; eagerly wrote them down; and listened to the resonating in my heart to produce, through a painting, what I understood about my own journey and struggle with pain.

Taking that into consideration, the cross in this painting is intentionally tiny. It's the kind of thing where if you look at the painting from across the room, I don't think you can see it. You have to look for it. Sometimes, that's how it is in life with our pain. We are so distracted by the heaviness, destruction, the details, and darkness of the storm around us...and we are so busy trying (unsuccessfully) to deal with the shame and the guilt of that in our own strength that we don't notice (or at least not right away) how God is with us and loving us in the midst of all of it. That being said, I'll leave the rest of the imagery for you to interpret and figure out.


(The detail in this image is sharper, but I don't like how the color got warmed. I think that the mood is better conveyed in the first.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Here goes another one...

He's only 17. He's only 17 and we just found out his dad is "living on borrowed time." I don't know where his mom is, if he ever knew her. I don't know. I paint their walls. Their living room looks like a tropical dream home - bamboo paneling on all four walls with "carvings" painted over doorways and onto "beams" and "posts." Two "windows" overlook a beach scene as plumeria bloom outside and spread their leaves into the room - so close to being finished. It's art. It's beautiful. Cheerful. I'm a faux painter. It's what I do.

...But the father is dying, and the son will be left alone.
What am I supposed to do with that?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hey, Lady!

I wrote a poem called "Lady Godiva."
It seems like a lot of people don't really know all that much about her, so I did some quick internet researching on her. I like this link a lot. I think my favorite part is the images. They're beautiful.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Icing

So, looking back at the month of February, I think this has been one of the hardest months of my life. I mean, sure, I've had some hard times...but this one takes the cake for variety.


How fitting that I cried myself to sleep...what a perfect flourish to end it with.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Grief Weary

Oh, here comes another wave I didn’t expect.

Acute grief leaves the rest of me feeling numb,
Hazy as the initial racking stabs pass and the dull ache settles in

“I’m falling on my knees, offering all of me. Jesus, You’re all this heart is living for.”
(There are so many songs about kneeling or falling down before God.)

It’s funny…the result is only that we as the worshippers fall on our knees before our Sovereign Lord. The reason for the fall isn’t there. Sure, it could be voluntary – a natural response to seeing the glory and beauty of God…but I’m in a place where I identify with a heart that is broken and exhausted. Mayhap the singers have done his or her best to go it alone in their own strength, finding themselves only more and more empty, more and more lonely, more and more wounded. The race becomes a crawl.
Me? I just feel broken – as if I’ve had my legs taken out from underneath me and all I can do is fall on my knees, begging God to be all that I live for. The kind of pain that takes you to your knees. The, “Oh God it hurts!” kind of pain.

Heartache and hardship do wonderful things for revealing the stuff swirling around in your heart, and for helping you to realign your priorities. I need God so very badly right now. Only His peace will calm my heart.

“Lord you are good and your mercies endureth forever…rejoice in the Lord always! And again I say, and again I say rejoice!”

Worship songs serve as a form of thanks in the good time, and a reminder in the bad. His mercies endureth forever. He is good. Period. With no beginning or end, He simply is. And we are called to rejoice always – because no matter what our circumstances may be, no matter how dark our night may look, His mercies and love rain down on us.

Amen.

And now for bed.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Love, Pain; Mountains; Imitations, and Reader Response Theory.

"I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

Mother Teresa

...I find that so comforting and affirming.

Driving home on the 55 North today the clear, bright blue sky held tangible clouds. Cool air blew in through my slightly open window and the mountains loomed in the distance, snow capped - beckoning and warning in the same stance - purple in majesty and obscurity. The view on the 57 North afforded me lush, rolling green hills. They looked friendly.
I thought of Norse mythology (not that I've studied any, but JR Tolkien did...or maybe it was C.S. Lewis...or maybe it was both) and The Lord of the Rings.

I'm reading The Imitation of Christ. I haven't gotten past the intro yet, but already I'm delighted. The editor spoke of it as being a breath of fresh air...it's so true. Also, he talked about Reader Response theory and I geeked out a bit - with fond memories of Contemporary Literary Theory. It feels good to know that I retained (and actually use) information that I learned in school.

