Monday, September 24, 2012

Kickass Title Goes Here

Blue Like Jazz: The Movie
I’ve written at least twice (here and here) about my (extremely limited) involvement in the Blue Like Jazz: The Movie, a February release that earned a whopping B-minus in the paper that we subscribe to. (Yes, we still subscribe to not one, but TWO papers.) The same grade, I might add, that Tim Burton’s comedy/horror film Dark Shadows, which came out about the same time, received. 

Blue Like Jazz:
the book
Blue Like Jazz: The Movie started out as a book called Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, by Donald Miller. His casual, easy way with words, his struggles with faith, faithlessness and fatherlessness, laid out plainly for all to ruminate over, spoke to many, many readers. I’m guessing that’s why they were able to have the movie financed, not by fancy Hollywood producers, but by people like me. The book was that good. Anyway, Donald Miller has written plenty of other books as well, so I would consider him pretty knowledgeable about a thing like how to write a book. 

by Donald Miller, who is
more than qualified to
advise fellow writers.
However... according to the September 20th post on Miller’s blog The 5 Steps to Writing a Book, he struggles with writing just like the rest of us. His list includes vital tips like, “Look at other books on Amazon and study their covers. Print one of the covers and cross the author’s name out to write yours.” And “Obsess about who is and isn’t following you on Twitter for half the first day. Get angry at yourself for being distracted and throw your phone into the woods as a sacrifice to your craft.” 

Since in addition to my meager writing,  I am doing a hundred other things that are – or should be – my primary concerns – graphic designing, mom-ing, concerts, watching TV, cooking, (I would say cleaning, but that would be a lie), – I would not describe myself as a Writer, as Donald Miller is a Writer... but I will say that his list rings pretty true to the messy business of marshaling thoughts into something fit for others to read. 

And while my lazy little blog is nothing like the books he churns out, I do have my own method. Here’s how I do it:

1. Think and think and think until you come up with a topic. If nothing comes, stream the latest episode of Grimm, or listen to Who’s Next or Face Dances. Even though pop culture gives me a lot of ideas, this may or may not help, but you’ll enjoy yourself in the meantime.

2. When something to say comes to you, you will probably be on the john or in bed, or driving or something. Repeat it over and over in your head so you won’t forget. Jot it down when you get the chance.

3. The ball is rolling. If you’re lucky, more ideas will come to your mind to elaborate on it. Songs, movies, books, Bible quotes... 
If you're stuck, watch
something fun...

4. If a window of time opens up for you to do some actual banging away on your keyboard, bang it out. It doesn’t matter where you start. Just start. Hopefully, you haven’t forgotten your topic and all the other things you thought of to decorate it with.

5. Write everything you can think of, then edit, arrange and rearrange until it makes sense to you. Pray that it also makes sense to someone else. 

6. Read through and find appropriate photos to kick it up a notch. Humorous pics or snaps of great looking guys are always good. Add the photos, write captions – either informative or amusing. Both if possible. Apparently, lots of people read the photo captions on a web page. In Blogger, the first photo inserted shows up on your Facebook link, so I try to make the top pic something that will really draw people in. 

7. Italicize all the song, movie, book titles.

8. Search for good song videos on YouTube to link to the song references. I like artist performing song live best – if the lyrics are intelligible. Official video, also good.

9. Think of a kickass title. Or settle for the best you can think of.

10. Do the spell check. 

11. Hit “Publish” and “Share” on FB and Twitter! Tag people you might have mentioned or who you think will especially "get it." Pray that they do, and that other people give it the time of day.

12. Read it over again after it’s posted and go back and tweak it, hoping that not many people have read it yet...
...or listen to something good.

13. Worry that you offended someone. That it was “too Christian” or “not Christian enough.”

14. Go back every now and then – okay, repeatedly – to check if anyone has read it. 

This is my regular way. Another thing I do, less frequently, is... sit down in front of the computer when I have a block of time with the idea that I should be writing, since I have time. Some of the less organized posts I’ve come up have resulted in this... like the one about Eric Montross, or several posts about writer’s block. There are fewer of these because I have very few chunks of time to just sit down and hammer something out. No, more frequently, I finally come up with a topic, no matter how tenuous, and am scrambling to find the time to get it to you. And by frequently, I mean about once a week. Yes, it’s actually saying something to say that I have more ideas than time, because Lord knows my store of ideas is alarmingly bare...

Writing is hard. But look at my 
bitchin' ring! (Thanks, Tom!)
Both methods are painful.... because writing is hard. However, I repeatedly choose to take to heart the encouragement that Donald Miller gives in the blog entry I referred to earlier: “By writing, you are saying to God I agree with you, you gave me a voice and the gift was not in vain. By writing, you are showing up on the stage of life rather than sitting in the comfortable theater seats (there is a time for both) and are casting your voice out toward an audience who is looking for a character to identify with, somebody to guide them through their own loneliness, no matter how transparent or hidden that loneliness is.”

