“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbor…”
~~ St. Theresa (Mother Theresa)
The biggest disease today isn’t covered by any medical plan–it is the lack of concern for the weak and vulnerable among us. The only medicine for this is a change of heart, so we begin to consider the needs of the poor, the disabled, and the ill as equal to the healthy, the rich, and those who can work.
This medicine is a living faith, not a dead assent to beliefs! Can we look on the face of our brothers and sisters and see the face of God!?! Can we see the wounds of Christ needing to be healed!?! If we see only the money and the tax ramifications of the plans currently proposed by congress, we have a dead faith, for we aren’t working to care for the “least of these, my brothers and sisters, who are the Christ” we meet daily as we go about our journey.
If our Sunday words are only for ourselves and not for the world also, if our Sunday words are only for our lives and not for the lives of others, and if our Sunday words are only for our lives, but don’t translate to our politics, we cannot say that we are living a fully Christian life.
What is the medicine for this? Repentance and restitution. We must make a change in the way we live, the way we think, and in all the ways we act: our uses of money, our treatment of people, and our lifestyle choices. All must be governed by God’s all encompassing love. If God’s love flows into our hearts, let this same generous love flow out unimpeded.
“Love one another, as I have loved you.” –John 15:12
Actually, that’s my stunt double. Just like Chuck Norris, I’m too brave to cry. Or, the heat dries up any form of moisture that escapes my eyes. The stuff oozing from my pores is a different matter altogether. I think those 3,000,000,000 holes scattered across my body are each an eye leaking the tears our real ducts can’t cry.
The real Chuck Norris never sweats. He breaks any sweat that comes near him. Sweat is afraid of Chuck Norris, for he is the epitome of cool. How cool is Chuck Norris? We could defeat global warming if we unleashed his massive forces of chill. His sustained energy could bring down the ocean’s temperature by 4 degrees. In fact, Chuck Norris has the cooling equivalency of two Antarctic continents plus the Arctic ice cap.
Many things make my stunt double cry. Mostly they are those events, situations, or conditions that I cannot fix or make better for someone else. I spent years helping my daughter try to overcome the effects of her abuse. Others also gave their best efforts also. Her mental illnesses haves always impaired her ability to trust others or to stay on a treatment plan. Once she became an adult, she could choose, even if she didn’t make good choices, or have the ability to choose well.
I could cry about this forever, or let my stunt double have this role. I chose to grieve about this loss, shed enough tears, and find a way to live my own life by meeting the hopeless, the suffering, the despairing, the lost, the victims, and the ones “who’ve been down so long , it looks like up” to them. After all, this is where Christ met me. I knew if he could reach into my dark pit and pull me up into the light, if I offered Christ to others, he would the same for them.
When I get to the point of dragging out my Chuck Norris stunt double, I know it’s because good old Chuck is a cultural Christ figure. When I want a power for good to make a difference in my world, I call on this Texas Ranger. Instead, I should call on the spiritual power that flows through me:
“My soul clings to you; your right hand supports me.” (Psalm 63:8)
I may not be able to relieve the suffering of any one person, but I know God in his mercy understands and has compassion on all who suffer. God didn’t withhold God’s own son, but gave him up to suffer for all of us (Romans 8:32). Through this suffering we are united with those everywhere who experience wretchedness of any sort. Too often we hear that the winners of this world are our heroes, but faith tells us that those who lose their lives will gain their lives.
If we are to best grow into the Christ life, we cannot forget those who suffer while we are being healed, nor those who hunger or thirst while our stomachs are full. The real Chuck Norris would not send his stunt double to do good in this world.
Context is everything. In the real world of my daily hikes, the objects in this artwork are pieces of trash that I’ve found lying near the path that I walk. Put together with a fresh eye to shape and color, they become instead a nativity scene. I live in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a place known for its healing waters to the native peoples who once roamed these lands and now known as our nation’s first National Park. We have two large hospitals, a rarity for a town of only 35,500 people, but we also serve outlying rural counties. If you want healing, this is the place to come, for we have spas, bathhouses, great food, a beautiful lake and mountains.
The local YMCA is just down the road from the Mercy Hospital campus. If I leave the Y, I can get a 1.5 mile hike with varying grades and enough level spots to recover my wind and get the whole done in about 30 minutes. I’ve about trained the courtesy cart lady to wave at me and pass me by. At first I think I struggled enough that she would stop to offer me a lift.
