Friday, November 21, 2014

"One only lives to make blunders"

Today I came across a piece of correspondence written by Charles Darwin in 1861.  Many of us enjoy making a devil out of him. But, he was, after all, human. A man made in God's image whether or not we ever acknowledge it. This letter makes me think we could have been friends. I realize that may reveal a streak of depression and a fondness for bombast in myself, even so ....
                   ...But I am Very Poorly today and very stupid & Hate Everybody and 
                   Everything. One Lives Only to Make Blunders. - 
                   I am going to write a Little Book for Murray on Orchids 
                   & today I HATE them worse than EVERYthing.
                  So Farewell & in a Sweet FRAME of mind
                  I am
                         Ever yours
                                   C. Darwin

HOWEVER, my orchid after refusing to bloom despite being babied for several years, has at last glutted itself with flowers. That is something to love about life. Or at least note.
Creamy Orchid

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fort Lauderdale here and there

Taking a short break from my ordinary. Yesterday, I finished writing the next issue of Letters from the House Between. (Although it will be another three weeks before it gets mailed out.) Wrapping always gives equal waves of relief, regrets for what I wrote – never good enough –  and the urge to leave. Perhaps it’s a common feeling when something is completed, something you pour yourself into, that you have a sense of emptiness? To persuade myself not to pay much attention to that, I go to a coffee shop. Lingering, then moving on to the next thing. Today it was Patisserie 46. Denis dropped Anita and I off while he went on to Bethel University to visit their library and book store, doing some research for a project. I see why 46 gets raves – I had an almond croissant – never one this flaky, melty-good – and a creamy almond latte. Feeling better.
Almond latte at Patisserie 46
 We leave for Fort Lauderdale next week. Not vacation, but work. We welcome this trip, though. It’s a chance to connect with people who love the arts, are interested in creativity and how popular culture reflects human longing for meaning. So if you are a friend who lives in the area, or would like to BE our friend,  join us in discussion. I will be reflecting on the ordinary: how it carries traces of the sacred (are you shocked? No?) and reading from God in the Sink. Denis will be giving lectures on film and how they can give windows of insight into our culture. (His lectures are always prime. Truly, I am his severest critic, trust me):

Here is where we’ll be:
Monday, November 10, St. Mark’s Episcopal, Fort Lauderdale. Evening session.
Tuesday Noon, November 11,  I will be at Kenny Lunsford’s Book Club in Boca Raton.
Tuesday Evening, November 11, we will be at Coral Ridge Church, Fort Lauderdale sharing an evening session.
Wednesday Morning, November 12, Dianne Garvin’s Book Club.
Wednesday Evening, November 12, New Covenant Church, Pompano Beach, for their evening supper and service.

Please forgive my bumbling efforts to get a workable button on the sidebar. It looks anything but professional. I can’t get the entire book cover to show, just “the sink” part. You can still help launch this little book into the world if you pre-order God in the Sink now. It’s on sale for $9:95 until its release in mid-November. At that rate, everyone you know could receive a copy for Christmas.  Or for any reason, any time. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"...a reminder of who I'm supposed to be..."

 "...which I forget from time to time, as we all do."
          -  Bill Henderson, founder of Pushcart Press.

A friend sent me this link, saying something about it made her happy. Me, too. I think it's partly the image of determination. Him hefting, hauling rock after rock to build a cathedral. 

It's easy to forget who we are and what we are to be about. A few days away this last week helped
Away Place
 reestablish some of those things I know I should be doing. Or being. Picking up, starting again, back to square one; we say it over and over: Get up. Get up. Do it again. It can be tiresome and discouraging. We imagined the decision was made a long time ago to not forget, to not slip into old patterns. To not be human? Really? Why am I always so surprised?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Put a little lime and salt on that

Last summer when our family arrived from Tennessee after a long and tiring journey, it was supper-time, their first evening with us in our new home. Everyone crowded into the kitchen as I put the final touches on a feast; hungry eyes watched as I cut a ripe watermelon into chunks. Then I mounded it in a large bowl and squeezed wedges of lime juice and sprinkled salt over it. Honest, this little trick makes it tastes like heaven. In my opinion. But my grandchildren watched in horror. Mason, whose tastes are very discerning left the kitchen and wept in the next room. None of the grandchildren ate watermelon that night. From then on they had a joke: “Grandma, did you sprinkle lime juice and salt on this?”
Mason's capacity to enjoy fine food is large.

