[Zach Franzen is frequently seen arguing for a culture of gratitude over at Story Warren. Here he is rallying us all to that cause with the irresistible call of poetry about the smell of ironing. He includes his own old-fashioned illustration to pair with Dorothy Aldis's charming poem. --S.D. Smith] ----- ----- ----- I recently read an article urging Christians to be more countercultural. By countercultural I think the author meant that Christians ought to get arrested more often and sing “in your face” anthems at their parents and/or capitalists. Of course, we know that a protest culture isn’t precisely counter to our culture. It’s as mainstream as a discontented child screaming and grasping in a Toys-R-Us. Still, Christians ought to be more countercultural, and certainly this extends to our artistic and creative offerings. One way to push back at our culture is through the simple elevation of gratitude. Christians see gratitude as essential to happiness, but in our Freud and Marx influenced culture, gratitude is the undignified badge of surrender. Dissatisfaction is seen as the way to rally the masses to overthrow corrupt Western power structures and bring in the Utopia. Gratitude (much like a Norman Rockwell painting) is perceived as an obstacle for vital social change. But it isn’t.
I went to the doctor yesterday for the first time in years. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been sick; it means I’m the kind of stubborn fool who doesn’t like to take an ibuprofen for a headache, the kind of crank who would rather walk around squinting and snappy than to take the blasted aspirin. I just don’t like medicine. I prefer sweating it out, however inconvenient that is for the people around me. So after ten days of coughing and sniffling and whining I finally decided it must be a sinus infection. I have a show in a few days, and I can’t afford to be sick. So I bravely did what any man in my shoes would do: I asked my wife what to do. She told me which doctor to visit and I drove to the offices with a steely resolve. The nurse behind the sliding glass window handed me the clipboard with the dreaded New Patient Paperwork, and then the thing happened that made me want to write this. The questions began. “Do you have any allergies?” “Do you drink caffeine?” “Do you use tobacco?” “If so, how often?” “Do you exercise regularly?” “Is there a history of heart disease in your family?” “Have you had any surgeries?
At Hutchmoot 2012 Andrew Peterson and Travis Prinzi led a session titled "Tales of the Fall." Here in part one, Travis discusses the ways in which our fallen world is reflected in the literature we read. [audio:Episode40-1.mp3]
[Thomas McKenzie here. I'd like to introduce you to my friend Chance Perdue. We've known each other for some years now, and he's the youth minister at our church. On Good Friday this year, I asked Chance to give one of the seven meditations during a service called The Seven Last Words. It's a three-hour-long vigil during which we ponder the sentences Jesus spoke while on the Cross. I loved what Chance had to say, and I commend it to you here as a RR post. I hope it's a blessing to you.] “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus knew these ancient words long before he was hoisted up onto the instrument of his execution. How many times had he chanted them in the Temple, around the table with his family at Shabbos, in the silence of his own heart? They are the cry of David from Psalm 22, and any Jewish boy would have learned the Psalter at an early age. So when Jesus cries out in agony from the cross, it’s as much a well worn prayer as it is a doubt in the presence of the Divine---there’s no need to assume that you can’t do both at the same time. There are moments when the Scriptures we’ve heard over and over again become the truest way for us to express our hopes, our hurts, our fears. I imagine this was true for Jesus throughout his life, but especially so on the cross. His broken and dying heart became a vessel that only Psalm 22 could fill. But he isn’t the only one. Very recently, I saw that same cry of David and King Jesus come alive right in front of me. And yes, it was painful. Last week I got a call from Mom. “Hank is on his way out. They found the cancer just a few days ago. It’s been growing for years and it’s aggressive and could you and your brother please come. They’ve removed all monitors and the feeding tube, according to his wishes, and it’s only a matter of time until nature takes it’s toll. He’s going to lay here and starve to death.” I made the necessary arrangements, packed a light bag, drove to the airport to pick up my brother, and we headed for North Carolina. From the moment I received the call, I’d been thinking about Hank. His life is full of outlandish tales, and my mind went immediately to the many stories of faith he used to tell about a great grandmother. “Grandma would pray, and things would happen,” he used to say. Suddenly, I could hear the words of David from that old psalm: “Our forefathers put their trust in you; they trusted, and you delivered them.” This was going to be an interesting trip.
