Saturday, October 29, 2011

Why don't we listen?

Wouldn't it be a beautiful picture of the Kingdom if the federal minimum wage was instead a federal living wage? Why don't we have a federal maximum wage to compliment the minimum wage? Maybe then the United States wouldn't have the highest degree of income inequality of any other developed country. Maybe then so many people wouldn't be living below the poverty line while the richest 1% in the US owns 37% of the world's wealth. Maybe then CEO's wouldn't earn 275 times what an average worker earns or earn in a single work day more than that average worker earns in a year. We need a federal maximum wage. It is immoral for there to be a cap on how much governmental money a poor person can receive, and yet no ceiling at all for how much more money a CEO can add to their net worth. After all folks, you have 80 years or so here and then you can't take it with you. Why don't we listen to Jesus when he says not to store up wealth here on earth where moths can eat it? Why don't we listen to his parable about the nameless rich man and the homeless Lazarus. The rich man made his heaven on earth for his 80 years and was forgotten and cast away for eternity, while Lazarus suffered for his lifetime and was embraced by God. Why don't we listen?

I swear, I'm becoming a socialist more and more by the day. But, hey, I'm just trying to listen to Jesus.

And because I'm in grad school and taught to cite all of my information:

Statistics derived from:
Mooney, L., Knox, D., and Schacht, C. (2011). Understanding Social Problems. (7th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Better Way

I don't understand why if current schools are failing, the solution is more schools.
I don't understand why if current churches are not meeting the needs of their neighborhoods, the solution is more churches.
As if more men with guns will end a war quicker.
As if more money will make a wealthy person's life happier.

Why do we keep using the same old colonizing systems that have only served to perpetuate injustice? It is time for a new way. Time for a new path of love and coming alongside and dialogue with the oppressed and mutual care and sacrifice of self. In our world of greedy, power-hungry capitalists, does the way of the homeless Jesus have anything to say to those of us who are truly ready for something better?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What is justice?

This week has been exhausting, hectic, challenging, life giving, fun, and frustrating all at once. I have been in Residency for grad school which means that instead of my usual online class structure, for one week we are in-class intensive from 8AM to 5PM (or 8PM if there is a mandatory feeding/lecture). It is not all lectures, though; it is also a lot of experiential learning and Socratic discussion. In the midst of Residency, I have also been in Tech Week, or Hell Week, for Jesus Christ Superstar. I have not been a huge fan of this show the entire rehearsal process but this week it has grown on me more despite the grueling hours, last minute changes and additions, and incessant playing of the songs in my head from dawn till dusk. While the songs run on repeat throughout the day, I am expected focus on class and learning about the urban context and think deeply and ask questions and complete assignments. To be honest, I have enjoyed this semester far less than the summer semester, but what I have enjoyed is the challenge to my faith and chosen path that it has provided.

Yesterday, we went on a field trip of sorts to community development organizations. On a structural level, the two could not be more different, but both desired to help people and improve communities. But there was something about sitting there and listening to them that felt off to me. I felt like there was something key that we are missing in our desire to “do good.” Throughout the day as I listened to the work they do, their mission and goals, and how they carry out their values, a fire burned inside of me and I kept praying to Jesus, “Where is this coming from and what does it mean?” Complex issues of gentrification, poverty, employment, education, housing, etc. came up in the discussions and I felt this fire begin to mold and form a question that I was not sure I wanted to ask. I’ve been feeling this flame growing for weeks but yesterday I felt like it was about to burst out of me with this question, “Are we always destined to cause injustice in our pursuit of justice? Did Jesus ever do that in his ministry? If the answer is that he did not, then what the hell are we doing wrong?”

I do not know the answer, but I cling to this verse as I continue to ask the question:

He has showed you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

Monday, September 26, 2011

A unexpected visit from Jesus

B: Will you be doing your vocal warm-ups today?

Me: Um...I'm going to try but I don't know how much time I'll have before the kids get here.