On the one hand, that’s a bit of pressure on a person who undertakes to write regularly: God gave you that gift. Don’t waste it. On the other hand, Donald Miller has just told us that he’s here to guide us through the loneliness that comes from being alone with our thoughts and held accountable for sharing them. He definitely knows what it is to struggle to put words on a page.  He’s a Writer, after all.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dig my "YOP"!

Bill and the giant inflatable
hammer I won by looking 38.
You know how I love Asheville, right? What’s not to love, right? I went into detail here, so I won’t mention those things again. We just got back from a super fast, super busy trip there. We ate at our favorite restaurants, went to the Mountain State Fair – which I highly recommend, by the way. I know the State Fair in Raleigh is a huge deal, and people love it, but if you want the whole fair experience without the hassle, I recommend the smaller, much more mellow, Mountain State Fair at the Ag Center just west of Asheville.

Just ONE of the delicious
things you can eat at the fair.
It’s got all the humongous vegetables, fascinating stinky animals, live music, carnies, con games with cheap prizes and deep fried deliciousness you could ever want. What you want get is a smelly crowd that ambles slowly and won’t let you pass for nuthin’. The fair is not what this is about, but I will say this last thing: The age guesser pegged me at a whipper-snapping THIRTY-EIGHT! Well worth the $3 it cost to play. Plus we got a huge inflatable hammer that Bill mostly uses to bonk me in the butt.

Anyway, one of the things I love about Asheville is the church I used to go to when I lived there – Grace and Peace Presbyterian Church. It’s a very relaxed, understated little PCA kirk with about, I don’t know, 50 people there on any given Sunday? The music is basic hymns deliberately sung – nothing fancy. They go over a bit of the Westminster shorter catechism each Sunday, then the pastor, Jonathan Inman, a slightly scruffy guy about my age clad in hiking boots, hiking shorts and Neil Young t-shirt, saunters up to the front, perches himself nonchalantly on a stool and starts talking in a voice that I would describe as … conversational…? His voice is soothingly low, almost as if he’s … pleading? That’s not the right word, but I really can’t think of what I mean to say. There’s nothing oratory or preachy about it – a spectacular feat… for a preacher!
Grace and Peace Presbyterian Church
meets in The Venue on Market Street
in downtown Asheville.

I’m not married to a particular denomination; I just love me some gospel. And I love a church with fantastic, sophisticatedly arranged and presented rockin’ music, so I was looking for such a place when I moved to Asheville in 2000. I settled in at Grace and Peace, though, because I loved this fellow’s sermons and style. His MO is to go through books of the Bible chapter by chapter with the congregation, which I love. Nothing gets left out, and you get to hear about all the parts the pastor might shy away from otherwise. (Is this the longest intro EVER?) Anyway, Jonathan normally reads out the chapter at hand then just sort of talks through it, his quiet discourse always winding around to … Jesus.

While doing an image search for
a photo of Jonathan Inman, I
discovered that the hilarious guy
from "Are You Being Served" is
called John Inman. I couldn't resist
using his pic instead!
Because everything in the Bible points to Jesus. Everything. Even the stuff that happened before he was born… and after he died. Whether you are perusing the historical records, the genealogies, the songs, the advice, the erotic poetry, the laments and predictions of the prophets, the gospels, the letters… He’s all over it.

This past weekend, Jonathan said that his wife had made the following comment regarding an earlier sermon: “My mind kind of started to wander before you got to the Jesus part.” So this time, he decided to BEGIN his sermon on Proverbs 3 with what he called, “the Jesus part.” Now, I never gave much thought to the structure of his sermons until he brought this up. But now that he mentions it… that’s exactly the way I write a blog! I never thought about it before (except the other day when I gave you the actual outline), but that’s mostly how they go, right? Story, music, movie or book, self-deprecating humor…. JESUS! See? Because everything begins and ends with Jesus.

One time I was making an eight-hour drive to visit my brother and his family in Chattanooga and to pass the time, I thought, “I’m going to make every song on this album, (Pete Townshend’s White City: A Novel) about Jesus.” It was surprisingly easy. As Pete Townshend frequently trades in the imagery of sin and redemption, I was able to pull out at least one line or reference that spoke to me of God’s own Son… I was momentarily stumped by the jealous tirade that is Second Hand Love, until I remember that God describes Himself as “a jealous God.” Piece of cake. Delicious cake.

He's got the WHOLE world in His hands!
So, you see, everything really IS about Jesus. Even if it’s completely ungodly, it serves as a contrast or a gaping maw of need. In the Revelation of St. John, Jesus says: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” I’m pretty sure He’s everything in between as well. Paul says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” And, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Yep. That about sums it up.

