Two weeks in

MegnmeMeg reminded me that my first chemo treatment was two weeks ago Saturday. Since then, it seems like a whirlwind has been blowing through the head with a rushing sound akin to a jet engine in my periphery.

Diagnosis Details:

As those two weeks were finished, I completed the first round of treatment and a chaotic rush to get blood and scanning tests to assess the current state. This week I have the entire week without treatment, assuming the average person needs the week of rest. As with most Myeloma patients, the first stage is predominately influenced by bone pain. In my case, I have, according to the Pet Scan significant cancer growth in the sternum, shoulder blades, thoracic vertebrae and the left femur. These are all places where I experience pain when moving, lifting or twisting. Pain management comes from a steady flow of Oxycontin.  Funny how Oxy is so closely regulated for regular pain control, but those concerns seem to go out the window with cancer.  I can ask for as many as I want. So I’m thinking of opening a drug store.

Finally, I take a steroid on Tuesdays and for the past two weeks an AFIB episode has shown up. We are exploring the possible connection but for the short term, I’m taking a low dose beta blocker to ward off the possibility of a stroke.

Today, Bob S who is a church member and a very bright guy went with Meg and me to the consult.  He’s gathered several reading sites and has offered his expertise in cognitive mind/body integration as a mental toolbox in defeating the enemy within. He will also be very helpful when we need objective input regarding the possibility of stem-cell transplantation.  We all left the meeting today sobered by the reality that the dreaded buggers have aggressively taken over the bones and plasma.  Right now infections remain the threat because the clones (cancer) has crowded out the white blood cells and fighting stuff will be very difficult.

Nutrition:

Now that the calcium production seems to be under control and the kidneys are doing a proper job of cleaning up the place, the questions revolve around healthy eating.  I’m skeptical about cancer fighting diets for most have very little empirical evidence.  But if something sounds interesting to me I’ve gone ahead and begun trying things.  One such experiment is the “slow cook, bone roasting” methods.  If you are in NYC and go the the swanky restaurant Canora, you can walk up to their outside service window and order a mason jar full of beef bone marrow broth for $5.00 or a take home quart for $16.  These bones have been oven roasted for 24 hours and then cooked into a vegetable broth like the one I’ve done here:

 

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3lbs marrow bones, grass fed organic beef.
6 carrots
2 yellow onions
1 leek
2 sweet potatoes
1 garnet yam
8 in strip of kombu
4 red potatoes
TBspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar
4 Allspice berries
 Half bunch of parsley
2 bay leaves
12 peppercorns
Head of celery
5 cloves garlic
I can also roast chicken bones for 30 minutes before making a chicken broth and most cooks are referring the outcome as ‘Brown Chicken Broth’
Spiritual and Practical Living Questions:
I am confident in God’s plan for my life and have no qualms about being asked to walk thru this terrible ordeal.  I trust I am found worthy to be encouragement, support and an honest human when it comes to living this out publicly.  I don’t wish to be God’s sandwich board man, He can handle His own affairs, I just hope my interactions with others are full of grace, hope and a sweet aroma that would all be contrary to the hot headed nature I can sometimes toss out when in stressful situations.
Finally, I will have to explore taking early social security, shifting some estate planning issues to protect Meg’s future income and security, and to make sure my children’s future estate is fairly established.

I did not see this coming

On Saturday, April 4 at 10 AM I got the confirmation that I have Multiple Myeloma, a rare but growing cancer type. In my case, the markers are still bd&Ceing identified and “how bad” it is, remains in the data of the professional gatekeepers in Kaiser’s blood and medical imaging departments and soon under the evaluative eyes of a new close friend; my oncologist. Hopefully by midweek, April 15 we will have a baseline that will create the orienteering necessary.

But for now, the effort is underway to, in Dr’s words, “keep the thing from snowballing.” It’s hard to hear that since I’ve been in significant back pain for now five months. But let’s get the party started.

Yesterday, began the basic treatment for Myeloma, a twice weekly injection of chemo call Velcade. On Tuesdays I get an oral treatment of steroid called Decadron. For now that’s it, but a third and possibly fourth medicine will be added to cocktail as markers progress or regress.

