Oct 31, 2006

Donald Miller and Change

A couple years ago everyone was raving about this book Blue Like Jazz. I finally broke down and read it, and discovered a new favorite writer in Donald Miller.

I've been doing some research on these writers, and found the following excerpt of his book Through Painted Deserts, on the Barnes and Noble website. You can go and read more on the BN website. but whatever you do, read Don. I found this sublime. Especially what he says about change.

IT IS FALL HERE NOW, MY FAVORITE OF THE FOUR seasons. We get all four here, and they come at us under the doors, in through the windows. One morning you wake and need blankets; you take the fan out of the window to see clouds that mist out by midmorning, only to reveal a naked blue coolness like God yawning.

September is perfect Oregon. The blocks line up like postcards and the rosebuds bloom into themselves like children at bedtime. And in Portland we are proud of our roses; year after year, we are proud of them. When they are done, we sit in the parks and read stories into the air, whispering the gardens to sleep. ...

I remember the sweet sensation of leaving, years ago, some ten now, leaving Texas for who knows where. I could not have known about this beautiful place, the Oregon I have come to love, this city of great people, this smell of coffee and these evergreens reaching up into a mist of sky, these sunsets spilling over the west hills to slide a red glow down the streets of my town.

And I could not have known then that if I had been born here, I would have left here, gone someplace south to deal with horses, to get on some open land where you can see tomorrow's storm brewing over a high desert. I could not have known then that everybody, every person, has to leave, has to change like seasons; they have to or they die. The seasons remind me that I must keep changing, and I want to change because it is God's way. All my life I have been changing. I changed from a baby to a child, from soft toys to play daggers. I changed into a teenager to drive a car, into a worker to spend some money. I will change into a husband to love a woman, into a father to love a child, change houses so we are near water, and again so we are near mountains, and again so we are near friends, keep changing with my wife, getting our love so it dies and gets born again and again, like a garden, fed by four seasons, a cycle of change. Everybody has to change, or they expire. Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons.

Oct 28, 2006

Greetings From Nashville

It's October, 2006:  I'm on the plane to Nashville: AKA Music City, Smashville, NashVegas. It’s mercifully empty on this flight, and I have an entire row to myself. Across the aisle and back one row is a couple that looks pretty country.  Fifties, Hillbilly hippies with turquoise jewelry. He’s got longish stringy hair and reading glasses. She’s got a Cocopeli bracelet and 30 extra pounds. They order Budweisers. It’s 10am.

Across the aisle and up one row is a woman I noticed in the airport. Short dark hair and a confused expression. Like she’s not sure what flight she’s on, or what era she belongs in. She’s wearing double knit slacks, a Mervyns turtleneck and expensive clogs. Maybe she’s an ex-nun. Once she got settled, her husband moved away from her to the seat at the window. She pulled out a thick legal pad with the reinforced cardboard back. She’s filled half of the pages. Maybe I pegged her wrong. Maybe she’s a successful novelist. Maybe why she can afford those expensive clogs.

I peeked over her shoulder. She’s making a meal list. Breakfast every day looks like cereal. Or cereal and bagels. Pancakes. Lunch and dinner are spotty. Vegetables and chicken. Pizza. Hot pockets. This can’t be a weight loss diet. Why would you track that food? Is she supporting the carb industry? She's definitely not supporting fashion or cosmetics.

She turns the page and writes. “Saturday.” Okay maybe she’s getting to her diary. No, it’s another list. A schedule by hour. Costco Advil. Water plants. Thelma argument. She's definitely the confused woman who doesn’t know what life she belongs in. Making lists helps her keep away the confusion.  Boy am I judgmental. Clearly, I'm nervous about the job.  When in doubt, turn one's critical eye on someone else, rather than oneself.

But I do know about making lists. When we are younger we have our futures ahead of us, to schedule, plan, or just fantasize over. But when you hit middle age and those fantasies didn’t materialize, (or they did, but they still didn’t fill the void) then you have little else to plan. Except scheduling meals and arguments with Thelma.

Maybe dieting will get easier when I stop hoping about the future ...

