Monday, July 30, 2007

Spirituality of the Psalms

I am currently reading a little book called Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann. He is doing the kind of Bible Study here that I long for in the church, but cannot seem to find. It is a deep look into the Psalms that has had me digging into and studying the Scriptures for days; and it feels so good to be home among them again. This time I visit the Psalms with fresh perspectives and new ways of looking at them.

The picture on the front of this book has captured me. I find myself staring at it. It is art and it speaks to me of the despair of man. We are down in this huge pit and our only way out is if the hand of God will lift us out of it. We reach and reach for Him...

Bruggemann has organized the book on three general themes. He discusses how life moves in certain ways and there are psalms of orientation, psalms of disorientation and psalms of new orientation, that appear as prayers to accompany the journey.

A settled orientation is when life is ordered and patterned. One is grateful for nature, creation and God's goodness and wisdom. We sense his hand on our lives. Psalms of orientation praise and thank God for his goodness. It is interesting to note that these psalms most often are prayed and come from those who are well off. Life has been good to them.

The next phase, psalms of disorientation, are often ignored by the church. The church and people in general, want to go from "strength to strength". However, life is not always like that. It is filled with sickness, tragedy, death and unjust situations. This walk through the darkness is when the psalms of disorientation come along. They are usually a plea or complaint addressed to God, followed by praise and the assurance of being heard.

Finally, the break through happens. We are surprised by God intervening in a way not previously thought of by his children. He comes in and does the miraculous. There is grace, mercy and here one finds the trouble is restored. This is when psalms of new orientation come into play and life is never quite the same again.

I am still working through the book and I am hardly doing it justice here. There is an interesting discussion throughout of personal versus communal prayers in all three areas of orientation. Also, Brueggemann makes the point that we are "speech creatures". One of things we can glean from the psalms is that we need to speak and address God as part of the process in whatever area of life one happens to be in at the time. The speaking makes it reality. One should not ignore the reality of where they are at.

In light of that, I have written my own personal psalm to God and although I find it to be a little full of self pity- it is an attempt to be honest with God and to bring myself to His altar in a new, creative way for me. I have been in a phase of disorientation for many years so that is the angle from which I write.

A Psalm of Disorientation

I see no way out of my troubles
~hope is so hard to hang onto.

Years have slipped away
Your silence hurts my ears
~and my heart.

My thoughts have no where else to turn
~but to You and You alone.

Please do not abandon the girl you raised
~the one who loves to sing and praise your precious Name.

It is hard to trust
when one feels so abandoned at times
but it is my only choice
I have no other way
~no other options.

I have placed all bets on You.
Please take my broken life and make it whole
~Restore your child.

If you do not come, then one day
I will return to dust
~and that will be that.

You and You alone can change all of that!

Hear my plea~
Answer my cry from the dark alley
~where you will find me shivering.

If you rescue me, or if you don't
My life, is in your Hands
~forever, either way.

What benefit is there to helping me then?
Only that You will prove to me your worthiness and your truth.
All the stories of redemption and grace will come to life for me-
~show me the power of your love.

Do you hear my cries?
Are you tired of my pleas for help?
~I am still waiting...

If I could figure this all out on my own
Believe me I would-
I have only myself to blame, but that is why I need a Savior!
~be my Savior!

You saved the world- can you save one more?
My life is rushing by at warp speed-
I fear it may be too late.
Still I beg and plead for a way through the darkness
~which has blinded my eyes and clouded my vision.

You have rescued others, when is it my turn?
The days will come and go until you intervene
~and rescue me.

...I'll be here.

When you do come with your refreshing wind
I will clap and jump for joy.
I will shout and sing and dance around.

When you do come I will be renewed in my vigor for You.
~we will do great things!

When you do come it will show the world that you are a God who cares and loves me-
that you are a God who forgives, restores, redeems
...even me.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I love Madeleine L'Engle

"It's all been said better before. If I thought I had to say it better than anybody else, I'd never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said; by me; ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes out through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn't what human creation is about. It is that we have to try; to put it down in pigment, or words, or musical notations, or we die."
~ Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Remembering Tammy Faye

Tammy Faye is a lady who touched my life. As a child my family would watch Jim and Tammy all the time. I appreciated the message of hope she would give her listeners. Her love for Jesus made an impression on me. I also enjoyed watching her sing. I actually bought a few of her albums with my own money and her daughter, Tammy Sue's album too. I remember being so excited to see my purchases come in the mail. I do believe it was one of the first mail orders I made on my own. Her songs offered comfort to me. She encouraged people to not live in fear, to not spend life worrying, to take one day at a time, to make lemons out of lemonade. I can still hear her deep, strong, soulful voice coming out of her little body, singing those old hymns and a few of her songs still visit me and return to my conscious mind and I find myself humming or reciting one of her songs.

There is something about her that reminds me of my own Mom and I couldn't quite say for sure what it is. Something about her fragile heart perhaps. Something about her vulnerability. Something about her love for Jesus, her trust in Jesus. Something about her love for her children. Her love of animals. Something about her beauty. Yes, I think she is beautiful. She felt she needed make-up and clothes, but really I could see through all that to more of her true self. Her eyes truly were a window to her soul. I read recently that the first time she put on mascara, she immediately went and wiped it all off because she had always been told that make-up was of the Devil. I am glad she was able to let go of that misbelief and perhaps that is why she wore so much of it. There was freedom in her make-up.

Tammy loved to laugh and be silly. I was heartbroken back in the late eighties when everything started falling apart for them. It was a publicly humiliating, tragic time as Jim and Tammy made the front headlines and the PTL Club (which I was never able to visit) came tumbling down. She had reminded me of a little girl on so many occasions and I could not imagine how she could survive such a mess. She did survive though and overcame to forge a little piece of the world with what was left of the ashes. I believe her faith helped her. I have not a word of judgement to offer.

