The Journey Never Ends

Creativity, Family, home, Imagination, Love, Meditation, photography, Prayer, purpose, renewal, Spirituality, Travel, Turkey, Uncategorized, Work

Hot Air Balloons in Turkey

Hot Air Balloons in Turkey

“A highway shall be there and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.”~~ Isaiah 35:8

All good things come to an end, but the ending is just the beginning of something new. This week a fifty year old jockey came out of retirement and rode Oxbow, a 15/1 long shot, into the winner’s circle at the Preakness: they beat the favorite and his mud covered jockey who finished fourth, out of the money. I have a dear friend who just turned 66 and is contemplating retirement after forty years in medicine: he wonders what he could have done if he had more time in his career or if he had more time in retirement. Thousands of graduates from all educational levels are celebrating with their families this end of their journey with a mixture of joy and sadness. Whether they are “kiddie kollege” grads or college graduates, there is a mixture of sadness in knowing that this shared journey with friends is over, and in a few days the classrooms will be empty as others come to take your place.

This is the way of all journeys, whether we are going for a weekend at the lake or for two weeks in the Footsteps of Paul on a pilgrimage. When I came home after being in two countries, seven hotels, multiple airports, a taxi ride by myself in Istanbul, and finally slept in my own bed within my own four walls, I woke up feeling sad that there wasn’t some new and compelling place to be that day. Already I wanted to see more of Greece, for I only tasted of her beauty and delights. I didn’t get to see the ancient sites of mythology or the northernmost cities that Paul visited.  When I said goodbye to some of my travel companions that I enjoyed touring with, I knew that they were just seasonal friends, but one friend I have kept in touch with through Facebook. Sometimes this is the way life is, for we can’t manufacture friendships over a short period of time.

My first Sunday at home I was still on Istanbul time, so I woke at 2 AM (10 AM Istanbul time). This was “sleeping late” by their clock, but my eyes were wide open. Coffee in the kitchen, writing in my journal, a very early breakfast, meeting my newspaper man, and getting to church early for a change were on tap for today.

I did notice that I had a difficult time clapping in rhythm with the band, however, as if I were straddling different time zones or time travelling between the two places I had been and the place where I was now. My driving was also a tad impaired, for while I was able to navigate the highway, the glowing scenery distracted me. The landscape had an effervescent glow that I remember only one other time in my life, a radiance that it gave off as if God was touching all his creation and sanctifying it.  I remember the land, the trees, the grass, and all living things giving off this glow for weeks after I visited the Holy Land. This didn’t transfer to the streets or to bridges or houses, but only to growing things.  It is a holy moment, when one realizes that the journey that was once thought to be over is now just beginning.

When we get our diplomas, our gold watches, or our plaques for our faithful years of service, we think we have finished our course. When we cross the finish line or win first place, we think we have succeeded and can rest on our laurels.  The journey isn’t over yet! We are not called to be a settled people. We are a nation that was called to move west, to improve the widget, to build a new land, and to send humanity to the moon.  Now we have greater problems: within two generations, our great seacoast cities around the world may be inundated if the global warming folks are correct, over 7 ½ million people die of hunger every year around the world (http://www.statisticbrain.com/world-hunger-statistics/), and as our world becomes more urbanized, more will lack access to fresh water (w.globalresearch.ca/un-800-million-people-without-drinking-water/23843).

The ideas we are taught today won’t solve the problems of tomorrow, and we can’t wait until tomorrow to begin solving them! We have to become travelers and not settlers. Our education is just the passport to the next leg of our journey, and our first retirement annuity payment is merely the visa to the next country of destination on this great lifetime adventure we are about.

So how can we bring the Traveler’s experience to our daily lives? Travelers believe they are going someplace, that they have a destination in mind. If we don’t physically leave home, where are we going? I think it is the sense of a life well lived, or a life full of reasons to get up in the morning. We United Methodists have a saying from our founder, John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” If this were your goal in life, each and every day can be an exciting day! We don’t know whom God will place into our path, but if we pass some helpless one by so that we can take care of our own important business, we will miss the opportunity to be a Neighbor like the Good Samaritan and detour from our daily routine to help someone in need (Luke 10”28-38).