I haven’t given up hope just yet ... I’m on my way to Nashville to shoot the second of the Directv specials: Songs of Praise, a musical celebration of Christmas. I've written the scripts for both. It’s just a variety show: The two hosts tell the story of Christmas in segments and introduce the choirs which sing a song related to the story. That kind of thing. But Amy Grant is one of the hosts, so that’s going to be exciting!

The DirecTv people like me and are recommending me to rewrite another project they’re working on. Yea yea! Maybe this one has more story and plot. We shall see.

Larry and I just celebrated two months of marriage. It’s the first time I’ll have been away from him for more than 12 hours since we got hitched. I spent my entire life living alone, and it’s going to be weird to be separated. Married life is terrific. Well, it helps when you marry the right guy. I got a good one, that's for sure. But it’s also hard work! You don’t realize all your character defects, until someone ELSE has to live with your defects. And you have to live with theirs. Oh, and they come up every day. Especially in our place which is really small.

Here's the thing I realize: a guy is just a guy. The fundamental things apply. Larry's just a guy. A great guy. But if I had expected my life to radically transform because of him, I'd be really hurting right now. It has transformed, for the better. But Larry is not my salvation, nor am I his. Well, he is, in that we all have to grow spiritually or die. And he is helping me grow spiritually, let go of those character defects. And man it is really wonderful to have a ... partner. I don't know what word they said before "partner" got so politically correct. A bud, a lover and friend. Oh they used to say husband. It's GREAT to have a husband. I had some stressful days over the last weeks doing this writing gig and man, just to have him there. Marriage is good, I highly recommend it.


From the moment I landed in Nashville I heard that TWANG in the speech. Some really country ladies in front of me. Boots, cords, big hair and that twang. Of course I heard twang 90 miles out of LA in most directions. But this is really twangy.

Us DirecTv people are staying at the Loews hotel right across from Vanderbilt University. That campus is gorgeous. That's what you dream your college would look like.

While I was waiting to check in, I noticed a family with three teenager sons, and some fawning older man to the side. The eldest teenage son was wearing Nikes and a KILT. The older fawning man was wearing a "Tennessee Titans" sticker. I wonder if he's courting the Kilt Boy for their football team.

The church where we'll be filming is just a block away. Downtown Nashville is up the street but it's a bit of a hike. Not for the night time. Maybe I'll walk down there tomorrow.

The concierge warned me that this is homecoming weekend for Tennessee State University, and downtown Nashville bars will be crowded. Dang me. Good thing I don't drink and I dislike country music. Hey, maybe you're supposed to wear a kilt to homecoming. Yeah, that fawning man has to be a sports scout.

I really do not like country music. Well, I like Johnny Cash and Willie and Waylon. But I really can't abide the slick stuff, like Shania Twain. She lives in Switerland for the love of Pete; how is she country? Or who's this Pouty Boy at the left? The Brad Pitt of Country? I wonder if this guy even wears a hat when he's alone. Maybe a bowler. 

I better keep these opinions to myself while I'm here. I'm about to meet Ms. Amy Grant on Monday, and she may walk in wearing a Stetson.

Ah, I miss Larry...

PS: 2009 ... when I wrote this in 2006 I knew only three people in Nashvegas. I now know about three dozen people, they're all terrific folks. And none of them wear cowboy hats.  It's a beautiful place, too. Larry and I would consider moving to Nashville some day, if we could live in East Nashville or historic Franklin. Not Cool Springs, though.  Cool Springs is a great place for a mall or a swanky office building or a nationalized upscale chain restaurant. But Cool Springs reminds me too much of Orange County, California, where I was raised and escaped from as soon as I was able.  Not that there's anything wrong with beige...

Oct 26, 2006

Forget gas prices. What about Darfur?

I don't know if you saw the segment on 60 minutes about Darfur. The dictator of Sudan is Arabic, and he is conducting massive genocide of anyone who is not Arab. The Sudan military goes into ethnic-African villages in the south at night: kills the men, rapes the women, throws the bodies into the water supply so the village is uninhabitable. And then burns the entire village.

