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Telling Our Stories

I am going back through some posts from a blog  I no longer maintain.  These are posts that I think are worth sharing again.

Been a busy couple of weeks with one thing or another. I was thinking about histories and personal journals the other day. I’ve kept my appointment books for the last decade or so because I didn’t want to lose that part of my personal history. I’m not one of those people who can rattle off at a moment’s notice when this happened or the date of that. I’m lucky if I remember everyone’s birthday from year to year. But the growing pile of these outdated calendars was really bugging my lady wife and being the good hubby I vowed to take care of it.
My solution was to copy all important dates/events/stories out into one of my larger journals. It’s been a wonderful exercise re-living my life. Notes on unusual weather events, cryptic notes about trips that no one seems to remember, wonderful moments like discovering the very first time we had to “ground” my daughter (she was 2!). Milestones that had slipped my mind are now safely recorded in the journal and the little books have been sent to the dump.
In the course of the exercise, it suddenly dawned on me. I don’t do this anymore. I’ve left behind the paper date book for a PDA. I no longer can quickly jot down the little events that take place. The graffiti mode is still not second nature to me and I’m too often away from my desk to type them in and synch them up. Besides it lacks a certain spontaneity a certain organic je ne sais quoi. I think I’ve lost something in the process.
Our lives today seem so forward focused that we forget we have a past. My life is not a free floating mote of energy unconnected to the universe around me. I am part of a continuum of Phillippis that stretches back in this part of the world to before the Revolutionary War. I am connected with Francis who came to this land as an 18-year-old orphan, dispatched by his uncle to scout out the new world for the family as they prepared to leave France. There are generations of dirt farmers between him and me but they are all there. I have strong bonds with a lawyer in Texas and a script reader in California, and a little old lady moving into her new house in Pennsylvania. Plus folks spread out across the country. They are part of my past but it is my past that makes up my present. This person typing, with a space heater blowing on his legs (cause it’s COLD today!) in WNY, didn’t spring spontaneously into existence. I come from somewhere, some of you who read this blog are part of who I am because you are part of who I was and what I did and where I came from. We must never forget that.
I need to find some way to continue to share this history so that perhaps one day a grandchild or great grandchild will come across the words and say “Hey, I’m related to this person and see what he did and what he thought!”

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Creativity and Faith

I’m not sure I have spent as much time on anything in my life as I have on the time topics in the title.  Once upon a time, the Christian church was one of the great supporters of artistic creation.  Today, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that one of the great stumbling blocks facing the future of the institutional church is that it has largely turned away from creativity.

Some, I know, will instantly say that the sooner the institutional church dies, the better the faith (and the world) will be.  While I am often a vocal critic of the institution, its politics and inertia inspired blindness, I’m not quite ready to give up on it just yet.  We are called together in our life in faith.  When two or more are gathered together in one place, there had better be some kind of structure.  Otherwise, nothing gets done.

Some will also raise the cry that there’s plenty of creativity in the church, right now.  To that I’m afraid I have to say while there are pockets of creativity, I’m not seeing the creative being celebrated in large swathes of my faith.  Creativity does not thrive in places where absolute fidelity to tradition, history and “how it’s always been done” is paramount.

I love classic church architecture, far more than most of the modern church design I’ve seen.  There is a church not far from where I used to live that I thought was a warehouse for years, till they finally got the sign up on the highway side of the building.  Once buildings were built to symbolize the glory of God.  Today they could easily be movie theaters or warehouses.  There is lots of fine church music that has been around for years.  Too often it is treated like a museum piece, to be carefully preserved just the way it has always been.  There is some fine modern music as well, but there’s plenty that isn’t.  Being old doesn’t make something good, but neither does being new.

The classic example (one of many) can be found in my own tradition.  As Episcopalians, we are part of the Anglican tradition.  We are largely defined by our Book of Common Prayer.  It provides the pattern of our life in faith and worship.  And it is real easy for us to treat that book like Holy Writ, never to be changed, never to be interpreted in any way other than the way it was by our predecessors.  If we are not careful we will be permanently turned towards the past.  And there is now new creativity there.

Creativity is a matter of weaving together what has gone before with what is available now.  It’s not easy.  Being creative never is.  It’s trial and error.  It’s an ongoing process.  That makes people uncomfortable.  But that’s an important part of creativity as well.

Let me give you an example of what I see as a great  creative response to worship space.  It combines the traditional and the new.  If you ever get the chance to visit or worship at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.  It draws on the architecture of a fourth-century basilica with some amazing modern touches.

philadelphia-cathedral-600-587x0

The basic form is classic church architecture but without traditional pews.  This allows all kinds of unusual options for worship.  Note the raised chancel area in the back of the photo.  The curved benches can serve as choir or for a variety of other uses.  Note the high-tech lighting that creates an almost starfield effect.  I’ve been in some fabulous churches and cathedrals.  None have affected me the way this one did.