Travelers expect the journey to be exciting and renewing. Daily life in the same old routine can get so predictable and humdrum. Our alarm goes off at the same hour and minute, we take the same rut to work, see the same old crowd at work, fight the same traffic snarl on the way home, and maybe even our home fires are barely flickering.  We miss the old excitement and passion we once had in life! Where has our energy gone—sucked down a black hole into oblivion, washed down by one too many drinks or spoonfuls of ice ream?

How can we keep faith and fidelity while reigniting that spark of excitement we used to feel when we were first sharing our passion for one another?  Sometimes we are just trading information with one another, rather than really sharing our lives and our hearts with the one we really care about.  Taking a new course in an experiential class, learning a new skill or sport together, or reading a book together and sharing our lives/thoughts/hopes/dreams/mistakes/achievements/joys means that we are suddenly vulnerable to one another again, for we are both travelers in an “unknown country.” Now we have to depend on each other just as travellers do; we strengthen our bonds.

As travelers, we expect to return home changed by our experiences. Once you’ve been to Turkey, you’ve always been to Turkey. Even if you break your camera or lose the filmcard, you have your memories and your postcards and souvenirs. The experiences have transformed you. If they didn’t, then all you did was pay a lot of money to wander around a wonderful place to complain about how “it wasn’t like home.” Of course not! It’s Turkey!

We do this in our daily life when we fail to engage the promise and potential of the gift God offers to us with each new day.  We say that each sunrise brings a new gift, “the present.” It may be a silly pun, but it’s also a truism. Some of us spend our daily gifts grieving about our yesterdays or yearning for them to come again. Yesterday is water under the bridge: we can’t bring it back and neither can we hold it here with us now.

Others of us miss the gift of the present because we are dreaming about our futures: things will be different when the kids leave the house, I will find someone to love me when I lose 40 pounds, or when the highway comes through this city will thrive again.  The future we dream about may not come to fruition. Moreover we set ourselves up for unhappiness and failure to act in the present while we wait for this future chimera to appear.

The best way to live as a traveler in our daily lives is to realize that we are all on a journey to God, for we are all on a “Holy Way.” We think some folks are fools and won’t make it to the goal, but God is gracious and cares for fools even when the rest of us aren’t suffering them gladly. We aren’t assigned to be the tour guide for this journey, and we don’t assign seats according to status.

As a spiritual exercise, take a respite from your journey to make self-examination. Where are you on this journey, physically and spiritually? You may want to make a time line or a time circle. Another way is to journal your experience to date or journal about a particular special event on this journey.  As on a real journey, your experience is your own and no one else’s. You feelings can’t be right or wrong: they just are. Give them to God.

Dream, Explore, Go

Creativity, Food, home, Imagination, mystery, photography, purpose, renewal, Travel, Turkey, Uncategorized, vision

Sunlight in the Pines

Sunlight in the Pines

“You shall take possession of the land and settle in it,  for I have given you the land to possess.”  ~~ Numbers 33:53

I overslept this morning, a behavior that seems more common lately. I did make to church yesterday. It was a grand day at Bristol-Baby! Even watching on TV, it had the makings of being there. Wrecks that took out the leaders, who would have expected that? Kyle winning, again. Joey Logano getting into a fight: the older he gets, the more his testosterone kicks in. Everyone will be glad to go to next week!

I am reading an ancient book THE ODD WOMAN, set in the early days of the women’s movement. In early industrial England, women of certain classes had limited choices: marriage, teaching, clerking, governess, or unwholesome occupations. The primary characters either ply these trades or have the economic means to live off the income of their estates. Two are out to change the world by teaching the shop girls how to type so they may move up a class and gain better working conditions.