...I guess that's all for now.

Tender Heart

My mom said I'm a "tender heart"...

I thought to do an image search for a potential new profile pic.


This:



and this:




It's hard to decide which one fits better.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I Get it.

Death.

My dad said that sometimes grief leaves you sideways. I understand that in concept, but don't think I fully comprehended the fullness of the statement until tonight.

It's like one of those games where you place your forehead on the end of a baseball bat and then spin around in circles until you feel sick....with the idea that you are then supposed to run forward to the finish line.

In life, one will merrily be going along their way when grief sideswipes them, leaving them stumbling...doing their very best to move forward, but spending most of their energy just trying not to fall down.

The "stumbling" and "careening" takes several forms: anger, tears, exhaustion, the need to take care of everybody else, sarcasm, laughter, self-absorption...
I'm still trying to think of more - from my own experience and from others.

Peaks and valleys. I laugh in the peaks, I cry in the valleys. The tears flow easy. I'm waiting for stable to return...but I'm not giving myself a deadline for that one.
It's interesting - I was able to allow myself the freedom from guilt over not crying yesterday. The thing I keep getting caught up on (or feeling guilty over) is my laughter. My humor is dark - boarder line angry and sarcastic. See me stumble sideways.

I wish people just knew without me having to talk about it. I'm tired of talking. Once I start, it seems I can't stop. Or I get pity. I don't want pity. I want compassion. I want prayers for my family. But I am so ____ tired of trying to be strong - and knowing that while I'm doing it I'm trying to be strong...when I don't have to. It's okay for me to fluctuate - to feel "okay" at one moment, and then a few hours to not be okay. I'm just rolling in the waves of grief, not trying to fight or control them - as if I could. I want people to know or understand what I'm going through and then just be with me.

So, I'm here...just trying to figure this out. It's nice that my stress-level has lowered enough to the point where I can organize/express my thoughts (verbally or written) a little better. I just wish...I wish...

I wish I understood myself a little bit better. I wish I understood why I feel this way...
Yes, it's the loss of a relationship. It's the ultimate "goodbye" (or "see you later" in this case) for the girl whose always hated goodbyes. It's helping those I care about carry their grief - and I really wouldn't have it any other way. But, relationally speaking, Bill wasn't integrally involved in my life. I've lost a step-grandparent: a tiding of things to come for the rest of my family, my friends, my loved ones, and for myself (and my descendants). Death - it gets us all in the end. But still, I don't know why I feel it this sharply...as my friend put it, "torn up."

Numbness is death. In this life, you're either living or you're dying. There is no in-between. Things that live feel (the question of plants aside). If you're not feeling, you're not living.

I feel like I need to be writing. It helps me clear and keep track of my thoughts. And I've had so many of them lately, they almost seem to be jumbled. Almost. I'm actually amazed at my ability to keep track of it all, actually...

End.
(I know. It's abrupt. But so is...nevermind. I'm just sideways again.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday.

"Ashes to ash, dust to dust."

* * *

The cross and all other representations of Christ covered in purple cloth - the color of mourning, the color of royalty.

Incense - God's presence.

The sign of the cross on my forehead in ash.
"Remember you are but dust, and to dust you will return."

The communal confession of sins.
Prayer.

Incense again - God's blessing.

Bowing - a sign of respect and humility. The removing of hats every time Christ's name was mentioned, another sign of respect and a rich tie to the heritage of the Anglican church. And it wasn't just dead tradition - it was ritual alive in richness.

The sacrament of communion. The priest held up the bread and broke it. The cracking sound resounded - a reminder of what breaking the body meant. I told myself to remember what was said to me as I received the blessing, but it slipped a few minutes later. We drank wine. It had the strength and the bite that wine carries, but it was oh-so sweet. It was strong, it was bold, it was not "safe." A picture of the cross through taste.

I've forgotten what the hymns said already, but I know that the next-to-last one talked about how we are all in the process of death - that we are only here for such a short time. And then, in the last verse we sang about being newborn in Christ.

I've had such a mix of death and life today.

