The Lingering Scent

A few weeks ago, our family read the story of Mary who, in an act of extravagant love, anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. In Behold the King of Glory, Russ Ramsey writes, “As the scent electrified the senses of everyone present, Jesus called it beautiful. Creation testified to a Maker who delighted in beauty for beauty’s sake… Jesus said to Mary’s critics, ‘She has given me this gift because she is preparing me for my burial, and history will never forget her act of beauty.’”

Our reading left me wondering. What would Mary’s beautiful act look like in our current culture?

Within days, I was given an answer.

* * *

Later that week, we had friends visiting from out of town. They were only here for a few days, and most of that time they spent exploring and enjoying the city. At the end of their trip, we were grateful to have them join us for church. As we sat side by side, I was conflicted. I love these friends and was delighted to have them step into our community for a few hours. But during the service, I was distracted. As the guitar strummed and the room swelled with song, I scanned the rows of chairs and saw not flesh and blood, but rather story after story. We’ve walked and crawled and danced among this community for twenty-one years. We’ve witnessed devastation and miracle. Heartbreak and redemption. I wanted to lean over to my friend and whisper hints of those holy narratives. For her to catch a glimpse of the beautiful, messy, struggling, transformed saints covered in flesh and cloaked in their Sunday best. I wanted her to hear the significant ways in which God had touched and changed lives. For the Father to reach down from above and kiss her forehead through the stories of his people.

The service ended and the spell was broken. We moved from the worship service to our adult Sunday school class. The leader announced that we’d be taking a break from our current teaching series, as we did once every month, in order for members of the class to come up and share a bit of their journey. The couple who took the seats up front had been acquaintances for years, but we hadn’t known them well. They were engaging and honest as they shared about coming from very different backgrounds, struggling to reconcile creative calling to the realities of limited job opportunities, and growing to find God’s provision in the most unexpected places. Yet in the span of the forty minutes they’d been given to talk, there was one particular moment on which the eternal and the temporal hinged.

The wife had been recounting the arduous journey of adopting from Liberia. After more than a year of preparing for and growing to love two children as their own, they learned that one, their new son, wouldn’t be able to return to America with them. In an honest moment of desperation, the mother cried out to God. A God who she trusted to be both good and sovereign. How could their situation possibly be His best?

While journaling her thoughts during the flight headed to Africa, something in her heart shifted. Or perhaps it was awakened. Just as her heart was gripped with anguish on behalf of her son, the Father of all aches – even more deeply – for every last one of his children. Through her excruciating pain, a young mother had been given a glimpse of the beautiful heart of God.

My friend soaked up the mother’s words, said her goodbyes, and returned to Tennessee to resume life as normal. Only something was churning inside her. The Lord’s faithfulness in the midst of unspeakable pain had purpose. It was a reminder that she needed, and that we all need, to hear. Being true to her beautiful, gracious, creative nature, she began to scratch lyrics to the song sung from the heart of an aching parent. She called upon her friends – world-renowned musicians, whose immense talent is surpassed by their humility and devotion to the Creator. Within days and across hundreds of miles, they had composed and recorded a song. My friend, who had never met the mother, had poured out her talents in response to the glimpse of Glory she’d been given. She quietly offered the final product, a video containing the lyrics, as a gift. It was an extravagant, spontaneous act of worship like few others I’ve experienced.

“Art, like Jesus’ tears and Mary’s nard, spreads in our lives, providing useless beauty for those willing to ponder. Many consider the arts to be the “extra” of our lives, an embellishment that is mere leisure. Yet how many hours of sacrifice go into being able to play a sonata by Chopin? Or a dancer’s flight on stage at the Lincoln Center? What many consider extra, and even wasteful, may come to define our humanity. That evening at Bethany, in that aroma that Mary spilled, there were Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings and Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantatas floating in the air as well (thanks to James Elaine, curator and artist, for this observation). Every act of creativity is, directly or indirectly, an intuitive response to offer to God what He has given to us.” Makoto Fujimura

 

To God Be the Glory.

 



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December 23rd

Graffiti Art and Repentance

Greener Trees Reads was born when a few friends, after attending Hutchmoot 2011, wanted to dig deeper into The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. We found that reading together helped us: 1) Read more carefully 2) View the text from different perspectives (therefore seeing them more fully) 3) Get to know one another along the way (an accidental, but wonderful, byproduct). This fall, we’ll be reading, discussing, and writing in response to Breath for the Bones by Luci Shaw. You are cordially invited to join us. For those who won’t be reading along, the plan is to pluck one idea from each week’s reading to share with you. Please consider the question(s) posed and share your response – we have much to learn from each other.