When we speak about context in a work of art or context in a biblical verse, we mean that we need to look at the surroundings. The surroundings in an art work include the artist’s life experiences, as well as the image they were viewing. We artists pour the sum of who we are into the whole of the world as we see it.
Likewise with the biblical context, we ask: what was the writer’s intent, what do we know of his life experience, what seems to be his goal in writing as he does, what does his choice of words or images suggest, why are some stories unique and not repeated by other writers, and to what do the stories before and immediately after point?
In the New Testament, Luke is the only writer to mention that the birth of Jesus took place outside of an established lodging place. He uses the Greek word Kataluma, which means “lodging, inn, or guest room,” depending on the context. He is also the only one to mention the parable of the Good Samaritan. Healing takes place for the victim of bandits at the inn and for the whole world at the no room inn.
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” –Luke 2:7
“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him” –Luke 10:34
The No Room Inn Nativity has the standard imagery of the Holy Family: Joseph is the tall, blue, flattened paint can with the radiator head; Mary is is the crushed coca-cola can with the tin can head and screws for eyes; the angel on the left is a rain washed McDonald’s French fry container with a tin can lid for a head; and the baby Jesus is an orange plastic cross/halo resting in a VIP parking ticket from a NASCAR race I attended in November. Alone, these are just pieces of trash, but together on a gold background, this collage becomes an icon worthy of reminding us that the King of this world began his life in a No Room Inn.
This Jesus who came to heal the rift between God and humanity, began his human life on the outside. Those of us who feel like we aren’t meant for the inside need to realize that Jesus spent his whole life on the margins, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and casting out demons, while at the same time afflicting the comfortable insiders who came for the show. Context is everything. Take your ministry out into the streets, find the broken bits of “trash” that have the potential to become new. Begin a healing ministry, not for those inside your comfortable inn, but for those who are told, “No room!”
I took the back way home. Even though I was using the GPS, I deviated from her well intentioned directions. Perhaps I was just intent on exploring, or perhaps I had “authority issues” I needed to work out on leadership, since no one in our country’s Capitol seemed to care for the the poor and the weak any more. “It doesn’t affect me, so why should I worry? Most people won’t notice anything amiss in their daily lives.” How easily we discount “the other.” We think so often only of ourselves: of me, myself, and my. My exploration, as I call the GPS recalculating mode, led me to an island of peace in the heart of the industrial zone of Hot Springs National Park.
Because of the current government shutdown, the park spa, museum, and natural spaces are shut down. We can still walk up to the fountains of the ever flowing springs and fill our water bottles for free, but hiking the trails are forbidden until the money flows from DC. The City of Hot Springs National Park belongs to the state of Arkansas, so it was Wednesday as usual. Our schools had lunch and adults went to work (unless they were federal employees or national guardsmen).
I ended my exploration at Sanders Plumbing Supply. There I found an old wooden railroad trestle bridge crossing both the road and the creek that runs beside it. I parked in the business lot, took my iPhone and crossed the street. The slope down into the creek was gentle and dry, for we haven’t had much rain in these parts. As I clambered into the shallow stream, I walked on an extruded basalt flow. That this old volcanic rock had coursed across the earth in an ancient time and still persisted reminded me that life is more than just today. Even the years of water had not worn it down. I made a short instamatic video of the rippling water, the waving weeds, and the sunlight touching the water. I was finding my peace again.
These black basalt beds were big enough to stretch out on, so I took advantage of this position. Folks in Arkansas aren’t much used to seeing a gray haired lady dressed in bright yellow and red lying in the middle of a creek bed and taking photos. I got a lot of friendly honks & waves from the passing cars. Then again, a person of any age doing something out of the ordinary is apt to get encouragement from the folks who aren’t quite up to stepping out of the safe path themselves.
When I came home, I made this little drawing in a Strathmore watercolor sketchbook. It’s no bigger than an iPad mini. I used an ordinary ink pen, the same tool with which I journal on most days. To focus on the antiquity of the natural elements and the constancy of God’s divine providence for God’s creation reminded me that this day’s problems are being handled by a higher power. As I drew the old railroad trestle bridge, I realized that “this train is bound for glory” (Woody Guthry). We may not see the train right now, but it won’t carry the self-righteous anymore than the hustlers or the sinners. It will carry the humble, the ones who put their trust in God, and care for all of God’s people, not just for the ones who can return the favor.