Someone had seen an interview with her and asked me what I think she wants to be remembered for. I immediately knew the answer; her eyelashes. I have to say though, she will be remembered in my heart for quite a bit more. Her voice, her personality, her way of being and her love of Jesus.

"One day at a time, Sweet Jesus, that's all I'm asking from You.
Just give me the strength, to do everyday, what I have to do...
Yesterdays gone, Sweet Jesus
And tomorrow may never be mine,
Lord give me the strength, to do everything
one day at a time... "

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Vinita Hampton Wright- The Soul Tells a Story

Just when I thought I was finished with Cornerstone entries! The very first workshop I was able to attend this year was a writing workshop run by Vinita Hampton Wright. She is an author and I have to admit I have not read her work. I would like to read the book she has written called The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life. She did mention that her favorite novel she has written is called Velma Still Cooks in Leeway. and it only took her one year to write. One of her later books, called Dwelling Places, took her five years to write.

She also has worked as an editor for fifteen years and currently works part-time for Loyola Press in Chicago. This workshop has been running for six years around the country. She shared a lot of wisdom. I was only able to see one session but was glad for the opportunity. She actually ran a two day workshop in Grand Rapids last weekend before Lauren Winner, but again, I was not able to attend.

She said good fiction involves having a character that really desires or fears something. When she begins writing fiction, she starts with the characters and scenes; not plot. I really like the questions she asked us to help us come up with ideas for writing.

~What fears have influenced the way your family operates?
~What desires have influenced the way your family has been?

She, like Lauren Winner, encourages daily writing exercises. She calls this "tapping the well". Tapping the well is right-brained and very intuitive. That material is not the art, that is a "holy mess". After that one must go to the left side of the brain which is analytical. I think it is natural to hope art just comes to us already pre-packaged and flowing out of us, but it involves a great deal of work. She said art is first going to work on the writer. God gives us gifts to help us be the whole person we were meant to be. We are the first witness to the art.

If a person is writing non-fiction the intuitive side would involve your theories, passion and voice. She recommends starting with the analytical side when writing non-fiction. She suggests first having one point to make per chapter or even for the whole story.

There were two points she wanted us to leave the workshop with more than any other.

1. I cannot control the process. (you do not know where a story is going to end up)

2. I must master my craft. (making it original, beautiful, establishing voice, care of words)

She quoted John Gardener from The Art of Fiction. He says, "The story is a dream and your goal is not to wake up until you read the last page and the last word." I certainly feel like JK Rowling mastered this...

A couple other questions she asked were, what makes the tension run out of a story and what causes a character to go flat?
Then she had us write. She gave us an exercise and said to write for about ten minutes a story with the idea that the character knew she had one hour to live. I appreciated the exercise and at some point may go back to finish what I started in that short time.

She recommends writing a paragraph and then picking three words or a sentence and then writing about that. As one develops in this way, the craft improves and becomes more specific. She gave us more questions to get us thinking about our writing.

~What do you think the point is?
~Where do you want more?

Then she touched on a delicate point with me. She said the more advanced the writing is, the more technical the critique can be. The wrong criticism at the wrong time can really hurt your process.

I have first hand experience with this. During my writing workshop in my class this year, I had given my students a topic to write on. A little girl came up very excited about fifteen minutes later with her piece. It was about why she thought we should be a blue ribbon school. (We were applying to become one.) This was not the topic and as I mentioned that she burst into tears. She thought I was going to love her writing. She struggles with reading and writing and looking back, I should have recognized the effort that went into this. I apologized to her and made it clear how valued her writing piece was. I displayed it in our window to the hallway and kept it up there the entire rest of the year.

That was not the time to teach her about staying on topic. I had made a grave mistake. That was the time to encourage her for writing from the heart. She had tapped the well and I had not even noticed. I pray that I was able to make that up to her and not get in the way. I pray that all the time; that my teaching does not get in the way of my students learning. It is a huge responsibility and one I do not take lightly.

Vinita Hampton Wright finished the morning by recommending that we take writing classes to make sure that our craft keeps up with our intuition. Buy grammar books! Also, she said don't talk away your energy. If one talks too much about a great idea, the enthusiasm dwindles and one no longer has the desire to write about it.

I do not know if I will ever write a book, but I do love writing and would like to keep the possibility open. Also, being a teacher of writing nudges me to keep up with my craft, so as to help others develop theirs. These notes will be here to help me along and remind me what makes good writing.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Lauren Winner: Writing Your Own Spiritual Story

I cannot believe it has been over a week since the writing workshop I attended in Grand Rapids at Calvin College. Lauren Winner did an excellent job leading the day. I have been wanting to reflect on it since I have returned, but life has been busy. It is a constant battle to carve time out of life to write, but it is a battle worth fighting.

Lauren started the day having us write about our names. She gave us about ten minutes and then had us meet in small groups to share what we had written. I enjoyed my small group and hearing everyone share. One of her points she emphasized throughout the day is that you do not have to have a gigantic story to write. We can write about very simple things and still have a story that is unique, creative and ours.

We brainstormed various definitions of spiritual writing. We came up with quite a list. Spiritual writing comes from the heart and soul. It is about God. It concretizes the invisible and is reflective on the interior life. It prompts the reader to think about spiritual things. It can be prescriptive or descriptive, but if the prescriptive is not grounded in descriptive first, no one will want to read the prescriptive part. The most intimate spiritual writing is when one admits to being a seeker and on a journey of discovery along with the reader.