– – –

Week 1: Graffiti Art and Repentance

In celebration of our 20th anniversary, my husband and I took a trip to New York City. It had been far too long since I’d visited the Big Apple, and I couldn’t wait. At the top of my “to-do” list for the weekend were: two Broadway shows, an exhibit on Children’s literature at the NYC Public Library, and a long, unhurried stroll through the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For the months prior, I had binged on books (and an occasional movie) about the life of Vincent Van Gogh and was giddy about spending some time with his work. It did not disappoint.

One afternoon, we had a few unscheduled hours before dinner. Since my husband had graciously allowed me to direct the agenda for the majority of our trip, I suggested that he decide what to do in that small slice of free time. After considering multiple options, he landed on visiting The Museum of the City of New York. Sounded great to me. Museum = art = culture. Yet upon arrival, I discovered that museum = graffiti. I paused, weighed my options, and muttered (internally), “I will humor him and endure.” I am a lover of art. Graffiti is an imitation at best.

After entering the museum, I glanced at the first exhibit – and promptly dismissed the “art and artists” represented. Silently, I was pining away for the unfortunate loss of the next few valuable hours. Yet as we meandered through the exhibits, something inside me shifted. My pace slowed. I became more curious and less dismissive. As I read the stories of the featured graffiti artists, as I looked closely at the detailed renderings in their sketchbooks, and as I stood under the massive sections of their intricate work, what I had deemed chaotic I saw as beautiful. The surging symphony of color and line played a melody I’d never heard before. Each display sang the unique song of its artist’s life and experience. In dismissing the graffiti art as less than “real art”, I had been dismissing an entire culture (and its expression) as less valid than my own.

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Less than an hour later, I left the museum having grown – if even just a bit – in compassion. If I could so unwittingly devalue an entire culture, then how frequently do I make the same mistake with individual people? I make assumptions. I dismiss. I devalue. All in the blink of an eye. A crash course on the history of graffiti art in New York softened my heart.

Makoto Fujimura talks about being willing to “stand under art – not over it.” If we’re willing to be curious, to be expectant – to come as a little child – when approaching art, we are given the divine privilege of tasting another’s experience of life. In turn, our hearts are stretched to grow in understanding, compassion, or gratefulness. We become more human.

Poetry, and any art, says something in a way that nothing else can, and that something that art says is so qualitatively different that it demands a radically different expression. Where linear, logical thinking may produce prose with a specific function – information or historical record or critical analysis or instruction – art selects and reflects on a small slice of human experience and lays it out there, a gift to anyone who is willing to savor it and enter into the artist’s experience even in a minimal way. . . It is my soul crying out to your soul: This is what I see and how I feel. Can you see it? Can you feel it too? ( p.4)

 – – –

When has a work of art (poetry, painting, music, dance – or even graffiti) impacted you?

How were you changed as a result?

– – – 

If you’d like to read with us, you can order Breath for Bones at the Rabbit Room. The reading schedule is as follows (but may possibly and will most probably shift):

Sept 1: Intro, Chp 1-2
Sept 8: Chp 3-5
Sept 15: Chp 6-7
Sept 22: Chp 8-10
Sept 29: Chp 11-12



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Looking Back: Books of 2013

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The kiddos last January at Makoto Fujimura’s Four Quartets exhibit.

As I look back at the adventures, mishaps, joys and trials of the past year, it seems fitting to recount the books that have gently adjusted my vision. Some books have been read and discussed in a group, while others I’ve enjoyed with my family or alone with a cup of hot tea. Here are a few books that left their mark on my life during 2013:

With the Reading Group
In 2011, a small group of folks came together (virtually) to read and discuss The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. Greener Trees Reads was born. In the past few years, we’ve read and discussed several books, each of which has stretched, challenged, and inspired me in unique ways. These are the books that we read together in 2013:

Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet*
If you watch movies, read this book. If you’re a parent, read this book. If you want to better love your neighbor, read this book. It’s as much about posture of heart as it is about movie-going. As a result of reading Through a Screen Darkly, I’ve viewed not only movies, but also current events and the people in my life through a different lens. You can get a taste of the book and our group’s discussion of it here.