B: You know, I used to sing but I haven't for a long time. My son died ten years ago and I haven't had the will to do it since.

Me: Oh.

B: But I think maybe it is time. I think he would be disappointed in me. I used to be a professional singer, you see, and he would come to all my performances and whisper to whoever was sitting next to him, "That's my mom!" He would be 27 now. I think maybe sometime I would like to come and sing some of the warm ups with you.

Me: I would be honored.

B: I want to do it for my son.

Jesus, thank you for the reminder that I just never know where people have come from and what they have been through. May I never assume that I know someone just because I have had a few short conversations with them. Help me to love, not only because I am loving, but because it is right, transformative, and redeeming. May that unrelenting love guide me. May those I interact with see your love in my eyes and may I have the grace to offer each person time and dignity. May I see you in every face and every soul inside of your love. Thank you for the wonder of a mother's love. I pray for healing for my friend's heart and for the return of song in her life.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

To live and love simply

"To live and love simply" is the name I gave my blog right before I officially left Pensacola for my Mission Year in Camden, New Jersey. I thought it coincided appropriately with Mission Year's motto, "Love God. Love People. Nothing Else Matters." During Mission Year, I was encouraged to love people in the midst of their brokenness and not in spite of it. I was encouraged to live simply and not get wrapped up in the materialism of capitalist values. I was taught how to pursue relationships intentionally and "embrace the awkwardness." I was restricted from relationships that were reliant solely upon technology and was required to play silly games for a family night with my housemates or board games on the sidewalk with neighbor kids. I had deep and meaningful conversations with people who I may have otherwise only said hello to in passing, all because of this crazy notion of living and loving simply.

In one of my grad program readings, Louis Wirth writing in 1938 says, "The larger the number of persons in a state of interaction with one another the lower is the level of communication and the greater is the tendency for communication to proceed on an elementary level, i.e., on the basis of those things which are assumed to be common or to be of interest to all." Wirth was writing about the phenomenon of urbanism, but it made me wonder what his take on social networking of the 21st century would be. If he thought urban relationships were superficial, he would probably think social networking makes relationships little more than having a couple hundred imaginary friends. He differentiated between "secondary" and "primary" contacts and how urbanism turns most relationships into mere acquaintances or "secondary" contacts.

I currently have 679 friends on facebook and of those, probably only 50 are people I would consider primary contacts currently in my life and maybe another 50 who would be primary contacts if I didn't have the luxury of relying on facebook to know what is going on in their lives. Facebook offers me a convenient way of feeling like I know my friends without actually having to call or write or visit. That is at least 560 other people who I either do not know at all or don't even really care to know and yet, every minute I see another status update about how they spent their day or what song lyric best represents what they are feeling in that moment.

Now, there are some things I really like about facebook. I like that it tells me when my friend's birthdays are because my memory is not what it used to be when I was a kid and had every friend and family member's birthday and phone number memorized. I like that I hardly ever have to read a newspaper because status updates let me know when something major is going on in the world. I like that it allows me to see how kids I used to teach have grown up and what colleges they are attending now. I like that I can see photographs of friends who live across the country or in another country entirely. I like that it has reconnected me with some friends who I have otherwise lost touch with. However, I don't like that I can then just send a quick wall post saying, "Hey! Saw you pop up on my feed and I was wondering how you were. Hope you are well!" or "Happy Birthday! Hope you have a great one!" Why thank you, Facebook, for allowing me to meet my quota for the week of "thoughtful friend" points.

So in one week, I'm deleting my facebook. I'm putting it out there that if you want to keep in touch with me, you can message your number/email/address and then I will do my best to keep in contact. But I am tired of the fact that over 500 of my daily interactions with people happen through status updates via a computer screen and usually from people that I have little to no contact with in my daily life and probably never will. I believe that God created us to be in real relationship with one another; to live and love simply. I don't think that includes 550 people I would never even think to call or write or visit. 550 people I might not even recognize if I passed them on the street.

