Saturday, December 8, 2012

Making Memories

 Even a silly Protestant girl like me knows enough about Hanukkah to know that the above picture is incorrect for this early on in the holiday.  Notice how far down all the candles are; this is more appropriate for the final night of celebration.  I chose this menorah, though, because of its vintage, old-time look, not for its accuracy.  If you examine the picture closely, you'll see the old rabbit-eared TV in the background, too.  It's a good illustration for a reading that makes me think about how we mark our important memories.

Hanukkah marks an important memory for Jewish believers, that of the Maccabees taking back the temple in Jerusalem.  They found the holy accoutrements of worship vandalized or stolen, but they did receive the miracle of light:  one night's supply of oil lit the lamps for eight nights. The reason why this is important to all 
people whether Jewish or not is a matter of communal hope in our future as well as our common need for enlightenment.  

Equally important is an acknowledgement that all people have the need to mark significant memories as a part of passing their stories along.  But we might underestimate the importance of reminding ourselves of our stories periodically.  How many times, as you were pulling out the old wreath or box of garland, did you wonder how old something is?  My husband has told me each year that a bundle of garland is "a decade" old.  By now the decade is fifteen years long.  But since he marks it from the time his daughter was in the fifth grade, it means time is frozen for her and him.

Family photograph albums and scrapbooks have the same effect.  We laugh at an old picture and say, "that was the summer Jerry and Judy's boat sank" or "that was the Christmas before Uncle Jack passed."  We find touchpoints in these things.  I think of the year I had pneumonia and my long recovery every time I unpack my Advent candle holder.  I still think of the Christmas dinner of scrambled eggs and my 18-year-old son taking me to the doctor.

This reading is one that helps us think about how we place Jesus in history.  The writer gives us a context, which gives us something for our imaginations to hang our story on.  Who was the emperor?  What does it tell us about the world and its conditions at the time? 

For people who had every reason to pay attention to words of prophecy, this writing was like Luke saying, "Remember when Isaiah told us that this, this, and this was going to happen?  Well, this John fellow was the guy in the wilderness.  He came during Herod's administration."  Both Gentiles and Jews were given touchpoints they could relate to in the story.  

So imagine you're sitting around after dinner with some friends, swapping memories.  Picture one of you relating this as if it were a well-loved anecdote of some bit of history that you all share from your formative years, or maybe from your parents' generation.  Read it through and imagine how it would've sounded to hearers of its own era...

Gospel Luke 3:1-6
1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'" 

Now answer this question:  If this were now, today-who would you pass this along to?  Would you telephone, put it on Facebook, or maybe Tweet it?  Would you have anyone younger that should hear this important story and keep it alive?

I invite you to find a way to share this memory with someone.  And Happy Hanukkah!

Apocalypse Now, Apocalypse Then

 Today we'll try doing the reading in the form of lectio divina, an ancient Ignatian spiritual practice which concentrates our attention on the passage of scripture.  Latin for "holy reading", lectio has been a part of monastic practice for centuries and is done alone or in groups.

It is very simple.  Sit in a quiet spot where you're unlikely to be disturbed.  Breathe comfortably, slowly and deeply.  When you are ready, read through the scriptural passage aloud at a normal, unhurried rate.  Be intentional about noticing any phrase or word that stands out for you.  Pause and rest.  Read through a second time.  If you are doing these devotions with a friend, you may want to take turns reading, noticing what may sound different to you when the words are read in another person's voice.  Rest and notice whether anything is arising to your notice out out the passage, maybe the same or maybe different from the first time.  

Finally, read the passage a third time.  By now you probably have a good sense of a word or phrase which almost shimmers up from the rest for your notice.  Acknowledge to yourself what it is that you're hearing.

Gospel Luke 21:5-19
5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6"As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
7They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" 8And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them.
9"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." 10Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls. 

This is a hard passage to hear, just as it would have been hard to hear in Jesus' day.  When you read it, what came up for you?  Is it hard to hear apocalyptic* messages at this time of year?  Why or why not?

Many times it helps to respond to the passage in some tangible way.  If you have time, jot a few thoughts or even a brief poem about your reaction.  Write a prayer or say one silently to end your time here today.

Remember that just as new beginnings come on the heels of endings, endings are not all sorrowful.


*It may be helpful to note that apocalypse in one of the more biblical senses means "to reveal".  Unfortunately we've given it a more destructive connotation in our culture.  It does not literally mean the end of the world, but a time when all would be set to rights and the true realm of the Creator would be made whole.  If anybody is waiting for all this to happen in accordance with the Mayan calendar, I hope you don't give away all your belongings or anything.  Best bets are that nothing's going to happen.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Fallen

 Be ready, be ready as the trees
New is now promised
Be ready, be ready as the trees
Abandoned they are.

Deserted by their leaves
Daughters of Jerusalem's old ways
Did they not hear the prophecy
Or did they flee.

 Bracelets cast upon the ground
Gold earrings and gewgaws
Gimcrackedly useless
Race to be dust.

City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana

In various parts of the country we are feeling the warming effects of climate change.  A niece in Chicago the other day was sitting in her living room with her balcony window open to an unseasonable afternoon in the high 60's-low 70's.   A stepsister downstate prays for snow.  My friend, Jenny, the ballerina-cocktail server-writer who lives in NOLA shared the above picture from City Park saying, "It doesn't feel like fall, but it's finally looking like it."

Here in Davis, California, we have been living with the incommodious storms triggered by the Pineapple Express last week and which have lasted pestiferously throughout the present week as well.  They have driven the leaves to abandon their branches and clog gutters and storm drains.  They blanket gardens, smothering winter greens into the mud.  Sidewalks shimmer with slick, slimy, slip-and-slide sheets of them. 

Yet behind each storm we catch a glimpse of sky.  Enough, perhaps, to run out and push the detritus into piles, to get it out of the streets so drains can run, or mound it up off the garden so the plants don't smother.  And in the sky beyond the fog sometimes the clouds tease with glorious bursts of sunshine. 

"Be ready for the next one," the clouds taunt. "It will be glorious."

Morning Psalm 102
1   Hear my prayer, O LORD;
          let my cry come to you.
2   Do not hide your face from me
          in the day of my distress.
     Incline your ear to me;
          answer me speedily in the day when I call.

