L’Chaim, To Life: Freedom and Healthy Debate

medium_4110421350In France, Europeans marched in the streets, a solemn display of their intent to defend their right to express their opinions. In the Middle East, Muslims rioted over the public ridicule of their prophet and vowed revenge. A great divide exists between people who now live and work shoulder to shoulder.

While researching a minor character in a book I’m writing, I came across this quote by Senator William Borah.

“No more fatuous chimera has ever infested the brain than that you can control opinions by law or direct belief by statute, and no more pernicious sentiment ever tormented the heart than the barbarous desire to do so. The field of inquiry should remain open, and the right of debate must be regarded as a sacred right.”

The Senator said this in 1917.

Islam extremists despise the freedoms we hold dear. They fear losing control of the hearts and minds of their people.

The editors of Charlie Hebdo had the courage of their convictions. They believed that all religions need to be called out for the harm their leaders do in the name of their prophets. In their zeal, they satirized Islam’s prophet, using his image as a symbol for the radical action of his followers.

Satire, by its nature, is provocative. Is it art? I am using literary critic John Gardner’s definition of art as an expression of Beauty, Truth and Goodness that that seeks to improve life, not debase it. By that definition, there is likely some truth in what Charlie’s artists portray (I have not seen the cartoons). More to the point, liberty improves life. Thought control debases life. That said, satirical cartoons have their purpose, but they are not great art.

A stronger affirmation of the value of life might be a ground swell of response in all the artistic disciplines, a campaign to champion works of art that display universal values of Beauty, Truth and Goodness, a movement to produce great works that elevate the human spirit. 

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May I have a word?

A trendy bar in San Francisco's Mission District makes a space for art

A trendy bar in San Francisco’s Mission District makes a space for art


Sis asked me about my word for 2015. Each year we choose a word to focus on, one that embodies a concept we wish to understand on a deeper level. This year she is focusing on the goodness of God. My word is beauty.

We do a word study to define the term, and we read Scripture and books on our chosen topic to expand our understanding, This year, we will spend a year looking for goodness and beauty in the ugly and mundane.

I suspect she has chosen goodness because she is marginally involved in a situation that is not good. How did my pick happen? Through a confluence of two unrelated events, I chose to focus on beauty this year.

Beauty and the Arts

The first event: Describing her creative process at a recent Poets & Writers Live event, an artist suggested that when we stop pursuing perfection and begin to explore what is ugly, that is the place where art begins. I was mulling that over when I moved to the next chapter in my morning read, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World, by David Skeel. The chapter title was “Beauty and the Arts.”

The author maintains that a Christian’s sense of beauty helps us see the true nature of the universe, “a glimpse that is both temporary and real, and which suggests that the world is not as it should be. To idealize beauty is to deny a central part of our experience, the author contends. So in that sense the artist is right.

Art that is true to the reality we experience will portray the dynamic tension between what we long for and what we suffer. I don’t think she means to say that art begins with ugliness, but that it doesn’t happen without exploration of corruption. No wonder art is so provocative!

Beauty in the sacred spaces

The panel of artists also discussed the concept of leaving space in a work of art to make room for contemplation or conversation. This was on my mind as I was planning for a totally unrelated second event.

I’m helping a friend deal with clutter. I needed a strategy. A friend suggested I read Psalm 31. As is typical, David is feeling besieged. He says, “You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in spacious places.” And that is where it all came together. If I can help my friend create space, the result will be beautiful.

Beauty appears in sacred spaces. Art acknowledges the tension between our longing for beauty and the reality of life in an imperfect world. Moments of beauty connect us with God, in appreciation, contemplation or conversation.

Is there a word you would like to adopt this year?

I have more to say about what I heard at Poets & Writers Live in my January newsletter. If you are interested and aren’t a subscriber, sign up in the box at the top right of this blog.

Getting Through

medium_16036685691I use getting through as a life strategy. I get through one thing, and then another, and then another. Why do we speak of life events as something we need to get through?

I got through the holidays. More to the point, I got to spend precious time with my family. I felt like I was in a movie when I met my friend Sherill on a blustery day in a trendy bistro near Pike’s Market in Seattle; spirits were high; our conversation was magic; it was exciting to be on the streets instead of in the kitchen.

I tend to measure life as the next event I have to get through, instead of the next moment of anticipated joy. I think that’s because events always harbor unknowns. Will the plane arrive on time, the weather cooperate, our luggage make it to the turnstile? Will we all hold it together or will someone get put out, or get their feelings hurt? (We did quite well on all these fronts.)

What are the stresses that make us view a date marked on our calendar as a grit-your-teeth-and-go moment?

Time crunch

Events often require planning and preparation. That takes time away from our normal routine in which we have likely squeezed too many activities already. Something won’t get done. Something will fall through the cracks and come back to haunt us.

Fear of the known

I am driving to San Francisco this weekend to attend Poet’s & Writer’s Live. I hate to drive on the hills in the City by the Bay! Will my car get stuck in a vertical posture at the crest of a hill? Will I roll back and hit the car behind me before I can stomp the accelerator hard enough to move forward?