This will be my start and mainline medical defense for the next six months while I discover what this disease is, what it will do, how it will affect my earning an income and how it will re-direct my ministry and most importantly, my eight month marriage to Meg. For the present time, I’m fighting the pain of broken bones to satisfy the wedding contracts I’ve signed through June 7. I have taken 10 weeks leave from pulpit teaching. After that, I will have to see what nausea and life has thrown at me.

During the day, I work analyzing all the available data and concerns that this produces and try to use the brain as much as I can until “chemo-mush” sets in but please also know that at night, I laugh and weep when I read your wonderful words of encouragement.

A Novel Approach to Faith

The best part of reading fiction is to explore the big questions most people want to ask but are afraid to do so in their local church or synagogue. Novelists (I mean good novelists) push easily constructed worldviews to the liminal edges that rarely get spoken of in sermons and Sunday School.It is also true that many people’s underdeveloped view of the Bible comes from glib answers in movies and shallow love stories of the popular variety. It does us good to read something meaty and controversial once in awhile.

That’s why I like Jim Weaver. He doesn’t read for easy answers or for purely escapist fantasy. He’s thinker and a laugher. He enjoys good wine and good friendships but he doesn’t neglect the interior life. After a career in ministry and non-profit work, he turnedElder Sage to the third stage of his life, that of Elder Sage. His day to day choices in retirement are too many to outline but you can learn more about his work here:http://www.jwnonprofitadvisors.com

He’s one of the first people I call for advice and even though he lives in SoCal I must hang with him twice a year or I go looney.  He’s that helpful.  Here’s Jim’s Hall of Fame list of faith challenging reading from the past twenty years. If you’ve read them before, do it again with Jim’s vantage point in mind.

“The Poisonwood Bible”poisonwood-bible
Barbara Kingsolver

True faith is empty if not freely embraced. Barbara Kingsolver’s “Poisonwood Bible” plunges the reader into the trauma of a family constellation of four daughters and their mother who were emotionally imprisoned in an austere life on a far-flung mission field by an over-zealous and cruel father and husband. Calloused and abusive, this appallingly misguided missionary dragged his family to the Belgian Congo with a ruthless spirit that masqueraded as a passionate desire to save the godless African natives.

Coercion and control was his mode of operation, whether it was directed to the villagers among whom he took up residence, or to his wife and family who virtually cowered in his presence and tussled deeply with the faith that was their expressed reason for traveling thousands of miles in response to what they felt was the call of God. In reality, the voice of God sounded most like the father and husband’s voice, a perplexing reality that tore at the family’s once cohesive faith.

Pain, loss, and confusion were the daily lot of both the angry villagers and the confused daughters and mother. Yet throughout this remarkable story we hear the unique voices of the five women in their struggling attempts to salvage their lives, find redemption and embrace a faith that, although having disappointed them in so many ways, may still hold the key to their emotional, and even physical, survival.

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“Imperfect Birds”
Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott never ceases to charm, enlighten, entice and anger her readers. Whether it’s her instructive insights on translating elusive thoughts into writing in “Bird by “Bird,” or her earthy genuineness readily seen in her whimsical dreadlocks, her signature first impression. Her authenticity as an author shines through both her creative memoirs, her witty instructions on faith and her captivating characters that have been humiliated by rejection, confronted divorce or contended with alcoholism.
One such novel is “Imperfect Birds” which walks the reader into one of Lamott’s dominant areas of writing – the family. As with her other works, Ms. Lamott’s writings are mirrors that reflect to readers their own worlds and, to change metaphors, that allow them to resonate with the tensions and struggles that she portrays. In “Imperfect Birds” we once again meet Rosie Ferguson, who we saw as a precocious child in “Rosie” and then as a teenager who was a skilled tennis player in “Crooked Little Heart.”
Rosie is now a beautiful, intelligent and athletic seventeen-year old, who has been a delight to her parents. Challenging times have befallen the family, however, as Rosie begins to exhibit unusual behavior which soon reveals itself as blatant deception, leading her parents to believe misleading information about what occupies Rosie’s days. Drugs, drinking and sex with an older man have been hidden from her Mother and Stepfather. Rosie’s duplicity and her parents’ suspicions eventually collide, threatening to tear apart the fabric of this once trusting and intimate family.
The difficult path of restoration of faith and rebuilding of trust is painfully explored amidst laughter and tears as only Anne Lamott can evoke. Agonizing dilemmas endemic to family life are a thread throughout Imperfect Birds, compelling readers to examine their own lives and families with the same lenses of honesty and humor utilized so deftly by Ms. Lamott.