3   For my days pass away like smoke,
          and my bones burn like a furnace.
4   My heart is stricken and withered like grass;
          I am too wasted to eat my bread.
5   Because of my loud groaning
          my bones cling to my skin.
6   I am like an owl of the wilderness,
          like a little owl of the waste places.
7   I lie awake;
          I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.
8   All day long my enemies taunt me;
          those who deride me use my name for a curse.
9   For I eat ashes like bread,
          and mingle tears with my drink,
10  because of your indignation and anger;
          for you have lifted me up and thrown me aside.
11  My days are like an evening shadow;
          I wither away like grass.

Reflection:  There's an old joke that goes, "Well, things could be worse.  It could be raining!"  And then, if it's in a funny movie, you usually see a flash of lightning followed by a clap of thunder and, of course, the rain comes pouring down.  This time of year can seem a lot like that, and we wonder vaguely when all will be right again.  Plastic decorations and Christmas carols playing over the loudspeaker in the supermarket or the drug store aren't enough to reassure us. 

The Psalmist who wrote these words knew seemingly endless dark days, days that seemed like night.  Relief seemed so far away, yet the other side of that shadow held hope and comfort, as the writer was to recall:

12  But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever;
          your name endures to all generations.
13  You will rise up and have compassion on Zion,
          for it is time to favor it;
          the appointed time has come.
14  For your servants hold its stones dear,
          and have pity on its dust.
15  The nations will fear the name of the LORD,
          and all the kings of the earth your glory.
16  For the LORD will build up Zion;
          he will appear in his glory.
17  He will regard the prayer of the destitute,
          and will not despise their prayer.
18  Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
          so that a people yet unborn may praise the LORD:
19  that he looked down from his holy height,
          from heaven the LORD looked at the earth,
20  to hear the groans of the prisoners,
          to set free those who were doomed to die;
21  so that the name of the LORD may be declared in Zion,
          and his praise in Jerusalem,
22  when peoples gather together,
          and kingdoms, to worship the LORD.

23  He has broken my strength in midcourse;
          he has shortened my days.
24  “O my God,” I say, “do not take me away
          at the mid-point of my life,
     you whose years endure
          throughout all generations.”

25  Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
          and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26  They will perish, but you endure;
          they will all wear out like a garment.
     You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
27       but you are the same, and your years have no end.
28  The children of your servants shall live secure;
          their offspring shall be established in your presence.

Words of reassurance, even during the uncertain days when the leaves flee from the trees, dive-bombing the ground, to abandon their very source of life.  The new thing is a-making, and we don't yet know how to name it, for we don't yet know what it will be, nor how we will be in it.  Maybe our fear is that we will be the leaf, having been so intent on making our kamikaze plunge to the wet earth that it is impossible to find our bearings.  My belief is that we are the tree, meant to stand waiting, and watchful, while the new thing comes.

Then we shall see how we endure.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Down for the Count and Up Again

This hibernal time finds many of us in conflict between our natural inclination in winter to slow down as all creatures do and the external expectations of accelerating  to holiday speed.  This conflict crosses lines of faith as the stresses don't come merely from Christmas, although as a civil holiday folks of all faiths or no faith are affected just the same.

The stresses created by these social factors should not be overlooked.  Christmas coincides with the end of school terms.  Workplaces close for days, a week, or more.  Family visits are paid and returned.  Childrens programs, whether they be in the performing arts or sports or charity-driven, abound.  Performances must be rehearsed and costumes sewn, parts practiced and lines memorized.  Remember how jarring the piano practice in "It's a Wonderful Life" was to George Bailey while he was trying to talk to his wife, Mary?

One of the best mothers in the business, a woman I know who probably secretly has an invisible plane and a golden lasso, reported recently that in taking her four boys to school on a Monday morning, they had forgotten a total of one lunch, one teachers gift, and two backpacks.  Sounds like some Mondays I can remember from when my kids were growing up, and I only had two.

It's no wonder this is the ideal time for colds and flu; we're smack up against each other and smack up against all that stress, too.

So that's kind of a long way round to say thank you for bearing with me while I was taking my turn in forced hibernation.  The stomach flu is a high price to pay to grab some extra rest, but I'm a lot luckier than many and way better off than Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.  I can't feature spending nine months going through what she's going through.

Tune in tomorrow for scripture and reflections.  Peace.  And remember your flu shot.

Photo Credit: Roger Scaglia

Saturday, December 1, 2012


  The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Jeremiah 33:14-16
14The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness." 
Annunciation by Raphael Soyer, 1980
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Psalm 25:1-10
1To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
2O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
5Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
6Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness' sake, O LORD!
8Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. 

The illustrations today are from two very different painters who had very different life experiences.  Both deal with the news from Gabriel to Mary in very different ways, and in extremely nontraditional ways.  Read both the Hebrew passage from Jeremiah, and the Psalm.  Take a few minutes to look into the two pictures.  

What character appeals the most to you?  Why?

When you concentrate on the top one, what feeling do you identify with in the painting?

How is it different from the feeling you get in the bottom one?

What if anything, surprises you in either picture?

The pools lie on the slopes and valleys
Cool promise
Earth is sleeping
What does until look like?

Stay with the images, the readings, and the poem as long as you like and as long as it's helpful.  Breathe and relax, and thanks for being here today. 

Advent Devotions

The Advent devotion I am beginning tomorrow seeks to help us journey from darkness into light.

There is so much sadness in the world right now.  Just when we hope it is safe to plan for the holidays:  Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years, well any holiday (HOLY DAY) really, sadness comes upon us in so many different forms.  A beloved family member is diagnosed with cancer.  An old school friend's child dies unexpectedly.  A contemporary is in a terrible accident and leaves your friend a widow.  A grown child without health insurance becomes ill or needs surgery.  A grandchild is in crisis.

Sadness doesn't stop at holidays because it never stops at anything or for any time. Sad events come when they come and evoke the response they evoke.  Cancer makes people we love sick and sometimes kills them.  People drive well but make a single mistake and have an accident.  People struggle.  We are sad.

I am writing throughout this Advent for any number of reasons.  One is that I am sad, too, but sadness isn't the whole story and it doesn't win.  If you have ever read a very sad story and irrationally hoped for a happy ending, then you know this sadness.  I want it not to win in your life, either.

Another reason I write is to rest during the busy-ness of planning for Christmas, which is a holiday, a HOLY DAY, for me as a Christian.  When I say "rest", what I mean is the deep soul-rest that people of faith (any faith-pick your favorite flavor) need in order to connect with the source of divine love they believe in.  It is that divinity, that wellspring that allows us victory when the world tries to convince us that it has no meaning.