Disclaimer: I am aware of the small irony to writing about all of this on a public blog that maybe 2 people read or maybe 50, but somehow, I feel like being able to write a few paragraphs on at least a semi-regular basis of what is truly in my heart is better than a one line status update or comment every few days.

APA formatting: Wirth, L. (1938). Urbanism as a way of life. The American Journal of Sociology, 44 (1), 1-24.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Are we ready?

On Saturday, May 21, the supposed “End of the World,” I watched a homeless man, probably no older than I am, get arrested on the corner of 18th and Chestnut in Center City Philadelphia by plain-clothes police officers. I had passed this young man probably only 20-30 minutes earlier on my way to put more money in my parking meter. He sat on the sidewalk quietly and peaceably holding a sign telling passersby that he is homeless. On my way back, from a distance I noticed two other men dressed plainly, but with an air of authority speaking to this man. As I got closer, I saw his hands bound by handcuffs. I passed them, disturbed, thoughts of “what should I do here?” running through my mind. Should I approach and ask what this man was being arrested for? Should I challenge these men of authority? What would happen? Would it do any good at all? Instead, I walked a little farther away and watched feeling dismayed, helpless, and incredibly guilty. Don’t I want to be and claim to be an advocate for the voiceless, marginalized, and oppressed? How could I just stand there, watching injustice happen and do nothing? After they took him away, I walked farther down the street and stopped to talk to another homeless man on the street. I told him about what I just saw and asked if he knew anything about it. He told me that it happens a lot, people who are homeless often get arrested just for sitting on the sidewalk. “Sometimes businesses call them into the police because they feel like it isn’t good for business.” I can imagine. Customers seeing homelessness right outside the name-brand stores they enter to spend money on things they probably don’t need is definitely not good for the free market.

During the last month, I have been taking a class on the New Testament book of Acts with a group called the Alternative Seminary. The Alternative Seminary is affiliated with a nonprofit advocacy group called Project H.O.M.E. that offers services, housing, and a voice to the homeless of Philadelphia. These last two weeks, these partner organizations have been calling their friends to political advocacy for the homeless in Philadelphia. New legislation is being written specifically to target the homeless who sit peaceable on sidewalks and in parks in Center City Philadelphia and enable the police to cite and arrest anyone homeless on the streets. The bill essentially makes homelessness a crime and I watched an arrest happen last weekend even without the legislation passed that makes it legal. Project H.O.M.E. is calling friends and neighbors to fight this bill and I thank God that the Spirit is moving in people who will stand against injustice that is so against the teachings of Jesus.

I sat in my class tonight among people, like me, committed to living lives of simplicity, compassion, and justice. I live with a community of women and surround myself with friends who are advocates for a simpler lifestyle that works against these oppressive systems of capitalism, individualism, and greed. These are the values I hold and things I so strongly believe in. Poverty is a system of injustice and violence inflicted upon people by greed, neglect, and by political and economic systems of power. I watched it in action. And I know, beyond any doubt that these systems are corrupt, oppressive, and entirely against the upside-down kingdom of God that Jesus preached about in which the meek inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor and the peacemakers are called children of God. But tonight, one of my classmates asked a question that completely shook and disturbed us all to the point that we ended the evening praying, “Thank you, God, for disturbing us.” When we preach the good news of Jesus, of a God who offers refuge and justice to the poor, who calls us to live simply and care for the poor and give voice to the voiceless, who summons us to love our neighbors and live counter-culturally to the powers of this world; when we preach this good news, call others to follow and they do, when these systems eventually come down (and I believe they will come down), then what? THEN WHAT? The questions are no longer, “are these systems corrupt and oppressive?” and “is the spirit of God calling us to work against them?” We know they are and that He is. The question is, are we prepared enter the likely painful process of picking up the pieces after we’ve broken them and work to create something that is “of one accord” with the Kingdom?