The Art of T.S. Eliot by Helen Gardner
I’m an ardent supporter of Makoto Fujimura – both his art and his writing. Last year, our group read his book Refractions, and Mako was kind enough to join our discussion. At his suggestion, we read The Art of T.S. Eliot in preparation of the Four Quartets exhibit at Duke University. This book was a stretch (to say the least) for me, but it was successful in illuminating Eliot’s work as well as exercising literary muscles of mine that had previously been inactive. More on my stretching here.

So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger*
Shortly after Leif Enger was announced as the keynote speaker for Hutchmoot, I was asked to lead an online discussion of So Brave, Young, and Handsome over at the Rabbit Room. I was hesitant. My only experience of reading with a group had been limited to non-fiction. I had no idea where to start. But this book made the process easy. Enger is a master with words and subtext. I took pages of notes from So Brave, Young and Handsome and enjoyed hearing the insights of others. I emerged from our weeks of discussion reminded and hopeful. Redemption is a messy, beautiful business.

“A line only gets grace when it curves, you know.” Leif Enger (So Brave, Young and Handsome)

The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon
I’m not sure how one book can simultaneously be about cooking, seeing the miracles in everyday life, and idolatry, but this one is. An entire chapter dedicated to the cutting of an onion is potentially life-altering, and I own a new whisk and two new knives as a result of my reading.

“Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful. Necessity is the mother only of clichés. It takes playfulness to make poetry.” Robert Capon (Supper of the Lamb)

With the Kiddos

The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This one took me by surprise. A story of friendship, character revealed in hardship, and the hope that creativity can offer. I almost didn’t make it through.  My painful experience of the first few chapters is chronicled here.

The Singing Tree and The Good Master by Kate Seredy
Seredy has quickly become one of our favorite authors. Hard to find in hardback, but worth the hunt.

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
It was an honor and a privilege to read and discuss The Hiding Place with my children. A glimpse into our conversation and an explanation of why we still read aloud to with them here.

On My Own

The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge
My last read for the year. If you’ve never read Goudge, this is a good place to start. I look forward to reading the remaining books of the Eliots of Damerosehay Trilogy in the upcoming months.

“Beauty and shabbiness are quite compatible. . . A thing of beauty is a joy forever, but it must be a costly and strong beauty, purchased at a high price of service or sacrifice, not skin-deep but bone-deep, if it is to be as desirable at the shabby end as it was at the sumptuous beginning.”  Elizabeth Goudge (The Bird in the Tree)

Death by Living by N.D. Wilson*
Last year, Notes from a Tilt-A-Whirl was significant in shifting the culture of our family (a bit more on that here). Death by Living had a similar impact. “Life is meant to be spent.” Those six words play out in a million everyday choices. I’m fairly certain that the recent decision to add a new member to our family can be traced back to seeds of ideas planted by Wilson. A book can be a dangerous (and glorious) thing.

“When Job lifted his face to the Storm, when he asked and was answered, he learned that he was very small. He learned that his life was a story. He spoke with the Author, and learned that the genre had not been an accident. God tells stories that make Sunday school teachers sweat and mothers write their children permission slips excusing them from encountering reality.” N.D. Wilson (Death by Living)

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger*
For years, I’d heard friends proclaim that Peace Like a River was their favorite book. A few come close to swooning when they speak of it – for good reason. Enger weaves an endearing tail of adventure, family tragedy, and healing, with the bright thread of hope running throughout.

“We see a newborn moth unwrapping itself and announce, Look, children, a miracle! But let an irreversible wound be knit back to seamlessness? We won’t even see it, though we look at it every day.” Leif Enger (Peace Like a River)

Fiddler’s Green by A.S. Peterson*

The sequel to The Fiddler’s Gun. If you’re looking for a meaningful, rich, story that is full of adventure, Peterson’s books are not to be missed.

Lilith by George MacDonald
I read this book by sheer will. It’s been a long time since I started a book and so desperately wanted to quit. But I love MacDonald’s work and decided to trust the author more than my own judgement. I trudged through the first 3/4 of the book, wavering between being bored and wondering if I just wasn’t smart enough to “get” it. The last 1/4 was more than worth the work. I’ll read this one again. And perhaps again.

The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse by Michael Gungor
This is the year I became a fan of Gungor‘s music. Although this book was written with “creatives” in mind, it has significant insight to offer to everyone. After all, we are all “creatives” in some capacity.

The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis
I’ve heard quotes taken from The Weight of Glory for years. Now I know why. Lewis never disappoints.

– – –

* I’ve had the very good fortune to meet the authors of several of the books listed at a gathering called Hutchmoot in Nashville, Tennessee. This year, the sessions of these authors as well as a number of additional writers, musicians, and generally swell people were recorded, and you can purchase the 17 hours of audio here.