Then last night I woke up several times with a very dry mouth. In between, I had several dreams, only one of which I even recall a fragment. As I slept, dogs and I spoke together as if we understood each other perfectly. Perhaps I need to write a book, DREAMING WITH DOGS!

As I made my morning ablutions, this verse popped into my mind, “You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess.” I had been thinking of exploring beyond my memoirs of Turkey and Greece, and what it means to be an explorer who never leaves home. How can one be both a settler and an explorer at the same time?

Settlers and explorers don’t share the same skill sets.  Nor do they share the same callings. If they were sailors, settlers would hug the known shores, while explorers would follow a star until they discovered an unknown land. Explorers want to try the new restaurant in town, while settlers feel secure ordering from a known menu and eating a familiar repast. I suppose this is why when church people move, they look for a place that feels like home and a church that feels their home church. These are settlers. Explorers, however, lead them, for the clergy are always moving into a land “God has given us” by virtue of our appointments. I grew up in a big church, thought I was getting a small church experience in seminary, and learned that there are still even smaller churches out in the world!  Culture shock is the sure sign of being out of your comfort zone, and a pointer that you travel not in the shallow waters anymore. John Wesley identified the explorer DNA of the Methodist clergy when he told them to be ready at a moment’s notice to “pray, preach, move or die.”

Agoraphobia–the fear of open spaces–affects nearly 1.8 million American adults (.8% of the population). Xenophobia–the fear of strangers– affects more of us, sometimes in subtle and unrecognized ways. The “other” is the one we fear because they aren’t like us. The tension this sets up between their settlement and our settlement constructs a “no man’s land” across which neither of us can transit. So we both lob bombs of hate, suspicion and denigration across into each other’s territory. US vs. THEM is our tribal rivalry, our devotions to our pack, and our adherences to our specific creeds.

The other race, immigrants, the poor, the rich, the educated, the ignorant, the churched, the unbelievers, and all other contrasts of our world, such as those that shop at Wal-Mart and those that wouldn’t be caught dead in the parking lot.  All of these are “strangers who live in strange lands.”

Sometimes we artists, creative people, and persons of faith think we must leave home to find the new experience that will open the eye of our imagination and set our creative juices flowing. We believe that only by traveling can we find the novelty that will awaken our senses that have been jaded by the constant bombardment of repetition. What we fail to do is to be explorers at all times, even when we return to the same address and the same bed each night. I have a set of coffee mugs for DST and for CST. I get bored drinking from the same set all year round and begin to miss the spring colored ones. These then are too bright in the fall and winter, so I bring out the deep colors and snow scenes. Monet painted his backyard many times: think Water Lilies!

Sometimes I feel the need to rearrange my 768 square foot condominium: then again, I decide to rehang the artwork to give myself a fresh look on the walls. Buying a new rug in Turkey was my big redecorating project for a while. I will change the cover on my bed according to the season, just to keep the room fresh. I am thinking of redoing the valence in the bedroom. I could still add crown molding and baseboards to the rooms, but I won’t do that until I change the floor covering. These projects are all worthy, but they take away from true creative pursuits. They are just signs that I want to strike out in a new direction, but I am afraid to leave the shore.

“You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess.” This word is for the explorers who yearn to be settlers also, for the Hebrews had been wandering for a long time in the wilderness when they heard this promise from God. For them, the land would be new, wonderful, exciting, full of surprises, and an explorer’s delight. Only later would they be a settled people, forgetting how God fed them daily in the wilderness, and instead trusting their own labor to wrest a crop from that land. They would forget as they sat at their looms patiently weaving that for 40 years in the wilderness, their clothes never wore out and their saddle leather never failed. As they became settled, they trusted themselves more and depended on God less.

The explorer, however, is always going into the unknown, so trusting God in all things is a highly developed characteristic.  “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).  This is what the Hebrews were told crossing into the Promised Land, but within a generation they began to trust themselves and other gods. The explorers still trusted the same God who had been with them in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.

