Category Archives: Uncategorized

Time To Get On With It

I’ve read several times not to blog about your blogging.    Cardinal sin, that, mostly because people want to know how to do things: how to achieve bliss, how to find happiness, how to discover God or orgasms or the next big thing, each of them in five easy steps (or less).   And a blogger talking about his blogging is going to pretty much torpedo any of those enterprises.   Not helpful.   Not helpful.

So what might be the worth of me admitting that I’m a little bi-polar (this is a metaphor, just to be clear–irony intended) given that there are times when I literally sit in a stupor at my computer, staring (though thankfully there’s been no drool yet), and then next day, I rush at the work of the day with the energy of a terrier, pounding at my keyboard like a literary Rachmaninoff?   I surf, I troll, I read, I research.   I fall in love with Tweetdeck, then Flipboard, then Hootsuite, then some piece of theological or aesthetic writing that makes my head explode, and then I’m off to hang out with my latest writing project (eighth draft of a play entering its third year of work), my camera (I have pictures to post, but I don’t for some reason), some random piece of poetry or music I’m preparing for who knows what reason, and finally, I run to my wife, who thankfully, blessedly, interacts with me in ways these other things just don’t.

So no, this post is not about blogging; its about process.   I just need to start tossing out a thought or two without worrying too much about things.   I used to yearn to be insightful in some unique and brilliant way, or at least a bit linear so people can follow along, but these days, I can barely get from A to B, much less from A to wherever else A might want to go out past K or L.   Nope, the world is doing quite nicely, thank you very much, without any insight on my part, and that will continue to be the case.    The world in which we live is a spinning top whipping along in dizzying rounds, and I count myself fortunate to just catch mundane glimpses of beauty, sense, and rational thought as best I can, and chat about them over coffee.   The spinning is its own kind of post-modern lovely, though frankly, the sensation-slapping overview doesn’t tell me much about how to go about living a good life, a godly life, or for that matter, a life of love, which I think, in the end, is the point.

So throw hands up in the air, and get to it, I say.   A little subject here, a little commentary there, and the ongoing confession that I don’t know much and have a bad case of what Francis Spufford calls in his great book Unapologetic, the “Human Propensity to Fuck Things Up” or HPtFtU for short, (yes, a Rubicon has been crossed, I suppose—never liked the “f” word, and still don’t particularly, but there it is).  And–full disclosure– I continue to wish (I’m hanging my head, Mark Demel) I was a big deal of some kind.   Will God ever save me from that stupid, ongoing, moronic idea?   Well, maybe not, so I’d better just get rid of it myself.

Halting starts at sharing my process as I try to figure things out is all I’ve got.   You can join in as long as you don’t get nasty about it.   I need to talk about God and how not to talk about him (Peter Rollins), about the HPtFtU (see above), all manner of sexual things (breaking out in a sweat now), and theology and Jesus and art and church-going and non-church going and all the ways in which I’ve got to figure out how to move forward into the kind of life I think I was maybe born for.   It’s a life I can see from here…sort of…and yes, I know, I know, it’s all a story I tell myself anyway.   But all I know is…it’s time to go.   Time to get on with it. Join in the fun if you’d like.   Just don’t bother getting nasty about it.   I’m pretty sure all my readers (both of them) know more than me, so I’ll be looking forward to being instructed.    But know this–I’m all about civil conversation, and haven’t got a thick enough skin to really deal with people virtually shouting at me.  I have enough trouble when people do it in person.   So please, have mercy.   Oh, shoot…say what you want.   Maybe I’ll take a page from Richard Beck over at Experimental Theology (One of the great blogs on the planet, if you don’t know about it) and post the best of the worst, foul-mouthed comments, and we’ll all have a go at deconstructing them.   I’m not sure I’m that brave.   But we’ll see.

I’m sure curious about a lot of things.   Confused, perplexed, even tormented.   I’ll see if I can come up with a list of questions (I’ve done that before) that we can all salivate over.   Of course, huge swaths of the planet are quite sure about the answers to each and every one of them.   Which is a relief.   Sort of.   Well, not really.

Okay, that’s done.  Said and done.   A first step.   That’s enough.    Back to work.

