Friday, December 24, 2010

g.k. chesterton | magician, person, storyteller

“I had always believe that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed to a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and that if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a storyteller.”

G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

joseph's lullabye | ron klug

Sleep now, little one.
I will watch while you and your mother sleep.
I wish I could do more.
This straw is not good enough for you.
Back in Nazareth I'll make a proper bed for you
of seasoned wood, smooth, strong, well pegged.
A bed fit for a carpenter's son.

Just wait till we get back to Nazareth.
I'll teach you everything I know.
You'll learn to choose the cedarwood, eucalyptus, and fir.
You'll learn to use the drawshave, ax, and saw.
Your arms will grow strong, your hands rough like
You will bear the pungent smell of new wood
and wear shavings and sawdust in your hair.

You'll be a man whose life centers
on hammer and nails and wood.
But for now,
sleep, little Jesus, sleep.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

peter la grand | a christmas memory

It may surprise people that I once was a neo-hippie, much affected by the writings of Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, Dorothy Day, and Jesus. At least it may surprise you (as it does my wife) that I also once had a full head of hair. This was a while ago when I was 20 years old and spent my time grappling with how to live the gospel in a radical way in a modern and western life.

In other words I had no job and attended a small Christian Liberal Arts College.

I obtained the requisite VW camper van, painted it with rolling green hills, a blue sky, clouds, sun, and various radical quotes and a jesus fish; I played guitar; I lived in the bad part of town where rent was cheap. Pretty standard Midwest stuff.

I tell you all this to set the stage for a Christmas memory that took place at this time in my life. On this particular Christmas my desire to get to the marrow of every experience and to follow the gospel as best I could was burning like a fire. At the time my three older brothers all had new families with which to spend Christmas, and my parents had to spend Christmas at the Church where my father was minister. These Christmases were not attractive to me, being either about children, which I didn’t have, or about work with sermons to give and carol sings to attend. So I chose to make my own way and to spend Christmas on my own, in my rented house, reading the Bible and praying.

I forgot to mention how pious I was.

The house where I chose to spend Christmas was an old wooden house that housed seven of us comfortably. On Christmas day, of course, all of my housemates were with their families. They had all reacted as my family had to my desire to be alone – with disbelief and with some hurt when I declined their invitations to join them at their own celebrations.

On that day, I woke up alone in a that big, empty house. I don’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I do remember drinking coffee and reading the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth, sitting swaddled in my sleeping bag (it was a cold house). I took my time reading, no doubt also smoking a cigarette or two. The thing is, though, that it didn’t take too long. I had no distractions, no family pictures or squabbles, no unwrapping to do, so before long I grew a bit bored. I then drank a Christmas beer, which I was pretty sure fit with the piety as monks brewed and drank beer. At least Martin Luther did, and he was the monk that counted in my tradition.

Sometime soon after I had the idea that I should sing and record some Christmas hymns – which I began to do on the four-track recorder that I had received for Christmas the previous year. I got fully involved in this project, and recorded a version of “Silent Night” in five part harmony – all the voices my own, all the harmonies written on the fly.

When I had finished Silent Night, I began to feel a little lonely. I wanted to share my song with someone. I had contemplated Christmas, but I was ready to now share Christmas. At this point my housemate Marcus came home with a plate of Christmas food he had taken from his parents house for me. Soon after our friend Josh showed up with the same, and we had a feast. I played them my song. The light was rosy and the cheer was good.


I did not think about this Christmas for a long time. It was one that was both full and lonely. Looking back I realize that while my intentions were good, I almost missed the point of Christmas – life. The coming of Jesus means many things, but most of all it means that we have hope in life. It means that we are not alone, that there is a God, and that God loves us. It means that we have reason to rejoice, that we have reason to connect and rejoice with the other. While there is a time for solitude, meditation, and prayer, Christmas is not properly celebrated this way. The birth of Christ was not a solitary affair. Not only was there a mother and child, but there was a father, there were animals, there were shepherds, wise men, angels – and the list might have been even bigger. Even my twenty year-old self somehow knew this unconsciously. I now see that I created my own 5 person community in a music recording in order to celebrate the birth of Christ. That day, Christmas really came in the form of my own two “wise” friends who brought food and presence to the stable I had chosen over the places I had been offered at the inn.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

rev. j.m. gates | death might be your santa claus

While we think on the 25th of December, we are expecting a great day. But on that day it is said that Jesus was born, but we celebrate Christmas wrong. From the way I look at this matter, shooting fireworks, cursing, and dancing. Raising all other kinds of sand.