May your 2014 be filled with beauty, friendship, and many a good book!

 

 

 

 

 



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9/11 – An Invitation

Friends,

Yesterday, I shared over at Story Warren. Typically, I don’t link to another blog, but this one is different.

I rarely re-read a book (unless it’s Lewis), but I’ve read Refractions by Makoto Fujimura three times. Mako has changed the way I look at life. Please take a few minutes and follow the link to Story Warren here, then make time (it’s worth it, I promise you) to watch (or listen to) the embedded video. For the next four weeks, we’ll be reading and discussing together. Please consider joining us. As always, feel free to let me know if you have any questions.

Grateful to walk alongside you in the journey,
Julie



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On Tiptoe

child on tiptoe

When my daughter was a toddler, she would stand on tiptoe beside the kitchen counter. Eyes twinkling with expectation and chubby fingers gripping the edge, she would strain to see what culinary adventure was unfolding. Her habit developed through time. It was reinforced with every loaf of bread kneaded, cake baked, and carrot chopped. She didn’t want to miss out on the action. Or the leftover cake batter on the beater.

Time passed, and the plump toddler legs grew long and thin. Words were spoken more clearly. Clumsy waddles were replaced by graceful pirouettes. One bright spring day, I was preparing dinner and felt a warm arm wrap around my waist. Beside me stood my girl. Tall enough to easily see the surface of the counter, yet still standing on tiptoe. The gesture had become habit. Expectation had become a posture.

Next week, our brood will be making the journey to Duke to attend Engaging Eliot: Four Quartets in Word, Sound, and Color. The exhibition will be a combination of music, art, and poetry – a perfect storm of the best kind. I’ve been a fan of T.S. Eliot since high school and have more recently become an admirer of the writings and artwork of Makoto Fujimura.  Despite my anticipation of the event, I’m very aware that I’ll be in a bit “over my head.” My degree is in business, not English. My experience of fine art was one of dancing on stage, not of painting on canvas. Although I’ve been reading The Art of T.S. Eliot with a group of folks, I’m probably in the bottom quarter of the class in regard to poetic experience and knowledge.  Or more likely the remedial group. Yet I look forward to gleaning what I can during the exhibition – even if it’s a stretch for me. You might say I’m standing on my tiptoes.

Just as the evening will stretch me, it is even more true for my children. They will most likely “understand” only a fraction of what they will see and hear – just a sliver of the goodness that will be present. Yet a sliver of beauty refracts as it passes through the eyes and finds its way to the human soul. It may seem foolish to take those so young to an evening that is “out of their reach.” But they are learning to stand on their tiptoes. To strain and catch a glimpse of something wonderful and worthy of experiencing. My deep hope is that through time, the gesture of standing on tiptoe will become more deeply ingrained. That the gesture of expectation will become a more permanent posture.

Beauty and truth surround us. At times, we see it clearly without effort.

But if we’re willing to stretch,
To live with an expectant and teachable heart,
To believe that more goodness exists than that which is directly in front of us,

We may be surprised
By the joy discovered
While living life on tiptoe.

**************************

In discussing the exhibition with my children, I found myself struggling to convey the beauty and power of collaboration between the artists, musician, and (unbeknownst to him) poet. I floundered while attempting to describe the complementary nature of abstract and realistic art.  On a whim, I asked the children to listen to one of my favorite pieces of music and paint in response. The only parameter given was that they were to paint what they felt. What stirred in their imaginations and emotions. More abstract and less concrete. I was asking them to stretch beyond their comfort zone.

Last Train Home by Pat Metheny

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No doubt,
We’ll be surprised
By the joy discovered
While living life on tiptoe.



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The Year in Review: Top Ten Books of 2012

books

This is so fun – I feel like I’m introducing you to dear friends.

Here are my favorite books of 2012 (in no particular order):

Refractions by Makoto Fujimura
Through a series of essays, Fujimura makes a compelling case for the crucial role of creativity in the midst of a dehumanizing culture. The thread running throughout Refractions is one of hope. Life is full of challenge, disappointment, and at times, great tragedy. Yet we can choose to bring light into darkness, create beauty from ashes, and bring order to chaos. This is an important book with a timely message. I can’t remember reading the same book twice in one year. Until Refractions.

You can find more of Mako’s writing (including additional Refractions essays) at his site here. If you missed reading Refractions with our reading group, I hope to have a reading guide posted on this site in the next few months.