“Where is my next meal coming from” is the same question as “from what source is my next creative idea or expression?”  How can I make ends meet is a question both settlers and explorers ask. Settlers will tie themselves to a plot, whereas explorers will find a way to live off the land. The same God provides for them all. “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6.26:). I think we would all be improved by trusting God a little more, by risking entry into the unknown land where God resides, and opening our hearts and minds to the other.

Perhaps that is why we travel, to discover amidst the uniqueness in others an essential humanity. I would be sad to think that some folks traveled hoping to discover the unusual, but yearned for only the familiarity of home, but then they would be settlers. People who travel looking for home, who spend time comparing their experience to home, and talk about how glad they will be when they get home have missed the joy of traveling! Why did they spend $4000 on a grand tour of the holy places when they could have stayed home and complained!? They may have just needed a change of scenery or the weather was poor at that time of year. I too can find a growl bear mood, but when this happens, I like to take my iPhone out and wander about to photograph the common scenes of my everyday life.

Taking photos that are interesting and might be useful for a painting requires me to pre-compose or imagine the image through the lens. Then I brighten and/or use one of the Instagram filters before I share it on Facebook or twitter. I will put the camera inside the flowering bush, lie down on the sidewalk to shoot upwards (just because I’m a granny doesn’t mean I can’t get up again!), or bend down to get eye to eye with a low subject. People’s photos often fail because they aren’t close enough, the light is from the wrong direction, the viewpoint is ordinary, and the subject or photo itself lacks contrast. In other words, they are safe, shore hugging pictures. Explore what your camera can do. Take it for a ride out on a big wave out beyond the breakers.  Feel the exhilarating breeze upon your face as your bark rushes over the tops of waves that have yet to break! You are flying! This is art! This is fun! You can bring your ship home anytime you want, but you’ll never be the same again. You are now an EXPLORER.

This quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, but it hasn’t been found in any of his writings. It still speaks the truth to all of us:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”(—attributed in error to Mark Twain, first found in H. Jackson Brown Jr.’s P. S. I Love You (Rutledge Hill Press, 1990). Brown’s book is a collection of quotes and maxims attributed to his mother.)

Money Can’t Buy Art

Creativity, generosity, Grand Bazaar, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Meditation, photography, purpose, Spirituality, stewardship, Turkey, Uncategorized, vision, Work

“But where shall wisdom be found? …It cannot be bought for gold, and silver cannot be weighed out as its price.” ~~ Job 28:12, 15

The recent national elections for President, Senate and House seats cost around $6 billion dollars. At the end of all this storm and fury, the Republicans still hold the House, the Democrats still dominate the Senate, and Mr. Obama is still the President of these United States of America. One candidate, Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, spent nearly $100 million of her personal fortune on her two failed bids for the US Senate seat from Connecticut. This is proof that money itself doesn’t buy elections.

Some of my younger friends are prepared to leave the country: anywhere but here is looking good to them. Then there are the secession petitions on the government’s own web site (https://petitions.whitehouse.gov) filed from all fifty states since this election, including one from Vermont (a “safely Democratic state”), from disaffected citizens who are unhappy with the outcome and don’t want to live under this elected government. (We live in America, not Burger King; we all don’t get to have it “our way.”) We seem to think that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, or things would be better if other leadership were in charge.

Having just returned from a recent journey to Greece and Turkey, I can say with certainty that every person in every place is in some way unhappy with their own government, but they all continue to muddle along. Our own founders designed a famous “system of checks and balances,” so that no part of our government can get the upper hand. Sometimes nothing gets done for a while, as the politicians wait to see if new leadership will take the reins when an election year comes around. When that fails to happen, they get down to brass tacks and do their deal making, especially if they can see the proverbial “fiscal cliff” looming ahead. We don’t act until the last minute either, for we’ll wait until push comes to shove, and then make the hard decisions that have to be made.