Ah, but death may be your Santa Claus. Those of you who are speaking to the little folks and telling them that Santa Claus coming to see ‘em, and the little boys telling mother and father, “Tell old Santa to bring me a little pistol,” that same little gun may be death in that boy’s home. Death may be his Santa Claus.

That little old girl is saying to mother and to father, “Tell old Santa Claus to bring me a little deck of cards that I may play five-up in the park.” While the child play, death may be her Santa Claus.

Those of you that has prepared to take your automobiles and now fixing up the old tires, an’ getting your spares ready and overhauling your automobile, death may be your Santa Claus.

You is decorating your room and getting ready for all night dance, death may be your Santa Claus.

Death is on your track and gonna overtake you after a while. Death may be your Santa Claus. Oh man, oh woman, oh boy, oh girl, if I were you, I would be worrying this morning and would search deep down in my heart. For God I live and for God I’ll die. If I were you, I’d turn around this morning. Death may be your Santa Claus. Death been on your track ever since you were born, ever since you been in the world. Death winked at your mother three times before you was born into this sin sinnin’ world. Death is gonna bring you down after while, after while; Death may be your Santa Claus.

Atlanta, 3 November 1926
from "Goodbye Babylon"

liner notes
“This was Rev. Gates’ most successful Christmas sermon and his first on a topical theme. Good sales caused him to record many more topical sermons and to return to his theme in 1927 with Will the Coffin Be Your Santa Claus? and in 1939 with Will Hell Be Your Santa Claus? Rev. A. Nix recorded Death Might Be Your Christmas Gift in 1927. Preachers have always been somewhat ambivalent about Santa Claus, feeling that the emphasis on gift giving and materialism obscures the role of Christmas as a celebration of Christ’s birth. Rev. Gates offers a strong reality check for those who would celebrate the holiday with too much revelry and foolishness.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

horton foote, harper lee | to kill a mockingbird

"Atticus, Jim says this watch is going to belong to him some day."
"That's right."
"Customary for the boy to have his father's watch."
"What are you going to give me?"
"I don't know that I have much else of value that belongs to me."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

lance odegard | impossible dream

Cribbed, cabined, and confined
Within the walls of a human life
The Infinite defined
Measured out in ticking time
Tell me have you seen
Such a strange way to redeem
It’s like selling all your acres
It’s a mighty big mistaker
To be cribbed, cabined, and confined

It’s way beyond the absurd
Thinking of a skinned on word
A pronouncement given in the mess
The Almighty’s endorsement: ‘flesh is best!’
Tell me have you seen
Such a strange way to redeem
I find it kind of crude
How He’s arriving in the nude
It’s way beyond the absurd

With the child a new economy
The bottom line it’s all for free
Now grace is growing on the trees
It’s in the roots and in the leaves
Tell me have you seen
Such a strange way to redeem
It’s like losing all your savings
all your monies and your makings
It’s a whole, new economy

It’s all yours, you merry little elves
Your manufactured joy on shelves
There’s a old party that’s in town
Hard to say where it’s at it’s all the upside down
Tell me have you seen
Such a strange way to redeem
If ya wanna get a little crazy
Try the incarnation baby
Cause God’s inside a lady
And no I don’t mean maybe
In God’s impossible dream

diane tucker | advent couplets

People are coming for dinner; lay the table
with freshly pressed green and yellow napkins.

On short dark days she draws impatience tight
around herself, black swaddling clothes.

By noon the page is half full of words.
By two the clock has eaten every one.

All day the stove has been dreaming of stew;
meat, roots, leaves, it performs their marriage.

The gardeners are gathering the fallen leaves
into canvasses to take them all away.

First Sunday of four. Hold your breath
for four weeks in the dark, then exhale a song.

diane tucker | christmas couplets

We are dumb animals, oxen chewing, cows
breathing steam in the litter. Greasy sheep.