“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
“The light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.” ~~ John 1:5 KJV
As a young woman, I spent time in England visiting the great museums and learning to appreciate their custom of afternoon tea after a long day of tromping through visual pleasures and historic treasures contained in the various public and private galleries of our parent land. I saw the Elgin marbles, better known as the sculpture frieze from the Greek Parthenon. The great Turner paintings, which are full of colors and imagery, were worth several days of visits, for they have their own gallery.
As I stood sketching one of Turner’s works, “Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus,” I made sure to maintain proper museum decorum for artists wielding sharp objects: no swift moves, stay beyond arm’s reach of the priceless object, and never mutter out loud even in wonder or awe. Into this open space came another visitor who took a look at the painting, read out loud the title on the gilded frame, stepped back to give the canvas rendering of the one-eyed giant on a high cliff raising a mighty rock to crush the tiny single sailed ship that cruised below on which the hero Ulysses was on its prow shaking his fist at the giant above and daring Polyphemus to cast down the rock and sink his tiny barge. All of this detail was set in a beautiful land and seascape.
As the visitor studied the painting, I was watching him out of the corner of my eye. This bit of drama was proving more interesting than the sketch that I was rendering. At that moment, he shook his head and said, “Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus: I don’t see it. I don’t see it at all!”
Just as a match struck in a dark cave will light up a broad area, the light that comes into the dark world brings illumination to those who have eyes to see it. Some people will look at this light and never comprehend or understand it. They will never see it, never choose it, never attain it and never come into their inheritance. This doesn’t seem like an optimistic or “light filled” statement, but the difficult truth is that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness didn’t comprehend it” (NRSV). We ask then, why do some people thrive, enduring dark periods of their lives, while others let the darkness over come them? Why do some claim victory over the darkness or depression, but others suffer defeat and despair?
Perhaps some people have been in darkness so long, that when the light of God comes to them, they don’t recognize it as light. They only know darkness and the light is a stranger or an interloper. They are afraid to open their life to a new friend. Maybe they have been hiding in the darkness of our world for so long that they are afraid to risk showing their true selves in the light. They are afraid of showing themselves to other people, but even more afraid of revealing themselves to the God who already knows their true selves. Most of us however, are concerned more with the validation of our peers than about God’s praise, and that is why we cannot comprehend the light, but continue to live in the darkness of this world.
Not only individuals, but also communities and whole systems are caught up in darkness. There were times in my ministry that I wanted to add anti-depressants to the local/regional/national/continental water supply, but mass medication isn’t the solution. People need to care for one another, not just for their own color, or class, or neighborhood, or tribe, or party. We have to work together for the good of all and make sure the weakest have their basic needs met. Then we can work to bring the living standards up for all by focusing on what does work: education, mentoring youths and families at risk, and providing jobs and living wages with benefits.
Yet none of these will mean anything without a strong faith community, for we again will be reduced to “each one for him/herself.” Without the light to guide them, people don’t persevere in dark times. None of the improvements in our own lives, our family, our community, our country, or our world will come easily or quickly. We may not see the “new creation” in our lifetime, but we will always see the light of justice, hope peace, love and truth on the horizon. This light shines in our present darkness and if the darkness comprehends it not, we who have the light within us must share this light with others!
How can you be a light in the darkness? In a world full of negativity, can you be a positive force for good, for change, or a defender of the weak/wounded/weary? Can you shine your light before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven? (Matthew 5:16) As a spiritual exercise, keep a daily list/journal of the opportunities you found and/or missed to be a light for Christ in the world. At the end of the week, read these over. Notice your impact. A little rain over many years wears down the mighty mountain to tiny grains of sand.
“If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth…” ~~ 1 John 1:6
Oh, Paula Dean, the Butter Queen! Once you were everywhere seen, but now you just seem awfully mean. Or were you just good at hiding your true self until you got so big that you thought you were untouchable? Worse, did you lose your good self in the chase for fame and fortune as you left your humble startup beginnings behind you?