Time to speak…

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Filed under Blogging, Uncategorized, Writing

Count the Beautiful Things, Part 1

It’s just a list, really, an off the cuff exercise from a few days ago.   Seemed like a good thing to share on a Thanksgiving Day.   May there be too many beautiful things (read “moments”) in your day to count…

And I should say…this girl is the first of my list, always… (I know the writing below doesn’t start with her, but still…)

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Count the beautiful things…

The wings of gulls in sea light on ferry mornings,
Your fresh eyes hovering there, seeing his horizons.
Your lover at lunch caught in an afternoon bounce of high key glare,
That teen smile still there, all for you, thirty years later.
The banter of friends over fraying theologies,
A old eye’s jumping stopped for a few minutes,
A letting go of old obsessions,
A day in the mountains, crisped aired climbing.
Candles lit in a theatre,
And a unexpected friend welcoming you,
The invitation to “sit with us,” and enjoy.
An actor with an audience, though no one applauds,
And the eyes of listeners softening, hearts open.
Old battles left off, and wide faces safe to speak.
Glass colored red and yellow, meant for flowers.
Silence at midnight, moon high.
Baptism, wet forgiveness, body slam embraces,
Droplets with worlds reflected there.
Blonde toddlers wrapping arms round legs,
Or scuffling toward us, cozy smiles effervescent.
The inside of a beat, to sit a groove,
To rest there, playing, the pulse a morning’s heartbeat.
Praising, wrapped in a thought of God, joyful.
Lenten bells at seven, and the swish of robes.
Sweet scents of bakeries, breads dawning from ovens.
Sins forgotten, nowhere in mind, laughter chasing them.
Count the beautiful things, holding close touches of divinity.
Glancing rainbows off beveled glass in windows,
Colors tracing arcs on red leather couches.
A black face, smile miles wide, through tears.
Comfort of strangers allowing you in.
Forbidden lace, guitar strings, the open mouth of ecstacy,
Single dark hairs on a woman’s forehead,
The first stirrings of arousal,
The wings of birds, the redness of Cardinals, The blues of Bluejays,
The hovering hummingbird, wings abuzz,
The loft of bees in nectared daffodils,
Fields of tulips, children playing there.
New voices discovered, singing powerhouse anthems,
Poets heard for perhaps the only time,
Justice done when false accusations shame,
Shame dropped like a rag from old shoulders.
Enemies turning into friends.
Anxieties set to rest, enough money for bills,
Quiet evenings with books and teas,
A near hand that grasps yours.
Conversations with soul shorthands,
Where each nuance is a easy pitch and catch,
And delight makes hours fly.
A son’s long bear hug after his marriage ceremony,
The one you got to preside over.
Playing guitar for the daughter’s third grade talent show,
Her small frame etched in spotlight as you pluck a song,
Holding back tears as you realize what you’re doing.
Decisions not to betray,
Decisions to walk away from the betrayals made.
Decisions to give lifetimes for lifetimes to come.
Old church chapels where faith lives,
Classes of aged believers crazy with beliefs.
Last breaths of saints, the ones who see the door,
And the saints on the other side.
Hands held on other continents,
And the dancing worship of children unfazed by death.
Pumpkins in fields, soccer in fields,
And small boys and girls running, kicking, searing joy.
Did I say guitar strings?
Christmas lights, hunting for trees, the old tradition,
The good dishes of great cooks,
Tuscan light on gray September hillsides,
Small stone chapels with dusky evening light,
And vespers sung by a dozen monks.
Poetry of women who don’t care how they look,
And cancer beaten, remission of years.
The sex of good marriage, no worries.
Lovers in slow motion, careful pleasure.
Crab and butter, live jazz with low dresses,
The good voice of Psalms on consecutive mornings,
Milosz’s poems, the spirit’s wooing of moments caught.
Hawaii’s winds, Idaho snows,
Footballs arcing through November nights,
Cashmere sweaters with holes, and comfy blankets.
The clear tones of ten-year-old voices
Singing songs you wrote of longing.
The conviction that what you’re doing matters,
And the good feel of doing it.
The turning of addiction, fierce grit streaming down faces,
And each beautiful step toward freedom.
Slavery killed is a beautiful execution,
A just ending of brutality.

And with that last thought, I came to a screeching halt.  Don’t know why, but the searing beauty of that crushing injustice ended…just a place to stop.   There are more beautiful things.   So many more.    This was just an opening rush…

Are you counting yet?  

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Filed under Beauty, Family, Poetry, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Writing

Acting 101: For All of Us

Here’s what actors do, in one way or another.  Imaginatively, they work to enter the experience of a person, a character, imagining circumstances, beliefs, thought-life, sensory preferences, histories of relationships, and perhaps most importantly, what their particular characters are hungry for, long for, and have been living without.   They then shift their physical and emotional lives to somehow begin to interact with other players to present a story of what it means to be human in a very particular place with very particular cultural, historical, and personal factors in play.  (Note: Imaginative, sensory detail is important.  Where does the character’s particular hunger land in their body?)