We walk winter, nearly spent in the leafless dark,
waiting for some thrust, some flare of life in the belly.

The signs, wonders, angels hovering over stars
are not the gift; the gift is by birth and blood.

A woman and a miracle wrapped tight together:
God bundled in a girl, shepherd in the sheep’s womb.

There’s shit in the stable, flies and rotting hay,
but a pearl is hidden there, sleeping where animals feed.

When the world opens its greedy red velvet mouth,
shut it with the base and the exalted flesh – shut it with singing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

luci shaw | mary considers her situation

What next, she wonders,
with the angel disappearing, and her room
suddenly gone dark.

The loneliness of her news
possesses her. She ponders
how to tell her mother.

Still, the secret at her heart burns like
a sun rising. How to hold it in –
that which cannot be contained.

She nestles into herself, half-convinced
it was some kind of good dream,
she its visionary.

But then, part dazzled, part prescient –
she hugs her body, a pod with a seed
that will split her.

Luci Shaw

illustration: Annunciation, by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898

Sunday, November 28, 2010

robert farrar capon | better watch out

The entire human race is profoundly and desperately religious. From the dim beginnings of our history right up to the present day, there is not a man, woman, or child of us who has ever been immune to the temptation to think that the relationship between God and humanity can be repaired from our side, by our efforts. Whether those efforts involve creedal correctness, cultic performances, or ethical achievements - or whether they amount to little more than crassly superstitious behavior - we are all, at some deep level, committed to them. If we are not convinced that God can be conned into being favorable to us by dint of our doctrinal orthodoxy, or chicken sacrifices, or the gritting of our moral teeth, we still have a hard time shaking the belief that stepping over sidewalk cracks, or hanging up the bath towel so the label won't show, will somehow render the Ruler of the Universe kindhearted, softheaded, or both.

But as the Epistle to the Hebrews pointed out long ago, all such behavior is bunk. The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins, nor can any other religious act do what it sets out to do. Either it is ineffective for its purpose, or the supposedly effective intellectual, spiritual, or moral uprightness it counts on to do the job is simply unavailable. . . .

How sad, then, when the church acts as if it is in the religion business rather than in the Gospel-proclaiming business. What a disservice, not only to itself but to a world perpetually sinking in the quagmire of religiosity, when it harps on creed, cult, and conduct as the touchstones of salvation. What a perversion of the truth that sets us free (John 8:32) when it takes the news that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8), and turns it into a proclamation of God as just one more insufferable bookkeeper.

The Messiah whom Jesus' contemporaries expected - and likewise any and all of the messiahs the world has looked to ever since - are like nothing so much as religious versions of "Santa Claus is coming to town." The words of that dreadful Christmas song sum up perfectly the only kind of messianic behavior the human race, in its self-destructive folly, is prepared to accept: "He's making a list; he's checking it twice; he's going to find out who's naughty or nice" - and so on into the dark night of all the tests this naughty world can never pass.

For my money, what Jesus senses clearly and for the first time in the coin in the fish's mouth (Matthew 17:24-27) is that he is not, thank God, Santa Claus. He will come to the world's sins with no lists to check, no tests to grade, no debts to collect, no scores to settle. He will wipe away the handwriting that was against us and nail it to his cross (Colossians 2:14). He will save, not some miniscule coterie of good little boys and girls with religious money in their piggy banks, but all the stone-broke,deadbeat, overextended children of this world whom he, as the Son of man - the Holy Child of God, the Ultimate Big Kid, if you please - will set free in the liberation of his death.

Robert Farrar Capon,
Kingdom, Grace Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus

Saturday, November 27, 2010

stillwell | woodcuts

These images were created by Andrew Stillwell,
a Durham NC artist who uses a Photoshop process of "cutting" out of a black background
to create a woodcut effect.
He works from scratch, not from photographs.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

zachary kanin | noah's ark

selected panels from 

Amazing Tales Of The Bible: Noah's Ark
by Zachary Kanin
The New Yorker, November 1, 2010

