Creator’s Rights

“I saw an angel in the marble and I just chiseled until I set him free.”

Michelangelo

‘”How foolish can you be?  He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, ‘He didn’t make me? Does a jar ever say, ‘The potter who made me is stupid’?”

Isaiah 29:16

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Saved to Love

Thought this was wonderful.

Parachute Wedding Dress, 1947

This wedding dress was made from a nylon parachute that saved Maj. Claude Hensinger during World War II.

In August 1944, Hensinger, a B-29 pilot, and his crew were returning from a bombing raid over Yowata, Japan, when their engine caught fire. The crew was forced to bail out. Suffering from only minor injuries, Hensinger used the parachute as a pillow and blanket as he waited to be rescued. He kept the parachute that had saved his life. He later proposed to his girlfriend Ruth in 1947, offering her the material for a gown.

Ruth wanted to create a dress similar to one in the movie Gone with the Wind. She hired a local seamstress, Hilda Buck, to make the bodice and veil. Ruth made the skirt herself; she pulled up the strings on the parachute so that the dress would be shorter in the front and have a train in the back. The couple married July 19, 1947. The dress was also worn by the their daughter and by their son’s bride before being gifted to the Smithsonian.

Arms Wide Open

I wrote this some time ago, but God brought it to mind this weekend when I faced a much smaller disappointment. Big or small, the need to look to faith in the future (as Mary guides) still applies. 

Not too long ago, a dream of hope died. A relationship unraveled and I was wrecked. Hope deferred makes the heart sick indeed. My heart was sick and broken. After some time of grieving, I got tired and sick of my sick and tired heart. Grief has contours and a bottom (and for that I am profoundly grateful), but what it doesn’t have is bite. And I was ready for a hard edge.

I wanted a posture that felt commanding, not soft and bowed. I tried crossing my arms. I even tried shifting my weight a bit onto a back leg, head tilted to the side, but looking up, as if to say, “Lord, You’re going to do what You want to anyway, so go right on ahead.”

For whatever reason, that arm-crossed stand seemed to stem my leaky eyes. And it even gave me some boldness: “Yeah, Lord, like I said, have at it. Clearly, my desires are not part of Your equation.” This worked surprisingly well. I liked the bite, the posture. It felt so much better than the soreness. It felt like strength.

Later, a friend asked how my disappointment had affected my view of God. I told her about my recent move from grief to crossing my arms and leaning away.

“It sounds kind of icy to me,” she said.

“Icy? Really? It doesn’t feel cold,” I told her. “It feels good, strong.”

“What do you think it feels like to God?”

“Umm. Oh. Hmm,” I stammered. “I don’t know.” Part of me didn’t care. I didn’t want to feel anymore and I wasn’t particularly concerned how I made someone else feel. Even God.

After more discussion, my friend suggested that should my heart thaw, I might consider praying like Mary. Like when the angel came to her and radically changed what she thought her life might look like: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, ESV).

Soon, at every turn, I heard messages about Mary, stumbled on artwork portraying her, and read tributes to her simple faith. Like when your old boyfriend drives a white truck, all you see are white trucks everywhere. Suddenly, Mary was everywhere.

The image that touched me most was Michelangelo’s Pieta, housed in the entrance to St. Peter’s in the Vatican. I visited there a few years back and was captured by the sculpture of Mary, arms outstretched, with her Son’s crucified and broken body across her lap. The serenity of her expression, in the midst of this moment of unbearable loss, surprised me. Jesus had not yet risen from the dead, and yet she emanated acceptance. Caught between Friday and Sunday, Mary was at rest.

I learned that the Pieta is a “pyramidal” sculpture, topped by Mary’s graceful visage and moving out broadly to the base. Michelangelo used the draping of Mary’s gown to provide the cradle and width necessary for a woman to bear the body of a grown man.

The foundation of the pyramid is noted by art scholars and shook my icy stance. The foundation of the pyramid: the rocks of Golgotha. My heart softened. My arms loosened to my sides.

“Oh, sweet Mary, you’re on a tomb,” I thought. “You rest atop the hill of redemption. You bear the weight of the moment, but your face reflects your faith in the future.”

Mary, your arms, they are stretched out. Stretched out. Wide open.

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

John Steinbeck on Love

This is so lovely. It must be read. In one of his many, many letters, the writer of Of Mice and Men counsels his young son who has fallen in love.

November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.

Love,

Fa

The Big Tree in Our Living Room

“A marriage, or marriage partner, may be compared to a great tree growing up right through the center of one’s living room. It is something that is just there, and it is huge, and everything has to be around it, and wherever one happens to be going . . . the tree has to be taken into account. It cannot be gone through; it must be respectfully gone around.