It is when our soul taps into divine love that refreshment and joy replace the sadness of the world, but let no one tell you it's easy.  It isn't.  It's a journey.  Journeys are sometimes hard.

I am approaching these writings from the standpoint of Reformed Christianity seasoned with a little ancient spiritual practice, some monasticism, and a little bit of Eastern religion as well.  I am culturally a Southern Californian living in Northern California by way of Salt Lake City.  I am not a Biblical literalist although I do take the Bible seriously and I will be using daily Bible readings in these writings. 

I hope that even if you are not a practicing Christian, you will consider sharing these writings with me when you can.  There is wisdom in all scripture, and something to be gained by doing the daily practices I'll suggest.  I will also share visual art as we go, which I hope you will enjoy.

Just Don't Slug Me

Christ is come!  Christ is Risen!  Christ will come again!  If you're not immediately turned off, I hope you read on.

The above statements, in a time long gone by, were commonly used as salutations among early Christians.  In fact, it's easy to imagine the very earliest of early Christians offering them to one another in hushed, nearly whispered tones, after sidelong looks over their shoulders to ascertain that no Roman authority overheard them.

Once the Roman Empire was under the rule of Constantine the Great, Christianity became the official religion of state.  Not only did this have the effect of eliminating the hole-and-corner nature of Christian recognition, it had the effect of wholesale conversion to Christianity among those previous pagan citizens and leaders who found it a)expedient, b)desirable, or c)politic to share the same beliefs as the fellow in charge. After all, it was a place and time when pleasing the fellow in charge meant survival.

Now, despite the fact that we live in a place and time of religious plurality here in the United States, and by constitution have no state religion and no constraints on the freedom to practice or not practice as we see fit, in some ways we operate as if there were almost a social religion, a quasi-Christianity that we must embrace in order to be "good" Americans.  Let's sort this idea out a bit.

To help us, let's go back to the language of greetings. Let's pretend.

If, during the pre-Constantinian times of the Empire, I had met you in the street I might very well offer you a surreptitious "Christ is come!" and you might have reasonably been expected to respond "Christ is Risen!" and we may have reassured each other "Christ will come again!". 

Assuming we escaped being fed to lions and survived the intervening centuries to find ourselves in the New World, we might have wished each other a "Merry Christmas!" or "Happy Christmas!" instead.

In a very divided red and blue, post-presidential election environment, many Christians have noticed, some with a sense of loss, and some with outrage, the use of greetings like "Happy Holidays!" or "Season's Greetings!" has all but replaced "Merry Christmas" in recent years as the United States' commonly used salutation.  Some have grumbled that we've taken the concept of politically correct language too far.  Others mount strident social media campaigns to "Keep the Christ in Christmas", taking umbrage at the most innocently wished "Season's Greetings." On the other hand atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and all the rest are subjected to acknowledgement rooted only in the social religion of the land. 

Perhaps some folks haven't noticed, but Christmas was conscripted by culture a long, long time ago and has been as it is now a whole red and green season much larger, grander, and more filled with marshmallow and electronic toys than ever before.  Consider this example of how it's manifest in the world:  a couple of years ago a graduate student from Japan stayed with Sean and me while doing research at UCD.  His wife and two children came to visit during the Christmas holiday, and the children were worried that Santa Claus wouldn't find them in America on Christmas Eve.  He had me write them a letter (unknown handwriting, USA postmark) to reassure the kids that their Christmas would happen wherever their family was together.

Neither the man nor his wife are Christian.

People all over the world also put up trees, hang lights, visit family and friends, and do charitable works at this time of year in the name of Christmas even though they are not practicing Christians. I concede the argument could be made that if they're not into the whole "religion" thing, then why should they be celebrating the at all?  Why should they share in the warm sentiment, the feasting, the bonhomie?

The same might be asked of those who want to keep Christ in Christmas but never darken the door of a church on any other day of the year. But that's another day's blog.

So if your hair isn't on fire by now, here's one more question:  why should anyone want to miss an opportunity to convey goodwill and sincere well-wishes no matter what that other person practices or believes?  As I hope we learned from this election, there is an amazing, beautiful diversity of people in the United States.

Can we not use this season, by whatever name it has become known, to share with our fellow humans the joy, peace, and overwhelming love that our Creator has for us all?  It seems evident that in a world that suffers as much as ours does, where folks all across religious lines suffer the same deaths, the same wars, the same disease, the same defeats, the same alienation, we don't have the luxury to parse words.  The gift of Christmas is far bigger than that.

So if someone meets you in the street and says "Happy Holidays", take it with a measure of grace.  Know that the eternal divine is in both of you, and say whatever is real.  Convey goodwill and sincere well-wishes if you mean them; you'll find the words.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

 This day is auspicious because of the coincidence of two major cosmic events involving people who now, God rest their souls, have moved into a plane in which their artistic and spiritual influence are felt by us as a thing of legend.  In fact, both of these men had a profound influence during their lifetimes as pioneers who the youngest among us know only by their work.

Today is the 114th anniversary of Clive S. Lewis, known to friends as Jack and to many of us as one of the first theologians
whose work we read as children.  Of course we didn't know we were reading theology when we immersed ourselves in the world of Narnia, but many of us recognized immediately the hope and longing, the seeking and fulfillment, which C.S. Lewis communicated in his fantastic other world beyond the wardrobe.

 The other gentleman pictured here of course is George Harrison, also a son of the British Isles and rather well-known for a little band that he and some friends started in Liverpool.  It was on this
day in 2001 that cancer claimed the life of this deeply spiritual and introspective artist.
During a time of civil, social, and certainly spiritual upheaval, his music of hope and longing, the seeking quest and the hope of fulfillment, touched the world. 

I wonder if, on the day George passed from us, he might have encountered Jack.  I wonder if Jack would have invited him to his birthday party for tea.  I trust that they both found Christmas, in whatever form it exists now for them.

As George once said, "All religions are branches of one big tree. It doesn't matter what you call Him just as long as you call. Just as cinematic images appear to be real but are only combinations of light and shade, so is the universal variety a delusion. The planetary spheres, with their countless forms of life, are naught but figures in a cosmic motion picture. One's values are profoundly changed when he is finally convinced that creation is only a vast motion picture and that not in, but beyond, lies his own ultimate reality."