One of the cardinal rules of acting is that you cannot judge your character and hope to enter into their hearts and minds.   Be it a murderer, a savior, a lover, or a hated foe, to judge the other as an actor is to kill the process of entering in.    People judge from the outside.   When you’re inside the head of the character, none of that judgment can be going on, because it’s not going in their heads.   Get it?   Whenever you watch an actor that somehow isn’t quite succeeding in disappearing into the character, one of the culprits to watch for is a position of judgment in the approach.

This is a process of play and of work.  It is imaginative, muscular work that takes time, energy, thought, research, conversation, experimentation, and failure.  We watch, we offer the work to others, we try to learn what we can about what it means to be human through these interactions.   Our work is to humanize the 2-D characters that lie on the writer’s page, enflesh them, give them voice, and hopefully, serve that character without judgment.

Will I play characters that are not like me?   Characters who hold opinions in politics and religion and sexuality and economics that differ from mine?   I hope so, or there won’t be much to do.

All of this is simply to suggest an exercise for all of us.   Especially if you’re not an actor, give this a shot.   Pick a person, a real human being (call them a character if you’d like) that sits on the opposite side of the fence from you on some piece of human living that you think is really important.   Perhaps it’s a person (in actor terms, a character) that you don’t like very much, that you’d shout down if you could, or maybe it’s someone you fear.  Pretend you got cast as that person, and now it’s your job to get inside their head, without judgment, to grasp what their hearts are like.   Where they came from, what they’re up to, what they see as important and necessary.    Where do their disappointments lie?   What are their heartbreaks?   What is the shape of their human brokenness?  What makes them laugh?   And what do they long for?   What do they want?

If you’re really gutsy, you’ll realize the only way to actually find any of this out is to move beyond your imagination and actually go ask them.   Befriend them, get to know them, differences and all.   Of course, the actor’s work is not try to change their characters.  The characters are what they are.   We will only understand them or not, enter in fully or not, offer our bodies as places for their stories to live or not, and finally, love them or not.

That’s all.

Let’s say you get all this good information about the character.   What’s the next step?   What’s the next piece of the work?  (You’re going to like this.)   Now your job is to figure out where all the deep, soulful things you found out about the other lie in you.   Because the work of the actor is not to find how the character differs from them, but to find where the places of intersection are.  How are we alike?   The assumption is this; all the soulful things that make one person unique are somehow also located in me, and all possibilities lie within us all.

Maybe call this the deep drilling into the old phrase, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

We are all the other.

Humanizing, isn’t it?

To restate the exercise: Be an actor.  Lay down your opinions for a minute and try to imaginatively enter the experience of those you oppose.  Your convictions may not change (changing anyone’s convictions is not the point), but I’m guessing the tone of voice, rhetoric, and conversation might.

And then, who knows what the possibilities might be.

All the world’s a stage…

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Filed under Acting, art, Faith and Art, Ideas, Spirituality, Theatre, Uncategorized

Thriving and the Now Factor

I was thinking about “thriving” on my way home from the gym yesterday, wondering about how to even begin talking about it.  What in the world is thriving?   The dictionary says this: “to grow or develop well or vigorously.”   That resonates, mostly because of my recent adaptation of the word “grow”, exchanging it for the words “change” and “transformation.”  (But that’s another blog post.)  Okay, to grow, I thought, but the notion of life’s hardness kept raising its head, that war (of art, of life, of spirituality)  that St. Paul and Stephen Pressfield remind us of.

What is human thriving anyway?

On the Christian side of things, the two great commandments are the primary orientation:  Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Love you neighbor as yourself.   Christ said not to worry too much about the bottom layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs triangle, that God would come through with all that stuff if we just chased after his kingdom first.  And the study of what many Christians might call “Kingdom living” is a massive study in itself, and the faith is, that following along behind the Christ, acting as he did for his reasons, is the foundation of human thriving.

On the psychological and sociological side, lots of study continues about just what it is that makes human being and personhood, and what thriving means.  Back to Maslow’s hierarchy…looking at that triangle again, it looks pretty solid.   Survival is need, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and that famous “self-actualization.”   I also love the list of “capacities” of the human person found in Christian Smith’s What is a Person?  (Existence capacities, Primary and Secondary Experience capacities, Creating capacities, and what he calls Highest Order capacities.)   Thriving in that world would seem to be the growth and “vigorous development” of these various capacities according to our “core gifts”, which is another idea I encountered somewhere on the web yesterday.

Well, truth is, I don’t know that I know just what thriving is, but yesterday, on that drive home, somewhere on 5th Avenue between Northgate and NE 80th, the word “now” presented itself, and it occurred to me that the possibility of thriving inevitably presents itself not in the past or the future, but in the present.   In the now.  This very now.