Surprised by Joy/The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Surprised by Joy tells the compelling story of Lewis’s early years. I was struck by the pivotal role that disappointment and hardship played in his spiritual formation. Already an admirer of Lewis’s intellect and faith, this book gave me a glimpse of his humanity. The Friendship essay in The Four Loves explores the nature of friendship in a way that was challenging and insightful. It made me think. About why we choose the friends that we do. About the role that friendship plays in society. About what binds us together.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones
This a devotional packed with deep truths about our Maker and way in which he sees his children.  I continue to be amazed at Sally Lloyd-Jones’s ability to take the most significant, poignant truths and distill them down to a limited number of words. Her writing is the case-in-point for Lewis’s quote, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” This book is the perfect present for everyone – from the newborn to the grandparent.

Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson
N.D. Wilson’s writing has taken permanent residence in our home this year. My son, who is quite a discriminating reader, raved about Wilson’s 100 Cupboard series. After having read Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl, I wasn’t surprised. I can honestly say that Tilt-A-Whirl has had a significant impact on the choices made and life lived out in our home. Here’s a taste:

“This world is beautiful but badly broken . . . I love it as it is, because it is a story, and it isn’t stuck in one place. It is full of conflict and darkness like every good story, a world of surprises and questions to explore. And there’s someone behind it; there are uncomfortable answers to the hows and whys and whats. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through Him were all things made… Welcome to His poem. His play. His novel. Let the pages flick your thumbs.”

I’ve never read anything quite like it.

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Often cited as J.K. Rowling’s favorite book from childhood, The Little White Horse is a children’s fantasy novel full of rich characters, longing, delight, self-sacrifice and redemption. Goudge is a master at weaving beauty and truth throughout her stories.

 

Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. Peterson
What’s not to love about an orphan’s adventure with pirates during the American Revolution? Fiddler’s Gun is a delight to read. The story is fast-paced, yet lyrical. The characters are well-developed and highly relatable. It’s a story about choices, consequences, and ultimately grace, yet doesn’t moralize.  Beware – this is one of those books that will keep you up late at night as you have to read “one more chapter.” The sequel, Fiddler’s Green, is on my list to read in 2013.

Culture Making by Andy Crouch
A provocative book to say the least. Culture Making successfully defines  and discusses an ambiguous, but incredibly important, concept. Culture. What is it? How is it made? What is our role and why does it matter? In particular, I was intrigued by Crouch’s observations of the ways in which we examine and interact with our culture (his section on “postures and gestures”). Culture Making is an artful blend of sociology, theology, and philosophy. It inspires and challenges us all to breathe life and goodness into the world in which we live.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I’m not sure how I missed this one in high school. No wonder Lee won the Pulitzer Prize. If you missed it as well, now’s the time.

Telling the Truth by Frederick Buechner
This short book by Buechner offers a unique perspective of the gospel – as tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale. It challenges and encourages us to take an honest look at life. “What is the kingdom of God?… He suggests rather than spells out. He evokes rather than explains. He catches by surprise. He doesn’t let the homiletic seams show. he is sometimes cryptic, sometimes obscure, sometimes irreverent, always provocative. He tells stories.” I’m a Buechner fan, and this may be my favorite of his books.

Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
This was the first book on the list for our reading group, and I’m not sure that I would have made it through (very effectively) without the insights and camaraderie of the other folks. That being said, it has become one of the most influential books that I’ve read. Sayers redefines the call and boundaries of creativity, walks through an amazing explanation of the nature of evil, and builds a framework through which the creative process can be understood. For our group’s written responses to specific chapters, you can visit here (this is the first week, with links to the following weeks found at the bottom of the page). The Mind of the Maker is well worth the time and energy invested. Highly recommended.

A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy
A beautiful, thoughtful book illustrating that even the smallest light can push back the darkness. A Tree for Peter has at its core the principles found in Refractions, Mind of the Maker, and Culture Making, yet all wrapped in a beautiful story that was written for children. It is outstanding. You can read more here.

 Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring by Andi Ashworth
In a society where efficiency and technology are held in highest esteem, we find ourselves busy and productive. Yet we are also more lonely and dehumanized as a result. Real Love for Real Life reminds us that at our core, we have all been created to care well for one another. A balanced blend of the philosophical and practical, this book is food for the soul of a people hungry for connection.

For you detail-oriented folks, yes, that was twelve. It’s been a good year.

If you’d like to join the Greener Trees Reading Group, we’ll be starting with The Art of T.S. Eliot by Helen Gardner the week of January 7th.  Consider joining us!