“The Children Act”
Ianchildren McEwan

Moral dilemmas are threads that weave throughout Ian McEwan’s writings. “The Children Act,” McEwan’s newest book, bears out that reality in glaring fashion. The characters in the book, as well as the reader receive a close-up look at the demands that faith can make on one who takes it seriously, however misguided one may feel that Adam’s application of his faith may be. Adam is a bright, gentle 17-year-old with a life-threatening illness. A specific medical protocol would likely save his life; but Adam and his family are saying “no” for well-articulated religious reasons.

Should the government step in and exercise its prerogative to overrule the family, even though they embrace an authentic faith, and order life-saving treatment? That decision is in the hands of Fiona Maye, a high-court judge in London who is charged with family decisions. A fair and well-respected professional, Judge Maye has her own personal struggles, including a deteriorating marriage and the distress of having borne no children which brush up against this arduous decision. Respecting the intelligence of the young man and grappling with the emotions of interacting with such a charismatic individual, Judge Maye struggles with the dilemma of the clash of faith with the law and with the sanctity of life. The reader is captivated by this quandary and by how his/her faith might have to be played out in painful and challenging circumstances.

“Crazy for God”
Frank Schaeffer

Every now and then a reader discovers that s/he has stumbled upon a book that mirrors his/her life in many aspects, some alarming and others reassuring. The book reflects the reader’s deepest struggles and besetting fears, echoes his intense joys and profound sorrows, and follows his own journey through life whether that path is one freely chosen or one pressured into.

For me, such was “Crazy for the God,” authored by Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer, the nearly legendary fundamentalist/evangelical guru of the 1960’s through the 1980’s. Frank Schaeffer spent most of his growing up years in the womb of L’Abri, the Christian Retreat Center in the heart of the Swiss Alps that became an evangelical Mecca, frequented by an assortment of hippies, yuppies, academicians and spiritual leaders. There were true seekers desirous of answers to life. Others were already seriously committed Christian leaders wishing to bask in the teachings of Francis and Edith Schaeffer who had gained the reputation of being true conservative fundamentalists who were protecting the basic and vital evangelical tenets, but doing so in a fashion that was attractive to a wide spectrum of people, ranging from young people fresh out of the drug culture, to well-known Christian celebrities, to political leaders from around the world.
It was in this culture that Frank Schaeffer cut his theological teeth, embracing wholeheartedly from early childhood the faith tenets that his respectable parents taught him that he couldn’t live without. But even though Frank followed closely in his Father’s and Mother’s footsteps, actually becoming the one who may have been best known for his accomplished marketing of his parents, his adherence to his parents’ belief system was not to last. Frank’s masterful production of movies and books that contained his Father’s teachings, hailed with superlative reviews in both the religious and secular worlds, could not stem his own gradually eroding belief structure.

“Crazy for God” chronicles Frank’s journey through a sheltered childhood, complicated by his contraction of polio and his severe dyslexia, through a rebellious adolescence culminating in a youthful marriage, on into a movie-production profession that enabled him to convey, albeit superficially and hypocritically, that he was not only holding fast to the faith of his Father, but actually promoting his Father’s belief system to their faithful followers.

Throughout the book this reviewer was looking into a mirror and was seeing so many pieces of his own rocky faith journey, resonating deeply with the anguish of promulgating a rigid faith structure that at so many points along my path I too wasn’t sure I really believed. Highlighted throughout Frank’s autobiography of his growth in his evangelical faith and its ultimate demise were personalities that I recognized immediately from the Christian world within which I circulated for several decades. I knew a number of them personally and could hear their voices as Frank described his relationship to them. Others I recall moving me deeply when I heard them speak inspirationally. The mention of still others prompted memories of having devoured their ubiquitous books. Many I simply knew by reputation as Christian luminaries.