That is a really scary prospect that requires a great amount of faith in a God that desires redemption and transformation. When the capitalism system, the biggest, most powerful, and one of the most oppressive systems of our present world, crashes, the effect will probably be that people will lose jobs and we will have to find new solutions to living with and among each other. The world will be completely turned upside-down, “destroyed” if you will, broken and in a state of confusion as it was in the biblical story of the Tower of Babel and in Acts 19:23-41 when rioting was the effect of Paul’s disrupting of the market with the power of the gospel. What if the “fires of destruction” predicted in end times theology are the people of God in the Spirit of God bringing down the powers of injustice and oppression that dominate our world? What if the New Jerusalem is not something God just waves his magic wand and “poof!” there it is, but something that we work to bring to life from the ashes?

I believe in a God of love, grace, redemption, and transformation because I have experienced all of those things in my own life. But to experience them, I needed to be broken first. To experience love, I needed to feel loss. To experience grace, I needed to be humbled. To experience redemption, I needed to feel deep responsibility and remorse. To experience transformation, I needed to die to myself. So now, I ask myself what I ask all people of faith, when we move with the Spirit of God and break the yokes of oppression, are we willing and ready to pick up the pieces, keep trusting and listening to the Spirit, and creatively care for our neighbors and our enemies who have fallen?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Then a woman said, "Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow."

And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."

But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced. When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

From The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

This was my mantra during Mission Year as I learned how to hold true sorrow and joy for the first time in my life. Lately, this passage has returned to my heart as the spring time has brought warm weather and the desire to be outside. As I have intentionally lingered in conversation with neighbors and walked the broken streets of Camden, I have felt a deep sense of "the selfsame well" that holds both laughter and tears. The injustice, oppression, violence, classism, and racism that plagues my city, digs a deep well of sorrow within me, but somehow, I feel nearer to God in this place than anywhere else. In faces, in places, in small ways that people cling to hope I see the spirit of God transforming and redeeming what years of injustice has worn down, broken, and abandoned. Camden teaches me to hold my joy and sorrow together, not as opposites, but as companions. I read through Psalms today in the hopes to find God's love for Camden and all her troubles. I prayed for her and held her in my heart and fell on this verse, "But as for me, it is good to be near God."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Deeper Self

What do I want? I ask myself that question almost daily. In the book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, the author says that women have dual natures.

“If one overlooks a woman’s dual nature and takes a woman at face value, one is in for a big surprise, for when the woman’s wildish nature rises from her depths and begins to assert itself, she often has interests, feelings, and ideas which are quite different from those she expressed before.”

The author also says that the one brave enough to try and untangle those two natures and accept both as the beauty of a woman will learn to as two questions, “What do you want?” and “What does your deeper self desire?” The desire to ask those questions regularly, to know the true name of a woman, and the courage to stick around long enough to uncover her is a grace taken on by the one who truly desires to be her mate with his/her own wildish, untamed nature. But the search for the untamed nature is more than just a search for a mate; it is the search for self. How can we know the heart of another if we don’t know the depths of our own?

A friend once remarked that I am on a “never-ending quest to find Stevie.” I didn’t quite know how to take that from him because he said it kind of sarcastically. But honestly, I don’t see what could be bad about that. Too many people stop searching; stop trying to understand themselves, their brokenness, their darkness, their pain, their deepest sense of fulfillment and joy, their dignity, their love or why they have such a hard time loving. Who was it that said, “An unexamined life is not worth living?”

Another friend said to me last year, “Live, don’t just let life happen to you.” I wonder how many people walk around believing that they are living because they have a five-year plan for their lives or because they do a lot that makes them happy in an attempt to forget a lot of their life that has been unhappy. I know a lot of people like that and most of the time, I don’t know how to have relationship with them once my heart has moved past the quips and surface conversation if they don’t find an openness within to move past those things with me. Because all of a sudden, I want to know what makes them tick. I want to ask deep, serious questions that are often uncomfortable. I want to help awaken others to their deepest sense of conscious, knowing that it is one of the most frightening and painful places to go and few go there willingly. But also knowing, that so much of my life and the things I do would be close to meaningless to me if I wasn’t constantly digging deeper into my own conscious where the Divine moves.