So the survivors flee. But that's not enough. The Sudanese (arab) government bulldozes the refugee camps after chasing the people out in the middle of the night. (see what's left of the Al Geer refugee camp at left)

This makes mockery of our problems, doesn't it? And what is the US Government doing? Very little. Unless your'e a nihilist, or a true evolutionist (survival of the fittest fits nicely into this scenario), this must stop.

Here are some resources to learn more about Darfur.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Evangelicals For Darfur... email the White House urging the president to DO SOMETHING.
Voice of the Martyrs has been dealing with this persecution for several years.

Okay, you can go back to kvetching about Exxon's multi-billion dollar profit

Oct 18, 2006

Derek Webb Makes Me Cry

I don't remember how I found him, but I came across Derek Webb, who used to be in the group, Cademon's Call. I heard his song "Wedding Dress" and found myself weeping. I had the headphones on. Larry came in from the other room to see what was wrong.

"It's no use," I said. "I can't forget the hole in my heart where God belongs."

Below are the lyrics. Listen to a clip and you'll want to go to iTunes for the whole song. Maybe his whole library.

Wedding Dress
words and music by derek webb

if you could love me as a wife
and for my wedding gift, your life
should that be all i’ll ever need
or is there more i’m looking for

and should i read between the lines
and look for blessings in disguise
to make me handsome, rich, and wise
is that really what you want

i am a whore i do confess
but i put you on just like a wedding dress
and i run down the aisle
i’m a prodigal with no way home
but i put you on just like a ring of gold
and i run down the aisle to you

so could you love this bastard child
though i don’t trust you to provide
with one hand in a pot of gold
and with the other in your side
i am so easily satisfied
by the call of lovers less wild
that i would take a little cash
over your very flesh and blood


because money cannot buy
a husband’s jealous eye
when you have knowingly deceived his wife

Oct 9, 2006

Church As A Form Of Torture

My husband's friend Karen has gone on her own odyssey, looking for a church to call home. For a while She tried a place that fancied itself a post-modern, emergent church. Filled with hip 20 somethings, they lit candles, provided easels for people to paint during the service. But then came the sermons: "The verse, by verse, by verse, by verse Expository Preaching kind of sermons. I swear, this should be a new form of torture … expose terrorists to Sunday Morning Expository Preaching and they'll spill all of their secrets after an hour ...

Her entire post is funny and heartbreaking and so close to what so many of us have experienced. Church as torture.

That's what church has grown to feel like: torture. And it's heartbreaking, because church is how I've connected to God and to community over the last 20 years. Same with Larry.

It seems to be a trend among the people I know who were "on fire" at 20, and burned out at 40+. The guy who runs a Christian counseling practice called it "disenfranchised, disillusioned, and disinterested." My friend Kathy in New York was always the faithful God girl. She hasn't been to church in months. "I guess I'm officially a backslider." It's a lot of us. it's epidemic.

Before I met my husband, he too felt estranged from church, but didn't want to be. So as newlyweds we've been looking for our 'tribe,' our spiritual place to call home. We tried Basileia community last week and liked it. There's an Episcopal church we went to for Easter, which we want to try again, but not before we've checked out the other possibilities.

Then there's this church Larry's visited a few times in the past, and which a number of my long-term freinds have ended up. I've resisted for so long because everyone's hailing this place as the "the next big thing." I've been on that ride: Loops and turns and then someone throws up.

But, we needed to try it. If it sucked, at least we could cross it off the list.

We got there really early. People came up to talk to us. That was nice. The demographic was really really young. Well that's what happens when you get older. People get younger. I was looking forward to seeing the people I know show up. All of them did. that was nice, because we got to sit with a few of them and not feel like total strangers.

It met in a school auditiorium so it didn't have the benefit of ambient light. But that's OK, most of the churches I'vee gone to met in school auditioriums. I prepared myself for light deprivation depression.

During the service, their modern dance group did a number. I don't understand how dance shapes correspond to lyrics. But dance is a mystery to me. I turn off the Nutcracker. However, I liked how they all moved. Also during the service, a woman stood at an easel and painted on a canvas. In the end it looked like an 8th grade art project, and I didn't get its connection to the sermon. But that's cool, it meant something to her. I don't know how the "Paint By Sermons" Thing has come into vogue, but that's fine. I'll make sure never to sit on the right aisle if I come back.