The day I pass (as all things must) through the back wall of the wardrobe, I'd like to have tea with them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Chicken in Every Pot

About a hundred years ago, I was a personal banking officer for Wells Fargo Bank's Newport Financial Center Office located just up the hill overlooking the Newport Center and, a little way beyond, the Pacific Ocean.  As one of the first twelve P.B.O.'s in Southern California, I shared the rarefied air of coastal Orange County long before it became known as the "O.C.".

P.B.O.'s at that time served the top 20% of the office's retail banking portfolio, so in Newport Beach, my clients were the same folks who were responsible for much of the development which led to the "O.C." moniker in later years. I processed investment transactions, helped their wives open their safe deposit boxes, and get emergency replacements for their college kids' lost credit cards during Spring breaks.

One thing I never did do, however, was to be paid any more than a P.B.O. in any other part of the South- land.  So along with the tellers and operations officers I usually brown-bagged my lunch and ate in the staff room unless I had a lunch with clients or had the odd extra $10 for a cafe meal down the hill at the shopping center.

On those rare occasions, I would walk down Newport Center Drive across our parking lot and over a weed-grown dune into the back side of the shopping center, where continuing on a direct line brought me to the back door of the luxurious Nieman Marcus department store. 

What a treat it was to short-cut through that palace of ostentation!  Christmas was my favorite time of year, as they always had something ridiculous on the sales floor-one year, as I recall, they had a Rolls Royce smack in the middle of the joint where you had to physically negotiate around it to get through to the other side.  If I needed to fill up my eyes with sparkly and shiny, all I had to do was go out to lunch.

No surprise, then, that this year's Nieman Marcus catalog ad in the L.A. Times caught my eye.  Now that I am a simple-living, local-foods-eating, progressive Davisite who is contemplating raising my own backyard hens for fun and fresh eggs, LOOK what Nieman has in store for ME. The above French villa-inspired hen house (complete with library) can be mine for $100,000-delivery not included!

Can you imagine how all the chicken coop bikers on the Tour de Cluck would envy me? My henhouse would be, if not the envy of all the other backyard chicken-keepers, at least be the most expensive. Yes, and isn't the timing fortuitous.  Why, just last night my loving spouse reminded me I haven't yet made up my Santa wish list.

So I'm really glad I didn't spend all my allowance yesterday on a bunch of cyber stuff I don't need....I can put it towards a $100K chicken coop that NOBODY needs.

If there is any doubt left in anyone's mind that the 1% can cough up a bit more in taxes, look no further than Nieman Marcus' catalog.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Out of Hangers

Today is the first weekday following Christ the King Sunday.  Although not mentioned on the Christian calendar, it is widely celebrated as Cyber Monday.  Its unofficial saint is St. Steve, the saint of software and protector of apples.

Whether you bought out the place on Black Friday, shopped til you dropped in your hometown on Small Business Saturday, or are burning up the keyboard on Cyber Monday, it's very easy to succumb to the lure of holiday advertising.  With an eye to keeping a sense of perspective during these frantic shopping times, here are the ten best ways to help keep purchases down to a workable minimum:

1. If you would have to buy more clothes hangers to accommodate your purchase, DON'T BUY IT.

2. If you would have to build shelves in your garage to hold your overflow, DON'T BUY IT.

3. If you would have to amend your will so your kids won't fight over it someday, DON'T BUY IT.

4. If there's even a remote possibility that there are already six of these in your pantry that haven't yet been opened, DON'T BUY IT.

5. If it would require the assistance of one or more teenagers to figure out how to use it, DON'T BUY IT.

6. If it would only fit after you've been on the New Year's diet you know you won't stick with beyond Martin Luther King Jr. day, DON'T BUY IT.

7. If you hear Desi Arnaz' voice in your head saying, "Lucy, you got lotsa s'plainin' to do", DON'T BUY IT.

8. If you would have to reinforce the subfloor of your house to pack it all in, DON'T BUY IT.

9. If you've given more than six of them to Goodwill in the past five years, DON'T BUY IT.

10.  If your kids say, "Mommy, are you and Daddy going to have another discussion?" about it, 

The late Steve Jobs was pretty widely known as a person who lived simply, so I find it ironic that the computer and software tools that he was partially responsible for making available to consumers are being used to buy into the commercialization of Christmas and other holidays in such a big way.  So to honor St. Steve and encourage simple living, I'm going to count my clothes hangers before I go cyber-shopping.

If I have to buy more hangers, I guess I'll stay cyber-home.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

This is my New Year's Eve. It is the final Sunday of the liturgical year, Christ the King Sunday, last Sunday of ordinary time for another whole year. Christians who observe the liturgical calendar recognize that this is the last Sunday before Advent, when churches begin their 4-week time of preparation for the coming of Jesus into the world of reality (however you understand THAT) also known as Christmas.  Yeah, so I'm slightly medieval and if you want to make something of it I'll meet you on Facebook.  After the bars close.

If you've checked in here on this site in the interval between my last post, dated August 28, of this year, and today, and wondered why there have been no posts until now, it is probably because I could not bring myself to record in even as ephemeral a form as a blog anything more "permanent" than a Tweet or a Facebook quip before the election of November 6.  The elections and the run-up to them took place in what the Christian church in the west often calls "ordinary time" which doesn't in this case mean "everyday" comes from the term "ordinal" from which we also get our words "order" and "orderly".  It's a way to "order" the teaching of the church in a way that allows preachers to organize the lessons they'll preach Sunday by Sunday in a long cycle dedicated to believers' spiritual growth.

If you're interested in politics at all, you might agree that there was little order during this time. The public discourse was as far as I have ever seen from orderly.

When we talk about the lessons that come to us from scripture, a lot of today's Christians are unfamiliar with the use of the Revised Common Lectionary or the Liturgical Calendar, and that's OK. I've come to realize that it's important to realize there are as many differences between liturgical Christians and non-liturgical Christians as there are between organic farmers and conventional farmers.  Still, both types of farmers recognize the need for order.

Liturgical Christians have certain observances pertinent to the seasons of the Christian calendar which are as important to us as the use of seasonal food is to the local farmer.  The Christian calendar denotes times of celebration, times of dormancy, and times of growth as surely as the seasonal calendar points out times of plowing, times of sowing, the time of incubation and growth, and times of harvest.  It also marks time of contemplation and reflection not dissimilar to those times the farmer might pore over seed catalogs or enjoy a well-earned nap.

One would think that the need for orderly thinking is at least as important to Christians as it is to farmers.

