Crossroads and Callings

art, Attitudes, Creativity, epilepsy, Faith, Food, grief, Habits, Healing, Health, Icons, Medical care, Mental Illness, ministry, purpose, purpose, renewal, salvation, Spirituality, stewardship, Stress, Uncategorized, vision, vision

img_9852

Road to Damascus

Nine years ago…how time flies when you’re having fun! I was at a crossroads in my life, however, with a preexisting health condition I’d managed to live with successfully through three high stress careers since 1977. Accumulated stress isn’t good for the body, so my seizure disorder began to make itself visible.

When my neurologist told me I’d never be able to do the work of a full time church pastor again, I had to revision and rehear my calling from God. If we define a role so strictly it’s a one way highway, it can become “my way or the highway.” This extreme dividing drives clergy and laity into producers and consumers, instead of encouraging shared ministry experiences.

If being a “source of all blessings for everyone” is a short term good for a pastor’s ego, it can also lead to a long term harm in health costs or emotional burnout. For the laity, losing the opportunity to live out their shared witness to the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ means they don’t fulfill their roles as the priesthood of all believers.

ARTANDICON in 2009: Bravely Smiling

The basic teaching of “make disciples of all nations” doesn’t have much effectiveness if we first are not disciples ourselves. So the old saw is true, we may be saved by the grace of God, and not by our good works, but if we want to become learners or disciples, our spiritual life takes some work, just as doing good for others is a hands on job.

I count myself fortunate to have a creative and curious mind, for I’ve always been the child who asked, “Why,” or went, ”Oh, I need to look that up and learn more about it!” Learning for the test, only to forget it later, has never been my strong suit.

The system as a whole also interests me more than the individual parts (I confess this is my shortcoming in relationships, since I have a few deep friendships, many good friends, and lots of friendly folks I like, and many people I know. Not enough people to count on one hand to say I totally dislike, although some I’ve set boundaries for their presence in my life because of their addiction issues).

When I set my preconceived notions of my ordination aside, I listened for a new calling from God. If I couldn’t serve IN the church BUILDING , perhaps I could still serve in the church as the BODY OF CHRIST. The body of Christ exists everywhere, both within and without the edifice we call the sanctuary, for we come and go.

In fact, we have people without churches, people who believe in god, or who are merely spiritual, all around us. Most of us are too busy dealing with our own congregations to reach out to these people. They don’t need traditional stories or sermons. I started a science fiction journal on faith.

Why not? Who else is doing it? Will it make money? Who cares? Do I get feedback? Not often. If we’re in this for the affirmation from human beings, we’re worshiping a false god. Idolatry. I can say things like this and not worry about ruffling the big givers. The taste of freedom is sweet.

Of course, I said this type of thing anyhow my entire ministry career, so I moved a lot, but the churches had good stewardship while I was there and repaired all their unmet facility needs. I left it better than I found it because the people came together to make it happen.

In the solitude of your own studio, writing room, or hangout, there’s no people to gather together to make it happen. A person only has the thoughts of what once was, what has been lost, and what will never be again. It’s the first stage of grief, a shock. It can turn into despair or depression, for everything is overwhelming.

Medication, or “better living through chemistry” can help lift the brain fog so a person can get their ducks in a row. This is no easy task, if you’ve ever tried to herd ducks. Worse than herding cats. Ducks will turn around and peck you. Trust me on this. Childhood memory.

Some people think a prescription is a faith cop out, since they should trust God’s grace alone to sustain them in a difficult time. I think God’s providing grace gave us the knowledge to create the medicine to help us heal our bodies. God can heal by ordinary means, such as health providers or medicines; or extraordinary means, such as miracles. More often God’s working in the ordinary, or we wouldn’t use the exclamation point after miracle!