Lately we’ve been trying to plan a little vacation time. We have a place to go – a sweet little cabin in Wisconsin. It is a way-away place with lines of ducks swimming past the dock, loons calling, and, yes, possibly wolves howling. This year there has been a lot happening with moving and family and visitors, and finding my way to Costco, and a little remodeling going on – that is, one bathroom being torn out and redone. Much as I love our contractor there has been lots of interruptions and noise – some of it due to loud, passionate sports-talk radio, so we haven’t been able to think about much more than the Vikings Running Back/Quarterback Woes much less than where or even if we might get away.

Plus, I’ve needed to convince Denis to come away. He loves his new office space and our home so much that the thought and inconvenience of packing up and leaving just isn’t appealing. But I’m promising that something good happens when people leave their workplace and home – which for us is the same, no matter how we configure it. To be away renews vision and, for me, restores creativity. I take time to reflect more and better, and that makes my soul prosper.

Denis has agreed to come but will consider it a Work Retreat. Okay. But I’m concerned that something will interrupt or ruin this time away. Possibly me. Or some unforeseen disaster. We can, or at least I can, find ways of getting us into trouble. Being crabby, making arguments, getting sick. Or. Or. Or.  Putting lime juice on the watermelon. I’m not gonna do that. 
Soul restoration, Pike Lake, WI

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Serious Gray

My office is gradually becoming this color ...  Serious Gray by Sherwin Williams. I think it should be called something else. Perhaps just for today. Quietly Happy. Or Unexpected Grey.

"Serious Gray"
 My day began with a random surprise. After I dropped my sister-in-law off at the airport it was 5:50 A.M. and I pulled through Starbucks drive-up for a latte. When I reached the window the barista told me the person ahead of me had paid for my coffee and said I should have a good day. A random act of kindness. All day long I've tasted that sweet moment - it has made me feel like I sit under a rainbow or something.

Random kindness
Today I'm doing a final proof of the manuscript God in the Sink. I could spend hours hunched over the pages and the computer. So to keep myself from getting permanently crooked I decided to set the timer. 45 minutes at the computer and 45 minutes painting my office.  I'm almost done with the manuscript, about 1/4 of the office is painted and there are still some hours left in the day. It's been a good plan for this day.

So far the funniest mistake I found was a sentence that mentioned how Minnesotans often end sentences with a preposition, like "Do you wanna go with?" Instead of preposition I had written proposition. Can't remember the last time I was propositioned. Oh, well.

During the last painting slot I listened to an interview with John Stott. I think the best quote out of it was:
"I've learnt very early on that Christianity is not a religion and it is not an institution, it is a person. It was enormously helpful for me to discover that Christianity is Christ and and that what matters is a personal relationship to Christ..... It's all Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ. Knowing Him, loving Him, serving Him, trusting Him, gaining Him. 'To me to live is Christ', Paul said, and I think, I hope without boasting I can say the same, it is a Person."

I almost chose "Gibralter" a shade of darkened stone. But maybe that would've been appropriate, too. Christ, our Rock.
Thanks for stopping by. I hope some time, some day a stranger gives you a coffee, too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Naming a book

 I have a pretty hard time with titles. I know not everyone cares about this. So it won’t offend me if you go  away. But I suspect everyone faces a time when they need to name something or other whether it is a pet or a weekend seminar. Getting something that people identify with, that draws them in, doesn’t embarrass you and is still artistic? Good luck, Margie.