We begin this contemplative, reflective time now, as we enter the new liturgical year and set out on the run-up to Christmas called Advent.  It's a great time to think back upon the past 51 weeks and consider how we've done as people whose avowed purpose is to bring more love, light, and peace into the world.

As a politically active Christian, I'm buggered if I can say I've fulfilled that purpose.  I've fallen 'way short of my August goal of refraining from LMAO at right wingnut Tweets.  I confess that I can no longer label or self-identify as liberal, progressive, moderately left-of-center, dead-smack-in-the middle, or even vaguely interested in labels. I shudder that I have been as disorderly in thought and reflection as the most reactionary sound-byte-spewing, Fox-News-following rightie who wakes up on the morning after the election with a piece of the country's biggest up-all-night-tea-partying-and-lost hangover.

If the past few months were ordinary, I've seen enough ordinary. There's very little order or orderly about it.  Instead, if I were thinking about the New Year and my seed catalogs, er, that is to say, the preparation of my heart during Advent, I would think about the things we have been hoping for in the inner chambers of our collective hearts.

Equality.  Cooperation.  Respect. Figuring out ways to make the best outcomes possible for the greatest number of people in this country, and leaving no one out in the cold.  We're getting ready, after all, for the most truly extraordinary time of the year, and for THAT we need to be intentional about our goals and how to get there.

It takes a little order.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Day the Newsfeed Died

"Writer's block: when your imaginary friends won't talk to you." 

For those of you who aren't old enough to remember the movie referenced by the above picture, it was the film "Harvey", made in 1950 from the play by the same name.  Jimmy Stewart played the main character, Elwood P. Dowd, who communicated with Harvey, an over-6-foot invisible rabbit. 

Harvey was invisible to everyone except Elwood, of course.  This made it difficult for Elwood to get anyone, including those he loved and who loved him, like his sister, his girlfriend, etc. to believe in Harvey.  In fact, it made all of them think that Elwood was mentally deficient, and they tried to commit him to a sanitarium.  No, not a Santorum.  A sanitarium.  A mental hospital, a loony bin, a nuthouse.  A place where people once were committed by family when they no longer could be trusted to care for themselves due to mental illnesses like schizophrenia and multiple personality disorders.  And seeing invisible friends like Harvey.

What made me think of Harvey and his real but bemused friend Elwood was the quote above, which I saw in my Twitterfeed from

It put me in mind of a running conversation I've been having with a trusted circle of friends over these past few days.  Some of us, you see, are growing increasingly distressed at the vitriolic turn taken by the public discourse over this coming election.  The interweb media is rife with sensationalistic headlines which pique the interest in their grab for readership (translation: hits, clicks, advert dollars) This has been exacerbated by the mainstream media with spin and sound bytes replacing responsible, source-checked journalism of the sort which the public could once trust...Edward R. Murrow hasn't been around for a good many years, and neither has Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley.  

For that matter, even as recently as 9/11, the late Peter Jennings of ABC in covering the tragedy of the Twin Towers balked on air at reporting something that might not have been accurate.  I can still recall my sense of shock at seeing him turn from the camera and address the production crew with an admonishment to find out what was really going on that dreadful morning...he basically refused right on the air to tell the public something that might be inaccurate and inflammatory.

I don't know about you, but I'm seeing a lot of spin from any number of self-professed "journalists" through my Facebook and Twitter feeds.  Many are passed on by my own imaginary friends.  By imaginary friends, I mean acquaintances, friends of friends I've never even met, or people I went to high school with who didn't give a flying fig about me back then and don't care any more than that for me now.  

What's worse, I'm hearing that people for whom I care deeply  are being ostracized or ridiculed online in much the same way.  Every day.  On Facebook, or Twitter, or on their own blog comments.  People whom I happen to know are decent human beings are having to block or restrict their sites because others who are more talented at watching reality TV than thinking critically and communicating civilly are clogging up their feeds. 

I say it's time to choose our imaginary friends - those who have no true interest in a real relationship - more carefully.  Invite your them to civil discourse. Reach understanding about points of view if they are truly folks whom you love and value.
Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be" – she always called me Elwood – "In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.
James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd
Here is where my opinion diverges from that of Elwood P. Dowd.  

I used to take a lot of guff for being one of the oh so smart kids in school, so I learned instead how to be oh so pleasant.  Frankly, if listening to much more of the invective being passed around by imaginary friends is required to be thought of as pleasant, I'd rather be considered as nutty as Elwood.  At least HIS imaginary friend was real. 

Just put me in a sanitarium.  (Not to be confused with a Santorum, thank you.) I'll take Harvey AND my absentee ballot with me. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sikh the Truth

In the past few days, along with all the global love-in that is the face of the Olympic games in London, we have also been bombarded with reminders that we as humans are all too capable of construing even the most positive messages to express discrimination, hatred, shame, pain, and exclusion.

Now I am an artist, and part of my own journey has been for me to be able to imagine myself as cast in God's image, as in Genesis:
Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image, in our likeness...
So God created humanity in God's own image,
in the image of God he created them;
                                                     male and female he created them. "

The key to this for me as an artist has always been that, since it is God's nature to begin the relationship with humans as the Great Creator, and since we are cast in God's image, it is our nature to be creative as well. When we manifest our creativity through imagination, we are pursuing a vision of beauty or possibilities (as in the Mars landing-Woot! Woot!) or achievements and know that in reaching for these, we are living in the way God designed us to live. This is how we are hard-wired.

So, by extension I mean that when Gabby Douglas works and sacrifices and creates a splendid routine on the uneven bars, it is because her programming via that little spark of God's creative spirit drives her to want to create something beautiful and unique. When Richard Diebenkorn painted his severe and different landscapes, he was exercising his creative DNA. We all have it, and if you think about it long enough you can identify a part of your life in which that spark of divine fire becomes manifest. It could be that you have an uncanny ability to bake without a recipe, or follow a hunch in the laboratory that saves thousands of lives.

Each of us has this within us. Genesis doesn't teach that the only creative people God imagines are Christian people or those in the United States or those who vote conservative. Creative people of all stripes are imbued with the same divine spark as Michelangelo, Sally Ride, or Boris Johnson. So it's heartbreaking to realize that the other immutable truth about God, which is absolutely essential to the creative human being and particularly to the artist, is so often forgotten through judgmental-ism, by humans with a cause, or a grudge, or just plain fear.

I was reminded of this truth today: the corollary to the Genesis teaching is this. We are all adopted into the heart of the Divine Creator (I don't care if you use the term God or Allah or Jehovah or Bruce Almighty to name this Creator) because of the Creator's unconditional love. By any name, the force of love we're shown adopts us into the heart of God, which humans so often fail to consider.