Remember when Horton 
heard the Who?
So in my mind, every story, every song, every aspect of life is tied up in the One who made us, and the world around us… whether we realize it or not. Remember when Horton heard the Who? Those tiny people were on the speck, whether or not the kangaroo and other naysayers acknowledged it our not. If only God would make an audible “YOP!” so we could know He’s around. Oh wait… He sent His own Son. That’s a fairly noticeable “YOP!” I’m being preachy, aren’t I? I’d rather be cool like Jonathan… all mellow and understated… But I guess I’m just a little more out-of-control than that…

YAY! An excuse to
put in a photo of
Russell Brand!
Anyway, I’m sure that to some people this aspect of my world view is pretty irritating. I can only imagine some are thinking, “Here it comes… wait for it… AND there it is! She mentioned Jesus.” My actual conversations don't go like this, in case you were wondering… maybe if we got close and spent a couple hundred hours engaged in deep fat-chewing. Or if you asked. Then I’d gladly slide into a little God talk. In an informative, passionate, but hopefully humble and non-pushy way, of course.

I heard this morning on NPR about how Google has incorporated the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game into its search engine. You type in “bacon number” and the name of a movie actor and it will tell you how far away from Kevin Bacon they are. For instance, so that I could have an excuse to include a foxy photo of Russell Brand in my blog, I typed in “bacon number Russell Brand.” I got these results: Russell Brand's Bacon number is 2: Russell Brand and Rose Byrne appeared in Get Him to the Greek. Rose Byrne and Kevin Bacon appeared in X-Men: First Class.

Since you’re no doubt wondering where I’m going with this… In MY brain, EVERYTHING is appearing in a movie with Jesus. EVERYTHING is has a Jesus score of ONE… whether directly referring to Him, or recalling His grace…. or a deep need for it. For example, Headhunters: Headhunters is about a deeply insecure person. Insecure people need Jesus. Or, Bob Marley: “Bob Marley was a Rastafarian who may have converted to Christianity.”

Graphically illustrated, if this were one of those silly flow charts people post on Facebook, it would all flow to Jesus. Look – I made one! My first! I often wonder at the time some people must have on their hands to make those detailed charts.

So… here’s the outline of this post: Story about Asheville and reference to Jonathan Inman… JESUS! That one was easy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Oh, the depth of the riches!

I’ve said before how my husband is all hip to the latest movies because he loves to read the New York Times... well, the most recent film I was treated to was a crazy Norwegian number called Headhunters. Now, normally, I tend to drift off into an upright doze when faced with subtitles after nine in the evening, but this one held my attention like a slow-motion car crash. 

It’s about Roger Brown – a short but handsome guy who steals art. Normally, I don’t notice if a guy is short or tall, because to me, everyone is tall... but in this case, the guy’s Napoleanic complex is pretty much his driving force. Because everything he does is to ensure the love of his supermodel-looking wife. He has a fine job as a recruiter – or “headhunter” – but nothing that would earn enough to purchase the gorgeous modern sculpture of a house they live in, or the walk-in closet full of designer clothing his wife has. 

They guy who plays Jaime
Lannister in
Game of Thrones
is also pretty evil in
Anyway, in his interviews with job-hunting executives, he ascertains whether they have any art worth stealing, then while they are at their second interview, he goes in an replaces it with a fake. So... when the evil-handsome guy who plays Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones plays him, then turns into an ex-army psycho killer, naturally hilarity ensues. I mean, it’s gross and violent and suspenseful and... honestly, very funny...

It was a great ride for a viewer with a fairly strong stomach, but what really stuck out in my mind was when, toward the end, Roger’s wife finds out about his other life as an art thief. Her reaction was something like, “You did this to buy me stuff? You think I need stuff? Is that what you think of me?”

It made me wonder whether we project our own insecurities onto our idea of who God is... and how He feels about it. And the answer is, of course, YES. We definitely do that. If we grew up in a strict or blaming home, we imagine that God is constantly judging us. Not that I would know anything about that... Although, I will say, that even when I was very thin, I still lived as though I were the insecure fat girl of my very young youth... the one who had to purchase people’s good will by being extra good, or extra good at it. 

It was the very grace of the very God that when on the precepice of life and death, instead of continuing on the path of, “God is just like my Dad, my boyfriend, etc...” I chose instead to contrast the way of humans with the ways of God, and embrace Him rather than reject Him.

Or if our parents are distant or missing, maybe we see God that way... Like He’s up there just doing His God thing and we are completely on our own. Or worse, we could feel like we are just a little flea circus down here hopping around for His entertainment.