I also returned to my art, for I find painting the holy icons and natural landscapes both bring me closer to God. As I got more used to being on the computer, I taught myself how to set up WordPress blogs and Facebook Pages for my special interests in health, spirituality, and art. Actually all of these get combined together, because of “systems thinking,” since we can’t lop off art from spirituality, or health from cooking, or any other combination thereabouts.

img_4942.jpg

Antique Aluminum Jello Mold

Now nine years later, I’m in a good place, enjoying my new callings, and in much better health. I will always have my condition, but my condition does not have me. Of course, I have to maintain a disciplined lifestyle, unlike the rest of the world, which runs at pellmell pace until it runs out of gas and crashes. But of course, you wouldn’t do that—you have too much good sense for that, I’m sure.

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

Advertisements

Death by China: Wesley and Barnum Meet Dr. Who

Family, Food, generosity, Health, Love, New Year, poverty, Spirituality, stewardship, Uncategorized, vision, Work

Overheard: PT Barnum & the Rev. John Wesley on the Movie “Death by China”

Citizens of 1880 and 1760 usually don’t have the opportunity to visit over coffee, unless Dr. Who activates his telephone booth or we use the research tools available to us to bring their ideas together in the same space. “Free Books” can bring PT Barnum’s The Art of Money Getting or Golden Rules for Making Money[1] and John Wesley can give us his thoughts on “The Use of Money” from his Standard Sermons.[2] These we can bring together to share thoughts both secular and religious that open up the conversations we should be having with each other as we prepare for our Black Friday Shopping Marathons, for surely our merchants are eagerly awaiting our arrival.

PT Barnum was known for passing off a fake ancient giant skull because a rival group wouldn’t sell him the skull known as the “Cardiff Giant,” which was found in a dig in New York State.  Barnum told the story that this other giant was the fake and his was authentic, causing the other owner to say the immortal words falsely attributed to PT Barnum:  “A sucker is born every minute.” Unfortunately, the Cardiff Giant was an elaborate hoax, so the prophecy was unfortunately true.

This misquote, “A sucker is born every minute,” must have been designed for America when we signed the papers admitting China to the World Trade Organization, for 57,000 factories in America have shut down since China joined the WTO in 2001. These closed factories represent jobs that are no more, but they also represent other support facilities and businesses that supported those workers and factories: beauty and barber shops, bakeries, cafes, shoe shops, clothing shops, and other small businesses such as accounting and legal services, mechanics, and gas stations. All these begin to fold when a factory closes because the workers have no income to spread around. Every one manufacturing job supports a half dozen other jobs. Since 2001, America has lost 2.7 million jobs (Economic Policy Institute estimate), nearly 77% in manufacturing.

We believed a free market would operate in China and open trade would bring prosperity to all parties. Instead by 2012 we posted a $174.5 trillion trade deficit with China. Their low wages and standard of living, combined with their disregard of environmental hazards, pollution standards, labor standards, safe working conditions, and minimum wage laws meant that they could produce goods more cheaply than Americans could. There was no level playing field, so there was no free market. The cheap, addictive products made in China attracted Americans, who wanted to keep their standard of living at the same level.

These Americans had lost their living due to job and wage loss, and didn’t count the costly consequences of also buying from the hand that bit them (lost jobs, closed factories, lost manufacturing base in USA, outsourced economy.)  These facts are brought forward in the movie, “Death by China,” by Peter Navarro (produced by Greg Autry).

We are buying these products on credit: one is the trade imbalance, and the other is the credit card debt people are carrying. Barnum refers to debt as “working for a dead horse” (p. 54), for it doesn’t earn money for anyone. He also said that even in 1880, “Americans as a nation are far too superficial, they are striving to get rich quickly, and do not generally do their business as substantially and thoroughly as they should” (p. 101).