Lauren lectured on the different types of spiritual writing. Spiritual prayer, meditative, a particular theme in the spiritual life or reflection, devotional writing, journal based writing, nature writing, fiction, or theology/apologetics. She advised us to pay attention to what we like to read and that will clue us into what story we may want to write. She encouraged us to learn to write through reading. We did an exercise where we read a beautiful chapter out of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris and analyzed it with the eyes of a writer. When reading as a writer some of questions you are asking yourself are as follows:

~What works/what doesn't
~Describe the narrator
~How does the text give meaning
~What places are evoked...what impact is there
~Is there something that engages me...what sensory images are there (ex. word pictures, poetry, images of God)

Some of the things that work so well in this chapter (Ghosts), is that it describes her experience and is not instructive. She draws out ourselves and makes us think about our own lives. We draw connections as we read about her life. We spent a long time looking at the words. She described the Dakota's as "flat, windy, barren places...almost like a Northern desert...plains like an ocean...makes one feel small." She keeps returning to her childhood and her original impressions, she quotes people throughout the chapter (not overdone, like Yancy; more organic) and she truly opens her life up to the reader.

I found that it was virtually impossible to analyze this incredible chapter from Dakota because I was so caught up in the reading of it. I think that one must first read a text several times simply for enjoyment before one begins to analyze it. I understand, of course, how much she was trying to pack into one day but this was a difficult task for me. She mentioned that when she first started to "read as a writer" she found that was the only way she could read for a while and that it was very frustrating for her. I can see how it would be! Her professer promised her that eventually she would be able to go back and forth between the two ways of reading and she assured us of the truth of that statement.

When I read with my students, we always spend a long time enjoying a piece before analyzing it. I never want my students to lose the gift of reading for pleasure or they will never choose to do so on their own after I am not with them. This is time consuming because I do want them to also read like a writer and dig deeper into understanding what they read, but the journey of going deep into a work is well worth the time it takes to do if done delicately and with care.

Another exercise we did was Lauren wrote a list of words: envy, epiphany, mother, doubt, anger, regret, depression, rest, falling in love, fear, wonder and passion. Then she gave us about ten minutes and had us write a phrase, sentence or paragraph about each word and share again with our small groups. One thing we noticed is how abstract writing can be if not connected to personal experience. Spiritual writing can be done so poorly because it can often fall into abstractions. At some point, one should literally go back and circle all the abstract words and see what is concrete. Don't forget to keep it concrete!

She spent some time talking about revision and one point she made is that the most fruitful revision is when you know it is not going to be your finished piece. My favorite part of this section is something she shared from an interview with Ernest Hemingway.

Interviewer: "How much rewriting do you do?"
Ernest Hemingway: "I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied."
Interviewer: "Was there some technical problem there? What was it that stumped you?"
Hemingway: "Getting the words right."

When one is getting started in spiritual writing one should first read widely. This will help one to develop your voice and sensibility. When Lauren Winner began writing a book she said she had no idea what to do, so she found some spiritual memoirs and outlined the stories as a model for hers. It helped her answer important questions about sequencing, how to do dialogue, and helped her to focus on reading for craft. After reading widely, one should begin to write widely. Develop themes. Ask questions to help facilitate ideas. What are signs in me of spiritual hunger? How have I grown in prayer? What are ways I live a life of faith that may help someone else? What aspects of my faith have been life changing? What ways do I live life with God daily? What are my spiritual questions that I ask myself and God?

Perhaps the most memorable thing she said was that when you write, it is a journey and a process. If you make a plan and it doesn't change as you go something has gone wrong.

She encouraged us to do daily exercises in writing. She said doing quick exercises for about ten minutes each day can open up help one develop skills and teach what someone may actually want to write about in further detail. For example, she said one exercise is taking a week and writing about different rooms in your house each day.

One of our final exercises she had us do was writing a response to themed questions. They are further examples of ways to search our lives and find our voice. Here are the things she asked us to write about.

~the place that I go when I go to my childhood is...
~the smells that call me most powerfully back to my childhood are...
~as a child God was most present to me when...
~the one object from childhood I no longer have and wish I could have is...
~the day of my childhood I wish I could relive is...

It was a fruitful day. Afterwards I walked around the campus and then sat under a tree and reflected and rested in all that she had spoken about. I am pleased with the progress I have made in my writing. I write in my journal and I am blogging more regularly. I would like to take further steps and try doing writing exercises like she has suggested. Perhaps there is a book somewhere inside me with a story. I think everyone has one somewhere in their soul. Writing is a spiritual practice. I would like to be intentional about it. Lauren spoke of a student she had that made huge progress in a very short period of time. She called the student and asked what had happened to change her writing so dramatically. The student said they had begun the practice of praying before they write.

Writing seems to me to be a holy practice. I write to remember, to learn, to experience and to create. I write to honor God in a spirit of gratefulness for this life he has given me.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

God is Green

I was finally able to make it to Mars Hill Bible Church to hear Rob Bell preach the word this past Sunday in Grand Rapids. I have been wanting to go there for many months and have not had the opportunity. Driving onto the street we followed the cars into a parking lot that we assumed was the church because of all the people. Not one sign was displayed. We followed everyone into this huge mall where they conduct their services and it wasn't until reaching the front door that I saw in small letters Mars Hill Bible Church. I read his first book,Velvet Elvis this week, where he says that friends bought this big sign for him when they were first starting the church and he did not like it because he does not believe in advertising or marketing Jesus so they took the sign back.

Walking into the main sanctuary, there was a huge simple room designed in the round and in the center the worship band was playing and they sounded great! The string instruments add such a beautiful element to music. They played an instrumental song until service started. They sang about four or five worship songs. Then they had a simple introduction talking about some things they are doing around the area to help homeless people and talking about some mission work in Africa they are currently involved with.

No offering was taken. They keep boxes in the back if you want to tithe or give an offering, but no mention of it was made. I only knew about the boxes because we met my friends there, Dave and Stacy, that live in Grand Rapids and attend the church. After the intro, Rob Bell stood up and started preaching. He was continuing a series they have been doing called "God is Green".