Poor Job...
Another way we might misunderstand, is by projecting our own pet causes onto God... like all the different “theologies” – liberation theology, feminist theology, social theology... Of course God cares immensely about the liberation of oppressed peoples and the betterment of the world, but ... well, unless I am completely misunderstanding Him – which is not beyond possibility – God’s big concern is freeing us from sin and death rather than from human and societal oppressors. I mean, at one point Jesus says “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But... fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell.” (Luke 12) 

Moving right along, my point is this: Our understanding of God is limited – by our insecurities and also our concerns – and also our tiny pea-brains.  I guess I’m not telling you anything new. And, as with politics, sometimes we act as though our view of things is the definitive vew. And even though I am here telling you stuff, I'm going to try to be somewhat humble about what I am saying here. God is infinite, and I can’t begin to grasp or encapsulate how God thinks or feels... It's just not something anyone can know. 

Paul knew he didn't know much.
A prime illustration of someone who just didn't understand God is Job. This guy's afflicted with all kinds of afflictions, and he's like, “What the hell?” Of course he comes right out and freely admits that he doesn’t understand what God is up to. He wants to get up in God’s grill and confront Him. But God... well, it doesn’t attribute any emotion or tone to God’s words, but they sound pretty indignant to me. He’s all, “You don’t understand Me and you’re pretty arrogant to think I owe you any answers.” I guess God was indignant about Job’s attitude... his “What the hell?, I don’t deserve this,” kind of swagger.

In general, though, the Bible portrays a God who knows that we will misunderstand Him – but with more grace. Isaiah 55, says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Lucky for us, this passage refers to why He forgives people who turn to Him. I mean, sure His all-knowing, all-seeing-ness gives Him a good view of our crumminess, but that’s not what He’s looking for. He’s looking to show us the grace that He is made of. 

But what he DID know, he carried
far and wide. That's how good it was.
Paul also knew God’s mind is way too beautiful for us... and he loved it: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11) Paul knew he didn't know much but he did understand the grace of God and His interest in reconciliation and unity better than most.

Scripture is a good window
into the God's mind.
But even though it's a given that we just can't stretch our minds to comprehend Him, it seems that our failure to “get Him” kind of frustrates Him sometimes. We see this a lot with Jesus. He’s always saying stuff like, “Oh ye of little faith,” and “How long shall I put up with you?” Of course in Jesus’ case, He was standing right in front of them, healing people, feeding the 5,000, raising folks from the dead... So, I’m thinking His frustration might be warranted. I always think about Pilate looking Him right in the face and saying, “What is truth?” 

That said... Jesus DID talk in parables so it wouldn’t be completely easy for some people: “This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’ ” I always felt kind of sorry for the Pharisees... like they were set up. They were kept from seeing the truth, but were then blamed for it. It is made clear, though, that it was their own arrogance that hardened their hearts to who Jesus was. Is. Nonetheless, I still feel for those guys.

The Holy Spirit (depicted as a dove
in a detail from a painting by
Grace Kelly Laster) gives us our best 

window into God's awesome mind.
And the LAST thing I have to say: Apparently the Holy Spirit can give us a leg up in this department. In the Old Testament, people got glimpses into God's massive brain by reading Scripture. The author of Psalm 119 says, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” It's still a good way to learn, but the New Testament church received a much fuller understanding through the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells his friends, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.* 
*Yeah, that's right – I
quoted Carl Spackler.

Other evidence of this in the Bible: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.” And, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (1 Corinthians 2)

Paul also prays the following for his friends in church: “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.” The Catholics believe that the saints are in heaven praying for us now. If that is the case, I hope Paul is up there praying this for me now!

The back of the tapestry –
how life might look to us.
No, wait – THIS is the last thing I’m going to say: It looks like to me that knowing God’s mind, having the mind of Christ... is not about giving us extra tools to condemn people or ourselves with. It’s about sharing His love and grace. About unity. For instance, Paul signs off on one of his letters with this: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15) 

So... I’ve led us far, far away from the movie Headhunters, and I've thrown a lot of verses at you. If you weren’t able to slog it all, here’s my synopsis:

1 - Set up about movie Headhunters
2 - Observations about how we misunderstand God
3 - Answers that I have gleaned from the Bible
     a. God’s mind is much deeper and wider than anything we can understand
     b. He knows we can’t understand Him
     c. It's frustrating to Him sometimes.
     d. Scripture and The Holy Spirit can educate us regarding the heart and mind and God
     e. Knowing God’s mind is not for condemnation and division, but for acceptance and unity
The front of the tapestry – how life
might look to God. Except that we really
can't imagine how it might look to Him.

Yes, there was actually a structure and unity to this ramble... It's like that tired, but meaningful old comparison of life as a tapestry. We look at our lives and see a big puzzling mess... but what we are looking at is the back of the tapestry woven by God Himself – with the threads all zig-zagging and hanging down and tied off. But if we could see what God sees, we would see the gorgeous, precisely-designed front of a masterpiece of beauty and artistry... the fabric of love and grace our world, our lives and our faith is made of.