What were your favorite books of the year? 

Happy New Year and happy reading to you!



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From Telescope to Microscope – The Reading Group

“The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as it had nothing else in the universe to do.” –  Galileo Galilei

 

We can learn much about the world in which we live by studying the solar system. We gain perspective of our relationship to the rest of the universe, an understanding of natural patterns (tides, seasons, and daylight), and an introduction to foundational scientific truths (pull of gravity, speed of light, laws of motion). Yet if we spent years obtaining an in-depth knowledge of the solar system, our education would be far from complete.

In order to gain a more comprehensive view of the world, we’d need to utilize not only the telescope, but also the microscope. To explore the composition of atoms, cells, dna. The work of photosynthesis in the smallest leaf of a tree. The combs and brushes found on the bumblebees legs, perfectly designed to gather pollen from a flower and collect it into a mass to be stored. We can learn about weather patterns, condensation, and crystallization, but our understanding of snow will be limited if we don’t also study the delicate, unique structure of an individual snowflake.

The smallest corners of creation and the vast unmeasurable universe are equally important puzzle pieces. We need both in order to get a more accurate picture of our world.

The same is true of the intangible world.

This summer, a group of us read through the Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. I was challenged, pushed, and helped along as I was given the gift of seeing the (sometimes dense and difficult) text through the eyes of others. My experience of the book was deeper and richer as a result of our reading as a group. As an unexpected bonus, I was able to share written responses from some of the members with you (listed at the bottom of the page here).

The original intent of the group was to work through the one book. Within days of finishing the last chapter, it became clear that the experience had been valuable for all. We wanted more. Makoto Fujimura’s Refractions was to be the next book. It was a perfect complement to the Mind of the Maker, and Refractions gave dynamic color and texture to many of Sayers’s concepts.

Mind of the Maker takes an over-arching look at the nature of creativity. You might say we gazed through a literary and philosophical telescope. Refractions reveals both universal truths as well as concrete examples of creativity as a generative force. A force that rehumanizes in the midst of a dehumanizing world. Now we’re going to look under the microscope.

The Plan:

In January, our group will be reading The Art of T.S. Eliot by Helen Gardner. Please consider joining us. “Why?” you may ask. Well, here are a few thoughts:

~ T.S. Eliot is often cited as one of the most significant poets of the 20th century. His works have influenced our culture extensively. To be a student of Eliot is to be a student of the world in which we live. Bankers, teachers, homemakers, scientists, and artists  all have something to learn from Eliot.

~ Gardner’s The Art of T.S. Eliot is considered to be a classic, focusing on his poetic style and the Four Quartets. Gardner’s book acts as microscope through which we can get a sharper view of Eliot’s work.  As with all true art, the truths discovered in poetry are reflective of the truths found in life.

~ Makoto Fujimura has recently completed a commissioned series in response to the Four Quartets. He will be part of a touring exhibition  over the next several months which will include a collaboration of art, music, and spoken presentation. The catalogue of the  Four Quartets is available for purchase here. If you’re able to attend one of these events, having read Gardner’s book would enrich the experience.

~ Growth occurs as a result of stretching beyond our comfort zone. As adults, we acknowledge the need for physical challenge to ensure health and spiritual challenge as a necessary part of the refinement and maturation process. Yet all too often, as “grown ups” we find our intellectual comfort zones and set up camp. We let fear, disguised as competency, curtail the joy of discovery. If this is new territory for you, you’re in good company. I’ve read through the first chapter and was both inspired and challenged. I’m a business major and banker, for goodness sake. If I can muddle through this, so can you. We’ll explore and discover together. If this feels like familiar territory, then please join us as well. We’ll need your help and insight. We’ll learn from each other.

What next?

If you’d like to read along, I’ll be posting a reading schedule and guiding questions to be used in discussion/journaling. We’ll start with Chapter 1 the first week of January. Consider asking a friend, small group, or book club to read along with you.

The reading schedule is as follows:

Week of Jan 7 – I. Auditory Imagination
January 14 – II. The Music of Four Quartets
January 21 – III. Poetic Communication
January 28 – IV. The Dry Season
Feb 4 – V. The Time of Tension
Feb 11 – VI. The Language of Drama
Feb 18 – VII. The Approach to Meaning

If you’re on Facebook and would like to join the online discussion, just send a request to join “Greener Trees Reads.” You’ll be approved, and in January, we’ll start our conversation.

