by Karissa Knox Sorrell
I live in a world where people pitch tents all time. I see them in their tents every day on Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. They stake their claim on a spot of land and defend it vigorously. Sometimes I put up a tent, too, on top of a tall soapbox from which I rant and rave. The problem is that for every tent up on a mountainside, there’s a tent in the valley, claiming that its place is better.
It’s getting harder and harder to see where I am. I was so busy setting up camp next to the right people and right opinions that I missed the doe and her fawn sneaking through the brush. I was so focused on defending my territory that I ignored the star-rise in the twilight sky. The air was laced with fall bonfire smoke, and I might have pulled up a chair to warm myself, but I was perfecting the inside of my tent instead.
The Christian faith has been reduced to argument, to fact and certainty, to proofs and defenses. I can’t wade through it all anymore. We’ve tried to contain God inside all of our human semantics and projections, but he is too big for that. I long to sense him away from all the theologizing and theorizing. I want to know him simply, naturally, without fuss and pomp. Perhaps finding him is easier than we make it out to be.
In her book Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about being at the edge of the spiritual map: “There were no slate roofs or signs to the restroom out there, no printed programs or friendly ushers. There was just the unscripted encounter with the undomesticated God whose name was unpronounceable – that, and a bunch of flimsy tents lit up by lanterns inside, pitched by those who were either seeking such an encounter or huddling in their sleeping bags while they recovered from one.”
Give me the wilderness, because that’s the only place I can find God anymore. I can’t find him in the emotional gushing, and I can’t find him in the ancient prayers, and I can’t find him in the scholarly theology. But I can hear his presence in the wind, and I can see his greatness in the round, full moon, and I can taste his beauty in fruit from the tree.
Give me the wasteland, because that’s where I belong now. The tents out here are old and torn, and sometimes the sand and rain get in. But the touch of the natural elements on my skin speaks of creation and mercy.
Give me the misfits, because they look like me. Exhausted from trying, frustrated with old formulas, in awe at the beauty of their new home out here. I open my ragged tent to them, we share some bread, and I find hope in their eyes.
Give me the silence, because it has so much more to say that the arguments do. I listen carefully, and the silence sings of rest, nourishment, and gifts. My stuttering heart relaxes and welcomes a world full of fingerprints and footprints of beloved creatures.
I’ll pitch my tent at the edge of map, wherever that is. I hope you might join me. Together we can carry the buckets of water from the stream and gather twigs for the fire. As the day gets dark, you can tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine, and maybe, just as the last streak of light flickers on the horizon, we’ll find God.
Karissa Knox Sorrell is a writer and educator from Nashville, Tennessee. She has an MFA from Murray State University, and her poetry and nonfiction have been published in a variety of journals, including Relief, St. Katherine Review, Catapult Magazine, Parable Press, and Flycatcher. Karissa works with ESOL teachers and students in Nashville’s public school system. Read more of her writing on her blog, or follow her on Twitter @KKSorrell
Image is from here.
by Shannon McKee
I’m not sure when it was that I stopped dancing. Not with a company or with a performance group or in clubs, but just dancing–in the kitchen on a cool evening, in my polyester nightgown, moving to Whitney Houston. I know why I stopped, though. It likely had something to do with maturity, with growing up, with advancing to more important things, like anxiety and stress and looking respectable to peers.
Last fall, while studying abroad in a small Italian village, I lived in a renovated convent with seventeen artistic, intelligent, and passionate students. Free from the perks and pitfalls of technology, we were forced again to imagine.
One October evening, I heard music coming from the end of the hall. Intrigued, I strode down the long corridor, opened the door, and discovered two of my friends in this state: lights off, music booming, moving their hips and spinning liberally around their tiny room. I paused, stepped inside and began to move with the beat.
That first unselfconscious dance of my adulthood set my feet in a spacious place. In that moment, I realized there was no standard to be met; no committee stood in the corner, rating the point of my big toe. I threw perfectionism aside and took hold of delight.
Now home, I make sure to dance at least weekly. Truly, you can catch me if you ever stop by! You’ll find me often in the kitchen, playing Bethel or Bruce Springsteen, dancing made-up ballet, finding my way into praise.