Here’s a slightly different view, note the rectangular box on the right.  That’s a baptismal font.  One that the person being baptized can kneel in the water.  Next to it, and if memory serves, with the water able to flow from the traditional basin font into the larger font.  Again, the intersection of the ancient and the new.

CATHEDRALEVENTPHOTOS20102011a027_lg

 

Imagine if we took the same approach to our music, our worship, our liturgy, our teaching, and preaching.  Creativity is a gift of God.  Might be nice if we shared it with Him occasionally.

Just a thought.

 

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The Etiquette of Walking in Circles

Over the last couple years, I have had a great location to do my walking and running (when I’ve managed to pull that off).  Just a few miles away is a great local park with a small lake in the center.  Given the Scottish history of the name of the town where I live (Midlothian), I love that the lake is named Loch Lothian.  There is a paved path around the lake that covers 1.14 miles.  It’s a beautiful little walk that is convenient.  So it’s the perfect exercise location.

CirclesThe difficulty of a circular exercise path is that folks walk in both directions and that means you keep passing the same people over and over.  Which creates some etiquette problems.

Here’s the Craxy, Mized Up World Etiquette for Walking In Circles.

The first time you pass someone you have to acknowledge them.  If it’s a guy, then you give the “nod”.  (When I was younger I know the “nod” made some of my female friends crazy.  Like it or not, it is part of the universal male language.  A short downward nod for someone you don’t know, a quick upward nod for someone you know or have a connection with.  For example, someone else with a Pittsburgh sports team logo will get the up nod, even if I don’t know them).  For the ladies, I need to be a bit more circumspect.  You don’t want to come off creepy, so a closed mouth smile is what I go with.

The second time around is just a variation on the first, but smaller.  It comes with a “Yeah, we’ve done this already” kind of vibe.  After the second time, you can politely ignore each other.

There are a couple other variations that need to be acknowledged.  Teenagers can be different.  If a teenaged boy acknowledges you at all, they can be dealt with like any other guy.  Just the nod and you’re good.  Teenaged girls have an even lower threshold for “creepiness” for a middle-aged man than adult women.  In general, I will just glance at them, to let them know I see them.  If they say something to me I will give them a quick “Hi” and go back to ignoring them.

The other unique group is small children.  If I see a child is zeroed in on me I will give them a smile and a wave.  Otherwise, just a smile.  You need to watch the reaction of the adult with them.  Most of the time saying hello is just fine, especially since you’re moving and not hanging about.  Sometimes the adult really is heavily into the “stranger danger” mode, so I shift my focus to dealing with the adults.

I don’t have earphones in as a general rule.  It’s thinking time and I don’t want the outside distraction.  The general etiquette rule seems to be that if you’re listening to something you can go straight to ignore mode.

If you’ve ever wondered what “over-thinking an issue” looks like, this is probably it.  It’s also the kind of thing I think about while I’m exercising.

Maybe I’d be better off with something to listen to!

If you have thoughts on exercise etiquette, feel free to drop me a comment below.

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Feel God’s Pleasure

Call this the result of the intersection of my faith and my love of movies.  A Lenten reflection for today.  Part of a series of reflections being done by the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Midlothian, VA.

                      “I believe God made me for a purpose.  But he also made me fast.  And when I run, I feel his pleasure”.

If you’re a movie fan you may recognize that line from “Chariots of Fire”.  It’s spoken by Eric Liddell, the Scottish runner whose story shares center stage in the movie.  Today is the day in our calendar of remembrances when we remember him.

Eric LiddellThe Liddell character (and the historical figure) fascinates me.  Eric finds himself caught between just doing what is expected of him (following his family to China to work as evangelists) or realizing all gifts that God had given him and running in the 1924 Olympics.  In the end, he makes, in my opinion, the correct decision.  In the 400 meters, he would set a new record that summer, then join his family in China and work there for almost twenty years.  Eric Liddell would die of a brain tumor while in a prison camp during World War II.

What attracts me to this story is the understanding that we are more than one thing.  That God has given us more than a single calling or gift.  They may have nothing at all to do with one another, but they are part of the richness that God granted each of us.  How often do we leave some portion of that richness unexplored because it doesn’t match our or others vision of who we are “supposed to be”?  How much of God’s pleasure do we not receive because we chose the safe path?

Eric Liddell’s story reminds us that God’s gifts are bounteous;  that his joy in us flows readily whenever we are prepared to live into those gifts.

God made you for a purpose.  Find it and feel his pleasure.

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The Creativity Project – Red

In my ongoing attempt to keep the creative side of me flowing (which was the original purpose of this blog), I’ve decided to take on a weekly photo challenge.  Dogwood Photography came up with this interesting challenge (HERE) where you have to come up with a photo a week in one of three categories – Portrait, Landscape or Artistic Impression.  Each week has one with a slightly different challenge.  It sounded like fun, so I’m giving it a try.

Week three was “Red”.  This is the “Artistic Impression” category, so the idea is to stretch the limits somehow.  Always the most challenging and potentially the most satisfying.  The first challenge is to find something red.  Then to find something interesting that is red.  And then find an interesting way to approach the image.