We studied Job chapters 38-41 for quite a while as God describes in great detail his construction of the earth and the animals. Here are some examples from Scripture of this:

Job 39:5 "Who let the wild donkey go free? Who untied his ropes? "

Job 39:13-18 "The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork. She lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand, unmindful that some wild animal may trample them. She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labor is in vain, for God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense. Yet when she spreads her feathers to run, she laughs at horse and rider."

Job 40:15 "Look at the behemoth, (possibly the hippo or elephant), which a made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox."

Job 41:1, 5, 12 "Can you pull in the leviathan (possibly the crocodile), with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope? Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your girls? I will not fail to speak of his limbs, his strength and his graceful form."

Rob Bell aruges that the point of all creation is just that it exists and God takes great joy and pleasure in His creation.
He believes God's primary posture for creation is not production (what can it do for me), but pleasure. Not consumption (how can I use it) but celebration. He basks in the order and beauty of creation. He pointed out Proberbs 8, where wisdom is talking about the creation of the earth.

Prov. 8:30 "Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind."

He also believes God created the Earth so it would sustain us and feed us.

Psalm 104:14-15 "He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate- bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to sustain his heart."

He then argued that we are not cultivating the land properly or taking care of it in the way God intended. He quoted current statistics about an acre and a half of rain forest being destroyed every second. 70% of China's rivers of polluted. 4.6 million died of air pollution last year. We lose 50,000 different distinct plant, animal and insect species every year.

He quoted other statistics and then said someone asked last week how we got in this mess and he believes there are two big streams of thought going around that need to be confronted along with these issues; exploitation and entitlement. Deep in the human story and deep in the human heart is a destructive bend to use people and things for our own purposes and leave people worse off than before we first encountered them. In Exodus, Chapter 5, we see the slavedrivers not giving more straw to make bricks and beating their oppressers and the question is asked, why are you treating the servants this way? Sin distorts relationships and instead of living with mutual respect and honor, you see many examples of using and abusing.

Leviticus 25:23 "The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants."

Rob Bell then said we have a deep, sinful bend in the human story of entitlement in which we start to think that what belongs to God belongs to us and we don't take care of it as if we were fully aware that this is God's.

This sermon resonated with me. I do see this attitude about the Earth and am glad to see the Church begin to talk about these things. I am surprised with how much criticism and argument there is against these ideas. It seems like common sense to me, but there is a strong distaste for this kind of teaching. They have had many people coming up after service to tell him the earth is ours to use as we wish. Where is the spirit of gratefulness and meekness in a statement like that?

I have always wondered why caring for the earth seems to be a political issue. Why have only Democrats seemed to be environmentalists for so long? It seems like there is a trend for Republicans to also begin talking about these issues as well and I hope the dialogue continues and fosters more opportunity for others to develop compassion towards creation.

Earth Day is one opportunity to talk about these issues. I love teaching about the earth and animals and celebrating Earth Day on April 22nd each year. Children get excited to learn about the earth, our natural resources, and ways we can make a difference while we care for the planet. Children gravitate towards this when they are young; they still have wonder for all the vastness and creativity on this land we reside on. I always tell them, if we don't take care for the animals, who will?

(I am respectful of families that go hunting and enjoy this activity. I believe that this activity can be done respectfully and when I teach my Native American unit, I take time to explain the respect with which the Native Americans live on the land and have hunted for survival. They try to use every part of an animal if they kill it and not exploit the life that was lost.)

I was pleased to hear his sermon today and experience this place that has brought so many people together in community to hear the word of God. I hope to return again one day and in the meantime I plan to listen to more of his sermons here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Police

Tonight I was 14 year old school girl again. I sang my heart out at the reunion tour of The Police. I have such great memories of playing my tapes back in the 80's and listening over and over to the catchy melodies that comprised my favorite group. Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland... I cannot believe I actually had the opportunity to see them live, performing together again! I was beyond excited to be there.

Sting mentioned at the beginning of the night that his first show in Detroit was sometime in November of 1978. I cannot believe that is how long ago they started out! They were so young, innocent and just starting out on tour! Now they are older looking and wiser and have been around the world and back again. They have experienced a life of writing music and sharing it with others.

Perhaps one of the reasons I love live concerts so much is because they take me out of the everyday and bring me completely into the present moment. I love getting lost and found in the now- the center of life. Somehow it is easier to get to that elusive place when you are in community with thousands of fans screaming their lungs out along with you and having a blast celebrating the joy of a few instruments and some good tunes.

Something about The Police and their music has always seemed deep and richer to me than some of the other music of the day. Sting was an English teacher and I am sure that had something to do with it. It was rather fun tonight to notice that I now know who they are talking about when they mention Nabakov in Don't Stand so Close to Me. I like the way they put words together. The literal way the words sound sung in sequence one after the other. I like the phrasing they use, the way they express things, the structure of their music and the way the three of them sound when they mix it all together. It works.

This classic night was something I have looked forward to for months and months. When I first found out they were touring I thought they were only touring in Europe. I called my friend Amy and asked her if she wanted to fly to England for the show. I wanted to see them wherever they were going to be. I am so glad they ended up being right down the street!

It was an evening that flew by way too quickly. I was certain they would finish with Every Breath You Take and they actually came back after that to do one more song as a second encore. That helped ease the pain when it was almost over. I stood in line for my t-shirt and have been in a happy daze ever since.