But it upsets me that dance is no longer a distinctive part of my culture. Gradually, we’ve come to think the art belongs only to professionals, club hoppers, wedding-goers and children. But dance– whether amateur or professional, ballroom, ballet or crump– should be standard to us, because it ushers into freedom. It liberates us from the confines of strict movement, from using our bodies only to achieve tangible outcomes– hanging up the clothes on the line, pushing the lawnmower, writing the to-do list.
When we dance, our movements take us out of the ordinary, which are no longer executed with a task in mind, and we come to understand without thought that we were created to be. Our leaps and whirls begin to imitate both the disappointments and the deep pleasures of our hearts. And somehow, in the act of zealously moving our bodies, we are able to forget them.
If, as Paul writes, we don’t fight against flesh and blood, then the actions of our bodies must matter in the spiritual realm. If the body is capable of leading us into evil, then what if the body is also capable of conquering it? Joshua walked around Jericho, and walls fell; Elijah laid his body atop a dead boy, and the boy rose bright-eyed to life; Jesus refused food for forty days and opened the gates to His ministry.
Who knows what a midday jig might do. When God “turns our mourning into dancing,” He frees us from a despairing spiritual state by way of a physical one. When we dance, we engage in spiritual combat. We battle for joy.
The summer before my junior year of college, I coached a volleyball camp for high school girls. One afternoon, I happened to notice the court across from me, where an incredibly intense game was unfolding. During a break in play, the entire team stood huddled near the net, seriously discussing strategy for their next set–except for one girl, who clearly carried no more anxiety about the next game than about what she would eat for dinner afterwards.
Right there in the middle of the court, and with all her might, she was twirling.
Shannon McKee majored in English writing at Messiah College. She now cares for youth who have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border unaccompanied by their parents. She enjoys black tea with cream more than most things, adores her one-year-old niece, and would like to fly kites more frequently.
Image above is from here.
by Heather Caliri
I was a junior in college when my Bible study leader, Tina, recommended that I memorize Scripture.
She pulled out a card from her pocket to show me. “I write my memory verse on this and carry it in my pocket,” she said.
In her neat printing, it read,
Blessed is the one
…whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
I felt the familiar weight of anxiety settle on my shoulders. I knew I should memorize. I was also supposed to be praying more, too, and studying my Bible for longer—
The idea of doing another thing made me feel like weeping.
I blinked, willing away my dismay, and smiled at Tina. “That looks neat.”
We were walking along the pebbled pathway from my dorm to the main campus road. The first part of the pathway was open to the hot Texas sun, but then the live oak canopy started, the light growing dimmer and dimmer as we walked. Their bark was gnarled, rippling with the slow power of hundreds of years.
She smiled back at me. “Just start small,” she said. “It gets easier!”
Her smile was as bright as the hot, exposed sidewalk.
I had no excuse, really. I was actually good at memorizing things. No excuse. I told myself, grateful for the shadow of the trees. No excuse.
It never occurred to me to say: No, thank you.
I wouldn’t have dared.
Not because Tina was scary—no, she was kind, and patient, and trustworthy. I loved the time I spent with her.
But we both knew the right answers to the questions she asked me, and I wanted to have the right answers.
I wouldn’t have dared to tell her that that I hated the spiritual disciplines I did every day.
I felt ashamed enough of my resistance as it was.
It never occurred to me that perhaps the methods—not me—were the problem. I didn’t know there might be fine print on the bottom of her index card, saying, Your results may vary.
Fifteen years later, I got a CD of scripture memory songs for my kids that a friend had recommended. We homeschool without curriculum, grades, or much academic structure. But when it came to God, faith, and Christianity, I felt guilty that I didn’t teach them something more.
The CD was better than index cards, at least. I hoped it would be fun.
My kids listened to the songs once, then—with shocking shamelessness—shrugged with indifference.
They dared, as I had not, to say no.
I persisted a few times, but in the end, I didn’t want to force them to do something I’d hoped they’d enjoy. I’d been homeschooling long enough to know that they usually found their own ways of learning what they needed.
What surprised me, though, was how much I liked the music.
To my surprise, I started playing it. Regularly.
One day, I felt anxious about an upcoming conversation with our landlord. Anxiety is like a headache with me—materializing sometimes for no apparent reason at all.
To my surprise, I decided to put on the Bible CD as a way of feeling better.