My work today is deciding a title for a new book, a collection of Notes From Toad Hall a publication I’ve been writing for almost forever. A few days ago, I began with some suggestions from my editor and a working title Real Life at Toad Hall. But decided the book doesn’t represent “Real” life at Toad Hall. It’s only a few snapshots of life picked out of a myriad.

Next I tried Stumbling Toward Grace: A Collection of Notes From Toad Hall. A friend asked, really? Do we stumble toward grace or is it that God pursues us with grace. Well, yes. That’s true. Plus it seemed long and cumbersome.

Trying to generalize a collection could even bore the author’s mother. As in  Notes From Toad Hall: A Collection. Another problem that friend pointed out is that with a collection if you try too hard to enfold or capture all the content into one title it becomes artificial and you end up with something formal and stiff. Or boring. Brilliant. I’d never thought of it that way.

So how do you capture a theme with so many different storylines and events? Basically you don’t. Better to concentrate on something more specific. We know most people respond in concrete ways to concrete images. So as we looked through the chapters we hoped that something would emerge, something that would evoke, not only an interesting image, but could, in a multi-layered way, represent more than just that chapter.

The introduction then popped because of an image used there. But the next temptation was getting too clever. Clever in your own mind anyway. I came up with Bobblehead Jesus is Watching You: A Collection of Notes From Toad Hall. First of all it seemed way too long, then it seemed too quirky, like I was trying too hard to be funny. It is also one-layered and obscure.

So I went back to an image that stood out from the introduction, thanks to that same genius friend – that of God being in the sink with us. It had potential. If we think of life as a sink – it really is true that God is in there with us whether the sink is full of sudsy warm water or a pile of greasy, dirty dishes. We’ve all lived on both sides of that equation. Sorry, if that was insultingly obvious.

So this is where we’ve landed God in the Sink: Essays From Toad Hall.  In the meantime, while I dwaddled with this post, the editor decided for sure. This will be the title of my next book which will be out in November if all goes well. I’m excited about this.

Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Robin Williams & William Cowper - happy endings not for sale

 Most emphatically happy endings are not guaranteed in this life. Robin Williams has been haunting the shadows since I heard of his death. It seems so wrong wrong wrong.

Our grieving responses for him are so strange in a way. We did not know him, we only think we did because his life was public. But it wasn't really his life we knew - his private life,  we only knew his work with its staggering gift for making us laugh and yet the sadness in his eyes showed through. His gift was so enormous, it must have been been a burden to him and even to those who loved him. I wonder if he could he carry on a normal conversation or relationship without making it a stage for performing? It might have been difficult to be with him if he could never turn it off.

A friend, Steve Froehlich, sent this last week and I am passing the whole thing on because Robin Williams' death has made me think again about those who suffer from depression, and those who take their lives in desperation and silence and the few who note their passing because their lives were largely unknown. As Christians we take comfort. For God knows his children. He carries them Home. Perhaps for them we can see it as a beginning. A good beginning. One of healing and renewed energies and unexpected joy. Yes, I do believe.

Steve writes the following:

This is an excerpt from a blogger whom I read occasionally -- he's Anglican, like Cowper.  His remarks were prompted by the confluence of having sung Cowper's poetry last Sunday and Robin Williams' death.  I've made one addition to the closing paragraph, a change the author approves.

Steve F.
William Cowper. Did the artist pick up the sadness in his eyes?
"Sometimes a Light Surprises" by William Cowper

    Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
    It is the Lord, who rises with healing in His wings:
    When comforts are declining,He grants the soul again
    A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

    In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
    The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.
    Set free from present sorrow,we cheerfully can say,
    Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

William Cowper was converted (in the crisis experience sense) while in an asylum after a suicide attempt. After that he was an evangelical. Not only an evangelical but a Calvinist. Not just a Calvinist but an experimentalist. He lived for awhile with John Newton. They wrote poetry together (though some think Newton was a drag on Cowper's poetry and that Cowper wrote best when separated from Newton). Though their friendship became somewhat strained, they remained friends.