I often feel very alone, even in my most meaningful and intimate relationships. I hold onto the image that God holds my heart and that I am never alone for God does not know how to be absent. I pray for the grace of commitment, because commitment is nothing but a lot of grace received and offered. I ask for the courage to face what is in and around me; and the faith to let God hold the weight of my heart and the weight in the hearts of my friends who are broken in so many different ways, but broken, like me, nevertheless. I trust myself to choose God and choose who God is within me. And above all things, I trust in a God of transformation and redemption of all people.

Not long ago, I re-read The Diary of Anne Frank. Anne has so many deep thoughts and questions about herself and her world and often talks about two different Annes, the one who is more serious and things deeply and the one that is silly and jokes around a lot. She was terrified to show her more serious side, to reveal her dual nature, except in her writing. I know how she felt. It is much easier for me to write these things than say them to anyone. Anne was afraid to feel rejected and alone. I suppose that is my fear too. But she trusted God to hold her heart and I trust him to hold mine. The part of herself that she was so afraid to reveal is now read by millions and treasured. She wanted to be treasured, seen, heard as she wrote but never taught anyone how to listen and notice her. So maybe that's it, we can't always just expect those things from others. We have to teach them; teach them to ask us, "What do you want?" and "What does your deeper self desire?"

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Overflowing Grace

"Pain is beauty." Even in saying that, I am hiding from and putting walls up against my pain and I thought I was past all that. I have already begun this grace-filled journey. Pain is not beauty. Pain is messy, dirty, uncomfortable, and horrifying. But there is grace to be found. I learned last year to hold my pain and to allow others to hold it with me. I learned to be in solidarity with others in their pain and to feel it like my own. Still, it takes constant effort to continue to face it, and not only face it, but walk through it and feel it. And why do I keep choosing to welcome my pain as a visitor? Because it is where Grace always meets me and sits with me in solidarity. Somehow I always am able to carry Grace with me long after the overwhelming pain has taken its leave. Sure, there is lingering grief, there always is, but Grace is always stronger. It is who I am choosing to be and who I am becoming.

Recently I have been dwelling on the story of Adam and Eve. Christians tell this story the same way most of the time. The serpent tricked Eve, Eve gave the apple to Adam, they both realized they were naked and hid from God, God found them and punished them with banishment and death. Right? Isn't that basically how we have all heard it? Adam and Eve disobeyed God and now all of humanity is cursed. Simple justice, right? But what if that isn't the story at all? And what if the story had happened differently? What if Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit, but instead of hiding from God, had run to God and told him what they did? What if they had fallen before him and confessed their broken trust right away? Or what if they never ate of the tree at all? What if they had said, "Sorry serpent, but we have to talk to God about this first," and then went to God with all of their questions and doubts and asked him to explain himself?

How interesting it is that the very first thing Adam and Eve are ashamed of is their nakedness! Nakedness is a symbol of ultimate vulnerability. They were just as naked before they ate the fruit, but as soon as they are aware of their own vulnerability they are suddenly ashamed enough to hide. Before, there was nothing to hide, they were completely vulnerable and open in their relationship and trust with God and one another. But they were lied to, they doubted, they decided that their relationship with God wasn't enough, and they chose to break it and then hide from it. Their sin wasn't about the act of disobedience. It wasn't about breaking rules, do's, don'ts, should's, and shouldn'ts. To simplify it and make our relationship with God merely about obedience and disobedience does nothing by stagnate our trust in the One who loves us and offers grace abundant. They had a choice to choose trust in and relationship with God but they chose their laws, institutions, and "knowledge of good and evil." Most Christians I meet today really haven't learned much from Adam and Eve. We still very much like our laws and institutions.