Black Friday deals are made in China: Lead painted toys & jewelry, toxify me Elmo, Cheap electronics and home furnishings, and Shoes produced by prison labor.  If Wal-Mart were a country, it would be the fourth largest trading partner of China. Americans will line up overnight to be the first inside the stores to claim these “bargains.” While we are there we might pick up some Tainted pet food, Toxic toothpaste with antifreeze or Fish/tilapia from China that is raised in a polluted stream. We’ll save a few pennies, but we’ll pay more in health costs in the long run. This is what Barnum calls “penny wise and pound foolish” (p.9). Those of us that have Wal-Mart stocks will celebrate when the sales on Black Friday bring the folks in, as our futures will seem to be more secure. But Barnum reminds us in his book, The Art of Money Getting, or Golden Rules for Making Money, “You cannot accumulate a fortune by taking the road that leads to poverty” (p. 18).

In Sermon 50, “The Use of Money,” John Wesley quotes scripture: “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10), but admits that money itself isn’t evil, for the fault lies in those that use it. He proposes several rules: “Gain all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can.” However, he qualifies “Gain all you can” in this manner, for some employments aren’t worth exchanging your life for them, and we have all been in jobs that suck either the life or health out of us.  Wesley’s advice is to change our job even if it means less money. We also aren’t to engage in sinful activities to earn our wages or do work that causes us to lose our souls. We should gain all we can without hurting our neighbor: this includes not selling goods below market price, seeking ways to ruin the neighbors’ trade, or stealing away the neighbor’s employees.  Also, we aren’t to gain by hurting our neighbors’ body, or by impairing the health of the neighbor (spirituous liquors in Wesley’s day, selling illegal drugs or tainted products today). As noted in the paragraph above, the Chinese don’t pass Wesley’s smell test in the Gain of Money.

Wesley’s second principle “Save all you can,” seems to apply to all of us bargain seekers, who should buy the least expensive item and not the most expensive choice.  Instead, Wesley suggests that we reassess our lifestyles and not spend our money on idle expenses: things that merely gratify the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life. Most families in America have many more things than European families, and way more things than Asian or African families. We trash more things each year than others buy! Most of what we buy is for the adulation of others, and not for gathering praise from God. Wesley particularly advises his followers to avoid superfluous or expensive apparel or needless ornaments for self and the home.

Lastly, his admonition, “Give all you can,” is the purest test of our love of God and neighbor and the true assay of our hearts. Wesley takes the Biblical view that we are all stewards of God’s creation, for God owns all things that God created.  First we provide for our needs, our family’s needs and then from the surplus, we are to “do good to them that are of the household of faith. If there is an over surplus, we are to do good unto all men.” For the good reverend, the test he used was “Can I offer up this expense as a sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ?”

Today some corporations are taking a new look at their use of money. Their leadership now understands that you have to give back to make more money and they are trying to change their shareholder’s understanding. As a result, Corporations made up 5% or $15 billion of US giving in 2010.  Individuals accounted for 73% or  $211 billion.[3

Black Friday is the day our local merchants will make their books turn from loss to profit. This is the day that determines if they survive into the New Year to spread their dollars around to the other small businesses in town and keep them alive also. Our corporations maximize short-term profits at the risk of long-term jobs. We value money over people, and we value now rather than tomorrow. Outsourcing our jobs is part of valuing the short-term profit over the long-term value of investments in people, research, development, and commitment to excellence that will make our country strong for generations to come.  For instance, the US military uses aircraft “flying” technology that is made in China. We don’t make this in the USA anymore, just as we don’t make our computers, printers, smartphones, iPads, or any other technology. If we end up at war, this is very dangerous. We leave ourselves open to theft of our intellectual property, as well as theft of our national security property.

Manufacturing is the origin of Research and Development. When we outsource the manufacturing, we also farm out the activity of R&D.  Our intellectual property is our inheritance. It is what we build upon for the future. We have sold it for a mess of pottage: a short-term profit to ease our hunger, but we will starve in the long run, for we have lost our blessing to another.