I came home searching for a clip to post of Invisible Sun with the pictures they had on the screen of beautiful children from somewhere in the world. (Perhaps Iraq, but some research will need to be done to be sure.) Instead, I found a great clip from 1986 at an Amnesty concert of the same song, where a very young Bono came out at the end of the night to do the last verse with a much younger version of the man I just saw on stage mere hours ago. What an awesome moment to capture on camera! It was a snapshot in time of two passionate young musicians doing what they were born to do. I am happy to report I have seen them both live, doing what they do best, in my lifetime. What a great life it is...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Praying the Labyrinth and Stations of the Cross

"If you cannot contemplate high and heavenly things, take refuge in the Passion of Christ, and love to dwell within his Sacred Wounds. For if you devoutly seek the Wounds of Jesus and the precious marks of his Passion, you will find great strength in all troubles." ~Thomas a Kempis

"Since the destination is assured, there are no obstacles to overcome, no muddles to figure out, no dead ends to retrace. What remains for the labyrinth walker is simply the deeply meditative and symbolic discipline of setting one foot in front of the other, of honoring the journey and what it has to teach. The mind can be stilled and attention paid to the body, the wisdom of the heart, and the graces of being rather than doing." ~ Melissa Gayle West, from Exploring the Labyrinth.

One of the deep spiritual moments for me this year at Cornerstone was when I was able to walk and pray the Stations of the Cross within the Labyrinth they had set up on the grounds. I had read about Labyrinths about two years ago in Tony Jone's book, The Sacred Way. I have been wanting to walk one ever since. Needless to say I was excited that it was going to happen in such a perfect setting. A labyrinth is a pattern similar to a maze, but without wrong turns. Every path you walk leads you to the center.

I had prayed Stations of the Cross before at the Catholic school I used to teach at and love this ancient way of meditating on the story of Jesus. It is a moving and imaginative way to remember the passion, death and resurrection. There are usually fourteen or fifteen stations and involve stopping at each station to reflect on each scene. There may be artwork and a prayer included to help one reflect on a particular part of the journey Jesus took in Jerusalem. The stations are as follow:

~ Jesus is Condemned to Die.
~ Jesus Carries His Cross.
~ Jesus Falls the First Time
~ Jesus Meets His Mother
~ Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross.
~ Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus.
~ Jesus Falls the Second TIme.
~ Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem.
~ Jesus Falls the Third Time.
~ Jesus is Stripped.
~ Jesus is Nailed to the Cross.
~ Jesus Dies on the Cross.
~ Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross.
~ Jesus is Laid in the Tomb.
~ Jesus is Risen.

When I entered the Labyrinth, I took off my shoes and walked barefoot. They encourage this and I like the idea. The labyrinth is a holy area. Praying at each station contained unique artwork and occasionally something to do. At one station, they had pieces of black paper and pencils. They requested we make a mark on the paper to signify our sin and at another one of the stations we were asked to drop a marble into a vase of water, signifying Jesus taking away our sins. We walked slowly around from station to station stopping to pray along each stop. The sun was beginning to set and there was a cool breeze blowing and I felt so much peace and rest throughout the entire journey. When one finally reached the center, there was an alter with a psalm to read and a chance to pray for another moment or two.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience this moment in time. Nothing is quite as wonderful as praying out in nature. Somehow, I feel closer to God there. However, some great websites are available on-line for praying the Stations of the Cross or even praying an amazing virtual Labyrinth.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Leigh Nash

Happy Birthday, Leigh Nash! On the night she sang at C-stone, it was her birthday! This is only the second time I have seen her perform. The first time was at Cornerstone, 2002, when Sixpence None the Richer was still around. She was on Mainstage back then. This time she was in the Gallery, which I thought was the perfect setting for her. It was fun to have Ric Hordinski play with her this time as well. What an amazing guitar player!

I find Leigh has an adorable presence on stage and seems quite happy with her new found freedom in the solo world. She spent some of the evening talking about her 3 year old son Henry, which is most definitely the light of her life. She also mentioned that last year, during Cornerstone, she remembered singing an old gospel hymn and at that very moment a guest at the show was on the phone receiving tragic news that some of his family members had died in a plane crash. He hung up the phone, heard the hymn in the background and received some solace and comfort in the face of complete devastation. He was at the show this year as well.

Here she is at the end of the show with her encore number; of course, Kiss Me, from her Sixpence None the Richer days.

Here is Leigh's first video off of her debut solo CD, Blue on Blue, singing This is My Idea of Heaven.

Switchfoot Collides with Bloodgood

Switchfoot performed at Main Stage where I sat high on the hill with the open sky above me and one of my favorite groups singing their heart out down below on stage. They started with the song I wanted them to begin with, Oh! Gravity. This delighted me in a wonderful way! Then they went into Stars and somewhere near the beginning played another favorite of mine, Dare You to Move. They played Ammunition and American Dream. During American Dream they had this incredible moment where they completely froze and stopped everything! I love theatrical moments like that. I was able to pause for a moment and really take in the stage as they stood like statues in dramatic poses. I loved it. The crowd screamed and roared and I think they must have stayed that way for at least a full minute and then continued exactly where they had left off. They also played Gone, which is a powerful song that causes one to really think about life and how fast it all speeds by.

Below is the video for Oh! Gravity.
"Gravity, why can't we, seem to keep it together?...Why this tragedy? Why can't we seem to keep it together? Oh! Gravity, why can't we, seem to pull it together...we found out the hype won't get you through"-Switchfoot

Sometime after this I hopped on the back of a random golfcart (run by a young guy who did not have a flashlight and got stopped by security, luckily right where we were getting off!)...I went with a friend to go see Bloodgood, who were reuniting after many, many years for this rare moment in time, that just happened to collide with my Switchfoot concert. As I've said before, the world of Cornerstone is filled with all sorts of conflicts like this and comes with the territory. I've seen Switchfoot before this (once even on my birthday!), so I should not complain too much. I am actually beginning to appreciate Bloodgood, beginning with the albums Detonation and All Stand Together. Good summertime classic rock feel. My first impression on listening to them was "Hey, that's Steve Perry!"

Monday, July 09, 2007

Over the Rhine

The highlight of the festival for me was the Over the Rhine concert. I love their music and sat mesmorized for the hour and a half they played beginning at the midnight hour. I look forward to their new album, The Trumpet Child, due out later this summer.