But far beyond simply having a familiarity with the fundamentalist cast of characters whose names cropped up on page after page, there was my visceral recognition deep inside that the teeth and claws of fundamentalism sink deeply and never want to let go. Even once they are extracted, with genuine healing and faith metamorphosis allowed to follow, the residual crazy-for-God scars often want to assert their presence, a persistent reality that Frank Schaeffer and this reviewer know all too well.

OldSpeak_schaeffer

Thirty-nine Friends

libraryBefore next week’s post of Jim Weaver’s novel suggestions for a well-rounded faith, note this week’s list of his library’s most intimate authors.

39 Friends
Louise Erdrich – mysteriously dances with native eyes
Ian McEwan – brazenly devises tangled moral dilemmas
John Updike – intricately dissects relationships
Charles Dickens – fancifully intrigues with a motley cast of English characters
Graham Greene – gently accuses, but never convicts
Philip Roth – Jewishly lays bare penetratingly American sexual idiosyncrasies
Morris West –compellingly inspires with sacred and secular images
John Irving – expansively stretches our moral perspective
Sue Miller – incisively shapes intimate and delicate bonds
E. L. Doctorow – ruthlessly hammers home the human predicament
Wallace Stegner – keenly exposes the corners of the struggling heart
Jim Harrison – explicitly anguishes with life on the edge
Isabelle Allende – wondrously weaves magical moments of the mystical
Ethan Canin – subtly unfurls new vistas of inner skirmishes
Michael Chabon – playfully creates a jagged world
Anne Lamott – whimsically warms the warring soul
Annie Dillard – densely challenges the inquisitive mind
Tom Robbins – uninhibitedly philosophizes with bizarre characters in quirky venues
Ernest Hemingway – sparsely touches the unquenchable spirit
J.K. Rowling – ingeniously imagines a mesmerizing universe
Stephen King – graphically amuses with spine-wrenching terror
Leon Uris – sprawlingly elucidates painful history
John Steinbeck – relentlessly paints our courage and cowardice
Brian Moore – unabashedly jars the tranquil and the placid
Barbara Kingsolver – gracefully transforms the unexpected and the unsuspecting
Amy Tan – elegantly unfolds the unfamiliar
Jane Hamilton –agonizingly reveals the impact of self-serving pursuits
Frederick Buechner – astutely unravels theological mysteries
Natalie Goldberg – placidly discloses the joys of an inner journey
Anne Tyler – richly portrays the quandaries of ordinariness
Anita Shreve – intimately unveils the thrill and sorrow of secret and unfettered desire
Michael Dorris – grippingly uncovers the often dark twists and turns of family anguish
Daphne DuMaurier – intricately illustrates the winsomeness and the repulsion of extraordinary characters
Jhumpa Lahiri – brilliantly illuminates the clash of cultures and the gap of generations
Gabriel Garcia Marquez – vividly arouses the senses with earthy passion
William Shakespeare – profoundly etches timeless aphorisms on the map of human voyage
Philip Yancey – graciously permits the doubting heart to breathe free
John Grisham – shrewdly concocts suspenseful judicial perplexities
Chaim Potok – captivatingly wanders through enigmatic Yiddish culture
Oliver Sacks – dramatically strips off the opaqueness of unusual physical anomalies
Tim Hansel – mischievously touches nerves of budding growth

Five Who Have Faith in their Art.

Bob Swenson- Freedom58Project

Once Rob learned all he could from me on our Saturday tackle football games in elementary school in Tracy, he went on to become an All-Pro linebacker for the Denver Broncos’ Orange Crush defense.  But as he says, something interesting happened after his time at the Super Bowl.

“I received Christ in 1978 after Super Bowl. I had everything but was miserable….so one night I told God that I couldn’t pull myself out of this pit and (asked) for Him to take over. Within weeks God cut out most of my friends, my girlfriend.     