The famous Peter Principle may be at work here: we will all rise to the level of our incompetency. As befits our food metaphor, “The cream that rises to the top always sours.” The further up the food chain we go, the more we are surrounded by “yes-sayers.” These are folks who approve our every whim and never tell us “no.” Like politicians, movie stars, athletes, and anyone else in a position of power, those who surround them say, “yes” so that they too may stay in the shadow of power also. Sometimes these folks need someone to tell them NO: “No, Justin Bieber, having a monkey isn’t a good idea if you’re traveling to Europe.” “No, Tiger Woods, having affairs with umpteen hot honeys isn’t smart if you want to keep your wife and baby and sponsors happy.” “No, Lance Armstrong, blood doping is wrong, even if everyone else is doing it.” We really wonder why no one said, “NO, Paula Dean, allowing racist or sexist comments and pornography at your restaurants isn’t a good idea.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/dining/paula-deens-words-ripple-among-southern-chefs.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2)
Our first knee jerk response is to support Paula Deen because she is a southern gal who made her way up to the big time on her own. She is a real rags to riches story and this resonates with us, for if she can do it, any of us can have a shot at the American Dream. Along the way she became a caricature of her former self, or an actor playing a part. When Ms. Deen was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, she kept this illness a secret and continued to produce recipes that were toxic to persons with her disease (http://www.businessinsider.com/paula-deens-10-most-unhealthy-recipes-2013-6?op=1).
Only much later did she reveal her disease, and then as a paid spokes person for an anti-diabetic pill. Some would say this is crass, and not sass. The proof is always in the pudding, as my Nannie used to say. Her cooking show on the Food Network lost audience share over this issue of untruth. When her show was up for renewal, the Food Network cut her expensive show to concentrate on their reality/competition food shows that appeal to a younger demographic. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323998604578567832751771860.html)
The floodgates opened: her tears flowed as fast as her partner companies dropped her. Why was she not forgiven? She said, “I’m sorry? I said something wrong years ago, but that’s not me!” It seems that it may not be so. She may not be able to tell the difference between the sweet gal she used to be and who she is now. (http://www.businessinsider.com/paula-deens-controversial-career-2013-6
When King David was confronted with his sins of adultery and murder, he repented before the LORD and asked God to “create in (him) a clean heart, and put a new and right spirit in (him)” (Psalm 51:10) When we recognize the wrongness of our former ways, we ask God to help us change so that we can become a different person and leave our old ways behind us. When the doctor tells you that you are now a Type 2 Diabetic, this is usually a wake-up call for most people. This diagnosis changes your whole life from the food you can eat, to the exercise you must have, and the constant monitoring of your blood sugar. You learn to read the nutrition labels on packaging, discover that processed food is off limits for you because it’s mostly carbohydrates, and you discover how to cook from scratch. You throw away your Paula Deen Cook Books because they are the “pellets with the poison” and learn to cook from scratch using whole foods from the perimeter of the grocery store.
We can’t live in the darkness about Diabetes or its precursor (reactive hypoglycemia), but must share our condition. I personally have found that no one makes meals on retreats that are suitable for my health needs, so I usually pack in extra foods and have them for my own meals or snacks. Otherwise I will be fed a high dose of carbs, which will make my blood sugar crash and I will be irritable. I don’t consider this to be my “true personality,” but if I eat the wrong food, I’m not a kind person.
When Paula Deen failed to have her heart changed, or her “come to Jesus moment,” she failed to realize that what she did in the past is still continuing in the present. She became more like Lance Armstrong who came to the first stage of the Tour de France this weekend and said, “winning wouldn’t have been possible in (his) era without doping.” They both act as if the worst thing they did was to get caught, but they don’t have real remorse for their act itself. This is what we call “walking in darkness…and do not the truth.” Paula had Diabetes 2 and continued to build a $16 million dollar empire with recipes that bring on the condition. Tiger Woods and Martha Stewart got rehabilitated because they took time off (Tiger in sex rehab and Martha in jail) and had the opportunity to strip away all the circus of fame and power to get down to the person, to the human being that puts on her blue jeans one leg at a time, that ties his sneakers one shoelace at a time. They discovered their true selves again, found their roots, reconnected with their faith, and met others that had made a mess of their lives. Sometimes we have to break down, take our consequences and take our losses before we can appreciate forgiveness and redemption.
She was on the buttered slippery slope months ago, but this “fall from grace” may be just what Our Butter Queen needs. Ms. Paula will have a “time out” from the excitement of power to enjoy the humility of her own life again, and to remember who she is, where she comes from, and to whom she owes her success. When she recovers her true self, she may find that God will call her to a new mission, a hopeful, and a healing mission. After all, nearly 155 million Americans adults are overweight or obese, including our very own Butter Queen. Add to this number 24 million children and the number of butterballs rolled in sugar is amazing. I include myself in this number, for my BMI is 34.2 (above 30 is obese) (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bmi-calculator/NU00597).