For I am convinced, a little boy sang, that…neither the present or the future…shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
I stood in my living room listening. I was finally able to breathe. I felt amazed that the song was helping me.
In the past, the Bible had made me more anxious, not less. When I tried, like Tina, to be disciplined about reading, studying, or memorizing it, I was right back in college, uneasy and ashamed.
But this felt different. I sang even though there was dusting and laundry and dinner to take care of. Then I pressed a button to play it again.
I had spent so long feeling guilty about Scripture that I had a hard time recognizing the feeling coursing through me.
It was hunger.
As the notes left my throat, I could see, in a way I couldn’t before the music started, that I had choices, and one of them was to be calm. I could choose peace. I did not have to worry about a situation that was nowhere near life and death.
I didn’t just have choices about my anxiety. I had choices about faith, too. I could choose to relate to God in ways that brought me joy instead of misery. I could pay attention to my hunger, instead of my shame.
My bare feet sinking into the carpet, I raised my voice. Was this what delight meant? Might I actually feel it, despite myself? Had this been possible, all along? Had I been forcing myself to choke down something I was ravenously hungry for?
I tipped my chin back as the song started again, filled my lungs with sweet, powerful air, ready to keep singing.
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego. She started saying yes to joy in her faith two years ago and was surprised to find that joy led straight to Jesus. Find out about her upcoming ebook, Unquiet Time: A devotional for the rest of us, here.
Boombox image is from here.
by Liz Mitchell
One of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, said, “The impeded stream is the one that sings.” I’ve been thinking about the dimensions of such a statement. What are impediments? Failed relationships, unemployment, stilted finances, abuse, poverty in all its forms. The list goes on. Some impediments I know intimately. But how do they make me sing?
When water flows freely, high and fast, it doesn’t create much sound. It sparkles in the sunlight, catching rays and reflecting them back to the sun on ripples that speed along the sides of river banks. If you’ve ever been in the ocean and in deep water, you know it’s pretty quiet out there. Unless a storm blows up, the water is still and hushed, even if it’s teeming with life beneath. Water, on its own, doesn’t say much.
But if I throw rocks into that riverbed and listen, the water begins to speak. It crashes against the rocks, seeking a way through, around, or over them. It gurgles through the cracks, splashes down the back side, swishes between those rocks and the bank. In its excitement, it might pull a dry leaf off the grass above and hurry it along its path, creating crackling applause. And that still, quiet ocean? Try putting a shoreline in its path. What miraculous sounds are unleashed when waves meet the sand? Booms and crashes, splashes and fizzes, white foam curling around your toes and salt spray clinging to your hair and eyelashes. It sings, that ocean, once it’s met its greatest impediment.
I’ve sung a few times, too. I sang when my mother told me of her diagnosis of breast cancer. I had no idea she’d found a lump. No idea she’d spent that Christmas waiting and waiting to hear back. A few weeks later, in January of 2008, she told my father, brother, and me that she had Breast Ductive Carcinoma, Invasive. Our family, which normally ran smoothly, encountered not just a rock but a mountain in our path. We didn’t see it coming. We could see no way around it. We would have to go through it, singing.
Just as the water in the river seeks to push through the cracks between the rocks, we sought to push through man’s diagnosis with God’s healing power. We called up every prayer warrior we knew and asked them to lift their voices. We laid our hands on my mother and we called down heaven, tearing open the veil between the two worlds and asking for what was possible to become what was. We stood by her at her doctor’s appointments and at her bedside when she had a lumpectomy. We loved her and sought to support her in every way we could throughout her journey, as she endured thirty-three radiation treatments and five years of a chemo pill called Tamoxifen. My mother, whose last mammogram came back clean and perfect, now considers herself cancer free. And she’s still singing.
I sang, too, as my husband and I felt like it was time to have our second child. God had spoken specifically to us that his name would be Benjamin, that he would be important to the Kingdom of God on earth, and that it was time for him to be born. But month after month, those promises were unfulfilled. Eighteen unfulfilled months went by before I began taking a fertility drug called Clomid. If you’ve ever longed for a child, you know that desperation is not a normal feeling of hope. It crowds your waking mind with its immense weight and pressure, drawing your attention to itself over and over again, continually rubbing raw the same wound. Six months of Clomid and six more unfulfilled promises dashed against that rough-edged wall of infertility.