(In respoRobSwensonnse) I walked into First Presbyterian in Boulder and couldn’t believe the peace I felt at that moment and how far I had gotten off course searching for the inner circle.”

Since his career in football Bob has gone into several ventures including becoming one of the founding members of Promise Keepers.

Currently, he and his wife, Libby, are team members in Freedom58Project, an effort to combat human trafficking here and around the world. Bob’s vision was to create an artist collective to present the face of contemporary slavery for all to see. In his words,”We believe in the unique ability that artists have to see people deeply, and create dignity, hope and beauty amidst the brokenness of our world. In response to the issue of modern-day slavery, the Freedom 58 Project Art Exhibit will be a place to journey with survivors through their stories of oppression, injustice, and violence, to rescue, restoration, and freedom. It will give viewers a chance to reflect on our own stories of injustice, and inspire action to re-purpose our freedom for the sake of others.”

For more information see http://www.freedom58project.com/

 Gabriel Manzo- Music Director, Malo

Even before Malo, (featuring Carlos Santana’s brother Jorge) played for Tracy High senior prom in 1971, Gabriel Manzo wanted to play guitar.  He replaced Jorge and became the lead guitarist and principal vocalist and music director for Malo in 1984.manzo2

His love for Latin Rock has provided more than three decades of transformative expression with Malo’s deeply influential place within the Latin music world.  So much so, that Gabriel also toured with Pete Escovido, Pete Tellez as well as Bo Diddly. Recently Gabriel has written more music than Malo could produce so he formed Manzo Rally as a way to express his music interests.Many regard Manzo Rally as a new innovation to the guitar driven, rhythm fueled genre known as Latin Rock and Gabriel is proud to be a patriarch of this musical style.

Gabriel and his wife, Dawn, also possess a deep faith which gives them great motivation to present expressions of freedom in his music.  In his words, “Our faith in God is the very center of our lives, and we read His Word daily, as well as thanking Him constantly for all the blessings He bestows upon us.  OUR GOD IS AWESOME! ”

Here’s a link to Manzo Rally:http://manzorally.com/index.html

 

 

Kaitlin Neely~Artist, Craftswoman, EntepreneurIMG_0181

I had a hard time describing all of the talents and assets in this beautiful thirty year old woman. After a stint as my neighbor and my daughter’s best friend, she attended Bible College.  She then launched out on her own into the world of creative expression. I’ll let her email speak for her:”

  1. These are two wedding quilts I made last year.  He commissioned one for her, she commissioned one for him, without either of them knowing!  They were both so surprised and pleased.  It was one of the best projects I’ve ever done, blogged about at http://www.kaitcetera.com/2014/06/04/the-cutest-gift/.
  2. A small quilt I made and modeled recently.  Blogged about at http://www.kaitcetera.com/2014/12/28/baby-swoon-3/
  3. I’ve been making some of my own clothes since I was 15 but this dress I made a couple weeks ago is my most favorite thing I’ve ever made.  Not yet blogged.
  4. Starting February 1st, I will be the proud owner of The Little General fabric boutique in Winston Salem, NC.  This happy little shop provides fabric, supplies, classes, and inspiration, and will soon include longarm quilting services and custom quilts.  Website is currently being redone but you can still find the old one at http://www.thelittlegeneralfabric.com/
  5. One of my other endeavors is being a founding member of a studio collective called Electric Pyramid Studios.  We currently have 19 artists that work out of our space in downtown Winston Salem doing everything from painting and printmaking to sewing and upholstery.  I am the lone quilter in the group, working, in this picture, on a king sized quilt I made in a whirlwind 10 days.  This photo was part of an article in a local alt weekly http://triad-city-beat.com/electric-pyramid-artists-and-an-embalming-room/
  6. This is a before and after shot of my room in the studio.  The building had been vacant for years and had fallen into disrepair.  I blogged about it at http://www.kaitcetera.com/2014/10/28/saga-of-a-studio-remodel/
  7. One of the things I am bringing into The Little General is what’s called a longarm quilting machine, pictured here.  It is a 13 foot long computerized sewing machine that it used to stitch together the three layers of a quilt.”