My Nannie used to say those that “bought cheap would live poor.” She meant that you get what you pay for: if you want a quality product, you have to pay for the quality worker. If you want a green and sustainable factory producing the item, you need to pay for the product. If you want workers treated humanely and given a living wage so that they can live in decent housing, you need to pay for it.  If you decide that you are good with buying cheap because it suits your pocket book, look into the eyes of the neighbor who is joining the unemployment line.  This sad and dejected person is the mirror looking back at you.

We have a choice, and our money will talk.  We can put it where our mouth is! What are our ethics in buying? Do we use our money to support poor working conditions, low wages, and hazardous environmental conditions? Do we support our companies outsourcing our jobs and economic prosperity overseas? Buy American as often as possible: it’s better made, lasts longer, keeps our money at home, circulates the wealth in your community, and benefits your neighbors. Look for the designation “Made in America.” This means it was produced here at home. This is different from “Assembled in America” from foreign materials, or “assembled in X” from American materials. Only Made in America is 100% American. [4]

I want to thank Alliance Rubber Company for bringing “Death by China” to the Market Street Cinema in Little Rock for its Arkansas premier. Alliance Rubber Company is a Hot Springs company that is celebrating its 90th year in business. Ms. Bonnie Schawxie, the owner, is carrying on the tradition that her Family began back in Ohio.  They are an American success story, celebrating Manufacturing Day and American Made by keeping American Workers producing quality products at a reasonable price.


[1] Free Books App for iPhone

[2] http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition John Wesley Sermon Project General Editors: Ryan N. Danker and George Lyons. Copyright 1999-2011, by the Wesley Center for Applied Theology. Text may be freely used for personal or scholarly purposes or mirrored on other web sites, provided this notice is left intact.

[3] Giving USA Foundation report, The Center on Philanthropy, Indiana University.

Generation to Generation: Handing Down Treasures

Creativity, Family, generosity, home, Imagination, Ministry, photography, poverty, purpose, Spirituality, stewardship, Uncategorized

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” ~~ Luke 12:15

I have way more things than I need! I   have the antique pink Fostoria china from my Dad’s mother and the gold-rimmed china from my Nannie, Mother’s mother. When my Mom died, my brothers actually wondered if I wanted our Mom’s multiple sets of china. If we had a close knit family that all gathered for celebrations at one table, I might have considered it, but since I was in the moving business at the time, it was just one more thing to pack in addition to my setting for twenty from the prior generation.

Besides, I had the old table Mom had refinished that was her parents’ first purchase for their home. We used to eat many a Sunday dinner around that old oak table. It was always fried chicken, rice, green beans with pork, pan gravy, and Jell-O salad with fruit inside and mayo on top.  I also have the mementos that are part of the family’s heritage. I chose to keep them because they weren’t important to my brothers at the time and I believed that this history would be important to our children at some point in their lives.

However, I was in the moving business at the time, for I was under appointment as a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  This meant that I would “go where I was sent to serve God’s people.” Keeping my family’s treasures and history meant that I had to take a new look at possessions.  All my stuff had to fit into the largest U-Haul truck and my vehicle, with a possible overflow into a truck of a parishioner who would be traveling to help move me to the new parsonage. I began to rid myself of bought gifts, cards without personal messages, and clothes I couldn’t wear. If something came in the front door, something had to go out the back door! I was ruthless! This didn’t mean that I didn’t value the giver or the gift, but holding onto the object was something I no longer could do.

Push came to shove when I went on medical leave in 2009 from the parish ministry setting, for I moved into my condo at the lake, all 768 square feet of it! This is half the size of the smallest parsonage in which I ever lived. I rented a storage unit near my home that has about 1600 cubic feet of storage space (12 x 14 x 10).  I have built a new storage shelf annually and worked on giving away items that I no longer need or use.  I am finding the books I want to keep for now, and making my art & tool shelves more accessible for the various projects I like to work on from time to time.