The ordinary deals that we make every day pale in comparison, however, to these big number compacts and agreements that our leaders make that affect not only Americans’ pocketbooks but also the whole world’s economy. For us, we make the small decisions: Should I shop at this employee owned grocery store, where the prices are a little higher, or should I shop at a big box grocer who buys in bulk and passes on the low price savings to me? Both are providing jobs for people, but one pays its dividends to its employee-owners and the other pays its dividends/profits to stockholders. We probably aren’t thinking of this secondary consequence of our use of money, for most of us want only the “biggest bang for our buck.” We don’t often consider the moral or ethical consequences of our money’s impact.

What guides our economy today is the “low price.” We outsource jobs overseas to take advantage of lower wage labor that will lower the costs of products to entice Americans to purchase them. It doesn’t matter that the quality of the goods aren’t as high, for unskilled persons are replacing skilled American crafts people who earned a higher wage. We have become adjusted to paying less and expecting less, and we say, “You just don’t get good stuff anymore.” We are so used to mass-produced, manufactured goods that our senses are dulled and we are unable to appreciate the truly good things of life.

On my recent trip to Turkey I shopped with some of my touring companions in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, a city of more than 13 million people. Here we saw spices, pipes, leather, gold, silk, cashmere, art, souvenirs, clothing, silver and baked goods. This Byzantine Bazaar has 61 covered streets, but we covered only a few on our short tour. It’s one of the oldest covered markets still in existence, with nearly 500,000 people visiting daily. This was our first day in a foreign country, so everyone was worried about safety: personal and financial. This is a big pickpocket area, but then anywhere folks are spending money is a pickpocket area, even in the USA. Folks “lose their wallets in Wal-Mart” when they don’t pay attention to their surroundings. As the holidays approach, I expect the stories of loses will go up also.

We window-shopped and I stopped to finger the scarves. The merchant began to educate me: “Very fine: 50% cashmere & 50% silk. All cashmere, this one. These rayon and wool. This group just rayon.” Oh yes, very beautiful. My group says to me, “You’ll pay too much for a scarf here, Cornelia. There’re some pretty ones for 12 Lira ($6) back there.” This is when I realized that my group was not trained in art, but was trained by the Bottom Line. They bought into the idea of the Low Price, but my Mother taught me that “you get what you pay for.” At this one merchant, I purchased the silk and cashmere shawl in a beautiful green pattern. It was a “value” buy, but not a “cheap or inexpensive” purchase. Later on in Turkey, I purchased several of the lesser quality and lower priced colorful shawls to have a variety of fun throws for everyday wearing.

We get what we pay for. We artists sometimes wonder why our work doesn’t come out the way we imagined it. We may be using inferior materials, “cheap” paints unworthy of good ideas. If you are a hobbyist or a student and you aren’t progressing in your work, try moving up to professional grade pigments & brushes. Great ideas deserve great materials! You will get more intense colors, more rich interactions with the paint, and more intimate involvement with your work. Don’t worry that you are “spending more money,” for these paints will last longer than your “cheap” paints, for you will use less paint to cover more space. Why throw good money after bad paint? Buy the best! Use the best! Become the best!

Wisdom isn’t bought for silver or gold, it is found in the heart and mind of God. Perhaps you need to reassess your calling: do you seek only the mass produced and the low priced? Where does your money go? Are you supporting great corporations only, or does part of your money also support small farmers or fair trade growers? Do you purchase any handmade crafts or is everything manufactured? Consider what that does to your soul.

This week make something hand made to add to your home. An easy project is a pillow cover. It is two squares of cloth sewed together on three sides and a pillow form for the insert. Once it’s stuffed, turn the 4th open edges inside, pin together and whip the opening closed by hand stitching. You can add embellishments on the corners if you like.

This link from the Huffington Post identifies the true costs of secession from the USA. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/2012/11/20/cost-of-seceding-from-united-states_n_2165696.html