MandyMandy Bankson- Visual Artist

I have noted Mandy’s work here on this blog before and I own several original paintings and reproductions of her work.  Mandy draws her inspiration from the natural world as well as her Christian worldview.  As an abstract artist, such expression is subtle and indirect but her use of colors, angles and curves produce a dreamy, yet organic quality to her artwork.

Her 2013 commission of Jacob’s Ladder was inspired by the line from the Bible when the young con-man, Jacob, was dreaming of his immortal Stairway to Heaven.  “I did not know that God was in this place,” is the Scripture reference and Mandy has produced an entire collection on that vision and her artistic interpretation of it.

You can read and see more about Mandy’s work at:  http://mandybankson.com/

Christopher Shawn Shaw2eab9a7

http://christophershawnshaw.us6.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=f22b8e162651796a0e1c276e8&id=0b27eddf7f

Christopher Shawn Shaw is an Award-Winning Filmmaker who specializes in Film and Video Directing, Producing, Editing, Creative Consulting, Writing, and even Acting. He is also the Founder and Producer of the Night Of Comedy & Short Films FUNdraiser (NCSFF) LIVE events designed to support the production of high-quality, redemptive film and video content AND help supplement the hosting church fellowships’ yearly budget.

A native of the Buckeye State, Christopher is a graduate of Otterbein College (now Otterbein University) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance (Acting/Directing) degree. Since relocating to California, Christopher has performed on numerous television series, commercials and short films, has directed documentaries, commercials, and has produced and directed numerous short films, both comedies and dramas.

Christopher has collaborated with Pastor/Comedian/Author Thor Ramsey on at least 7 short films – including a number of 168 Film Project short films – and they are in the fundraising phase of their first feature film project, YOUTH GROUP. He is also collaborating with other Writer/Producers on film projects of varying genres and lengths.

Poetry Books You Should Own

Whenever the news gets crazy or too difficult to take, you can count on three things;  Talking heads clothed in outrage and hubris will tell us where someone is wrong.  Facebook will be populated with critical memes which will change no one’s minds. A national or international funk will subtly infect our outlook and make us cynical or despairing.

On the other hand, the collective social “flu” which can be so pervasive can often be managed by drinking from the fountain of poetry. When our souls are hydrated from the deep wells of human expression, it can be a real elixir for our despondency or ennui.

So here’s my five choices of poetry books which work wonders when navigating difficult or daily life.

Wendell Berry – Timbered Choir; 1979-1997 (1999)

Coming to the woods’ edge
on my Sunday morning walk,
I stand resting a moment beside
a ragged half-dead wild plum
in bloom, its perfume
a moment enclosing me

Each Sunday for nearly twenty years Wendell Berry walked his Henry County, Kentucky farm before church and penned the poetry that is found in this volume.  His wife,Tanya, has continued to transcribe his writings by an old typewriter.  His work speaks of death, the seasons, farming, the Christian gospel and a myriad of other topics that fill his thinking on the morning meanderings.  A must own.pleasuresOfEating

 Christian Wiman- Once in the West (2014)

When Christian Wiman turned 39 he fell in love, deeply and married Danielle.  He also discovered he had a rare form of cancer.  Since then Wiman has turned out some of America’s best poetry, including this new offering, Once in the West.

His work always reflects back on his childhood upbringing in west Texas and like writers Cormac McCarthy and Walker Percy, WimanOnce-in-the-West keeps asking, seeking, and knocking “to see the sanity and vitality of this strange, ancient thing” called Christian faith.

 Dan Clendenin of the ezine, http://www.journeywithjesus.net/index.shtml introduced me to Wiman’s work and now I’m hooked.
Here’s Clendenin’s posting of After A Storm
http://www.journeywithjesus.net/PoemsAndPrayers/Christian_Wiman_After_A_Storm.shtml

Scott Cairns- Idiot Psalms (2014)

http://open.biola.edu/resources/an-evening-with-scott-cairns

Cairns’ religious upbringing in the Orthodox Church fully embellishes his understanding of prayers and psalms.  His conviction that our best efforts to address God is littered with misstep and folly, creates a wonderful pathway to discovering the love and grace which occupies and superintends the universe, the creative impulse and the family of humankind.