(Part 2) At Hutchmoot 2012 we invited Greg Greene and Wes driver, the creative team behind Nashville's Blackbird Theater Company, as well as Broadway actor Stephen Trafton, who has appeared in shows such as Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera, to discuss the many ways in which faith and theater interact to provide a deep and meaningful experience. [audio:Episode38-2.mp3]
In the middle of my ballet class last week I was struck with a sudden memory that almost made me topple out of a pirouette. (At least, that’s what I’d prefer to attribute it to, and not to mere laziness over finding my center before attempting said pirouette.) For whatever reason, my brain chose that inopportune moment to summon a recollection that was nearly twenty years old. I was nineteen (I said nearly twenty years, mind you) and I was attending the teachers' intensive put on by Ballet Magnificat in Jackson, Mississippi. (Y’all do know about Ballet Magnificat, right?) For three weeks I had been taking master classes from some of the best teachers in the country and scribbling frantic notes on lectures ranging from anatomy to choreography to grant writing. (Okay, I confess, I kind of checked out during the grant writing session.) Every day I got to attend morning chapel with a roomful of dancers who were head over heels in love with Jesus Christ, and every night I fell into bed wholesomely exhausted from an impossibly rigorous schedule. It was an amazing time that left a permanent mark on me, and I loved every minute of it. Almost. You see, there was one item on the schedule that made me a little uneasy. Creative Worship.
[This is a short piece I wrote for Story Warren that may resonate with Rabbit Roomers as well. --S.D. Smith] ----- ----- ----- “Wonder is involuntary praise.” Edward Young said that and I’m glad he did. What are we doing to facilitate wonder in our families? C.S. Lewis said we need an enchantment to set us free from the bondage of worldliness. How are we working for our children’s liberty? If it is only in books and art and literature, then we are only making them more interesting slaves. As Lewis says, the true thing comes through the books, or the art. The art is not the thing. Beauty will not save the world, really. I believe we fail our kids insofar as we perpetuate in their lives the mirage of Godless Delight. We fail them if we convince them, by the forms of our lives or by our words (or both), that the basic reality of the world excludes God. The sad reality is that this is an assumption that flavors much of the stories and art we receive and which shape our spiritual formation. I confess I sometimes live like this.
At Hutchmoot 2012 we invited Greg Greene and Wes driver, the creative team behind Nashville's Blackbird Theater Company, as well as Broadway actor Stephen Trafton, who has appeared in shows such as Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera, to discuss the many ways in which faith and theater interact to provide a deep and meaningful experience. [audio:Episode38-1.mp3]
Well, it's time. High time. I've been hoarding a literary treasure for far too long. I did tell a few good souls about this gem of a writer at Hutchmoot, but really, the whole world needs to know and its time I sound the trumpet. Have you ever discovered an author who speaks the language of your inmost thoughts? A writer who answers the questions that were just beginning to ghost about your mind before you even knew what to call them? Have you, moreover, discovered such a writer who is also a poet, a priest at a Cambridge college, a masterful sonneteer, a folk musician, and, well, has an air definitely hobbit-like? Let me introduce you to the inimitable Malcolm Guite. I first encountered this lovely writer several years ago as a speaker at a C.S. Lewis conference, where he gave an intriguing talk on the spiritual value of poetry. I loved it, but several years passed and I forgot the encounter. When my Dad got me his just-published Faith, Hope, and Poetry last year for my birthday, my memory stirred and my curiosity was piqued. But when, in the first chapter, I encountered Guite's central theme of defending “the imagination as a truth-bearing faculty,” I was captivated.
Last night I saw it on Twitter: "Brennan Manning has died." His death has been coming for quite some time now. I've been expecting it. However, I questioned the news initially, not having seen any legitimate source for the information (an obituary, a news article, his website, or his Facebook page). But this morning it was confirmed on his website. If his recent autobiography is correct, Brennan's drinking killed him. Depending on how you view alcoholism, Brennan was either the victim of a terrible disease, or he was just a lush. In any case he made a long habit of lying (at least through omission) about his condition. That, by the way, is a symptom of the disease. He was a victim and a perpetrator, a liar and a sufferer, a vow breaker and a people pleaser. He was no plaster saint, no image on a holy card, no bearer of hagiography. Brennan Manning was a man who loved Jesus and, most importantly, was beloved of Jesus. He was a sinner but a forgiven one. He was a liar who spoke the truth. He was a broken vessel, a jar made of clay, who nonetheless bore the Good News of Jesus Christ to millions---myself included. Brennan Manning taught me the Gospel. If I have ever shared the love of Jesus with you, you can be sure that Brennan was partly to blame. If I have ever pointed anyone to kindness, forgiveness, or hope, you can be sure that Brennan's words helped to form my message. Though I only met him twice, he was one of my most important mentors in the faith. Now he joins most of those mentors in glory. I commend to your reading the treasures Brennan left to us. Abba's Child and Ruthless Trust are my favorites, but The Ragamuffin Gospel was his best-known work. If you read him, please remember that the Holy Spirit is working through him in spite of all his personal failings. Thank God, because that's how He works in all of us.