Rosie Thomas

Another favorite of mine was the Rosie Thomas concert, happening under the Gallery Tent right at sunset. Beautiful way to celebrate vespers. Rosie is a sweet, gentle soul, quirky and deep at the same time. Her music touches a deep chord within me. I do not think she realizes how creative and wonderful she is. Perhaps that is what makes her art so beautiful.

The Violet Burning

The music of The Violet Burning is so powerful. Michael Pritzl has a heart for God and worships him in such a creative way. I love how theatrical and dramatic he his and how much he seems to enjoy what he does. He is also a very skilled vocalist and guitar player. This was the first concert I saw this year at Cornerstone and was the perfect way to begin an incredible week of concerts. I bought the latest Violet Burning CD, Drop Dead, while I was at the festival and it is AWESOME!

"All my life, I'm looking for light I cannot find within me, hold me now, I think I'm breaking..." Violet Burning

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Cornerstone Festival- Part 4

The last seminar I was able to attend did an excellent job of explaining the Farm Bill. Annie Gill-Bloyer led the seminar and is the ONE Campaign Faith Outreach Organizer for Bread for the World, a nationwide Christian movement that seeks justice for the world's hungry people by lobbying our nation's decision makers.

Every five years the government looks at the Farm Bill. They will look at it this year and then it will not be discussed again until five years from now. This is a policy that got started in 1931 in response to the Great Depression. 25% of the country were farmers, so they started subsidies, which was meant to be a temporary solution for an emergency situation. Subsidies are given for about two dozen crops, but the five main ones given are for corn, cotton, wheat, rice and soybeans. 16 billion dollars are given to farmers from the government with 2% of the population farmers today and two thirds of those farmers get no money from the government at all. 10% of farmers get the largest monies. There is a cap of $360 000 that one can get from the government.

Due to these circumstances, young farmers cannot get into farming because of the expenses. There is a loss of ingenuity because they have to grow only one of the crops listed above or they could lose their money from the government. These crops are then artificially sold at a very low price in the World Market and other countries cannot compete with this price. Africa cannot compete and sell their cotton. Columbia cannot compete and sell their corn because the U.S. sells their crops so much cheaper. If all of Africa could recoup even 1% of the world trade, the ninety billion would give three times as much as what they get in foreign aid. Three to four million could go to cotton farmers, which is twice what the U.S. currently gives to foreign aid.

There are ten different sub bills within the Farm Bill up for discussion, including the food stamp program, conservation of land, and agricultural development. Broad reform of the Farm Bill involves many components, but the four main points can be summed up in the acronyn FARM:

Food Stamp and nutrition programs need to be strenghened by increasing the money benefit and increasing the participation.

Alternative forms of support for U.S. farmers is needed, which provides more equitable support that target small and mid-size producers and free up funds for conservation and rural development.

Rural communities can be strengthened by providing programs for rural entrepreneurs and small business development, and by investment in telecom and broadband internet.

Market access needs to be opened for farmers in the developing world so that they can make an income by redesigning commodity support programs so they they do not artificially lower prices and prevent poor farmers from providing for their families.

One of the alternative forms of support up for debate is to have a Farmer's Savings Account where every five years they would put money in an account and put less in every year. Farmers would only have access to the money if they have a bad crop. If they take away subsudies, this would provide some support for farmers accustomed to getting this money. This is the only area I have concerns about. I worry about the farmers used to receiving subsidies as the money is redistributed. I am not sure if a savings account is the only thing that should be done. I do not have other alternatives though at this point because I am just learning about all of this myself.

This is a basic overview of what I learned but there is much more information on the Bread for the World site and also an interesting blog post here.. One way to be involved in this process is to write a letter to Congress advocating for broad reform of the Farm Bill. The slogan going around is called "Seeds for Change" to help farmers end hunger.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Cornerstone Festival 2007- Part 3

Another great seminar was led by Robert Inchausti, a professer of English and author. I enjoyed this seminar called Subversive Orthodoxy that analyzed a bit of Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn in the first session I will summarize. In later sessions he talked about Walker Percy, Wendall Berry, Marshall McLuhan, Jacques Ellul and Rene Girard. You can learn about all of these "outlaws, revolutionaries, and other christians in disguise" in his book which I started reading this week.

Dostoevsky focused much of his life to the psychology of the underground; the premise of if one is asserting choice or reason, they will ultimately choose their will and give it a beautiful reason. He asked questions like can a person really put their conscience away and committ a crime or will it turn around and bite back at us? (ex. Crime and Punishment). His novels sought to answer radical kinds of questions. The underground likes dark corners, and will often choose identity over truth.

I love the story he reminded me of from his last novel, The Brother's Karamozov, where Zossimov met with women on Fridays for counseling sessions. Two women came to visit him. One rich with little faith and one poor woman with large faith. The poor woman could not stop grieving for the death of her baby and so Zossimov told her that her baby wants her to grieve longer and when he is ready for her to stop, he will send her a sign. This helped the woman. The rich woman wanted him to explain the doctrine of eternal life, so that she could enjoy her earthly things right now. He said to her that she's got it backwards. It is not understood intellectually before you love people, but you love people and then you see it in their eyes. The woman cried because she didn't understand and knew he wouldn't have an answer for her. He told her to invite the first woman to dinner and show love. He is trying to show her truth and yet she is choosing her identity.

Another question he sought to answer is how do you love without it having a secret recompanse or to make one feel better than someone else? One of the answers to this question is sometimes let someone have their say and if the only way for someone to feel good is to put you down maybe that's the only way to get the dialogue going. Another story from Brother's Karamozov that he references to is when Alyosha found a crowd of boys fighting and the boy he helped bit him on the finger. He finds out one of his brother's beat that same boy before and had ridiculed him. So Alyosha went back to the boy's Father and offered him two hundred roubles. He said no one would ever know of it. The father ended up throwing the money down and running away. My thought is that hubris, (on the parts of both of the characters) created a situation where redemption could not break through the clouds in the sky.