Mary Oliver- New and Selected Poems (1992)

Winner of the 1992 National Book Award for Poetrymary-oliver

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1993

“One of the astonishing aspects of [Oliver’s] work is the consistency of tone over this long period. What changes is an increased focus on nature and an increased precision with language that has made her one of our very best poets. . . .
These poems sustain us rather than divert us. Although few poets have fewer human beings in their poems than Mary Oliver, it is ironic that few poets also go so far to help us forward.”
-Stephen Dobyns, The New York Times Book Review

Dana Gioia: http://www.danagioia.net/

I had the great fortune to co-lead a wedding with Gioia this past summer.  He is truly a man of letters and to label him simply a poet is to short change the range of his talent.  th

Movies You Forgot to See

During the winter it’s a good time to re-visit some movies that may have been otherwise missed.  Once per month I invite a dozen friends or so to come to the house and sit together and watch films that tell the story of redemption.  Here’s what I will be showing this year:

Calvary

Calvary-2014-Movie-Poster-706x1024

    The 2014 Irish drama written and directed by John Michael McDonagh is the second film in which McDonagh uses an iconic and quirky leading character.  Many critics see McDonagh’s first film, The Guard (2011) and now, Calvary as a continuing piece of art that places both protagonists into the position of gatekeeper. From this position Brennan Gleeson, who plays both leading roles superbly, navigates the waters of community life, for good and for ill.

In Calvary, Gleeson plays a Catholic priest to a small western Irish village. To dramatize the plight of the human condition, he is given a week to set his affairs in order before a disgruntled parishioner will kill him as retribution for the sins of guilty Catholic priests. The language is rough with f-bombs used liberally.  Nevertheless, the visual beauty of the coastline and the compelling characters make this film one of my favorites.

A Simple Plana-simple-plan

This 1998 Sam Rami directed film is the least favorite of the four but I find it the most captivating in terms of spun out behavior.  So often in my work with families and parolees, I found their best laid plans often mushroomed out of control and the most basic indiscretion became an addicting proclivity.

In this film, brothers uncover a cash trove from a drug transaction gone bad.  Their basic efforts to keep the secret stash colors the rest of their relationships and actions.

bella-movie-poster-1020440135Bella

A former world class soccer player crosses paths with a waitress.  Together they untangle and redeem the dreams and plans of their shattered pasts.

While while receiving mixed critical reviews, it seems to resonate with audiences, beginning with its capture of the “People’s Awards” at the Toronto Film Festival in 2006.

The incredibly handsome Eduardo Verástegui playing José makes most female audiences say it is worth the slow action.

Get Low

get low

How did Robert Duvall or Bill Murray not get Oscar nods for this 2009 film?

Duvall plays a hermit who throws a funeral party for himself after being the scourge of the town for the past 40 years.  Murray and Lucas Black play funeral directors tasked with throwing the shindig.

Stories from the Road

angels-a-child-and-jacobs-ladder-americo-salazar    “Midway thru the seasons of life, I found myself lost in the woods.”

“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
che la diritta via era smarrita.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno (paraphrase, Dan Melligan)

When life says you are in exile, God says you’re on pilgrimage.  The stories of the Bible are filled with characters, and I mean real characters, who barely qualify as citizens of any society. So it’s no surprise when real world forces drive them into a strange, alien place.

But as Erich Auerbach insists, there are three things that make these stories of biblical exile more interesting than other classical literature examples.  It is the stuff of promise, of hope and of individuality.  The heroes of other cultures and stories have very little in common with us, the readers.  They are privileged, wealthy and noble.  The best we can hope for from their stories is to escape for a while from the reality of our own worlds.

But because of the Bible’s unique doctrine, the stories of outlaws, ne’re-do-wells, and just plain frail humans are filled with redemption.  A calling back, a calling up to a higher station. Some say even adoption into God’s chosen family.