Perhaps Paula will recognize that her recipes contribute to her disease and to America’s obesity epidemic. If she uses this to remake herself into something new and better, more humble and more honest, and if her recipes reflect this, she has an opportunity for redemption. However, if she brings back the same old package back with the high calorie, high fat contents, I think the shelf life of her product has hit its expiration point, for people today want honesty and authenticity in their food and in their relationships.
How can we have an authentic relationship with God and with other people? God is willing to forgive our sins, even if we think they are unforgivable. The world may hold a grudge against us for a long time, for this is the way of the world. God is not of this world, for when the world will not forgive, God will. When the world remembers, God remembers our sin no more (Isa 43:25). All we can do is to love as God loves, forgive others as God forgives us, and live a new life in love as God enables us.
To help clean your heart, take press on letters or stencils, or use a large font on your computer. Write out your negative aspects/sins/imperfections/brokenness. We all have them. If you need a kick start, google “7 deadly sins.” That should get you started! Once you have those printed out on your paper, then write in large open letters (stencil font) the word “LOVE” or “PEACE”. Color it as you feel led. Use this as a prayer focus this week.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” ~~ 1 Cor 12:4-6
In my actively practicing carboholic years, I loved going to the mall because there I could indulge my addiction at the candy stores. The various colored jelly bellies in clear plastic boxes lined up against the walls of the small shoebox stores brought me inside as if they were a rainbow leading me to a pot of gold. I would select my stash of varied flavors & colors, making sure to make a double purchase of my favorite black liquorish beans.
Once I had those treats in hand, I might peruse a bookstore, but if I were truly pressed for time, I went straight for the chocolate shop. There I bought my favorites: the turtles, brownies and the chocolate covered strawberries. These last I ate before I left the store, for fragile fruit wouldn’t travel well and I needed something for the road.
On the way home, I might purchase a Route 44 Diet Lime aide at the Sonic and eat a couple of the brownies. Diet drinks do cancel out the sugar calories, right? It’s the mantra of every dieter in denial, who has had his or her passport stamped many times over at that famous river in Egypt. The boredom of the drive home and the temptation of my treats in their pristine white sacks were usually too much to resist, and they often met their untimely ends before I met my driveway and my kitchen counter at home.
I can just imagine the Corinthian church, fragmented as it was, arguing over desert choices too. Brownies! Blondies! Red velvet Cake! Pineapple Upside Down Cake! Apple Cobbler! Fruit Salad! Donuts! Jell-O Pudding! Coconut Pie! Etc.!
Paul would have written them a letter saying, “There are varieties of deserts, but only one Cook, varieties of ingredients, but only one Spirit, and varieties of service, but only one Lord…”
Instead, they argued about spiritual gifts, ways to serve Jesus, and how God acts in the world. In this they sound like very modern people. We value and understand what is most like ourselves for we can recognize this in others, as if we are looking in a mirror. This is why when we get excited about a program or a ministry opportunity, we have a hard time understanding why others aren’t also enthusiastic about the same thing. We sometimes don’t realize that others are just more eager about a different service experience and are putting their energy elsewhere.
If we stopped to think about this, if everyone did the same ministry within the body of Christ, many needful works would be left undone. If we were all “preaching,” it would be a cacophony of sound, or we might get only an occasional week to practice our gift. A better use of this group’s one gift would be to send them all out into the world to spread the good news of Christ with other congregations who had no one with the gift of “preaching.” Disbanding this group would be best, for it doesn’t have the variety of gifts, services and activities to sustain it. Likewise in a community, not everyone will serve in the same arenas, for some will support the arts, others will feed the hungry, others will champion the children, and others still will want to make sure justice is served for all, rich and poor alike.
This is why the Holy and Triune God in his wisdom assigns a variety of gifts, services and activities to the body of Christ that we call the Church. While we may think that our congregation isn’t “gifted,” we aren’t trusting the faithfulness of God, for “it is the same God who activates (these gifts, services, and activities) in everyone” (1 Cor 12:6).