This one.

Lots of spiritual writing these days focuses on the idea of “Mindfulness” and “Presence.”   (“Presence” is another big word for me, but more about that later, too.)   The past is gone.  Strange to say it, but the river from yesterday has moved on.  Memory and remembrance is so vital for living, but it’s easy to get lost in images of memory that may or may not be all that accurate anyway.  And who knows why our minds are so fond of the destroying memories, the ones where we failed, were humiliated, were lost, confused, abused, and made to feel so much less valuable than we are.   Our brains seem to be bent that way, and it takes grit and vigilance and a strong faith in God and grace (or something far bigger than that gnarly, negative brain) “to grow and vigorously develop” in the face of the onslaught of memory.

And the future…it’s coming, sure enough.  But very little of what I project into it has anything to do with reality.   My best shot and growing and developing vigorously is to take on what’s in front of me.   This moment, choose to act in faith.   This moment, choose to push back the dark.  This moment, choose to follow-through, keep the promise, make the best start I know how to, finish with the best “kick” I’ve got, and in this moment, do what I know to pour courage into those next to me in this now.   This moment, take the plank out, pray the secret prayer, seek the next step in kingdom life.   This moment, serve.  This moment, walk.  This moment, make some beauty.

Every now matters.  Every now is a chance.   Every now is dense with life waiting to be lived.

Now…

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Filed under Daily Life, Faith and Art, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Writing

World Building

By Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris is an artist I just came across last night, but already, there’s something about what he’s up to that appeals to me.   Go to his website to explore.   He begins with a clear statement of vision, and then you go to a page with descriptions of his work.   He is working in the space where humans touch technology, and his basic thought is that somehow, technology isn’t necessarily helping us become more human.  As a believer in technology, Harris is doing some pretty amazing things with the grammar and syntax of what technology can do in story-telling and expression.

The piece I came across last night is called World Building in a Crazy World.   The title appealed to me immediately, because when it comes down to it, that’s what I think we’re here for.   To create and make worlds in light of God’s ongoing making, in an amazing partnership between humanity and divinity.    The first piece of this work is called “Baz” in which Harris recounts two stories about his fourth grade teacher.   The gist of what emerges from these stories is to bring all of yourself to the work everyday, and to stop thinking you have the answers to the big questions, especially if that pride is bleeding into what you’re trying to do as a playwright.

As I read that story, I knew I needed to sit up and pay attention.   Baz had told Harris that he’d wept one day over his realization that his disappointment with the plays he was writing stemmed from his desire to impress his audiences with big answers to big questions.  He decided to own the fact that he didn’t know the big answers, and concentrated on asking the right questions, and inviting the audience into the answering.

I suppose it helped me because all around me I see big questions.  The Civil War (inspiration for current project) is a huge question, and there are times when I get glimpses of answers that I want to tell everyone.  Pride is insidious.

Go read World Building In A Crazy World.  It will take you about 15-20 minutes.   You’ll hear a call to humanize the digital world, a call to make those worlds beautiful, and a few pointers (one I found sort of life-saving) about how to find a place to put your feet down in a world of constant, overwhelming flux.

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Filed under art, Beauty, Great Stories, Ideas, Photography, Spirituality, Technology, Uncategorized

Catching a Glimpse of the World

Have you seen One Day On Earth?  On October 10, 2010, people from all over the world shot video and have been in the process of uploading those videos ever since.   Click on the archive, and see a map of the world with links to tons of snapshot videos of all kinds of things.  From the South Pole to Australia to Washington State, people are going about their lives, and with One Day on Earth, you can have a glimpse of all that’s going on on a typical day.   If you have video of your own life from that day, upload it and be a part of the project.  A feature film is due out that looks to be pretty amazing The next “one day on Earth” happens on 11.11.2011.

The video above is from Global Tribe, a missions organization.  I came across the video at Creative Visions Foundation, an organization supporting creative activisits who are using media to “inform, inspire, and empower.”   As I watched the piece, the sense of the growing connectivity around the planet became palpable.  The impression is that everywhere you turn these days, people are reaching out to people, all around the world.  And yes, there are wars and atrocities and Congresses who can’t get their act together, but still, you can’t help but be excited about the good things people are up to these days.

My primary reaction is one of awe and amazement.   “Vast” is a word that comes to mind constantly, as does “limitations” and “finite.”   The tension between vast and limitations is simple that of the frame.   The greatest works of art that carry us into universal meaning all travel through some framing device that both limits and frees, and it’s only through local culture and particular acts that the human connection is made.   As frustrating as some days can be, the experience of being human in this time has possibilities that we have only just begun to touch.