In the interim, become familiar with Eliot’s Four Quartets. If this is your first time, don’t be discouraged – just listen and let the words sink in. Then listen again. And again. Each reading grants a gift – a new thought, the enjoyment of the words flowing together, a glimpse of imagery to be experienced uniquely by you.

“The Four Quartets may be one of the few modern works that journeys from despair to hope.”   Makoto Fujimura

 

If you’d like to join us, please comment below or send me a message. We’d love to have you along for the journey.



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Back to School: Poetry 101

My alma mater. Where my soul and mind were well fed.

I’m going back to school.  Wanna come?

Don’t you remember the excitement of the new year?  A legion of sharpened pencils.  A carefully-selected notebook with neatly arranged folders.  A stark calendar awaiting the scribbled adornment of activities, assignments, and football games. But at the heart of all the frenzy is the promise of a new beginning.  A fresh start. The potential of the unknown.

As we grow older, the line between seasons begins to blur. The workplace rarely closes for summer vacation, and new starts are far less definitive.  We become pragmatic and resolved.  Too often, we trade in curiosity and imagination for practicality and security.  We deny an invaluable portion of our inheritance – the part of our souls that was designed to create.  Why?

“Children are more creative (than are adults) and are natural inventors.  Their worldview is incomplete and demands discovery. They prosper because they embrace their ignorance instead of ignoring it. And they are willing to explore, investigate, and put their ideas to the test because they are willing to fail.” (Sam McNerney. Killing Creativity: Why Kids Draw Pictures of Monsters & Adults Don’t )

 

We’re too busy.  Our schedules are packed with “have-tos” and we rarely venture to consider the “dream-ofs.”  I’d suggest, however, that under the emperor’s fine purple garments of busy schedules often exists the exposing, naked reality of our own fear. Fear of failure.  Fear of looking silly or impractical.  Or fear of wanting more.

My friend, John, is a gifted therapist who spends his days talking with folks as they struggle to make sense of the hard things in life.  John recently discovered that he has quite a talent for sculpting.  In writing about his journey, John notes that “Sometimes, the riskiest thing for us to do is to trust and try.”

So how about it?  You don’t have to step on the yellow school bus or move into a college dorm this fall in order to try something new.  If you could go back to school, what classes would you take that you missed the first time around?  What activities?  Why not trust and try?

I’ve always been a lover of the well-written word.  I enjoy discovering and reading poetry with my children, and have a special place in my heart for the prose of Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot. I dabbled in poetry in high school and college, yet I’ve settled comfortably into the role of a distanced appreciator.

This fall, Chris Yokel (who you may remember from Redeeming the Fall) will be offering two 4-week sessions for folks who have limited or no experience with poetry, but who’d like to learn more.  In a nutshell:

The Basics of Poetry (Sept.17 – Oct. 7): Basic literary elements of poetry.  Teaching videos will be posted on Youtube.

Poetry Writing Workshop (Oct. 15 – Nov.11): Poetry workshop including exercises to help challenge and prod you along.

The class has been designed for those who need flexibility and can commit varying degrees of time. You can find out more detail and sign up for the class at chrisyokel.com.

Whether it’s daring to venture into a poetry class or a pottery studio, exploring a new genre of music or learning the art of cooking Thai cuisine, take a chance. Excitement is drifting through the early autumn air. Breathe in deeply. Let it inspire you.

And if you’re afraid of trying something new, well, I’ll embarrass myself first on the world wide web, so whatever you choose to do may feel a bit less vulnerable. Here goes my first, timid, awkward attempt at haiku:

no more excuses
keyboard strokes dash through veiled pride
to create brings life

 
Shared with…



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Join Us – Refractions by Makoto Fujimura

Please consider joining a group of like-hearted folks as we read Makoto Fujimura’s Refractions.  Mako is an internationally acclaimed artist, speaker, and writer, and is the founder of the International Arts Movement.  For more on his life and works, you can visit his website.

Through a series of essays, Mako makes a compelling case for the crucial role of creativity in a culture that is consistently dehumanizing.  He is leading a revolution of reconciliation in the midst of a hostile world.  The thread running throughout the essays in Refractions is one of hope:

“We need to see ways to be not just ‘peacekeepers’ but to be ‘engaged peacekeepers.’ In such a definition, peace (or the Hebrew word shalom) is not simply an absence of war but a thriving of our lives, where God uses our creativity as a vehicle to create the world that ought to be.”  Makoto Fujimura

 

Regardless of our education, occupation, or prior experience with the arts, we all have much to gain from reading Refractions.  We have an opportunity to help shift the climate of this generation from one of “Culture Wars” to one of “Culture Care.”