When scripture makes a blanket promise of “everyone,” it means “all,” not “some or a few.” If we are trusting God for our lives, since he gave his only begotten Son for us that we might live with him forever, then we also need to trust the Holy Spirit to make that promise of “everyone” true in our life also. Each of us has some gift, service, or activity that we can do well. Our gift may be something we learned growing up, like how to make biscuits the old fashioned way. Making biscuits for potlucks is just an activity to some, but it is a gift of hospitality when done in the Spirit for the Lord. Teaching the next generation this skill is a service not only to the body of Christ, but also to human kind, for we no longer know how to cook, but merely heat our foods in this generation. The next generation will only know how to eat at the drive through or from a can or a box, and that is a loss to our humanity.
As we live out our lives this week, we creative people should consider how we use our giftedness in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. If our gifts are from the one Spirit, and our service is to the one Lord, and if all our creativity is activated by the one God who works in each one of us, how are we using these gifts in God’s world today? Do we stay in our studios creating only for ourselves? When we come out, is it only to do errands, exercise, party, wash clothes, or attend to the other details of our lives? What have we done for the good of others?
I have a young friend how has answered the call to be an urban missionary to the homeless. He is using his art and music background in his ministry with these men and women of the streets. He used to be a musician in the church. My health keeps me from being a full time pastor, but I can teach art in the church day care one hour each week on Awesome Art Tuesday. I get paid with hugs and excitement when I arrive at the door. Each of us has a call from God on our hearts if we will but listen in the silence to hear his voice. What is God calling you to do with your giftedness? Journal about this and do some research on arenas in which you might serve.
This week attempt a self-portrait, which will be difficult, for the face has more planes than the ordinary still life or landscape. If the drawing or painting is beyond your skill level, pose yourself and capture your inner spirit. This isn’t an “Olin Mills” portrait or a school photo or even a mug shot with numbers under it. It’s not the idealized photo most of us put on our Facebook pages. This photo should carry the freight of your personality and your inner heart and soul. Good work will come of this if you let God work within you!
“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” President Obama lit up the ratio and TV talk shows a while back with this statement because 60% of Americans believe that hard work brings success more than lucky breaks, inheritance, or connections (2012—What Americans Believe: American Values Survey by the Atlantic/Aspen Institute). Not even a prolonged and hobbling “recovery” that still seems like a recession to those of us used to fatter times seems to shake this idea that the virtue of individual hard work will prevail.
Yet I am noticing a culture change among athletes, especially those who play team sports, but even among those who are individual “players” but have a support team of coaches, trainers, nutritionists, equipment handlers, bus drivers and press people or agents. In these lean times, when sponsors are most appreciated and not taken for granted, the athletes are thanking them for their support, and not just for the financial gifts, but also for the emotional assistance a name brand brings to their effort. When they begin to look beyond themselves, they realize how many people give their time and energy to help make their individual achievement a success. This is a humbling moment for sure. Neil Armstrong, who passed away this week and was the first man to walk on the moon, said as he touched that alien soil, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind!” Yet he never took the sole credit for his efforts, for he knew he only went as part of a giant team representing a great nation that willed him forward by adding its corporate strength to the thousands of gallons of rocket fuel that powered his tiny capsule into the highest heavens.
Indeed, an athlete, an artist, a writer, an engineer, an astronaut, or a mechanic doesn’t get to the top of his or her field without dedicating their heart, mind, soul and body to the perfection of their craft. We each have a calling to our work, a desire to be the best or to give our best every day, and this attitude gets recognized by the masters of the generation before us. They share their knowledge with us, like Obiwan shared his with young Skywalker. If we are given to wisdom, we will remember our old masters and give them credit when we surpass them, for if we say, “I did it all by myself,” we are showing our two year old brain to the world.
The culture change of which I speak is the value of the community over the individual. When I was young, boys were expected to work and girls were expected to marry. It’s no wonder that 61% of Americans aged 65+believe our “free enterprise system contributes to America’s having stronger values than other places in the world.” Only 36% of our 18-29 year olds think this way, for freedom of speech ranks highest with them (64%) (2012—What Americans Believe, p. 15).
When older people say, “Kids don’t know how to put in a full day’s work anymore,” I wonder if we taught them the meaning of hard work or if we wanted to spare them the pain of our struggling. We no longer teach cursive writing in schools anymore because almost everyone uses the computer. I’ve noticed that some seven year olds can barely write their names legibly in print, so they aren’t teaching basic writing skills in schools either. When I came home with my puny first grade letters, I asked my mother how I could make them better. She said, show me how your teacher told you to make the letter. I said, “The form of b is a stick with a ball.” Yes, so got to your desk and fill a whole page of paper with b until you can make a good straight stick and a nice round ball. My mom knew that practice makes perfect and training my little hands was training me to have a work ethic.