“It is somehow bigger and stronger than oneself. True, it could be chopped down, but not without tearing the house apart. And certainly it is beautiful, unique, exotic: but also, let’s face it, it is at times and enormous inconvenience

“So there are many things that can be said about one’s life’s mate, but finally, irrevocably, the one definite thing that needs to be said is that he or she is always there. And that, while it may be common enough in the world of trees, is among us human beings a rather remarkable state of affairs.

” . . . Love coaxes and even hoodwinks us into the making of a decision so radical that if left to our own devices we would never have entertained it for a moment. For it is a far stranger thing for two people to live together  in love all their lives than not to. Like life itself, it involves a decision so staggering that it cannot really be made at all: It can only be grown into, at best consented to with ever-decreasing reluctance.”

Mike Mason, Mystery of Marriage.

Online Dating and Lying

I have done my share of online dating. Thanks to e-Harmony, I wrestled with how to present myself, what to communicate about who I am and what I like. I was often tempted to make myself sound better than I am–fudge a little on my interests (ancient Chinese cultures anyone?) or my habits (running 5 miles everyday after a mile-long swim?) or my height/weight/shoe size!

Once a potential suitor ask if I were feminine or a feminist? Can one like girly things and demand that women receive equal pay for equal work? One friend of mine showed up for a date after meeting a fellow online only to discover that her date had no legs! His photos were all from the waist up–sailing, playing basketball, etc. Don’t you think it only fair to be honest about one’s situation? Trying desperately to be unaffected by this surprise, my friend stuck her foot in her mouth(!) by saying something his home makeover “must have cost an arm [and, yes!] a leg!” Both she and her date pretended she didn’t say it.

According to a recent study on online dating, lying (or concealing the truth) is not uncommon. Here’s how to spot it online: “Liars tend to use fewer first-person pronouns . . . . this is an indication of psychological distancing: ‘You’re feeling guilty or anxious or nervous.’ Liars use more negative words like ‘not’ and “never,” yet another way of putting up a buffer. Liars use fewer negative emotion words like ‘sad’ and ‘upset,’ and they write shorter online personal essays. (It’s easier not to get caught if you say less.)” Noted.

Becoming Real

“It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” Margery Williams Bianco

Who knew that Maurice Sendak of Where-the-Wild-Things-Are fame once illustrated the tender children’s story of a well-loved rabbit?

More on “realness” by Ronald Rolheiser:

“Rarely do we genuinely share how we really feel, what our fears are, and how difficult it is to be who we are. Rarely do we admit anyone into our inner space where fear, struggle and inadequacy make themselves felt. We all go through life posturing strength, pretending; lying really, giving off the impression that all is easy and that friendship, health, achievement and attractiveness are easeful and automatic. Our weakness and fears, much more so than our achievements and successes, drive us inward and put us in touch with what is deepest, softest and most worthwhile within the heart.

Because of this, we go through life trying to impress others into liking us. Rather than sharing ourselves as we really are – vulnerable, tender, struggling, full of fear – we try to be so sensational that there can be no possible reason not to love us.  Like the inhabitants of Babel, we try to build a tower that is so impressive that we overpower others. The result for us, as the result then, is counterproductive.  Because of pretence, we go through life “speaking different languages,” that is, unable to find a common meeting ground upon which to understand each other. Understanding takes place through compassion and compassion is itself the fruit of shared vulnerability. Thus, so long as we hide our struggles and fears, we will not find intimacy.

It is only when we see each other’s fears and struggles that we become real to each other.  The threads of compassion and a concomitant intimacy will appear automatically when we present ourselves as we really are, without false props, as tender.”

From Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes an Icon

Fascinating thoughts from this new book.

Here’s the author, Martin Kemp : “Some types of images are specific — like Lisa and Che — while some are generic, such as the heart shape. The generic ones tend to seep gradually into general consciousness. The heart shape appeared on playing cards and became the religious symbol of the sacred heart, before becoming the ubiquitous symbol of love. It takes a designer of genius, like Milton Glaser, to refresh its power in the service of a specific cause. We all know I(heart)NY. But New York largely surrendered the ‘Big Apple’ to Steve Jobs.”

And more from an article I read:

“The more famous the image, the more likely it is that our common knowledge is inaccurate.

The fact that Leonardo’s portrait in the Louvre represents Lisa Gheradini, the apparently blameless wife of a Florentine silk merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, is not enough to match the mega-fame of the image. We need a hidden ‘secret’ or ‘code’ to explain its hold on us.

During the writing of the book, I was told a number of times that Father Christmas (Santa Claus) is dressed in red and white because of Haddon Sundblom’s brilliant Coke adverts each Christmas. Not true!