At that point I needed a break. I couldn’t do one more month. I was tired of beating myself against the rocks in my path. I’d pushed through their cracks, singing until my voice was hoarse, rubbing myself raw with the sands of disappointment, anxiety, fear, and anger. I wanted God’s promises to be fulfilled. I wanted my Benjamin. But after six months of surging hormones, my thyroid called it quits and I felt my body slide downward into sickness. I ached. I cried. I stared at my mountain. But my doctor, who dealt with bodies in messes just like mine all the time, put me on thyroid meds. My body, still responding to the previous six months of meds, awakened to both and within a week, Benjamin was on his way.
Since his birth, God asked us to have another child. I fought Him because I didn’t want to go through the same process of infertility, drugs, hope and hopelessness, for months on end. But finally I agreed. He knew my fear and He took care of it. Nine months after I made that decision, our second daughter, Hazel, was born. And on that day, God sang, too.
When I am an impeded stream, I pray more. I seek more quiet time with my Daddy God. I worship and praise and hunt Him in His word. The fast paced routines of my days are interrupted, turned sideways, and I am poured out in a new way. Like water through the rocks, I sing. And my Savior listens.
After earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Evansville, Liz Mitchell taught adult education for two years in her hometown of Madisonville, KY, followed by ten years in public high schools as a Spanish teacher. During that time she also earned an MFA from Murray State University. Liz currently lives in Fairview, TN, with her husband and three children. She blogs, juggles mommy chores, and writes fiction when the planets align and she has free time. Liz has a piece coming out in an upcoming anthology from Family Fiction.
Photo’s from here.
by Morgan C. Feddes
church \‘chərch\ n. 1 : a building for public and especially Christian worship 2 : the clergy or officialdom of a religious body 3 often capitalized : a body or organization of religious believers
– The Merriam-Webster Dictionary
“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:2-3
When you tear down your church every week, it makes you re-examine your view of your Church.
For more than twenty years, this, to me, was church: rows of wooden pews in a sanctuary with thin, worn cushions on the seats, never very comfortable; at the front, a wooden pulpit, often with a cross carved into it; behind the pulpit, a pastor, typically in a suit, sometimes with a tie, and always male; behind the pastor, an organ, with pipes soaring to a vaulted ceiling, belting out the four parts of a song from the Psalter Hymnal as the congregation followed the organist’s lead.
Lately, though, I find myself spending some Sunday mornings alongside other volunteers in building our church and then tearing it down again.
To clarify: I attend National Community Church, which meets in seven different movie theaters throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia (aka the DMV; this is the home of the government and all its acronyms, after all). For a few hours each week, we convert some theater lobbies and screens into places of worship, complete with spaces for Sunday school, nursery, prayer, and fellowship. Then, after the end of every service, the praise bands pack up their instruments, the various items used to build church go back into their storage containers, which are then wheeled into closets, and church is disassembled until the next week — usually in a bit of a rush, so that moviegoers can head in with their buckets of popcorn to catch a Sunday matinee.
This is not where I saw myself just a few years ago. My first experience of regularly attending a church that didn’t meet in a church didn’t happen until I was a senior in college, and even then, I never thought about the implications behind a Church without a church. Mostly, I assumed churches in the city had to make up for the lack of space afforded to those, like me, who lived out in the country. They were meeting in a school because they had to have church somewhere, not because it was the ideal location for that part of the Church.
This assumption stemmed from the stark divide between church and life that I had in my head for years. My home church was built in the 1960s; most of my adolescent years centered around its Sunday services and Wednesday night youth groups (at least until high school, when the youth groups moved to Sunday nights). The sanctuary’s decorations may have changed from season to season, but the building itself was always church. I may have brought my faith out into the wider world to be a witness to Christ’s light (or at least I was supposed to), but to my mind, the wider world didn’t usually make it across the threshold into that space unless it was through a sermon illustration. There was a division between worlds, and ne’er shall the twain meet, or so I thought. (Looking back with the 20/20 vision that hindsight affords, though, I can say this wasn’t through any fault of my home church; it was all me.)
