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In which we leave a little room

It’s Holy Week in the Church calendar now.

The world isn’t longing for another easter egg hunt or free chocolate. The longing of our hearts isn’t for a bigger and better stage performance. We’re yearning for Jesus, still, all of us, always.

The Church is (hopefully…) our place and community for the detox from the here-we-are-now-entertain-us frenzies of our culture.

Strip the rhetoric when we strip our altars. Still the bells and our scrabbling hearts, lay down the palm branches next to the gold spray painted easter eggs and sky-writing Scripture verses and slick direct mail brochures. Fill a basin with water, instead of free cotton candy, and wash someone’s feet. Tear apart the simple bread, pour a glass of wine, and remember, I’m learning to resist the urge to pontificate. Set up an outpost for the Kingdom of God, right in the teeth of suffering and death and greed, and  practice it: We were loved right to the end. Even now, we are loved, right to the end.

oh, love each other!

Love as He has loved us. Love is our new identity, our calling card, and our name. It’s how humanity will recognise us, this new birth mark of Love.

Theology belongs to the artist, just as much as to the apologist or activist or entertainer.

And I think we need more theologians with a poet’s heart: a little imagination when we speak of God never hurts.  The best art leaves a bit of silence, room on the edges, for interpretation and response. It is often in the white space of art where I find the Holy Spirit, hovering, stirring, waiting.

It’s Holy Week in the Church calendar now. Leave a little room on the edges, don’t fill it all up, Church, with consumerism and light show performances or with hermeneutical gymnastics and atonement theories: leave a little room for the Love and the breathing, for the remembering and suffering, for the grieving and the longing, and the Holy stirring of an interruption. Joy comes in the morning.

 

 

(The quote I’ve written above is from the Holy Week Readings of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.)

Continue Reading · art, church, Easter, faith, lent · 33

In which art is like manna

I used to save my best work. I would hoard my stories and ideas, convinced it was a waste to blog them or share them with online magazines or my own journal because they needed to be saved for a worthy time and a worthy place. I wanted to be a writer, an artist, and so in my attempt to protect my “best” work, I simply didn’t write.

I thought about writing. I longed to write. I read voraciously. I claimed the title of writer. But I wasn’t writing.

It wasn’t until I laid all of my writerly-dreams on an altar and threw a match on them that I began to actually write. Once I was separated from outcome or expectations, I was free to finally, at last, write again. A relief! I wasn’t saving anything for anyone: there was no reason to hold back. I had nothing to prove or expect.

I used up all those carefully held-back stories in less than a year. (So much for those….)

And at the end of that year, I had more words, more ideas, more stories. The more I wrote, the more I had to write.

It took me three years of writing in obscurity, nearly every single day, all while steadily “using up” every half-decent turn of a phrase or idea, wasting my metaphors on imperfect mediums, to discover my voice. I have found God’s provision, his abundance, his promises for daily bread, to be true, even in art and creation.

Because not one of my terrible little stories or ideas were wasted, they nourished me, body, mind, and soul, and then, when they were gone, there was room for the new words to come. Pour out the old wine to make room for the new.

Yet when I was writing my book, I found myself there again, Oh, this is rather good, you should save this for another book! Don’t use up all of your stuff here, save some of it for later. You want to write more than just this book, remember. you want to write for the rest of your life, so perhaps you should save this story, or save this sentence, or this metaphor, this idea would do well in its’ own book perhaps. 

Annie Dillard says, “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.”

Inspiration comes for the day’s work, for the moment’s discipline, and you either use it or you don’t.

There is no hoarding, there is no saving the best for later. There is only right now, this moment of creation, and so I’ve learned to use it up.

Art doesn’t lend itself to perfectionists and misers. I’ve found that my creativity responds to generosity.

I believe the freedom to create – or to “spend it all” as Annie Dillard says – is in direct connection to our trust in God’s provision. Do we believe, even in our art, that he is the giver of all good gifts, the provider, the El Shaddai, my God of more-than-enough?  Or are we in charge of hoarding it for ourselves and our carefully crafted outcomes and desires?

It’s an ancient story, the one about the Israelites wandering in the desert, hungry and wasting away. Then every morning, God sent bread for the day.

Just enough for one day, never more and never less. If the people tried to gather it and save it, it spoiled and rotted to waste. They could only gather what they would eat, and then, in the sunrise, there was the promise of enough again, for another day.

 

Art is like that daily manna-bread to me. There is always enough for the day. Gather it, eat it while it’s there, turn around and release it by sharing it.

And tomorrow when we rise and work all over again, I usually find it – whatever you call it, the Holy Spirit, your muse, your words, your inspiration – rushes into the vacuum left by the sacred act of imperfect creation and again, there is enough for yet another day.

And you gather it, break the bread, bless it, eat it, and pass it around, all over again, washed down with new wine.

 

 

Continue Reading · art, Jesus Feminist, writing · 60

In which I can’t Create if I’m always busy Reacting

Yesterday, I quit the Internet. Today, I took the Internet to Starbucks and toasted it with a venti Americano: we made up.

Internet, I could never stay mad at you.

Sometimes, I’m just so tired of All the Reacting. Every one is always reacting to every one else’s work, and right now, in these weeks of writing, I want to create. I want to create my own work, not react to or critique someone else’s work. I’m rather over reacting or evangelistic commenting or convincing or weighing in or defending or add my two-cents-ing. Besides, haven’t we hit capacity on constantly being outraged and offended?

I would rather Create than React.

I need to tell a better story, a beautiful story, a truthful one.  I’m not a preacher or a teacher, and I’m realising that I am not a good “reactor” either – wait a tick, is that even a word? I don’t think it is, unless the word “nuclear” is in front of it, which may be apropos for the tone of some rhetoric these days. 