In my own struggles over my life choices, my relationships, my sexuality, my vocation, my art, etc, I am finding that rules don't work for me. I don't want the knowledge of what is good and what is evil, I simply want to choose to be in relationship with God and trust that the Divine moves in me and through me and all around me. I am learning to trust in the Divine spirit that lives in me and in my own character and am finding that Grace really is an overflowing cup offered to every soul to drink from. And it is never emptied.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Call for Justice

It is a sobering experience to walk through the streets of Camden. Though I walked these streets all last year during Mission Year, I almost had forgotten them in the 6 months I've had a car to drive. Today I decided to walk to Christus, the school I taught at last year, to play basketball with the students. I walked that path 4 times a week on average last year. I remember being frightened at first, not knowing the city well, not knowing what to expect from the faces I passed. But eventually, I became accustomed to the sounds, the sight, the feel, the smell, and the rhythms of the city. I had a love/hate relationship with that walk. Often it meant the start or end of a long day, but I loved the time it allowed my mind to reflect on what my eyes were seeing, ears were hearing, and heart was feeling. For the first 5 or 6 months I walked that way, I passed a house that always saddened my heart. Burned, gutted, boarded up and abandoned, a soul that had loved spray painted "Pepy was kill here 2/25/2009." I passed that house every day and thought about and prayed for Pepy and his family and friends left behind. I thought about the friend who had honored him in the only way they could, red spray paint over a plywood board. Around the anniversary of Pepy's death, the city began demolishing the house. Before long, it was nothing but an empty lot with a sign warning passerbys that it was off limits.

I have long since stopped noticing that empty lot, but I remember how I felt passing that house every day. It was the same way I felt today, as I walked the streets from my neighborhood to Christus. I walked down broken sidewalks strewn with trash, watching my feet as much as I was watching ahead of me to make sure I didn't trip, passing many other abandoned and boarded up houses, some of which I remember being occupied last year. One of which, lies directly across the street from where I live. A few blocks from my street, I passed a telephone pole decorated with long-since deflated mylar balloons and weather-worn stuffed animals marking the place where a friend/child/spouse/parent/sibling was murdered in late February or early March. He is one of 14 reported murders in Camden since January 1. Camden is one of the poorest and most violent cities in the nation, and it is definitely the most forgotten and oppressed.

I do not write these things to make anyone fearful for me or for admiration. I write them because they are true and because they are the mark of injustice. The injustice that has been done to Camden and its citizens is a stain on the flag of the United States of America and on Christians who claim to be the light of God in a dark world. It is injustice that children have to play on streets and sidewalks strewn with broken glass and needles and on which semi-trucks drive down 19 hours a day. It is injustice that over 50% of the houses in Camden are declared uninhabitable. It is injustice that over half the police and fire forces have been laid off this year. It is injustice that school systems have a 60% failure rate. The list goes on and on. And yet, here we are spending billions to keep our troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya fighting for our "National security" when my friends and neighbors aren't secure in their own neighborhoods.

Today, I joined a call to fast, pray, and act with many others connected to the Sojourner's community. The Sojourners are calling people to fast, pray, and act during the month of April because of proposed budget cuts in Congress that specifically target the poor and oppressed. Budget cuts of programs to help the poor and oppressed have directly affected my friends and neighbors in Camden. Over 160 police and fire men were laid off in January because of these cuts and we have felt the affect of their absence. If you are reading this, I encourage you to do the same. To sign up with the Sojourners and become a part of their call to act upon this issue of injustice and others, please visit the website below:

This is a call for all of us that speaks into the very depths of our humanity and a call for Christians to be who we say we are and obey God's call to defend the poor and the oppressed. Arise and take action now.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rent Free vs. Community

In January, I moved from a rent free living situation with a good pastor-friend in Pennsauken to a rent-paying living situation in Camden with two women my age I didn't know very well. I believed, in my heart, this was the right decision for me and I could not have been more right. In a world of shallow relationships and deep acquaintances, I feel truly blessed to be living with two women so dedicated to loving God, caring for others, and being intentional their community in relationships.