So I spent a while just looking for things that were red.  Actually more difficult than expected.  Then, while shopping, I stumbled on these.

But my camera wasn’t with me.  Sigh.

One of the interesting things about living in the 21st century is that we are almost NEVER without a camera.  So I reached into my pocket and pulled out my Moto G (2nd Gen) phone and snapped.  Got some peculiar looks from the staff but hey, you gotta make sacrifices for your art.

Between the camera and the lighting, the carts came out a bit more orange than I wanted so I tweaked it post production

Still have lots to learn with my image editing suite, but I liked this version.

Carts

But as soon as I got home I saw another subject and decided to try that too.  This gave me the chance to use my Super Macro mode for the very first time.  This is a cactus that I’ve owned for several years (cacti are generally the only plant that I can not kill).  Last year, for the very first time, it bloomed.  And then a few weeks ago it did it again.  So I put this down on the floor in some good light and edged in close.  My cat was exceedingly puzzled.  The real challenge here was getting the camera to focus where I wanted it to, on the flower.  I did this handheld and through the viewfinder.  Next time I think it will be on a tripod and using the rear screen.  Again, I like the result.

Kong II in bloom

Kong II in bloom

 

Next week’s challenge is “Portrait – Headshot”.  Supposed to do a photo of someone else.  Hmmm.

This is part of a year long photographic challenge.  Dogwood Photography came up with this interesting challenge (HERE) where you have to come up with a photo a week in one of three categories – Portrait, Landscape or Artistic Impression.  Each week has one with a slightly different challenge.

For the folks who are interested in technical type things:

Primary camera is a Fujifilm Finepix S1000fd.  It is a 10.0 Megapixel CCD, sensor size is 1/2.3″.  I shoot in the Fine JPEG 3648 x 2736 format and usually in the “Chrome” setting.  I do my post shooting tweaks on Serif PhotoPlus X4

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What Would You Do?

 Courtesy of the Virginia Lottery

Courtesy of the Virginia Lottery

We all know it’s a fantasy.  I mean look at those odds.  But eventually someone (or more) IS going to win.  With a little bit of luck it could be me.  Or you.  Heck with this much money, I’ll share.  Just did some quick math and it appears that if I divided it up with every member of my high school graduating class we would each get about 4.7 million each (before taxes).  I’m thinking we would all accept that.

The Richland class of 1976 shouldn’t be counting on me being that generous.  Just saying.  Buy your own.  🙂

None of that stops us from dreaming.

What would you do?

This has been a pastime of many years in my family.  We’ve got a plan.

  • Pay off debts.  Not going to wait.  Fix that problem first.
  • A couple new cars.
  • Line up a trustworthy investment counselor.  And a good attorney.
  • Get an unlisted phone number.  Or maybe just drop that phone all together.
  • Start looking for a house.

After that we have some organizations and charities that would get checks.  Just in case, I think I’ll keep that list to myself.  At the top of the list are organizations with which we have some personal connection.  Quietly help family and friends who are need (knowing that we need to tread softly here).

Then we get the money working for us.  And we travel.  Sure, there are some toys we’d buy.  Computers, cameras, new bicycle, things like that.  The reality is that we are not solid gold faucet types of people.  I have no desire to own a Ferrari or Lamborghini.  If I want to drive one I can fly to Las Vegas and rent one for a couple of hours.  So the list of toys wouldn’t even dent this kind of money.

The reality is that there will be a hundred issues we haven’t even considered.  But I’m willing to deal with those as they come.

We would have to take a look at continuing to work.  I like my job so I’m not in a big hurry.  It would be nice not to have to worry about the day-to-day financial kind of issue.

In the meantime, I’ll keep doing my stuff.

But why not dream?

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The Creativity Project – Self Portrait

In my ongoing attempt to keep the creative side of me flowing (which was the original purpose of this blog), I’ve decided to take on a weekly photo challenge.  Dogwood Photography came up with this interesting challenge (HERE) where you have to come up with a photo a week in one of three categories – Portrait, Landscape or Artistic Impression.  Each week has one with a slightly different challenge.  It sounded like fun, so I’m giving it a try.

Week one was “Self Portrait”.  It was interesting that on the site where I saw the challenge originally someone immediately groused about “selfies”.  Rockwell, Van Gogh, Rembrandt all did self portraits.  So did Weston, Stieglitz and Weegee.  Part of this challenge, I think, is “getting over ourselves”.  By that I mean getting past our preconceptions about images and going to someplace new and challenging.

To be honest, I am my least favorite photographic subject.  So that was the part I needed to get over.  Given that I left my camera in my office and had to use whatever was available in the house there were new challenges as well!  In the end this is “softer” than my usual camera, which may be a blessing.  It’s also not a bad representation of where I am at this point in my life.

Yes, I tried smiling.  Didn’t like any of them as much as this one.

Next week’s challenge is a traditional landscape.

Portrait of the artist as he ages

                                                  Portrait of the artist as he ages

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