That was about all he said about Dostoevsky. I find it interesting that Robert Inchausti himself did not encounter this novel in its entirety until he was out of college. The only part he read in college was the Grand Inquisitor's attack to the church. What a shame! I have a literature major as well and yet did not encounter many of the incredible novels that have impressed me the most until after college was done and over with. Dostoevsky is one of my favorite writers, so I was pleased he began his series discussing him.

The next Russian author he focused on in this first workshop is Solzhenitzen. He couldn't be published because he didn't join the Communist Party. He was sent to prison for writing a letter about Stalin being an idiot. He wrote in his head as he marched and had every fifth line rhyme so he could remember his writing later when he wrote on paper. He would cut out the vowels to save space and write on tiny scrolls that he would hide in his cell. Writing for him was a spiritual search in truthtelling.

In the 1950's he got cancer and had radiation. He called his ex-wife to his side and asked her to get his writing so that it would not go undiscovered and she said no. A bit bitter I guess! Then he got well, which he always believed was divine intervention. He got a job as a high school english teacher and wrote at night outside his home. He buried one sheet at a time in tin cans in his backyard. He called Tolstoy's sister in Kansas and told her if he was arrrested to wait five years and then go and dig out his writing.

One thing he said was "if you can't write without a pencil on the tundra- you've got nothing to say."

He ended up eventually later in life making Jimmy Carter's wife mad, staying in New Hampshire and then going back to Russia. He got a TV show where he basically spent his time ranting. Kind of a sad way to end such a dramatic story...

If I have the energy I may write about one of his other sessions I was able to catch. For now, I am trying to absorb what he had to say and get through his book. I found this speaker very intelligent and would like to have been at every session he had, but in the world of Cornerstone, it is impossible to see and do it all.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cornerstone Festival 2007- Part 2

Another workshop I attended this past week was lead by Vincent Bacote from Wheaton College about the Emergent Church. The emergent movement/conversation got started by Dan Kimbal, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and Chris C. They started off as a leadership network of youth pastors from successful larger churches; some "mega-churches". They came from the church growth model that involved flashy presentations and were more seeker bent. They did not have the cross prominently displayed or include Christian symbols or things that may offend people. They began asking questions. Is this good?

(I must point out here that I did notice the absence of the cross when I started attending these seeker type environments and I ached to see the cross prominently displayed like the Methodist Church I was raised in. I spent so many Sundays staring at the old rugged cross and even before I understood the sermons as a child, I would meditate on the glory of this symbol central to our faith.)

This line of questioning lead to an experiment. They decided to have a church with a less flashy presentation and acoustic sets. They wanted to present without acting like they have all the answers. They wanted to engage in a post modern world. (Post modern being the range of ways one talks about our era- how we perceive/grasp reality. For example, believing that perspective really matters when you read the bible or engaging in skepticism to get a full sense of the truth.) They were interested in giving very authentic presentations. They were not afraid to ask questions.

This whole idea of the emergent church comes about from a practical theology. They read a lot, they talk about ideas and the emphasis is on practice. How are we doing this? It emerges from practicioners rather than from having a statement of faith. It is missional, which means not saying it has a mission but is a mission. It is very holistic. We do church instead of just talking about it.

Someone I am very interested in learning more about that he mentioned is Leslie Newbigin. His focus of being missional is on a way of practicing Christianity now- instead of saving souls for eternity. His focus is on social justice, poverty and the environment.

One of the criticisms of this "movement" (or conversation) is the lack of education of the founders. Tony Jones is the only one with a PhD (from Princeton). Brian McLaren is an English Major and a reader but Vincent mentioned that those things can only take you so far. Another criticism is it seems to be a very white male dominated conversation. The one female he mentioned was Karen Ward out of Seattle. He also mentioned of the danger of authenticity if we are not also thinking about personal holiness. At some point he said, boundaries will show up. At some point, you do start to nail things down and eventually come to the place where you answer the question- what do you believe?

A couple books he mentioned that I would like to read are Emergent Manifesto of Hope by Doug Pagitt and Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger.

I have to say that I am a friend of the emergent church. I welcome the authentic questioning, the discussion and the way they are even bringing back into light some of the ancient traditions of worship and prayer forgotten by the church. I like the creative, imaginative aspect to all of this. I am attracted to the grassroots feeling surrounding it. When I hear of women like Phyllis Tickle getting involved and see the Emerging Women's blog I am encouraged that it will not remain only a "white man's" conversation. All are invited! All are welcome!

Note: A blog summarizing some of the criticisms by John MacArthur on the emergent church can be found here and Dan Kimball's response to it can be found here. The conversation continues...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Poem of the Week

"There's a communion wafer moon
Dissolving on the blue tongue of the sky

Sometimes the whole world is nothing
So much
As an altar inviting us
To kneel"

Copyright 2007, Linford Detweiler

(via Over the Rhine)

Cornerstone Festival 2007- Part 1

I am back from a wonderful little festival called Cornerstone that takes place in the old corn fields of Bushnell, Illinois. This is my third journey out there and it becomes deeper and more meaningful everytime I go there. I spent the days at seminars and the evenings at concerts. In between I ate corn dogs and pasta and gyros and all sorts of unhealthy things that are part of the whole experience. Everything takes place under these big, wonderful tents and I feel like I am at one of the old revivals from the past.