In the same manner, when cursive came to town, I already knew my task. If I wanted pretty handwriting, I needed to fill my pages with theses newfound shapes until my hand automatically produced perfectly formed script. I was developing my small motor movements and my hand eye coordination both. I thrive on details, but I’m not good at yanking heavy weights up and down. We all have our callings!
When seven-year-old “Alberto” says he can’t write his name on his artwork, I look at him and say, now is the time to learn! What letter does Alberto start with? “B?” Al? Does Al sound like B? “A?” he says. Yes, so write A. Now what? “L?” Yes. And so on we go, sounding out his name letter by letter. I am sad that his parents and teachers and the many people in his community haven’t taken the time to make him successful in the one place that has real meaning: his unique name that identifies him. The struggle to learn and to achieve is something each of us must undergo if we want to be the best, for we will all hit a wall of defeat or failure to improve at some point in our lives. All learning involves a certain amount of failure, for we have to discover what we don’t know so that we can reteach/relearn that area. In this sense, learning is just a “going onto perfection” or a smoothing out of the imperfections/failures along the way to our destiny of greatness! We all need to use our gifts of hard work and our Spirits of courage to fail over and over until we succeed. For people like us, we will climb over, tunnel through, or redefine (Kobayashi Maru maneuver) all the obstacles in our paths.
We all would do well to understand what this scripture means: “To each is given the Spirit for the common good.” We each receive spiritual gifts from God, but not because we are hard working and have earned them. We each receive unique gifts from God, but not because we are already born into a spiritually wealthy family and therefore we too participate in our family’s blessings. God chooses freely to whom God will give the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, various kinds of tongues and the interpretations of tongues (vs. 8-10). These gifts aren’t for the purpose of an individual’s success (one doesn’t make a living by healing or divining the spirits), but the gifts are for the common good of the body of Christ, the church that gathers in his name. Some of the gifts are more exuberant and “flashy” so they brought more attention to the recipient, who began to claim more status and success in the body. However all these gifts are equal and all are useful. We need them all to succeed as a whole, so we need to not only credit one another, but also the give of all good things, our God who activates these gifts in us by his Holy Spirit.
As creative people, we have many people to whom we owe our lives. As I list mine, you should think about listing yours in your journal this week. My grandmother DeLee was a portrait and still life painter, so I wanted “to be an artist when I grew up.” I don’t remember my teacher’s name at the Shreveport Parks and Recreation Saturday Art Classes, but as soon as I could write my name in cursive, I could enter her class and learn the secrets of light and shared, color and value, and begin not only to draw but to paint in various media. I’m thankful for my parents who encouraged me and paid for my art lessons all those years. I give credit to my crazy college professors who pushed me and the agents who worked with me in the first stage of my art career. The twenty years I spent in ministry prepared me spiritually for the work I’m doing now: how many lives, deaths, joys and griefs are there in those 7,300 days? Words will not express these feelings, but the power of the visual image will unpack the potency of the unspoken cries of the heart.
As I think about a visual image to express this image of the community supporting the individual’s success and the individual’s gifts supporting the community, I think that if God’s light didn’t shine into the world long ago, we might still be looking for a savior. If the sun didn’t rise each day, we would know the beauty of God’s world. If we didn’t paint or draw this world as God gives us the gift to see it, then the world would be a duller place indeed. Bring to life with God’s gift to you, your vision of God’s light breaking into the world. This may be a sunrise or a sunset, or a scene with light and shadows. Share it with someone who has helped you along the way.
The 30th Olympics has opened in London complete with fireworks, a parachuting sovereign, and an aging rock star. We can see some 5,300 plus hours of coverage on our televisions if we aren’t so blessed as to have a ticket to the games across the pond. These athletes from all over the world make perfection seem so easy, so beautiful and attainable, but then we see only the top competitors from each country. Most athletes, like you and me, are casual participators or “weekend warriors.”