Something I have really come to hold onto recently in the face of many transitions, questions, and lack of easy answers, is that money isn't everything. So much of this world, corporate, even well-meaning friends and family members offer well-intentioned advice about stability and savings and investments...whatever. And I suppose, to a point, all of those things are important. But money comes and goes, flow into and out of our fingers like falling water. We are paid by someone so we can pay someone else for a need so they can pay others for their needs. My life does not have security because I have a consistent pay check. My life has security because I have people in it who love me and care for me well and a God who has shown up every time. I used to have a similar opinion about money coming and going easily and recognized last year that it had come out of my privilege. Now, though the theory is the same, it does not come from my experience with privilege, it comes from my experience with a caring and intentional community of people.

I had a really beautiful conversation covering a plethora of topics with my housemate, Janelle. I had only met her once before I moved in here, but she has become a fast and true friend. In being with her tonight, I felt safe, listened to, valued, and cared for. We ended our conversation with prayer (and tears on my part). My life is stable and secure because I have people like Janelle and Molly in it. And for the first time in a while I asked myself, "What is my sense of God in all of this?" I am so grateful to be in a place where God and life and relationships are talked about in real ways. I'm grateful to have been in a place last year to learn how to live authentically and vulnerably in community. And I am grateful for the awareness of my sense of God in the midst of my community now. This was absolutely the right move for me, even if I do have to pay rent.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

truth in the art

In November, I was cast in Gypsy and have loved being back in the theatre again. But sometimes I forget how easy it is to fall into the trap of wanting the attention, wanting people to think I'm great, wanting to be noticed. It's a common theme in Gypsy. At the end, Mama Rose says to her daughter, "I just wanted to be noticed." To which her daughter replies, "Like I wanted you to notice me." The beautiful thing about the arts is that, by nature, it asks questions and posts uncertainties. I've been living in those places of uncertainties, disappointments, and unpredictability lately. It is funny that I've found myself as an artist, because I am really uncomfortable in uncertainties and questions without answers and that is so much of what art is. It is the bare, naked truth that we don't have the answers to life's many questions.

It is my nature and greatest temptation to strive for perfection and find my value in how good I am and can be. Last year, I learned to allow myself to be enough for God in my failures and much of the last few months has been recognizing that I'm still enough for God in my successes, not loved or valued more because of them, but loved as much in success or failure. God does not love me less when I screw up or more when I do well. The incredible danger of the day job I work now, is that it plays into that desire for perfection. If I just work hard enough, get the hang of it enough, perfect all my structures and systems, solve all the problems, answer all of the questions, then I will be great and people will praise me for how perfect I am for this job. It is way too comfortable and makes it way to easy for me to find my worth in my own successes. But as the old adage goes, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall."

The beautiful thing about theatre is that while the temptation still exists, eventually there is no room for it. Because eventually, in art, one comes to realize that all systems and structures will fail the artist, you will never "get the hang of it," and there are always more questions to be asked because art's breath of life is borne of the earth and the ever-changing struggles of humanity. It is not corporate. It does not care if you don't solve the problems. It does not exist to make money. Art does not try to sell anything but only offer itself to speak into and ask questions of the soul and the world. There is no destination point in acting and always a new horizon. I can never "perfect" myself as an actor, I can only learn to allow myself to be enough for the art as I have learned to be enough for God. Recently, I have been worrying that maybe I'm not an honest enough actor. But then realized that I've been viewing honesty all wrong. I thought being honest as an actor meant being honest with the character I'm portraying, but now I think it has more to do with being honest with who I am in the midst of the words, objectives, and feelings I'm portraying.

I am finding it really hard to be enough for my art form and to just be honest with who I am in the middle of it. Sometimes, I still just want to be noticed.

But then I tell myself:
We are not artists because we want to be seen by others, but because we want more clearly to see ourselves.