Sunday, November 07, 2010

beckett, blake | literary tattoos

Waiting For Godot | Samuel Beckett

Auguries of Innocence | William Blake

Two of fifteen literary tattoos

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

jeanne murray walker | staying power

In appreciation of Maxim Gorky at the International
Convention of Atheists. 1929

Like Gorky, I sometimes follow my doubts
outside and question the metal sky,
longing to have the fight settled, thinking
I can't go on like this, and finally I say

all right, it is improbable, all right, there
is no God. And then as if I'm focusing
a magnifying glass on dry leaves, God blazes up.
It's the attention, maybe, to what isn't

there that makes the notion flare like
a forest fire until I have to spend the afternoon
dragging the hose to put it out. Even
on an ordinary day when a friend calls,

tells me they've found melanoma,
complains that the hospital is cold, I say God.
God, I say as my heart turns inside out.
Pick up any language by the scruff of its neck,

wipe its face, set it down on the lawn,
and I bet it will toddle right into the godfire
again, which - though they say it doesn't
exist - can send you straight to the burn unit.

Oh, we have only so many words to think with.
Say God's not fire, say anything, say God's
a phone, maybe. You know you didn't order a phone,
but there it is. It rings. You don't know who it could be.

You don't want to talk, so you pull out
the plug. It rings. You smash it with a hammer
till it bleeds springs and coils and clobbered up
metal bits. It rings again. You pick it up

and a voice you love whispers hello.

by Jeanne Murray Walker
Originally published in Poetry

Monday, October 25, 2010

donald miller | you'd want your money back

"If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn't cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn't tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you'd seen. The truth is, you wouldn't remember that movie a week later, except you'd feel robbed and want your money back. But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to feel meaningful."

Donald Miller
A Million Miles In A Thousand Years

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

george bernard shaw | no brief candle

This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

George Bernard Shaw

Saturday, October 02, 2010

betty spackman | found wanting

Found Wanting exposes the bones of truth
There is never a feast without a sacrifice.

These photos are from Craig Spence's fine review of Betty Spackman's installation "Found Wanting," currently showing at the Penticton Art Gallery (until Nov 7), transferring to The Reach Gallery in Abbotsford in late January. Here's an excerpt from the Spence piece:
"Feasting without sacrificing is the very essence of consumerism, and Spackman makes that point with a powerful narrative, woven into this installation piece... We have replaced sacrifice – the act of honouring earth, spirit and the souls of the creatures we use – with mind numbing slogans and shopping aisle musac.

"Ultimately, though, these sleights of hand, which make us shop faster because we can skip the vital step of honouring, remembering, and perhaps demanding a little less of the animals that give up their lives that we may partake… ultimately these marketer’s ploys involve us in a lie that denies our spiritual connection to the things we eat.

"We are cut out of the life cycle, which ends in death and commences in rebirth.

"It’s not easy facing up to the truth when we have been so immersed in denial. It takes willpower to listen to the complete message offered up through the headsets at the Cantina, a homey kitchen 'filled with found objects from the culinary, the medical, the commercial and the domestic' realms.

"The smattering of jingles, down home recipes, popular music and reminiscences is underlain by a current of words that evoke thought in stark monotone: '…heat, beat, breast, chest, chill, chop, grind, bake, blemish…' The vocabulary of eating, like the scattered bones of the feast, is gathered together for us to witness. But, like heaps of bones, the words are given no structure aside from what we are prepared to lend them with our own thoughts and feelings.

"Meanwhile, the unavoidable pressure to move on urges us to stop listening. Our watches are the ultimate excuse for the dissected world we live in. We are reminded every second of every day that we do not have time to connect the complex dots on the dial. The stations of life as experienced in the 21st Century are witnessed in isolation, the butcher’s reality not connected to the vendor’s, or the consumer’s, or the victim’s."

Several months ago I took photos of Betty's studio, and of the work in progress. Kate Bradford has created a video documenting the installation, and the exhibition catalog features notes by Karen Mulder.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

calvin | the immense weight of glory

Wherever you turn your eyes, there is no portion of the world that does not exhibit some sparks of beauty. It is impossible to contemplate the vast and beautiful fabric without being overwhelmed by the immense weight of glory.

John Calvin,
Institutes of the Christian Religion

france freeman | iphone photos

iPhone photos by france freeman

freeman is a professional photographer
and photo blogger from seattle