These days, though, I’ll occasionally find myself among the popcorn-munching moviegoers watching the latest summer flick in the very theater (and once, the very seat) where just hours before I’d spent watching a recording of one of NCC’s lead pastors preaching the latest sermon. The two worlds are meeting, and though I laugh when it happens, it doesn’t strike me as unusual as I would have thought just a few years ago.
I’d like to say that this comes after a long, completed journey toward realizing the impracticalities and inherent dangers of separating very important aspects of myself and assigning them their certain spaces. But I’d be lying because it isn’t fully complete. I can say that it has come after a long and joyful (though not always happy) journey toward recognizing both the all-encompassing love of Christ in every aspect of my own life and the fact that everything — inside the church and out of it — comes from God.
It all revolves around my new understanding of what it means to be a Church. You see, I’ve come to realize that capital-C Church is not about a building, nor the people who meet in it, nor the process in which its built. Capital-C Church is what Paul says in his opening to the Corinthians: Church consists of the people “called to be [Christ’s] holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.”
For someone who went to a Christ-centered school literally from kindergarten through college, this should have seemed obvious from the get-go; perhaps it was and I just missed it for the first couple decades of my life. Still, better late than never. This is especially true as I live out my new life in Washington, D.C. — a city that revolves around a constant cycle of transition and change. Sometimes, the Church meeting in a typical church doesn’t work. In a city where people are constantly coming and going for one reason or another, a church like NCC — built around the idea of being “in the middle of the marketplace,” among other core convictions — is suited for being built up and torn down each week. It keeps all its members mobile, just like the rest of the city.
And most importantly, it reinforces the fact that Church — the capital-C Church — isn’t meant to be separated from the rest of everyday life. It isn’t a facet of life to be compartmentalized, only drawn out for certain occasions. Instead, it’s meant to be who we, as the capital-C Church, are as a whole: sanctified and called by Christ, whether we’re sitting in wooden pews or squeaky movie theater seats.
Morgan C. Feddes hails from Montana and now resides in Washington, D.C., where she works for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. In the recent past, she’s helped get a small-town cafe off the ground in Montana, worked for Christianity Today in Illinois, and spent some of the best years of her life at Whitworth University in Washington state, where she graduated with a degree in English in 2011. She blogs over at The Isle Full of Noises and occasionally tweets @morgan_feddes.
Photo of Michael Knox band is from here.
by Polly Hollar Pauley
On my son’s seventh birthday this summer, we breakfasted out, per his request, and then spent five hours at a local vineyard enjoying music, feasting, and visiting while we celebrated our dear friends’ wedding anniversary. We were surprised when the entire crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to our son. I watched him in wonder during the song; as the huge chorus of voices rose and everyone smiled at him and sang, he seemed to enjoy it in his shy, half-smiling way. Tears stood in my eyes.
Only a few short years ago he never would have been able to handle that situation. From his earliest colicky days he seemed like an unusual baby, but even after his colic faded he was intense. He reserved his sweet, gummy smiles for a select few, and everyone else got what we dubbed “the serious face.” Sudden laughter or loud noises resulted in meltdowns, even in the middle of a church sermon.
I grew used to removing him from social situations; he and I would hang out in an empty room, reading books. I remember sitting on the floor of a Sunday School room at church one Sunday, puzzling over why my child seemed to flip out so readily at the innocuous sound of laughter, and praying that God would teach me to parent him for who he was. My husband and I honored his obsession with flags or basketball goals, his panicked fear of balloons. We tried to be gentle with his temperament.
My son changed me. He made me a better person, which I desperately needed—without knowing I needed it, of course. I was humbled by the fact that he was out-of-the-box; I was forced to give up on what I thought he might do and what the parenting books said he should do, and I instead became a student of this particular child. When he was two years old we were told he may never communicate properly; the deliverer of this news was grim, not encouraging. We decided to use the “label” as a tool to help us help our son live in the world, but we never have defined him by it.
Our son has changed. His communication skills have exploded. His interests are still intense and consuming, but he can transition from one interest or activity to another without a problem. (For the record, at the age of seven, his top three interests are limousines, jellyfish, and confetti, with Andre Rieu’s orchestra, drawing, and building orchestra and theatre sets trailing closely behind.) I view his laser-focus as a gift; it helps him see something and then re-create it in multi-dimensional form. His artwork is lovely. Social situations take navigation and guidance, but he is becoming more natural at spontaneous social interactions. He is coming into his own.