“The goal of arts education is not to create artists, although that is a fine by-product: the goal of arts education is to create better doctors, engineers, politicians, teachers, fathers and mothers.”   Dana Gioia, Former Chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts

The Schedule:

Week of August 20th: Introduction, Chp 1-3
Week of August 27th: Chp 4-8
Week of September 3rd: Chp 9-12
Week of September 10th: Chp 13-16
Week of September 17th: Chp 17-20
Week of September 24th: Chp 21-23

Refractions is available for purchase in book form, or you can find the individual essays here. For many of us, the fall brings with it increased demands on our schedules. The reading plan allows for flexibility.  Each chapter is only a few pages long and can stand alone. If your week is particularly busy and you’re only able to read one essay, you’ll still be able to join in the discussion.

The Plan:

For those on Facebook, we have formed a private Greener Trees Reads group for all who are interested.  I’ll be posting an invitation, and you just need to request approval to join.  Once you’re a member, you’re welcome to invite and approve your friends.

For those who are in Charlotte, we will offer an opportunity to meet and discuss in person sometime in September or October.

For those of you who just want to read along, consider asking a friend to join you so you can discuss.

I won’t be hijacking the blog for the fall as I did with The Mind of the Maker, but the reading and subsequent churning of ideas will undoubtedly seep through into whatever I share.  The impact of Mako’s vision has permeated much of my everyday life – my view of family and friendships, how we spend our time, the value of the seemingly mundane, and the privilege and responsibility with which we have been entrusted.  I am grateful.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Our reading group just finished a rich conversation about Dorothy Sayers’s book The Mind of the Maker.  Many of her insights are directly applicable to the ideas found in Refractions.  For pieces written in response to The Mind of the Maker, you can read:

DNA
Hope Restored
On Limitations and Lemonade Stands, Free Will and Miracle
Redeeming the Fall
An Unfinished Work
And It Was Good



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DNA

“In the beginning, God created.”

 

The Mind of the Maker – Week 1 (Chapters 1 & 2)

I had the great privilege of hearing and meeting Makoto Fujimura this week. He spoke  words of hope, vision, and beauty that drifted through the auditorium like dandelion parachutes dispersing in the wind.  The many seeds of thought deposited in my soul are just beginning to germinate, but I’d like to share with you one in particular.

For a bit of background, carve out a few minutes to watch the recent graduation address he delivered at  Biola University.  It will be time well invested.

If you weren’t able to complete the first week’s reading of The Mind of the Maker, Mako’s address was a beautiful companion to Sayers’s observations:

“Looking at man, he (author of Genesis) sees in him something essentially divine, but when we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, ‘God created.’  The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that:  the desire and ability to make things.” p. xvi

We’re innately creative, because we are made in the image of a creative God.  Most of us would conceptually agree with that statement as it relates to humankind, yet we struggle to see how that truth applies to us individually in our everyday lives.  Perhaps this will help:

“He made the world out of nothing, but we cannot ourselves make anything out of nothing. We can only rearrange the unalterable and indestructible units of matter in the universe and build them up into new forms . . . The components of the material world are fixed;   those of the world of imagination increase by a continuous and irreversible process without any destruction or rearrangement of what went before.  This represents the nearest approach we experience to ‘creation out of nothing’.” (p.22,29)

 

We create everyday.

In the material world, we create by rearranging matter.

We create when we plant a garden.
We create when we make a meal.
We create when we design a spreadsheet.

In the world of imagination, we create through daring to hope.

We create when we dream of our children’s future.
We create when we map strategy for our business.
We create when we reach out to those who are different, alone, or in need.

My husband, the banker, creates when he pulls together financial information from a company, analyzes trends, and foresees possible threats or opportunities.  He collaborates with others, gleaning insight and developing consensus.  As a result, he creates opinions.  Those opinions can result in corporate creation – both tangible and intellectual.

We create everyday.  It’s in our DNA.  We’ve inherited the ability (and drive) to create just as we’ve inherited our eye color and body type.  When we create, we experience pleasure.  We experience joy. We experience our humanity.  We experience a faint whiff of the fragrance from the Garden.

Don’t miss it.  Take the time to consider.

In your everyday, how do you create?
In the material world?
In the world of imagination?

Thoughts from week 2 found here
Thoughts from week 3 found here
Thoughts from week 4 found here
Thoughts from week 5 found here
Thoughts from week 6 found here

 

 

 

 



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