Six months ago I decided I needed to step up my training so I’d be in shape for my planned trip in the fall to Greece and Turkey. When I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000, I felt sorry for the old people who were worn out by all the intense activity on their life time journey: they were reduced to seeing the most important holy sites from the bus. I didn’t want to be stuck on the bus this time around while the younger pups took pity on me! I want to be able to hike up the rocky trails and down the twisting, narrow stairways to the basements where the first century excavations reside.
I committed to the trip in January, so I told my personal trainer Ben, we need to get me in shape for walking. “Then you need to walk more and build up your core muscles,” he said. I had trained by myself for the first year of my medical leave by swimming laps in the pool at the YMCA for five days a week. I used the www.sparkspeople.com program (a free application for the smart phone & computer that tracks calories, carbs, fats, and protein of restaurant, purchased, and home prepared foods, as well as tracking fitness training and weight). I lost 50 pounds and three dress sizes this way.
Then I began weight training once a week with Ben. He’s not yet 30 and I’m approaching 65, so his purpose in life is to make me suck wind, literally. I have asthma, and he takes me up to the point of breathlessness to help me increase my lung capacity. My purpose in life has become to make him at least break a sweat when we train. Then I know that I have reached my absolute maximum for that day. He still runs circles around me anyway and just laughs.
Thursday I was dripping sweat like a fountain of youth as I did my sit-ups when one of the fellows came over to give me encouragement. “Whose your trainer?” he says. Ben, I say. “You got it going girl!” Yes, Ben’s motto is “if you still look pretty after I’m finished training you, you have wasted your money today.” He gives me a high five and says, “You got your money’s worth today!”
Ben has taught me that when I come to the gym I need to leave behind my preconceived notions of “femininity” in the locker room along with my purse. If I don’t sweat when I work out by myself, I should have stayed home, or gone to the salon for a mani-pedi for all the good it has done me. This is hard, because I grew up in the era when women were supposed to keep their makeup “fresh at all times.”
Along this journey, Ben and I have become friends. As a coach, he knows how hard to push me. He also knows that I do better with praise than with scolding. He is my accountability partner for my food plan, my exercise, and my health on a weekly basis. I see my doctors once every six months for my health, but having a personal trainer who is monitoring my compliance weekly is invaluable.
When I was young, my orthodontist would ask if I were wearing the rubber bands daily that put tension on my teeth to correct my overbite. Sometimes I didn’t wear them, because when I opened my mouth and laughed really loud, as I usually did, the rubber bands would go flying across the room. Then everyone would laugh some more. So I would lie, and he would look inside my mouth again and say, “I see two little fairies waving red flags and they are telling me you haven’t been wearing your bands this week.” So I would confess, and agree to put up with the pain, the embarrassment, and reap the reward of a beautiful smile.
This is why we train, whether in art, the gym, or in our spiritual life. We want to reap a reward. The ancient athletes of Greece who competed at the Olympics, “the agonizers, the strugglers” fought for a perishable wreath of laurel leaves which was the crown awarded to the victors. They gave over their whole lives to the competition, just as our top athletes do today. They ate specially prepared foods, trained under coaches, and even kept themselves sexually pure before a big match. Their focus was on the contest first and the goal second. Doing anything less than their best wasn’t a part of their mindset.
In an Awesome Art Tuesday class, a kindergarten child worried about not being “perfect.” I told her, no artist is perfect. We always find something we can improve in our work, so we make another one. But we always give this piece our best effort, for we aren’t seeking perfection, we are only seeking “beauty.” This was freeing to her spirit, for at home she isn’t allowed to make a mess at anything.
The works we do in art are all “going onto beautiful” just as our lives in this world are “going onto perfection in the love of God and love of neighbor.” We can’t mess this up if we are acting in love and with the best intentions.
As you work out this week, be aware of your “self-talk” and body image. Are you loving your body or hating your body? The Jefferson Airplane sang, “You’re Only Pretty As You Feel Inside.” The fashion industry makes clothes for the shape they believe we should be, but most Americans are not this shape! 94% of women are either pear or straight shaped and about 40% of men are portly or have “lower front waists” (NY Times). We can’t let their designs dictate how we feel about ourselves! Buddha said “You, yourself as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
“We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Share the love of God with some one else this week by giving away one of your works of art to someone who will not benefit you by this gift. If this is difficult, remember that Christ gave his life for you freely. God sent his Son into the world as a gift of unconditional love (John 3:16). This is part of your training in unconditional love, for a gift that cannot be returned in kind will increase your joy ten fold.