Sometimes the legends assume the status of a certain kind of ‘truth’. The story that the Stars and Stripes was designed by the humble seamstress Betsy Ross, who sat in the next church pew to George Washington, embodies folksy homeliness in such a way that it has becomes an essential ‘fact’ of America’s founding myth.”

Here we go again . . .

It’s been such a long time since I’ve written here (despite the gentle and persistent encouragement from my Uncle Richard!). It’s funny that in this craziest of seasons (read here !), that I would feel new things bubbling up that I want to document. But, I do. Perhaps it’s the new vista from a new home, new city, new life that gives me new eyes. I’ve learned that when a thought makes her voice known, it’s best to listen right away. She may not comes this way again. That’s what I’ll be doing here: listening and telling you what I hear. Come back when you can!

A Letter to My Younger Self

July 2010

Dear Judy:

As I look at this photo taken 20 years ago this month, I can’t help but think how young and eager you look! Perhaps I should entitle this letter after Dr. Seuss’ book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, because of how adventuresome your next two decades will be—the 18 countries you’ll visit and the amazing variety of people you’ll meet. And yet, as thrilling as the outward adventure will be, it is small in comparison to the upcoming adventure in your relationship with Christ: Oh, how He loves you!

Some ideas to consider as you embark on this journey:

REST: Campus Crusade is an active and aggressive mission, and therefore energetic and get-it-done people are drawn to it. Thank God for that. But remember who He has made you to be—a woman whose design contours the more “passive” side of following Jesus, the discipline of solitude, the receiving of Him as our Sabbath rest, listening in stillness.

Consider the words of Eugene Peterson as you embrace both activity and passivity:  “We neither manipulate God (active voice) or are we manipulated by God (passive voice). We are involved in the action and the participation in its results, but do not control or define it (middle voice).” This is a glorious tension: We are not God, nor are we invisible and powerless. Living in middle voice requires both humility and boldness, two qualities we see in perfect measure in the Son of man, the Son of God–Jesus Christ Himself. He is our model. And we are to pattern our lives after His rhythms. You will need to remember Him when the natural tension rises.

CREATE: No one will make the life you want for you. Join the great Creator in designing a life that is beautiful to you. Resist the temptation to follow others’ dreams. Take the time to hear Him speak of the dream He has given you. It’s easier to copy others, but in time, it will become uncomfortable, like an ill-fitting coat that doesn’t belong to you. Lean into the discipline of reflection–the art of listening–to whose you are and what you need to flourish. Create community among families, children and friends. You will need this to fight the isolation that comes with long years of singleness and lonely leadership.

Create a rich reservoir of literary friends, writers and thinkers who have plumbed the depths of despair and found solid ground. People whose words provide context to your journey and joy in the spiritual high and lowlands. They will become critical companions whose thoughts will come alongside you in times of need and of abundance. Create beauty in your surroundings, as simple as fresh flowers or cinnamon candles or soft sheets. Your soul will delight in the “richest of fare,” for beauty helps you love well and soothes a broken world. You will see and experience much of the world’s brokenness. Create beauty.

WAIT: Oh, how this discipline will save you from making lots of mistakes! And how it will    try your soul when all you want to do is move—to the next thing, to the next relationship, to the next home, assignment or escape! God is in no hurry, for we have all of eternity stretched out before us to become like Him. He is never early (alas!), but remember He is never late either. Consider His commitment to you while you wait: “ . . . the moment we get tired in the waiting, [His] Spirit is right alongside, helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, . . . and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be sure every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good (Romans 8:26-28, The MESSAGE).            It will be helpful, again, to consider how Jesus lived the rhythm of waiting and moving forward, according to author Sue Monk Kidd: “One day when I was reading in the gospels, it occurred to me that when important times of transition came for Jesus, he entered enclosures of waiting—the wilderness, a garden, the tomb. Jesus’ life was a balanced rhythm of waiting on God and expressing the fruits of that waiting.”

LOVE GRACE: Every morning you will wake up wanting to prove that you are good and that you are right. Many of your greatest battles will be forged fighting the fact that you are neither good nor right. Surrender now and your relationships with God, others and yourself will become much easier. There is One who is both good and right (all the time), and He covers you. Cease striving and rest in His goodness, His “rightness” and His amazing grace. It’s impossible for love to come in (or go out!) when you seek to retreat from people or alternately suffocate them. Relating as if you are always good and right will keep you safe, protected and invulnerable. And that’s no way to live or to love. Only God’s grace will give you the courage to live without condemning yourself or others. Judy, love grace and believe it’s free and good news indeed! Remember the words of Dr. Tim Keller: “The gospel is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change, and social-change. Change won’t happen through ‘trying harder’ but only through encountering with the radical grace of God.”

Here’s to another 20 years!

With affection in Christ, your older self,

Judy