The LA Times did an article about the church, and they had color laser copies of it on display at the pack of the church, so I read it. It was a favorable article. This church was a cool place for people who didn't like church; a place where seekers and skeptics could ask questions, doubt, and not feel wrong or awkward. That was great. But then I read what the pastor said about their worship music: "We don't do hymns. European music has no place in a multi-cultural church." That sounded prejudiced, in a cocky kind of way. But I needed to see what they did instead.

I'm not some uptight jerk who doesn't appreciate new music. I already have Beck's new CD. I like Sigur Ros and Interpol and "And You Shall Know Us By Our Trail Of Dead."

But this music was torture. For me anyway. Maybe it was fine for everyone else. I realize it comes down to a matter of taste, or whatever music you heard when you had your first spiritual experience. This wasn't mine. This music was 7/11 music: 7 words repeated 11 times. The musicians were probably good. But I couldn't get past the lyrics.

A line in one of the songs was: What can I say?
As in:
You made a way, what can I say?
You turned night into day, what can I say?
These lyrics are gay, what can I say?

To the lyricist: if you are writing, "What can I say?" Please, get up from your desk, go ask yourself, "What CAN I say?"
When you have an answer, come back and write it.
Until then, don't put it in a lyric. And don't make me sing it.

I'm also not a total worship music snob. I like Delirious? and Brian Doerksen, David Crowder when he's not played to death. I love Robin Mark's Revival in Belfast. Because there's melody and lyrics that are good.

I'm more likely to worship when I'm singing

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

As opposed to lyrics that are ALL ABOUT ME

When I think about today, hey, what can I say?
When I think of me, it makes me think of you
And me, loving you.
And I, Yie, Yie, Yie.
I’m so in love with me, Loving you,
what can I say? These lyrics are blasé.

The sermon was great. Faith is nonsense, he admitted. But faith comes from knowing through faculties other than the five senses. Like intuition is not from the senses. Just because we don't perceive God plain as day, doesn't mean he isn't there plain as day. We must admit our faculties to see or know God are broken: by sin or addiction or pride or fear. (Or as I saw on a bumper sticker once: "Don't believe everything you think.") So yeah, the sermon was great.

Overall we had a good time but we didn't coonect. and this is whewre I have to say, "it's not you, it's me." That church is perfect for so many people who don't want to walk into a 'church.' who don't mind the auditorium, who are totally fine with that music. WHo need a palce to ask questions and be skeptics.

But Larry and I didn't connect, and maybe it's just us. Both of us feel like maybe we don't fit with the usual church service anymore. That 45 music -45 sermon thing. We connect better in smaller groups. We connect in something that's more interactive: not sit and listen. Maybe we could get involved in a small group related to this morning's church. Or we could download podcast sermons and listen to them together or with a small group.

Or find our own tribe and utilize resources from this church, like their sermons or whatnot. Who knows?

That night we barbecued at our friend Doug's. Martin and Debbie brought their three daughters, the oldest is 14. Tristyn talked about life in public school, how her friends' parents neglect them, her freind had to ride teh bus home from a quinciñera at midnight because the mom didn't want to pick her up. Her freinds do drugs and drink and have sex because it's fun and cool. And kids at 14 are already saying they're bisexual.

Tristyn recalled a time when she was young. "We could laugh and say boys had cooties. Or switch clothes with my girl friends and walk arm in arm. If I give my friend a hug, someone shouts out, "kiss her, kiss her!" You don't get to be a kid anymore

Tristyn gave us a clear picture of what it is to be a kid. I realized how important it is for us to love and encourage Tristyn and her sisters. Remidn them of how valuable they are, teach them to guard their identity and talents and sexuality and body for the treasures they are worth.

Last night felt more like church to Larry and me.

Karen's search for a non torturous church led her and her husband to a vibrant Catholic church. She loved the liturgy, the sacraments, and the art. Maybe that's Larry's and my next visit: old church. Or maybe we do our own small group thing, and then a different church on Sunday. Or have a barbecue and invite Tristyn and her friends.