[the blogger points to evidence of the oppression of legalism in Cowper's "A Living and a Dead Faith"]

    Easy indeed it were to reach
    A mansion in the courts above,
    If swelling words and fluent speech
    Might serve instead of faith and love.

    But none shall gain the blissful place,
    Or God's unclouded glory see,
    Who talks of free and sovereign grace,
    Unless that grace has made him free!

But there's more to Cowper's life...and death....  His last, and, some think, his best poem was written in 1799 (he died in 1800). It is based on an account he had read of a sailor who was swept overboard in a storm. According to a witness the man swam and stayed afloat for awhile, could not be rescued, watched as the ship moved further away, and finally drowned. Cowper describes the feelings the poor sailor may have had, but in the last two stanzas turns to his own situation, first identifying with and then separating himself from the sailor:

    I therefore purpose not, or dream,
    Descanting on his fate,
    To give the melancholy theme
    A more enduring date:
    But misery still delights to trace
    Its semblance in another's case.

    No voice divine the storm allay'd,
    No light propitious shone;
    When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,
    We perish'd, each alone:
    But I beneath a rougher sea,
    And whelm'd in deeper gulfs than he.

The last two lines reflect a statement Cowper had made in 1793: "My sin and judgment are alike peculiar.  I am a castaway, deserted and condemned."

Cowper's pre-evangelical-conversion suicide attempt was the first of several. There came a point at which the despair finally descended not to lift the rest of his life. So far as we know, Cowper died believing himself doomed. That's not the way Christian biography is supposed to end.

Though Cowper died thinking himself damned Newton did not think so.  He believed Cowper woke, no doubt to his own surprise, in glory.

One of Cowper's poems, addressed to Newton the former seafarer, describes the difference between himself and Newton. It also describes two poles of Christian experience:

        That ocean you of late survey'd,
        Those rocks I too have seen,
        But I, afflicted and dismay'd,
        You, tranquil and serene.

        You from the flood-controlling steep
        Saw stretch'd before your view,
        With conscious joy, the threat'ning deep,
        No longer such to you.

        To me, the waves that ceaseless broke
        Upon the dang'rous coast
        Hoarsely and ominously spoke
        Of all my treasure lost.

        Your sea of troubles you have past,
        And found the peaceful shore;
        I, tempest-toss'd, and wreck'd at last,
        Come home to port no more.


I don't know the how or the why of Cowper's life and despair. Nor do you. Here is a comment that makes sense from the perspective of Christian faith and points to the real difference between the depression of Robin Williams and William Cowper is to be found essentially in Christ now and experientially only in eternity:

"All men are tragic figures. Artists have a deeper sense of their own failings and helped us to sense our own. Robin Williams was funny because we saw the conflict in him - funny, joyful, silly, simple conflicted with a dour drug user, with a broken family whose wrinkly eyes made you either want to melt with mirth or explode with sorrow. He was a tragic figure, and we sensed it, because he showed us the tragedy of who we are. In Christ we have already been freed from this tragedy, just not yet."

My favorite Cowper hymn is "God Moves in a Mysterious Way." I will continue to sing these verses:

    Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
    The clouds ye so much dread
    Are big with mercy and shall break
    In blessings on your head.

    Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
    But trust Him for His grace;
    Behind a frowning providence
    He hides a smiling face.

    His purposes will ripen fast
    Unfolding every hour;
    The bud may have a bitter taste,
    But sweet will be the flower.

[For some a light will surprise "the Christian while he sings." For some the rain does fall with refreshment and relief.  But,] for some those big clouds of mercy will break in the age to come. Some will behold that smiling face in heaven. For some the bitter bud will yield to the sweet flower in the world to come. Not till then.  [The blogger would have done well to end where he started by affirming that for some, "Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings"]

So I hope.