When I found the box of family photos and history, I got sidetracked and decided to do a scrapbook for the nieces and nephews. In typical fashion, I got that project half done, and added a book of memories to it. Since the memories are fuller than the scrapbook, I think I should finish the first project, and send the memory book at a later date.

I think of my Dad’s workroom at their old home on River Road in Shreveport, Louisiana. He had a jumble of lawn tools, fishing items, and household tools stuck in the shed. Neatly nailed in rows above his workbench, however, was a collection of bent boat propellers from his days of fishing on the lake.  He would take the most recent causality into the marine store, ask the counter man how much it would cost to beat it back into shape, and learn that it still cost less to buy a new one. He would then nail this propeller next to the last one, “against the day when it’ll be cheaper to fix it than buy a new one.”

There was a rich man in the parable whose land produced so much that his barns couldn’t store it all. He had no way to store his crops for the future or to provide ease for his soul. When God called him home that night, his preparations for a future of ease were all for nothing, and all his preparations benefited someone else.  The point is, Jesus said, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).

In both our art and our spiritual lives, the questions we need to ask ourselves are “For what purpose is our treasure being stored and for what purpose is our treasure being spent?” If the answer is like the rich man’s—“ for me”—then we have wasted our time and our energy. God may as well ask for an accounting of our soul tonight. If we have no higher purpose than ourselves, then we have no god beyond ourselves. The one true God needs to make himself known and visible to us, so we can discover our true self, which can only be known in relation to the living God and lived out in service in his name.

As an art and spiritual project, knowing your family line is important. When I was 20, I wanted to be known for who I was and what I did. I thought my family didn’t matter, but the book, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue by Edwin H. Friedman, has taught me differently. I discovered the true stories of my earlier generations, and know now that these have shaped me, for better or worse.  As the artist selects the parts of the image he or she wants to emphasize, so we too select the parts of our lives and history we want to portray to the world. God knows all that we are, so offering to God a true self-portrait would be our gift to God this week.

Joy and peace, Cornelia

Mega Millions, Pie in the Sky and Perfection

Creativity, Family, gambling, generosity, home, Imagination, ministry, poverty, Prayer, purpose, purpose, Spirituality, stewardship, Uncategorized, Work

“If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”~~ Matthew 19:21 

I didn’t hit it big last Friday, but then I didn’t go buy the golden ticket. In fact, I bought no ticket at all.  I didn’t participate in the mega-normus Mega Millions Lottery with the $656 million pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I didn’t join the lines stretching out the door and down the block waiting for the opportunity to mark the little circles of hope and dreams. The last time I waited in a line that long, I was in Berryville, Arkansas, waiting for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Tiger” to open at the local theater where they showed photos of the local folks, sites, and events before the movie started.

Only three people in this country hit the mother load, the jackpot, and they may or may not show up for work on Monday.  When they stood in line on Friday, they may have dreamed of what they would do with the money they might win. If nothing else, it would make the time go quicker, as some of those lines were stretching quite a few blocks!  They may have been dreaming of “my salad days” when their ship comes in, when they can tell the boss to take this job and shove it. or they may be thinking of paying off debts and helping others. We do know that $1.5 billion dollars was spent by 1/3 of the American public who took a chance, even though the odds were 1/176 million.

A quick Internet search turned up what we could have bought as a nation for this $1.5 billion ($5/person who bought tickets).

  • Food–$6,129/household = 238,000 hungry households fed
  • Gasoline—685,000 tanks of gas for these households
  • Health care for one year—462,000 American families
  • One week unemployment benefits—40% of 12.8 million American unemployed

Someone came to Jesus and asked, “Tell me what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus told him to keep the commandments, because for a Jew to be in a right relationship with God, right behavior was necessary.  The man wanted to know which commandments were the important ones to keep. Jesus began to list the Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments, which were given by God to Moses at Sinai.