All this is simply to say: a child is a gift. And, this child is my gift. Twenty-four hours of labor, urgent surgery for me the week after his birth, countless sleepless nights (years of sleepless nights), colic, unusual diets, inexplicable tantrums, late-blooming language—none of it can possibly hold a candle to the thousands of moments of joy and happiness and beauty that these seven years have brought to us. I would do it all over again, many times, to see him splashing in the cold Appalachian creek in slanting sunlight or running in the ocean surf at dusk, to watch him dashing ahead of me down our dusty country lane or jumping in the good mud puddles that form after a heavy rain.
I keenly feel the passage of time, because there are only 11 more years before he begins his own life as an adult. There’s an urgency to the flipping of the calendar; there are so many things we wish to impart to him, to show him, to enjoy with him, before he is grown, from how to bait a fishing rod to how to roll out cinnamon rolls, how to iron a shirt and how to stop everything and just gape at the sunset, and how to love someone for who they are, not who you think they should be.
Seven years ago I had no idea who I was holding in my arms—who was this person, and who would he become? I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of taking care of a baby, so overwhelmed that I couldn’t even bathe him myself the first few weeks of his life. I was terrified that I would drop him. Seven years later I am overwhelmed with radical gratitude because I was given this artistic, loquacious, witty, shy, clever, creative boy—and the gift of spending my days with him.
Polly Hollar Pauley’s poetry has been published in The Hollins Critic, Cider Press Review, Artemis, and The Allegheny Review. She lives in the Appalachian Mountains with her husband and children.
Photo from Amanda Reardon photography.
by Caroline J. Simon
I sit cross-legged on the ground by the lake at Oxbow, painting the stump in front of me. I capture the grace, bulk, and heft of the stump with a few deft strokes, as I have been taught. My pallet knife layers stroke after stroke of raw umber, burnt umber, browns, and grays, mimicking rough bark. In the upper right quadrant of the painting, I brush smooth, short horizontal warms, the reflection of the dune spreading across the lake’s still waters from the opposite bank. I use some of these same warms for a few of the places where the sun touches the matte surfaces of the bark. I throw just one or two cerulean echoes of the lake water onto the trunk.
All week my teacher has been trying to get me to loosen up. This stump-portrait is loose. But she wants me to “see” and paint what I see. What do I see in this stump?
My teacher is sitting on a shaded porch with someone, rocking and talking. “That stump is nuclear,” she says as I hold up the canvas on my way back to the painting barn. I hear this as damning. Ambiguous “praise” at best. I look at the canvas again, for the first time seeing resemblances to the old Trojan Power Plant on the Columbia River. “So, okay then. Try to make the foreground have that same over-the-top quality.” I nod. I mull over her comments as I continue toward the barn.
I sat down by that stump in defiance, willfully intent on painting an Idea. “Though its stump grows old in the ground, at the scent of water, it will bud.” I came to Oxbow grieving. I was manufacturing an icon of hope.
I am laying down line after line. Contour drawing, it is called. This is the fourth of six life drawing exercises that we are doing this afternoon in the meadow at Oxbow. It rained this morning. The sun is warming the damp from the morning’s rain, making the air smell green. Our subject is a young woman who spends most of her time on the kitchen crew here. I am trying to be a good student. Look. Let the lines define not just the shape, but the weight, of what you see. Look mainly at the model. Glance at the paper only to set your pencil back at its starting point.
I hope my hand and eyes are obedient. My “monkey mind” is not. While my hand moves, my thoughts chatter away. “How does she stay so still?” Her back and neck arch as she reaches her arms behind her, resting her hands on a high stool. Her head is back. We have only fifteen minutes for this exercise. Earlier, when she was seated in a chair, we got thirty minutes to do an ink and brush sketch.
“How does someone get a tan like that?” Three inch circles are dotted in even patterns over what would have been covered by a one piece bathing suit. “Did she pose outdoors in body paint recently?”
People walk back and forth on the path behind her, on their way to the dining hall, the pottery shed, to hike the woods. Some look at the model. Some look at us looking, look at us drawing. Look. Draw what you see. “Where has she gone?” Her eyelids droop. Her body drapes in unselfconscious repose. “What would it be like to be her?”