Think of it for a moment. What else do we fail to consider because of our own personal spin, because we don't think of ourselves or others as precious children of God? What if we toss a thoughtless piece of criticism at an artist? What is heard is not "your art isn't good enough", what is heard is "YOU are not good."

When we try to whitewash hating actions or hateful comments as "freedom of speech" what is heard is "YOU are no good." When we patronize businesses which support hate groups, we are paying for the shaming that is done to the target group.  This is unequivocal despite how much other good a business may try to do.  It is simply irresponsible and contrary to the nature of God.

Supporting a business that sponsors organizations that cause pain and unfairness means we are endorsing, not merely permitting, hateful and even violent acts against them. It doesn't take a scholar to point out that paying the tab for the lobbying efforts to discriminate against immigrants, ethnic groups, LGBT persons, and religious groups, is the same as telling those targeted persons, "YOU are no good."

It strikes me as being fairly easy to recognize the value of grace on the part of an Olympian like Gabby Douglas, who finished last in her individual bars competition. There is no shame in taking the high road when our particular desire is not met. The greater blessing is harder to recognize in everyday living...when because of our fear, or our doctrine, or even our traditions we cannot concede the unconditional love of God for other human beings who were created, just as we were, with that spark of divine fire.

The tragedy of the attack on the Sikh temple is shocking and pathetic, especially when we realize that the practice and beliefs of the Sikhs are to love God and pursue God's truth. They respect other religions in a way that escapes many nominal Christians. Respect and loving regard of all people is central to their faith.

The support of hate groups which have caused violence, suicides, and division of families through the donations of businesses is no less a tragedy, although no guns are waved and individual stories are not often told. Such action also says "YOU are no good".

The God who creates calls us all to create. The Creator who loves calls us all to love.

“Indeed, a quick glance around this broken world makes it painfully obvious that we don't need more arguments on behalf of God; we need more people who live as if they are in covenant with Unconditional Love, which is our best definition of God.”
- Robin R. Meyers, from Saving Jesus from the Church

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Teaching, Learning, and Growing

Fall Trees With Lake
a Landscape Lesson by Saga Sabin of Ontario, British Columbia

Throughout the summer months my personal growth emphasis has been on creative recovery.  After an intense year of classes and meeting the expectations of others, I have needed to cultivate my own inner reserves of creative energy.  I had previously believed that the best way to recharge is to check out from all my outside activities, quietly write and study, and drag my friends and loved ones through innumerable art shows and museums.  As far as these things go, all well and good.  But I have also found myself involved in something which is unexpectedly supercharging  my creative renewal.  And what a delight it is!

I refer to my acrylic painting classes at Michaels Arts and Crafts here in Woodland, CA.  I teach Grumbacher (yes, the paintbrush and art supply people) curriculum via lesson plans which are developed by painters like me all over the Michaels network, like the one shown above.  A serendipitous discovery is that, in teaching people of all levels of experience and aptitude, my own inner fires burn brighter.  I so look forward to a painting demonstration or a class or a one-on-one tutorial that I inevitably practice the sample painting so I am training my own hand and eye, often in ways that I have never tried in my own works.

Because each lesson has different, classic, learning outcomes I find myself re-thinking and reviewing my own training, often wondering, "Hmm, I wonder what would happen if I tried that brush stroke on this other painting I've been working on?" or "What would happen if I used this color palette for my landscape?"  

I have often heard the negative old saying, "Those who can't, teach."  I don't know who first said it but I would like to scold them if I could.  You see, I think it is valuable for those who CAN, to teach!  It's valuable to see making art through the lens of another as they explore what we already know (or think we know) It helps us to become unstuck from old ruts that we tend to stick ourselves in.  It helps us ask fresh questions about the processes and outcomes of our artmaking.  

My students are the best teachers I have.  If you are in the Yolo County area, and have an interest in learning   more about painting, here is my schedule for August.  You might just be one of my next teachers!

Thursday, August 2nd                     9:00 Floral                     11:30 Landscape (the one above)
Sunday, August 5th                         12:00-1:45  In-Store Demonstration of Seascape 
                                                       2:00 Still Life                 4:30 Floral 
Tuesday, August 7th                        3:30 Landscape             6:30 Seascape
Thursday, August 9th                       9:00 Still Life                 11:30 Seascape
Tuesday, August 14th                       3:30 Floral                    6:30 Landscape
Thursday, August 16th                     9:00  Seascape              11:30 Still Life
Sunday, August 19th                       12:00-1:45 In-Store Demonstration of Still Life 
                                                       2:00 Floral                     4:30 Landscape
Tuesday, August 21st                       3:30 Seascape               6:30 Still Life
Tuesday, August 28th                       3:30 Floral                     6:30 Landscape
Thursday, August 30th                      9:00 Still Life                 11:30 Seascape

(All classes are held at Michaels, 2175 Bronze Star Drive, in the Target shopping center, Woodland)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Of Hammocks and Harmonicas

The summer has marched relentlessly on, on to triple-digit temperatures, on toward September peering threateningly over August's shoulder.  The summer-long process of creative recovery for this painter, poet, and pie-maker is in its eighth week with just four more after this.  It is only a breath over a month until the fall semester begins and the work of learning by lecture and laboratory resumes.

A couple of things I have learned are worth sharing.  Well, many of the others are worth sharing too, but I want to reflect a little more on those before writing publicly about them.

Of the ones I will share, the first is that the creative needs space, time, and privacy in order to create.  Whether we are encountering the canvas, keyboard, or guitar, it is impossible to listen to our own inner, creative voice when the voices of the world are crashing around our ears.  There's a good reason why we use that word, "crash" to describe the  destructive sound of an automobile accident, or the thunderous clap of an electrical storm, or the falling of a giant tree.  If a tree falls in the forest, does an artist lose her concentration?  Probably.  If someone subjects the writer to constant interruptions, does his dialogue crash and burn?  It's been known to happen.

Distractions abound, and I've discovered that even the friendly sunflowers growing outside my window can be distracting if the inner voice I count on is having trouble being heard.  A thing that helps is to have a room of my own in which to make art...a thing that helps even more is to have that room organized and tidy, straightened so the path to art runs straight and true.  A thing that is critical to success is the stillness that fosters the integration of memories with the intention to express.