There were some incredible speakers this year. Shane Claiborne, founding partner of the Simple Way and author of the book Irresistible Revolution, was one of the most convicting people there. He does not just talk about being a Christian, he is living it, day in and day out. I was challenged by him to be an "ordinary radical" and try to live differently than I ever have before. He started his seminar with a Peter Maurin quote. He said, "If we are crazy, at least we are not crazy in the same way the world has gone crazy." Shane is a dynamic speaker with dreadlocks and a message that is borne out of his life story and his experiences and his efforts to truly live the way Jesus did.

(Sidenote: Shortly before attending the festival I heard through the blog world that The Simple Way had a terrible fire. That is what brought my attention to him in the first place. I found out about his book and decided I wanted to read it sometime soon. Then as I was looking at what speakers were attending C-stone this year, there he was on the list! It is wonderful how that works for me sometimes.)

Shane's religious upbringing reminds me of my background in some ways. He grew up Methodist, like myself. Only problem is my congregation had become so small and filled with elderly people by the time I came along that I did not get the opportunity to attend confirmation classes and attend youth gatherings, like my Mom had years before when it was a bustling community. I did not even get the chance to be an alter girl, like my sister had been five years prior to me being at an age where I could do that. Boy, did I want to be one too! I wanted to wear the white robes and light the candles and do something for Jesus. Hee hee.

I want to quote a few thoughts of Shane's about John Wesley and criticisms about the Methodist Church because I do still have a heart for the foundations of this denomination and may even possibly head back there one day. Shane says, "I learned in confirmation classes about the fiery beginnings of the Methodist Church and its signature symbol of the cross wrapped in the flame of the Spirit. Where had the fire gone? I learned about John Wesley, who said that if they didn't kick him out of town after he spoke, he wondered if he had really preached the gospel. I remember Wesley's old saying. "If I should die with more than ten pounds, may every man call me a liar and a thief", for he would have betrayed the gospel. Then I watched as one of the Methodists congregations I attended built a $120, 000 stained-glass window. Wesley would not have been happy. I stared at that window. I longed for Jesus to break out of it, to free himself, to come to rise from the dead...again."

Then in high school Shane met some people that led him into the charismatic, interdenominational world. I found that world in college through Christians in Action. He was "secretly fascinated" by the speaking in tongues and dancing in the aisles, as was I. It was the passion for Christ that seemed to stand out in my mind. I remember attending Christian weekend retreats and learning different styles of worship and digging into the word and praying with a community of others my own age for the first time and it really was an exciting time for me. However, I could never quite get into the evangelism side of things, for I often felt they were trying to shove Jesus down the throats of strangers, completely out of context from the people they were throwing flyers at. I never got into the idea of selling Jesus and even back then believed that to be a witness for Christ meant living quiet lives doing the things Jesus did. At the core of this was attempting to love others. Shane became a complete "Jesus Freak" and did that for almost a year before the newness and glamour of it began to wear off for him. I like the way he described it. He was "overchurched" but wanted to really study and learn all he could about Jesus.

So Shane ended up attending Eastern College in Pennsylvania (where btw, a preacher named Tony Campolo chaired the sociology department). This is where he met some friends that would take him to the inner city streets to meet the homeless and get to know them personally. He experienced discomfort and fear at the very beginnings of this. It is "amusing" to read that he actually left one of his credit cards in his college dorm room when heading out to the city, in case his wallet was stolen and while he was gone, his credit card was stolen by someone in his dorm who went out and racked up a lot of money on it! It was during this time that he actually spent the nights in the streets with the homeless because his friend had been reading Mother Theresa who said, "...we can't understand the poor until we begin to understand what poverty is like."

Oh, how I wish I had met a group of people like this on the campus of Oakland University where I spent my college years. A person needs someone scaffolding them into new ways of thinking and being and living out their faith. A little nudge into helping someone expand their comfort zones can change the course of someone's life. Here is was that Shane, a high school prom king of his class, who wanted to go into the medical field to make lots of money, began to head down a different road than he ever expected to.

He became involved with Kensington Welfare Mothers who had moved into an abandoned Cathedral called St. Ann's Church. This group is quoted as saying, "How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?" The Catholic Church found out about them and said they had forty-eight hours to leave. Shane's group of friends organized in a college dorm room and went out to the area bringing about a hundred others and the media. The Catholic Church was unable to kick them out with all the attention on the situation. For months this went on. At one point they even tried to get the fire department to come out and condem the place. Two anonymous firefighters showed up the night before this was to happen bringing smoke detecters and exit signs and getting the place up to code so that they would pass the inspection. It is sad to note that they got one box of donations from the church during that time that contained a box of popcorn and yet the mafia came out and brought each of the children living there a new bike, turkeys for the families and donated thousands of dollars to the organization. What does that say about the condition of the church? Finally, people started coming forward and buying houses for the homeless women and they eventually were able to leave the cathedral of their own accord.

Shane's story continues as he tells of wanting to find a Christian who was really doing the word and not just talking about it.
He wanted to spend time with this person and learn about how to live that way. He found that one person. Mother Theresa. He wrote a letter asking her if he could come to Calcutta and when he didn't get a response he started calling around trying to get a way to reach her. He found a "Mother Superior" that actually gave him a number where she was and at two in the morning from his college dorm room called the Missionaries of Charity and Mother Theresa answered the phone! That was the beginning of his experiences in Calcutta where he spent his mornings in the orphanage and his afternoons in the Home for the Destitute and Dying.

He also spent time in Iraq back in 2003 and I did not get to the seminar where he talked about that time and I have not gotten to it in his book I have been furiously reading since I came back home. I do know it was great to see a man filled with a fire in his belly for Jesus, living out the life of a Christian in every sense. He talks about how much we need imagination to live out our Christianity. He was inspiring and challenging and I am glad to have been able to hear him speaking from his heart about his life.

I plan to have more to come about the other seminars from other speakers on the Emergent Church, Subversive Orthodoxy and the Farm Bill. Then of course there are the concerts. I have written a bit about my favorite concert of the festival somewhere on this page here.