The story of Jacob’s Ladder is just one example. As Jacob flees the wrath of his brother, Esau, he settles down for the night for rest. Left only with a stone on which to lay his head, he dreams.  And oh, what a dream! That dream sets the stage for a sudden turn in the history of civilization.

But in order to understand its import it is essential to understand those three things that Auerbach points out:

1)  The Bible insists that these stories are true.  The promise of God visiting humankind and blessing the whole thru the life and work of persons is essential for the “democratization” of faith.  Jacob’s unseemly resume is just one pointed example of such.  Not worthy and yet chosen by God.  To do his work and to bless the world.  That’s a unique storyline.

2) There’s a drama when the life of the individual and the calling of the Lord come together.  There are two dramatic uses that are introduced into literature by way of the Christian influence.  One is, “and then….”(et ecce) introduced by Dante in the fourteenth century, and its predecessor, “and when.”  This is found in the earliest citations of the Elohist who wrote the works of Genesis and specifically the passage we know of Jacob in chapter 28 verse 17.

Lightning in a bottle, dreams turning to reality, water to wine, turn-of-the-page-kind-of- stuff. That place where the kingdom of heaven and the citizens of earth meet.  Nothing will be the same again.  As the character, Camel, says to the young pilgrim, Jacob in “Water for Elephants,”  ‘get ready for the ride of your life!’

3) Because the Bible demands a reality that promises His selection of humankind and frail, failed ones to boot,  the story becomes a literal profane sacrament. This is Julia Holloway’s term for the comic and laughable idea that God uses us with our personalities and the impious plan He puts into play.  A rescue operation led by dunces, divorcees and dunderheads.

It’s not only great story, it’s great gospel.

“I Am the one you seek”

This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday. Historically, the last Sunday of the preaching year. Next Sunday’s Advent season begins a new year of faith observance. But today is about Christ the King.

I have timed the last sermon series, Jesus’ “I Am” sayings found in John, to serve as denouement for my personal focus as pastor in 2012.  Jesus’ last statements in John 18 summarize not only the series itself, not only the preaching year itself, but my entire outlook of faith. For me, the entire crux of living by faith is found in the personal relationship afforded to me by God himself. “I Am the one you seek.”

I am not anywhere near the obedient servant that I should be. The church isn’t half as holy as it ought to be. And the whole world has plenty of problems over which there seems little hope. But the story of Jesus in the garden, sweating great drops of blood, gives me an indication that the most difficult challenge is navigating the darkness before the dawn. Victory is coming and it will break forth.

God is doing what no human or civilization can do. He is conquering evil. Extricating evil from the dna of humanity is a tricky enterprise. Our position as the apple of his eye makes eradicating our lower nature an act of mystery. When we live by faith, we do so as people believing in his sovereignty and in his providence.  Truth and Love working together.

Happy Holydays everyone.

Glory Fills My Soul

“I am the vine, you are the branches….” John 15

Yak-kwee Tan acknowledges that as a scholar, her biblical literacy is influenced by no less than three competing currents. As a former Confucian converted to Christianity, she has been influenced by the western schools where she received her education. As a woman, the global influence of feminism has infiltrated her cultural background of the classic Chinese female. Her Chinese cultural and familial lens continues to impact her close reading of classic biblical texts. This, I think, is an honest way to look at how we read texts, especially religious texts.

Tan points out that acknowledging the currents of influence in our reading and understanding is essential when we attempt to break the code of biblical texts. As such, in keeping with the portrait of Jesus as a person who intended to bring the essential politics of heaven into and alongside the politics and poetics of the kingdom of earth, this passage is intended to help J’s disciples understand their role as living in two worlds.

Since Jesus has already represented himself as the Son who came to bridge the gap between heaven and earth, it is only sensible to extend his invitation to his followers to do the same.  No longer does a structural temple, a political structure or a dogma suffice for bringing heaven to earth.  It clearly is intended for followers to exemplify and exude the quality of heaven, that is love.

Love brought the Son to this physical existence. Love compelled Jesus to conquer death. Love infused the earth with life.  It remains our place to carry on this vital, essential blend of human stewardship and godly sacrifice.