Worship is the first response…then, creation…

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Filed under Beauty, Great Stories, Ideas, Photography, Spirituality, Technology, Travel, Uncategorized

Wondering about the Promised Land: The Conversation on Racial Reconciliation

I’m white, middle-aged, male, Texan, and have lived in the Pacific Northwest for a combined total of 20 years.  I’m a follower of Christ.  I’m artistic, heterosexual, contemplative, English-speaking, have an IQ of whatever, and have decent emotional intelligence although my mind tends to go chaotic when I get in heated battles.   And in saying all that about me, what have I really said that strikes at the heart of what people who know me mean when they say, “I know Jeff?”

Each category in the list above (and I could easily stretch the list out another 100 words) has something deep to do with what I’ll simply call my Jeff-ness.   And whoever “the other” is, he or she too is made up of –nesses of all kinds: skin color, age, gender, culture, geography, beliefs, values, sexuality, spirituality, language, intelligence, emotional intelligence…make your own list.   But in using any one descriptor to describe “the other”, deep though they may be, what have you really said that is of much use in the colossal struggle to right what’s wrong about human interaction?

I read in a book about Jungian archetypes that while categorical thinking about personality has truth in it (there are common things to know about us old white guys), nobody really fits any of the categories.   Nor does anybody want to.  Why? Because we deny we have these truths about us?  No, because we don’t want to be reduced to a stereotype.

We are our selves.   We are different.  And we are human, which, ironically, is a like-ness that makes talking about difference both possible and meaningful.

We human beings have trouble with each other.  And the trouble we have with each other is in no way pretend; it is real, functional, practical, and costly.   It is historical, and it is now.   New scars are created every hour, via glances, words, injustices, slights, and ignorant we-didn’t-know-any-betters.   Fights break out, people go to jail, lose homes, destroy businesses and marriages, and yes, folks get killed, even to the tune of genocide.  The culprits are fear, greed (monstrous greed), selfishness, and (here’s the hard one) competing ideas of what words actually mean, and what actions represent those words.

At a Taproot Theatre community event last night, the conversation on race in Seattle (“Do we have a race problem here?”) was enlightening, awkward, and inspiring.   It was made of both stories and ideas, which are not always the same thing.  One assumption (and it’s a good one, I think) driving the conversation is that “your personal story” is the only real access a person has to the conversation.   Speak from your experience (as if you had anything else to speak from) is the mantra, and listen to the story of “the other.”  “Respect” and “love” are the goals, story-telling the means to get there, and listening seems to be the skill we could all use some instruction in.

I had some overt racism in my extended family growing up; it was overt enough that I instinctively knew something was wrong with it.  I’ve been accused of being clueless about the larger world, but in my Texas elementary school, junior high, and high school, I had friends of all stripes, and just didn’t think about it.   But looking back, I can see clearly the advantage of institutional white privilege at work, and to not acknowledge that strikes me as little more than burying my head in the sand.   We are always in a historical moment, and it is into this moment, by God’s grace or by his humor, with all its racial craziness, sin, and need, that we have been thrust.

Here’s the first question I’d like to put out there.   And I ask it because it’s so much easier to point out how we’re blowing it than it is to articulate what it would look like if we were getting it right.   (This is one of the reasons Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is so powerful and iconic.)  How do we articulate and describe our Promised Land?  Anybody ever seen such a place?  A place where justice, love, and respect were the rule and not the exception?

Here’s a little exercise: let’s say our culture is something like the situation God faced in Genesis 1.   Even if Genesis 1 is not your story, it’s still a good story by which to think about this.   “The earth was null and void” the old text says, and artists like to speak of this state of being as “chaos.”  And I like the phrase “…and darkness was on the face of the deep.” (Though in the racial conversation the classic metaphors of light and dark just sort of suck, you know?  But I haven’t really figured out how to escape them, because they actually refer to night and day, and to be without light is really not good.)  “…and darkness was on the face of the deep.”  A state of un-enlightenment, if you will.

With God’s Spirit hovering over the face of this “deep,” God said, “Let there be light.   And there was light.”

So we face a racial situation that’s got some null in it, some void in it, and some lack of light.  If it were up to you, and you knew that you could say, “Let there be _______ , and there would be _________ ” what would you speak into being in order to change our race-conflicted world?

And as your spirit hovered over the “deep”, your –ness said, “Let there be …

What?

One last thing: if we’re standing in a dark room, does anybody not know light when they see it?  

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Filed under Civil Rights, Politics, Spirituality, Uncategorized