I still mourn the loss of that Sunday morning thing. But maybe it has to go.

Oct 1, 2006

Autumn melancholy

I love the change in seasons. But I grew up in Southern California, where those changes are very subtle. So I am attuned to the imperceptible shifts. My my favorite season is Autumn. Autumn here can mean little beyond the lone maple tree on a street meridian losing its leaves. The subtle change in light as the sun hangs lower light in the sky. The temperature dip. And that splendid melancholy.

I think I know why school the Jewish New year takes place now. Of course in an agrarian society, you just finished the harvest. You are truly reaping what you've sown and having to count it out. Btu even now it's a perfect time to take emotional inventory as well. I heard fasting cleanses are best to do in the fall and spring, right around the equinoxes. So it all works out. Equinox, school starting, Jewish new year.

I've been feeling the urge to take stock and look back. Today the sky was gray most of the day. Larry and I were going to meet with friends and pray, but they're down in Long Beach. They had writing deadlines and so did we. So we sat in our respective homes and wrote.

The autumn melancholy is hitting me. Friday night I wrapped my work on a film Change Your Life. I had had a great time. I really liked the cast, crew and our directors. We had such a great time. And ended, so there was a loss.

Saturday Larry and I worked all day in the garage and we were exhausted. I got into an argument with a friend and was left feeling hurt and angry. Saturday night we watched a documentary called "The Flight From Death" directed by Patrick Shen, who co-directed Change Your Life. It was about how humans' awareness of death affects the way they deal with others. (okay so I was asking msyelf to feel bummed)

I had one of those existential angst moments; What if it really does all end at death? It makes this life ridiculous, and sad. Ridiculous for those in Dafur or Haiti who barely get to live. And for those of us who have it pretty good? Why would we be built with these longings for things beyond survival: for meaning and significance, for love? Why would we love things that are destined to die? Why would we love the weak and vulnerable? Why would we be possessed to help those who are less fortunate? If this is it, then so much of my life is sad. Then this is all I've got with Larry, all I've got with my family and friends. And when it goes it's gone. And that loss is astounding.

I remembered in 2003 my life fell apart. I was so depressed I didn't want to keep living. at least I didn't want to live as if I'd be around in a couple of years. When my mother was selling her house and giving away her nice things, I declined most of it. Why do I want a set of Revere wear pots and pans? I don't want to cook, let alone eat.

But I got a certain kind of freedom out of it. I got free from the things that used to hold me hostage: the tyranny of success, the tyranny of other people's opinions. And with those out of the way, my priorities changed. What really mattered?

When things got better (maybe in part to my changed priorities) I realized I needed to always ask myself that question: If this were the last year of my life, how would I want to spend it? What would I want to accomplish, or just do for the sake of doing? With whom would I want to spend my time?

Not surprisingly, I got a lot more done, because didn't make time for unnecessary things. One of the biggest tyrannies ruling my life had been the tyranny of success. Ironicaly, when I finally gave up at succeeding in that career, I did my best creative work.

My friend Ann Randolph told me that had been her key to creating her best work. "Forget it," she told herself. "I've failed at this career, so I might as well do what I want." As a result she wrote and performed two award-winning solo shows, one which Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft went on to produce.

I'd like to go back to living like that: live like this was your last year on earth. Get free from the tyranny of other people's opinions or expectations. Live life in light of my own death, and an eternity on the other end.

It's Yom Kippur and I have some sins that need atoning for. I have some amends to make: to God, to others and to myself.

I love autumn, I think I also love having a good cry. It also makes room for new things.

In several places Lewis has referred to "melancholy" as Sehnsucht . . . the German word has overtones of nostalgia and longing not to be found in any English word . . . It may appear in different forms (melancholy, wonder, yearning, etc.), but its underlying sense of displacement or alienation from what is desired. (Carnell, 14-15) "Melancholy" was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? . . . Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. … It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamored of a season, but that is something like what happened; and as before, the experience was one of intense desire. … It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, 'in another dimension' . . . [it was] an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy . . . anyone who has experienced it will want it again . . . I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 1955, 16-18)