Saying goodbye to the body of Bill this morning, saying goodbye to the person of Bill two days ago. And at the hospital, they play a lullaby over the intercom every time a baby is born. Monday, Kathryn (now 3 years old) played hide-and-go-seek with me in the entrance while baby Claire (now 6 months) slept. Today, only Claire was there - a beacon of joy, peace, and life in a room of death and mourning. She was such a comfort.
But he is no longer in pain. He is truly free with God now.

At church tonight, all walks of life gathered, and families with infants received the sign of the ashen cross on their forehead reminding them of their own mortality and of the mortality of their children.

We are all in the process of dying, and in Christ we are given new life. Continually dying - physically, and to our sinful ways; and continually being renewed - in a way, continually being reborn into the life that God had originally intended for us - this restoration. And in the mix of death and life, all intertwined, I find such peace. It's the peace only Christ could bring.

I've been afflicted by a strange divide in my life for the past week or so. I've either felt numb - completely fine, or the pain has surprised me and taken over. There has been no in-between - no integration. No "dealing." Today, the dam broke and I now carry with me the weight of grief for those who just lost a father, a husband. I carry the grief of death in a natural manner - integrated. But I see the life in it too. Beauty and pain. Life is never simple.

Christ is found in the complexity. God's peace is there, waiting for me like a soothing balm to my wounded soul.

Thank you, God.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Today at work...

I accidentally dumped what was left of a green iced tea down my shirt. Let me clarify, not on my shirt, but down my shirt. Like...I somehow managed to miss splashing it all over myself and basically just sent it down my collar (although I got it on my clothes too). It didn't hurt (it was cold) but it was certainly surprising..and wet...oh so very wet. This was no ordinary iced green tea either... it was sweetened. So, as it dried, I remained lightly sticky. I spent the rest of my shift looking forward to taking a wonderful, cleansing shower once I got home.

Hours later...

just as I was about to get off of work, a woman came into the store. "Do any of the employees here drive a _____?" she asked. "I do," I answered her, thinking that although she didn't look like the type I'd figure would want to buy it, she might be in the market for a work vehicle. (It's not such a crazy thought - people have offered to buy it before.) "Oh," she responded, looking concerned, "I hit it."

The lady was actually really nice. And after talking to her for a little bit, I was able to piece together that she's going through a really tough time in her life right now. I felt/feel bad for her - here she is with her life basically in turmoil already, and she has the misfortune to hit my car. I say "misfortune" because it was an accident and I'm in the clear. I'm trying to figure out how to love on her. And yet, when I got home today...I had a very deep-seeded urge to just cry.

I got off of work at 4pm today.
I got home from work at 6pm after figuring out what to do when one's vehicle has been collided into (and all the learning processes associated with that), dealing with the exchange of information, and then (literally) sitting in 5 o'clock traffic.

I'm not going to say that today was the worst work day in the history of my life, but it certainly wasn't my favorite, either.





...however, I can't escape the notion that if this happened (green tea aside) for the purpose of being able to love on another person in a way that Christ would do, then maybe it's totally worth it. What an amazing opportunity...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

(I don't remember where this was going, but I found it in my "drafts" so I thought I'd publish it. Reason: What I have written has merit.)

I could probably sleep right now, but I just don't feel like it.

What's that about?

I feel like it's a sort of metaphor for my life. I have this amazing ability to push myself past my energy limit. I can (theoretically) be exhausted and ready for bed at 9pm, and yet stay up 'til 2am.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I adore this.

Click here:
This film is great.

Scroll down to the Screening Room Archives, and click on "Tanghi Argentini."
You won't be disappointed.

I want to learn to tango...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Vow.

This I have decided: Let heartache crash down over my head again and again, like the waves of the ocean – I will remain vulnerable.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Little Thought

So, I did some processing on my birthday, and I came to this conclusion:
On one's birthday, one just wants to know that they are loved - that on this day especially, those around you communicate to you how glad they are that you were born and that you are a part of their life.

That's what it comes down to - feeling special. The parties and the balloons and the bounce houses (or whatever) aren't REALLY the object of desire.

We all just want love.