When he said, “I’ve kept these all my life,” he cut Jesus off before he could name the one law that he couldn’t keep: “Do not covet anything belonging to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17). He asked, “What do I still lack?” So Jesus answered his question with a challenge, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (21). This man went away from Jesus sad, because he had many possessions.

Whether he had few or many, the real problem is his possessions “owned him” and he couldn’t part with them. As appealing as the hope of eternal life, treasure in heaven, or perfection/completion in Christ is, the siren call of his stuff was greater still. He never gets to the “come, follow me” point in his life because he has to answer the call of his possessions that say “stay, remain with us.”

This is one of the hard teachings of our creative and spiritual lives. As long as we chase the Dream of the Pie in the Sky and Something for nothing, we are chasing a Chimera of Temptation. If we want to be perfect, or “complete,” we must give away all we have and follow the higher calling. Some folks find a way to do that concretely, as those who enter the religious orders in the Catholic Faith.

The Protestant clergy and all Christian laity have a different calling. We recognize that our possessions don’t belong to us in the first place, but are a loan from God.  We are merely stewards of all things, for God is the ultimate owner. Once we accept that we are managers of our Master’s estate, we are thankful that we are entrusted with a share to supervise. Then our possessions no longer own us, for we no longer own them! We render our accounting back to the Master, and make faithful use of them for his good and his purposes, and not just for our own good. We have the incentive to use money appropriately and not squander it gambling, on drugs, or wasting precious resources. We are thankful for what we have and share with others to help the hungry, the homeless, the hopeless, and other missions of our faith community.

Amazing isn’t it, what happens what happens when you give up ownership of your many possessions? In fact if everyone in America, not just the one third of us that bought a ticket last week, would chunk in just $5, we could feed nearly one million households for a year!!

A similar sea change happens to the creative artist when he or she gives up chasing perfection itself.  The great Apelles said of another Greek Classical artist, “He was a great Master, but he often spoiled his pieces by endeavoring to make them perfect; he did not know when he had done well; a man may do too much as well as too little; and he is truly skillful, who knew what was sufficient.” (The Mind of the Artist, Binyon, 1909, p.159-160).

I have watched many beginning artists and amateur painters work an area of their canvas over and over until it is quite dead. The worst mistake is working into wet paint, rather than letting the area dry first. Then everything turns into a mush of grey. Or they spend so much time on the details of one area they fail to keep that section in balance and harmony with the rest of the canvas, so it sticks out like a sore thumb.

The solution to this is to paint over the whole canvas so that the “whole” is always in mind. First sketch the scene lightly to be sure it fits on your surface, then begin to lay in the colors over the whole canvas. Keep the balance of light and dark, warm and cool in harmony as you work.  When a color appears in the foreground, it needs to appear in the middle and back layers also, even if it is muted or tinted, for the eye will carry itself through the painting this way and help establish depth on the two dimensional surface.

In my own life I sometimes “overwork” an area aiming for perfection or completion, especially in work or relationships. I think if I just see more people, help more people, pray more, teach more, serve more, do more, say yes more, never say no to anyone, I will be responsible for (the first perfect church ever/best sales staff/perfect family/no child left behind/etc). Then I realize that the disciples who were walking with Jesus, who saw the many miracles, saw him die on a cross, saw him raised from the dead and touched his resurrected body weren’t able to bring a perfect church into being in their lifetimes. So I have to give up my “perfection fantasy” and come back to my post Mega Million Meltdown reality. I settle for doing my best, and let God do the rest. He will bless my best, if only I have given my all.

This week, find evidence of hunger. Jesus fed 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes. What could you do with $5? A gift to the Arkansas Food Bank makes this $5 multiply into more and feeds many hungry Arkansans.  Share this message with your friends, and share your “bread” with the hungry.  Write a poem or blog about your experience.  Make a collage (cut out images) of the faces of hunger.  Add hunger to your prayers.  Joy and Peace, Cornelia