It is our last session, the “gallery walk.” All students have displayed our week’s works along the painting barn walls. One of the MFA students has painted a nude on a five foot by five foot canvas. The model stares straight ahead at the viewer. This is no “come hither” look. These eyes demand, “What’s up with you?”
“Why did you choose to paint your nude with glasses?” asks Dave, a public defender from Chicago. A serious amateur painter, he’s done some very interesting pieces this week.
“She was wearing glasses,” several women say in unison.
When the “gallery walk” gets to my section, the teacher focuses on an odd shaped, incomplete, eight-inch acrylic sketch I’d made sitting in the woods. The classmate who’d spent all week talking, making the rounds and looking over shoulders had seen this scrap Wednesday and said, “Can I have that?’ So I’ve tacked it up. Within the trapezoid the sun flitters through the trees, falling on the leaves and bracken on the forest floor; slivers here and there of cobalt sky showing through the birch, maples and ash. Thinking of this as a preliminary study for some later, finished, work and wanting to get done before I was consumed by bugs, I’d rushed. Trees, leaves, breeze, rustle, light, sky, the occasional whine of a mosquito. Stillness.
“Best work you did this week,” says the teacher, tapping it with her finger.
Caroline J. Simon is a philosopher and administrator at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA. She is the author/coauthor of five books, including Bringing Sex into Focus: The Quest for Sexual Integrity and The Disciplined Heart: Love, Destiny and Imagination. The latter book uses literature to explore the nature of love. She paints from time to time and has recently become intrigued with creative nonfiction as a vehicle for exploring topics that outstrip the capabilities of academic prose.
Image by Michael Arndt is from here.
by Erica Salkin
There’s a growing body of research about media and religion that suggests reporters struggle to cover issues involving faith. Some say it’s because journalism has long been aligned with political life, leading media professionals to believe they should not get involved in issues of religion (on the “state” side of church/state). Others believe it’s a hesitance to appear to take sides between competing lines of religious thought – dueling truths, so to speak.
To me, the biggest challenge appears to lie in journalism’s commitment to verification and source skepticism. The drive to get a second source, to get confirmation before embracing a “fact” to be “true” is near and dear to a profession that strives for objectivity. How better to check your biases than to force you to verify that which you already suspect is true?
That approach to truth, though, doesn’t work well with faith. There really isn’t any second-sourcing the word of God. Perhaps the best way to envision the difference is this:
One of the oldest journalism adages:
One of the first phrases learned in Sunday School:
“Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.”
Understanding the tension between journalism and religion makes me read articles that touch on faith with new eyes. For example, at the end of July, Slate.com ran an article titled ““ In it, Mark Stern explores that suggest “exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children’s differentiation between reality and fiction.” Children ages 3-6 from religious backgrounds and nonreligious backgrounds were told three different versions of the same story, with one version featuring a biblical character performing a miracle with the help of God, one version describing the same miraculous event but with no reference to God, and the third telling the story “realistically” with no miracles and no God.
Stern describes the results as follows:
“Children raised with religion thought the protagonists of the miraculous stories were real people, and they seemed to interpret the narratives—both biblical and magical—as true accounts. Secular children, on the other hand, were quick to perceive that these stories were fictitious, construing them as fairy tales rather than real-life narratives. They had a far keener sense of reality than religious children, who failed to understand that magic does not exist and believed that stories describing magical details such as ‘invisible sails’ could be real.”
The studies came to the conclusion that children who are raised on stories of faith have “wide-ranging acceptance that the impossible can happen in defiance of ordinary causal relations.” On first read, that sounds like a good thing. People who question the impossible are responsible for innovation, exploration and discovery. After all, “ordinary causal relations” would say that an airplane made of metal and weighing thousands of pounds could not defy gravity and fly from Spokane to Denver, and yet I did just that last month because a pair of Ohio brothers believed the impossible could happen.
Stern doesn’t read that the same way:
“When you’ve been told that a woman was created from a man’s rib, or that a man reawakened three days postmortem little worse for wear, your grasp on reality is bound to take a hit. Religious children are told these stories from an early age, often as though they are unquestionably true.”