That being said, it is not always possible to have a room of one's own.  Sometimes alternative places and moments of sanctuary must be found.  If you need help finding such a place, here are some I came up with that work even better than a closed door.

1.  Backyard hammock.  They have to find you first, and this is the last place they look.
2.  The Silent Room at the local library.  You can't set up an easel, but you can take a laptop or sketchbook.
3.  A camp site in a nearby State Park.  Some don't even have cell phone coverage.
4.  Your neighborhood coffee shop.  Most people don't recognize acquaintances out of context.
5.  A vacationing friend's house.
6.  Get up an hour earlier than the rest of the household.
7.  Stay up an hour later than the rest of the household.
8.  Take a sketchbook or notebook to the local zoo.  The animals don't care.
9.  The bathroom.  No, I'm NOT joking.
10.  The town's park.  Take a lunch and find a shady place. 

There's one side of the coin.  The other, of course, is engaging in real life, in real community, for if we don't have a life, where will our art come from?  It's one thing to listen to our inner thoughts, but if that's all we hear we get self-centered, boring, and even radical in our work.  Not that radical is wrong in art, it's just that if we want to make relevant art or shape relevant stories or write relevant music, we need to hear the voices of others.

The tragedy of Aurora, Colorado happened just four days ago as I write this.  It's really tempting to pontificate about loners and gun control and all the other things I'm reading about in its aftermath.  But that's not for me.  I think that a thing I've learned about being in community and how it makes us more creative is that engaging in real life alongside others develops our compassion, our feelings for others who may be very unlike ourselves.  It takes our focus and reminds us that the world is a place of infinite beauty and fascination, and that our job as artists is be a lens, a voice, maybe a gesture that helps others connect to it.

I don't know what I will end up doing about the tragedy in Aurora in order to grieve as all Americans grieve right now.  I know I won't pick up a harmonica and blow the blues while riding down the highway.  I know I won't start a campaign to do away with automatic weapons. 

But what I may just do is try to make art that is relevant, is life-honoring, and reminds others of the endlessly fascinating and beautiful thing that this world is.

The picture at the top of the column was the result of the perfect yin and yang moment, reached when the perfect balance of isolation and immersion in community occurred for me during a plein air paint-out at the California State Fair.  I was privileged to photograph the birth of two baby goats in the children's Petting Zoo area, and I realized that the isolation of painting and the community of an event like the fair are the ideal ingredients for artistic voice to be heard.  Artists on their own are considered weird or nutty, usually avoided, and often left totally alone.  On the other hand, if immersed in the surrounding community while something as life-affirming as a birth takes place practically on your shoes, you get the perfect combination of room-of-your-own, plus hearing the lovely voice of the world.

When given that perfect nexus, you can't help but rush to give it words, color, shape, line, or gesture.

"Are we so impoverished that we have nothing to reveal but small talk? Let us struggle for more richness of soul" Frank Laubach

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A thing I have not written about until now is the difficulty I have experienced being creative while taking art classes in college.  One wouldn't imagine that creativity would suffer while in the pursuit of higher education especially in the area of studio art and art history.  When I began studying these which I was unable to study the first time around, I thought that the opposite would be true.

I thought my muse would automatically start sending me unlimited ideas and inspiration because I was exposing her to constant sketching exercise, unbroken hours at the easel, and hours of contact with all manner of other arty types each week.  Imagination unleashed!

Silly me.

While assignments, even broadly defined assignments, are valuable for helping a studio artist grow and develop, the sense of inspiration isn't necessarily present.  My technical ability has improved and I earned good grades, so my inner Hermione is affirmed.  Unfortunately, however, I ended the semester with a sense of loss.

I felt I'd lost the ability to paint.  I felt I'd lost the ability to compose a decent, let alone interesting, composition on the canvas.

What I was really experiencing was overload:  plain, old-fashioned burn-out.  This is what happens from too much of even a good thing, like channeling all one's time and energy into completing even the best of professors' assignments.  Painting and drawing became as interesting to me as a term paper bibliography.

That's when I decided to take a breather over the summer months to reignite the flames of creative spontaneity.  I picked Walking in This World by Julia Cameron and will cover a chapter a week over the course of the summer on a self-guided journey of creative recovery.  I'm in week 4 presently, and have begun to see some smoldering going on.  At least, I smell smoke.

I'm interested in doing painting exercises every day but much to my surprise, I also have been dogged by an idea for a book.  One day as I was reflecting on my artistic direction, an idea for a character and plot surfaced nearly fully formed, out of seemingly nothing.

But I know there is no such thing as nothing when we are open-hearted to the Great Creator and open-minded to the ideas that channel through us and flow through our hands into various creative projects.  I fancifully picture my muse frantically war-whooping and dancing around the fire to encourage the glowing coals to once again burst forth in healing flames.

She's a damn pest about it, really, but you get what you pray for when the Universe aligns with your deep desire.  It is then that synchronous  actions take place all round and about you to open doors and line up people and things in support of your project.

So far this week, I've begun an outline of the characters as well as a broad outline of the plot.  I'm either crazy (like I have nothing else to do) or right on the track I'm supposed to follow.  I know there will be obstacles like time, money, and interest lagging.  So far this week I've told my son and my husband about it and neither one has suggested I'm crazy.  What I'm considering is publishing serially via my Quiet Woman blog, the one I normally use for sermons.  So, here's where you come in.

I wonder if reading installments of the story over a blog would be appealing to anyone, and, if so, how often would you want new chapters?   Weekly?  Daily?  Or?  What wisdom do you have to share with me?

Unless you want to just tell me I'm crazy, I welcome your input.  Leave a comment below, please.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

You Behaving Better Yet?

One of the writers who constantly challenges me to rise to her writing on not only a cerebral level but on a gut-wrenching, vomit-in-the-back-of-the-throat level is Anne Lamott.  Born and raised in the Bay Area, she is perhaps one of the more honest Christians I know.  She is an energetic creative, recovering alcoholic, mother, and sought-after speaker.  She has a grown son and about a zillion cats.

My summer's path of creative recovery which I have set out for myself is in lieu of taking any summer school classes.  I am using two resources by other highly creative and prolific women to guide myself through study, exercises, and creative disciplines.  One is an old friend:  Walking in This World, by Julia Cameron.  The other one is a newly discovered friend:  The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp.  I am blessed by both of these works, much as I have been repeatedly blessed by Cameron's earlier The Artist's Way.