Fear of the unknown

The event is being held at the Brava Center. Never been there. Will I find parking? I’m going alone. Will I find people to hang out with? I’m planning to stay with my friend Charlene. Will that work out okay?

It’s a constant push to keep my comfort zone from shrinking. To that end, my New Year’s Resolutions present themselves.

I accept the challenge to keep my comfort zone clutter free to make room for what I truly care about. Far less distracting myself with social media. All those prompts to “check this out; read this; try that; sign up today…? Delete, delete, delete.

No! to calls for action that don’t align with my purpose. It’s time to face the truth. Literary fiction is what I write. There isn’t much market for it so far as I can tell. It isn’t lucrative, unless you get lucky. I’m in it for love, not money. I have to accept that if I don’t treat my writing as a business and churn out what’s popular, I will not be considered a serious writer.

Yes! to opportunities to spend face time with family, friends and neighbors, my community of writers, and readers of all persuasions. Nothing expands the borders of your comfort zone like making room for people.

Is your comfort zone shrinking or expanding? I ask this question with no judgement. There are seasons of life in which both are appropriate. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

photo credit: deeplifequotes via photopin cc

Excerpts: a sale, a past, and a present

giftToday the Kindle edition of The Sheep Walker’s Daughter went on sale for $0.99. I am tasked with promoting the sale, so I thought I’d share some excerpts of the different ways Dee celebrated Christmas.

If you have read Dee’s story in my two books, you know her struggle. Life events come into sharp focus in the way we celebrate (or don’t) our holidays.


Valerie (The Sheep Walker’s Daughter)

“Mother and I managed to make it through Christmas—she by working a lot and me by reading a lot. On Christmas Day we saw Roman Holiday. After the holiday Mom and I had, I’m ready for a holiday of my own.

“Thanksgiving and Christmas are always awkward because none of the women in or family cooks. Now that we are a family of two, it’s easier. My grandmother always wanted to go out to eat, but Mom and I don’t have the heart for it this year. I’m not sentimental about holiday traditions, but where am I headed when I spend Christmas with my mother in a movie theatre filling up on popcorn and Coke instead of Christmas dinner?”

Dee (The Lyre and The Lambs)

“Valerie and I are the decorations and food committee. After much discussion, we have decided to leave the aluminum tinsel tree in the box. We send Roger to the Christmas tree lot for the biggest fir tree he can hunt down and load in the truck he borrowed from Carlo.

“It has been challenging to turn the living room into a wedding chapel the Saturday before Christmas.”

No 12 foot tree for us this year!

No 12 foot tree for us this year!

Christmas Past

I suspect we all have some holidays that hold painful memories. Usually they are attached to difficult relationships and unmet expectations. The path that Dee walked pointed to a future where she learned how to make happier memories. Toward the end of The Sheep Walker’s Daughter, Dee tells Valerie:

The things we leave behind aren’t important. What’s important are the memories we carry forward and what we do because of them.

Christmas Present

Do you have a memory that needs to be reshaped to accommodate a new reality, one you are living now or one you hope to live?

This season I wish for you the hope that is expressed in Psalm 27:13:

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Whatever your circumstances, may the light of hope shine through the window to your soul and give you peace.

photo credit: Maigret Lampwork via photopin cc

Advent 2014

WreathI love the concept of Advent, pulling away from the everyday to prepare for an arrival; marking time until a special event; slowing down to a wait.

Mornings I fire up my Jacquie Lawson online advent calendar and experience an Edwardian Advent. Last year’s calendar jumped me right into shopping, decorating and running all over the countryside. This year’s countdown is a crawl. The Edwardians approached the holidays with a clear sense of decorum. Did you know that a plum pudding had to boil for eight hours and hang in the pantry for five weeks to gain full flavor?

As the family changes, so do traditions. The big tree has given way to a small pot of rosemary on the dining bar. We’ve moved over to Christ Presbyterian in Goodyear, AZ to deepen our appreciation of the season with liturgical worship.

I love choir robes. To focus on words, music and facial expressions without distracting fashion statements brings me to a deeper place.

I love vestments. In a age of so little regard for people who hold office, vestments invite respect for a pastor who has labored through years of education and spiritual formation to bring me a message of hope.

Even though big trees, big shopping, and big entertaining are no longer part of our celebration, unwritten Christmas cards pile up on the desk, acts of love and appreciation slip my mind until a neighbor comes by with a lovely remembrance, the everyday presses in upon me.

I love that Advent comes at the end of the year, when I can let go of this year’s expectations, met and unmet, because we are out of time. Pssst, no one’s looking. They are all at the mall, hanging lights, in line at the post office, ferrying children to pageant practice, preparing end of the year reports.

Into this world was born the One of whom the angel said, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people. (Luke 2:10) So kick back and put your feet up. Your delivery in on His way.

Every day my mailbox fills up with promises of great deals. Just today, I deleted a message purportedly from Facebook telling me that they were awarding my account with one million dollars for the advancement of education, signed Svetlana someone-or-other. (I kid you not.) Of the hundreds of offers I have received, I have responded to one. Ballet tickets for 25 % off really are a good deal. But not nearly as good a deal as what the angel offered us.

Let’s wait for Him.

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