Here’s where I see Stern’s reporter instincts following the research on journalists and religion. The ability to accept and embrace stories of miracles without authentication or validation seems unrealistic from a reporter’s perspective. What Stern misses, however, is that the “verification” of stories of faith, including miracles, is faith.
Faith is not the same as “belief” – if you believe something to be true, you can pursue verification to confirm that belief. That is the essence of journalism. But faith is self-verifying, a knowledge of a fundamental truth that doesn’t need another source to confirm it. Faith is not naïve or a failed grasp on reality. It may not fit neatly into the journalist’s paradigm – after all, a miracle is a miracle because it defies conventional explanation – but that does not make it any less of a stable and real part of a person’s view of the world (not just their world, but THE world in its stark and real majesty).
One does not need to share in faith to accept that it plays this role in many people’s lives. Such acceptance would, however, bring a new lens to a story such as Stern’s. Instead of “failed to understand that magic does not exist,” this story might have discussed how children raised in religious households “see miracles where others do not.” It reframes the issue in terms of what the children see, rather than what the reporter does not, and lessens the bias by recognizing that reality-by-verification is not the only path to truth.
Dr. Erica Salkin is an assistant professor of Communication Studies at Whitworth University. Her academic interests include media law, scholastic journalism and media as modern storytelling. The rest of her life is filled with family, good books, quality sci-fi and one spoiled cat.
Image from Spirituality & Health.
by Corey Zalewski
I slept in the middle most nights, Jeff on my left and Monte on my right. This night was no different until Jeff woke Monte and me up at 11 o’clock. “Guys, there’s water,” Jeff said, with an unalarming note of urgency.
Still half asleep, I responded the only way I could: “What do we do?” When I sat up I realized three things. First, my assumption was wrong, it wasn’t raining. Second, Jeff should have woken us up with a couple more notes of urgency in his voice. Third, my sleeping pad, with me on it, was floating in five inches of water.
Ten minutes and a waterlogged tent later, the three of us were lying in the dirt with a tarp stretched over our faces to keep dry. Now, it had begun to rain. Great.
That was day nine of our 25-day cycling tour down the Pacific Coast. I learned a lot over 1,750 miles, one beer split three ways (to keep our spirits high), and six flat tires. Let me tell you about two of those things.
The first thing is simple; don’t set your tent up in the bed of a costal river that runs directly into the ocean. When the tide comes in, the riverbed becomes a waterbed and a sleeping pad becomes a flotation device. We should have known better. The three of us didn’t stretch once over the whole trip – we were arrogant in our youth. Being flooded by the tide was a rather humbling experience for us all. Not to mention our clothes and tent were wet and muddy for the next two days.
The second thing I learned came ten months after our tour. See, there was something romantic about the trip. Each day was better than the last (that’s especially true of the day following the night of day nine) and each day Monte, Jeff and I became closer. By the end of the trip we knew the preferred cadence of the other and would ride miles drafting inches apart, not saying a word, yet knowing exactly when a break was needed. The sense of camaraderie and shared experience was what brought us together and made those final days so blissful and, well, easy.
You may say that we hit our stride. And I think that’s exactly it; we fell into a rhythm. As the trip went on, we fell into a rhythm, and that rhythm was desirable not just because it made things easier, but because now – months after the tour – I see that that is how we are supposed to live.
In Acts 4, Luke states, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (v. 32 ESV). The members of the early church were on to something when they committed to each other and fell into the rhythm of life together. Each person, according to Acts, was working for the health of the community, selling land and houses to meet the needs of others.
What I learned while on my tour was the beautiful rhythm of life with others. And further, how hard it is to attain. The rhythm that Monte, Jeff, and I reached on day 25 took climbing thousands of feet, several close calls from motorhomes and semi trucks, and an unprecedented soreness. Every mile of the tour was worth it, though. And like the tour, striving to create a sense of rhythm in my community in Spokane is worth it too. Being of one heart and soul may take more than going on a bike ride, but it is worthy of our attention and effort because through it we are given an opportunity to live among others, for others, and in Christ.
Corey Zalewski has a B.A. in marketing and an MBA from Whitworth University. Second to riding a bike, his favorite thing to do is working on them. He currently lives in Spokane and works at KellyBrady Advertising.