Neither Tharp nor Cameron hits with the visceral punch of Lamott, but both have a way of writing truth that sometimes resembles a blow right in the solar plexus.  The punch that stopped me and got me thinking (once I had scraped myself off of the floor) was Cameron's assertion that:

 "Most of us carry what I call 'word wounds'-descriptions of certain qualities that have been conveyed to us as pejorative.  I for example have been called both 'intense' and 'hyperfocused.'  In our culture we have demonized creativity.  We are scared of it and by it.  We tell scary stories about artists and how broke, nuts, crazy, drunk, selfish they are.  In our culture we are afraid of our creativity.  We think it's some nitroglycerin compound that could blow us all up.  Nonsense."

The thing that affected me so deeply was the instant recalling of several "word wounds" that I realize I have been carrying for a very long time-too long, in fact, for them to still hurt as badly as they do and probably too casually tossed at me for me to have taken them as seriously as I have.  

"Disorganized" by a supervisor who did not understand my organizational system.  (I was using Alan Lakein's  system and a Day Timer while still a college student.)
"Procrastinator" by a parent who doesn't get my greed for perfection.
"Klutz" by the other parent who didn't get my lack of mathematics and motion learning styles.
"Moron" and "Little Fat Wife", by an ex-spouse who thought I should be a bookkeeper instead of a pastor.
"Neurotic" and "Hormonal", also ex-spouse language from one who thought I should never get angry.

Finally, since I believe that the Universe always conspires to bring together exactly what we need as we are trying to grow into the Great Creator's vision for us, please understand there are no coincidences.  So, I was not surprised by the responses I got when I asked this question on Facebook:

"Word wounds" Things people say that carve scars in your psyche forever. How do we expunge them? Counselors? Repentance? Confession? Or is that just so much horsefeathers?"

Opinions ranged from my thoughtful brother-in-law's "Thick skin and stoicism helps" (an echo of a couple of art professors' opinions) to variations on forgiveness, a process which I find effective in some ways but usually deficient when anger must be dealt with.

My favorite once again came from my old high school friend, Bill Jacobi, who himself is a writer and artist.  Here's Bill's take:

"If you agree with them it really helps. So, you say... "Yes... you're right. I AM a loathsome scumbag who isn't worth my weight in horse manure... can I get you a coffee?" They will then laugh and realize how silly they sound... and if not you have to have them put to sleep."

Or, maybe I'll just write about them.  Thanks, Anne. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

It's the time of year when flowers are ready to riot in the garden, so I thought I would post this image of my 2011 oil painting, "There is Room for All in the Garden" in honor of the Seeds of Hope N.A.M.I. Sunflower Art Show.

This year is very special for me with regards to this show, as I will again co-teach YoloCanvas students, most of whom are N.A.M.I. clients, in a four-session art class.  New this time is a focus on artist trading cards, which all the participants can collage or decorate in any way they wish.  We will also create a class entry comprised of artist trading cards from class members as an entry to the Sunflower Art Show.

Classes are open to all, at the Cesar Chavez Plaza Community Room, 1220 Olive Drive, Davis, CA. the first four Thursdays in May:  May 3, 10, 17, and 24 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 Noon.

All creative persons are invited!

(Note:  Class is $40 for the whole series.  Scholarships are available.)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Poached Eggs and Mint

This is a dinner I made yesterday from a recipe published in the New York Times, e-mailed to me during the day by the wonderful husband I cook for.  Usually our meatless meals, which I try to do no more than once a week, are based around plant proteins and whole grains.  This collection by the Times suggests creative ways to use the bounty of fresh eggs provided by urban laying hens in New York City.

Okay, if I can imagine something as eggstraordinary as chickens in New York, I'm sure I can imagine making poached eggs seasoned with a combination of garlic, mint, chile flakes, and paprika.  But it pushed me I must say.  However, the afore-mentioned wonderful husband and I have been talking for some time about raising chickens ourselves, and one of the big questions is how we would deal with all the eggstra bounty.  So, just for the sake of argument, I thought I'd whip this up.

The other reason eggs are so much on our minds is the annual only-in-Davis bike tour of some of the town's most innovative, beautiful, clever, or inspiring backyard chicken coops:  The Tour de Cluck. It only comes around once a year, and I always paint something to donate to their silent auction.  It benefits the Davis Farm to School Connection, which gets fresh local food to our school kids.  I like doing it, although it's a
pretty kitschy event (think chicken suits at the Farmers Market).  We ride bikes from coop to coop, as many as 22 or 23 sites-you can do a shorter tour by covering just one or two quadrants in town, but the most intrepid do the whole tour.

Anway, I'm not worried about the cholesterol or anything.  Loving the Tour is a pre-eggsisting condition.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

God is in the Details

On this, the 126th birthday of the famous international architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, I'm celebrating by thinking about creativity.

I have often made the claim that everyone is innately creative, not because everyone can paint like Picasso or sculpt like Donatello or build fabulous buildings like Mies van der Rohe.

Rather, human beings are creative because it is the spiritual imperative of all human beings to create.  This is a theme I have been exploring as a recovering creative and as a person who coaches others in creative recovery.

Claiming our own creativity is key to living a whole life, as it is just as much a part of our existence as our occupation is, or our relationships, or our families.  People make very complicated arguments for this or against it, but I believe that the desire to engage the creative process is so strong that we can take very simple measures to jump-start it.  It lies not far below the surface.

In honor of Mies van der Rohe's axiom, "Less is more", here are some simple suggestions to spark your own creative process.

1.  Think of a boring task you do routinely.  Ask this question of yourself:  "If I were interested in this, what part of it would interest me?"

2.   Buy a fruit or vegetable you have never prepared before and learn how to prep/cook/serve it.

3.  Consider a vexatious problem or dilemma.  Promise yourself that it will be solved, but that at the moment your job is merely to relax and breathe.  Walk around the block, take a hot shower, or soak in the tub.

4.  Consciously choose a different route to work or school every day for a week.

5.  On a plain sheet of paper, draw or just make marks with your non-dominant hand.  Do this non-judgmentally and without worrying about results.  Breathe deeply.

6.  Look through a kaleidoscope.  Notice the colors, patterns, and changes.

7.  With kiddie crayons, color in a coloring book, using unconventional colors for familiar things-blue hair, red trees, etc.  Color outside the lines if you want.!

So that's one to try for every day of the week.  I don't claim these will turn anyone into Picasso, but they will make you feel more like smiling and just might put you one step closer to realizing your creative potential.  Happy birthday, Mies!