Instead of big arguments and point-by-point apologetics, instead of reacting to slights, imagined or legitimate, political or religious or relational, I long to get on with my Father’s business.

I’d rather be a Prophet than a Professor, a Lover than an Apologist.

I long to Love, I long to offer grace, particularly to those struggling under their own new Laws, I long to worship, I’d rather write a better story than a point-by-point defense, and I long to really see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks at it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them. ~ Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I can’t live a better story – let alone write one down (by January! *faint*) – if I’m being swept up in a million comments and expectations and frustrations and whirlwinds of offense.

I can’t Create, if I’m busy Reacting.  Some of my best work – on-screen and off – comes when I’m listening more than I’m talking, when I’m decreasing and God is increasing, when my heart is undivided and whole.

This idea is guiding a lot of my life right now (and, yes, of course, I’m talking about way more than just writing a book): 

Am I creating something beautiful and true? Or am I merely reacting?

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. – Theodore Roosevelt

And I can’t be Fearless, if I’m afraid of The Critic, now can I? For me, It’s better to forget about the Critics for just a little while, in this sweet stage of creating, and simply get on it. There will be plenty of time to have my work picked apart later. I don’t mean to excuse a lack of critical thinking, not at all, there’s a good place for it – in creativity, in writing, in social justice, in community, in marriages, in parenting, all of it – but in all of those arenas, I hope I’m marred by dust and sweat and blood, I hope I dare greatly.

Right now, I’ll try, in my own small way, to dare a little more greatly, and take a few risks, by remembering to create, instead of react.

Photo by Scott Wade

Continue Reading · art, blogging, faith, fearless, Jesus Feminist, journey, work, writing · 36

In which I think we should do it anyway

Why bother writing a book? Why does any one need another book? The world is full of books. There have been too many books, most of them never should have been published. Everything has been said already. And why does the world need another painting, another necklace, another song, another band, another blog or a poem or a cookbook, another work of art, a painting, a sculpture? There is enough of it all to satisfy anyone.

The world doesn’t need another artist or even another doctor or teacher, surely there are enough by now. Newspapers, pieces of furniture, it all ends up in the trash soon, the bargain bin, forgotten. Why does the world need another church service, another church plant, another prayer meeting, another intentional community of believers? Why bother praying? Why bother fasting? Why bother sitting in silence and waiting, why bother making meals or cleaning your house, why bother reading? Gracious, giving money away is useless, what difference does sending $35 a month in child sponsorship gigs really make for the big picture anyway, sure maybe one kid, but what’s one kid in a world?

Besides does anyone need another kid? the world is full, there are too many of us, and kids, man, they are expensive, they use up precious resources. We don’t exactly need more families, surely what we have is sufficient, why bother with communities and neighbourhoods? Why bother creating, why bother making, why bother working? Vanity, vanity, all is vanity, surely this is true.

Do it anyway.

Bother.

Bother them all by creating, by making, by building, by loving, by writing, by having babies, by doing the daily work of life with joy.

Baffle them with your ferocious gentleness, with your life-giving, with your prayer, and your wonder. The world does not have enough because your part isn’t here yet, and if anything matters, everything matters, you matter, your $35 a month to a kid in Sri Lanka matters, your book, your song, your art, your family, your faith, your hunger for justice, your hands, your feet, your mind, your life, matters.

Ireneus wrote that the glory of God is man fully alive, and we all need you to be fully alive for your life. It will matter in the world, more than you can imagine or dream perhaps, a ripple effect going on and on, touching the other shore, but it will also matter because you matter.

So stop asking whether or not anyone wants it or needs it, and simply do it because you were made to do it, because it makes you fully alive to do it, because you are working out what God has already worked in, because it matters.

Sometimes I write to my own self.

 

Continue Reading · art, faith, fearless · 62

In which I choose One Word for 2012 :: Fearless


This is my year to be fearless.

Strong, courageous, bold, intentional. Oh, you’re going to hear a roar from the north country and the song I’m singing is freedom.

I’ve worked and prayed and cried and scrabbled and confessed and repented my way out of being a people-pleasing approval addict, all glory to the Ancient of Days, these past three years. Every regret, almost every sin or wrong of my life has its roots in that stronghold. Now this year, that stronghold will be ground into a powder.  Now, my identity firmly fixed in God alone, secure, my voice is getting stronger, my heart is beating faster, my thumbs are pricking with Holy Spirit awareness that this is the time, the time to leap into the unknown, leaving all fear behind me.

God has not given me a spirit of fear. No, this spirit is of love, power and a strong mind.

So this is my year to be brave.

My year to say yes to all that He asks of me. To love fearlessly. To lavish grace without expectation. To speak the truth even if my voice shakes. To step out of the boat, in the middle of the storm, onto rough waters, and know that I will stand, eyes fixed on the author and perfect of my faith. To mother these beautiful tinies out of my best hopes instead of my worst fears. To confront evil, to speak out for my sisters that are silenced, to work and rabble-rouse, to piss a few people off and sing freedom to the rest, to give from everything that I have. This is my year for walls-crumbling-down, for wholehearted living, for art and yes and mess and doing it scared. If we’re all crowded on the wall, waiting for something to change, I’ll be the first one to jump, you can watch me go.

This is my year for guts.

Fearless.

I’m going to create redemptive art and send it out into the world. I won’t be constructing my life to live without risk, to mitigate any chance of failure.

No, I’m charging out even if the critics are waiting. Even if I’m wrong, darling, I’m going to try anyway.

Watch me fly.

Fearless.

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One Word 2011: Enough
One Word 2010: Abundant Life
One Word 2009: Moments

Continue Reading · art, faith, fearless, journey, One Word, writing · 44