Waking Up Slowly (Again)

A Gentle Reminder

This comes by way of reminder. A few weeks ago I reviewed Dave’s new book, Waking Up Slowly.

You know how some books, you read and forget in between the last word and the final period? Waking Up Slowly sticks with youIt will kick start your day like a Chai Tea Latte with a shot of dopamine.

It’s that time of year — you’re feeling a little ragged, a tad draggy — wondering what in the world you’re going to do with the kids when they are home ALL SUMMER LONG, and camp isn’t an option this year.

Pick up Waking Up Slowly, and sip it — maybe a chapter a day. It will last you well into the summer and make you feel like it’s an April morning in (fill in your favorite town, state, country, or planet).

Parable of Little Knife

For Rodney with thanks to Bill Brewer

My dad kept an old whetstone wheel down at his shop on the ranch. It had belonged to my grandfather — Mom’s dad, Lawley Reagan. it looked a lot like the one pictured above. Dad used it to sharpen axes and hatchets and knives before it fell apart sometime in the late fifties. The grit was coarse, but Dad could put a fine edge on just about any tool.

I attended a memorial service on Saturday for a great woman — Cortina Orr. Her radiant joy lightened many a dark day for a host of disciples and friends. Her memorial was held on one of those bright and sunny days typical of north Texas in early May. The cloud of her passing dissipated in the shining hope of resurrection and reunion.

Still, she’s gone for now, and that hurts. So, as I was sitting there listening to one of the finest memorial addresses I’ve ever heard (thanks Bill Brewer), and considering how painful it must be for her husband and my dear friend, Rodney, and for her grown children Ariel and Bradley, this little parable came to mind.

Once upon a time there was a little carving knife, fresh from the forge and eager to be pressed into service. He came from a long line of carvers, with specialty bowl gouges and planes in his lineage — and, of course, a few whittlers from the poor side of town. Together his family had made bowls, and spinning tops, and even some fine furniture. But he was proudest of the nativity sets, carved in fine detail by his father and grandfather. The edge on his father’s blade could shave the whiskers off an olivewood Joseph, and shape wonder in the eyes of a pinewood shepherd on the night of Jesus’s birth.

The little carving knife wanted to be fitted with a rosewood handle immediately, and to get to work on a great piece of art.

His father looked down at him and smiled, though his joy was tempered with the knowledge of what must come first.

“Son,” he said, “you have great dreams, but you have no edge. The master carver can’t use you until you submit to the whetstone wheel.”

The little fellow swallowed hard. He was hoping to avoid the pain of sharpening, but he knew he would remain dull and useless without it.

So he submitted to the hand of the master carver, and he held him against the spinning wheel at just the right angle. Sparks flew! Small bits of dull metal were ground away, and the little carving knife didn’t know if he would be able to stand the pain. Occasionally, the master mercifully added a bit of water to the wheel so the little carving knife wouldn’t overheat and break under the strain.

Finally, it was over. The master carver fitted the little carving knife with a beautiful rosewood handle that his father had carved just for him.

The pain of sharpening had rendered him ready for service — with the knowledge that an occasional light sharpening would be necessary to maintain his keen edge.

We love you, Rodney. The Master Carver has held you to the whetstone recently in Cortina’s passing. He’s giving you a fine edge indeed, my friend.

And by His grace, He will continue to use you to shape lives as you have shaped mine.

 

Celebrating Future Now Conference with Peggy Kim

June 1, 2, 2017 - For Students Interested in PR, Marketing and Making Media Connections in NYC

 

I just got back from New York City. One of the biggest challenges for people moving to NYC who want to work in Media, is meeting people/making contacts.

Enter my friend, Peggy Kim. Peggy is the Founder and President at iStand Media, and one of the media professionals with whom I was visiting while in the city.

The whole time, I was thinking, Ok, Peggy has so many things going on, how am I going to boil down all of this fascinating stuff so that you can get some whiff of who she is?  

But that would be like trying to capture the fragrance of a grand garden in a perfume bottle. A garden comprises a host of fragrances, all of which combine to produce a delightful experience that invites you in. Peggy is a walking garden, as you can see from her LinkedIn page. She specializes in the following areas:

  • Content development
  • Documentary film-making
  • Reality formats
  • Production supervision
  • Programming strategy
  • Talent development
  • Distribution and building partnerships
  • Contract negotiations

Oh yeah, and she happens to be a dynamic Christian. Peggy’s love for the Lord shines through in her compassionate desire to help others, and in her dedication to serving Him with the best she has to give.

Now, we get to celebrate a fantastic networking opportunity as Peggy is hosting the Future Now Media & Entertainment Conference in New York City!

My good bud, Kathleen Cooke (Co-Founder and VP of Cooke Pictures) recently sent me an email that provides an introduction to the conference:

This is a great opportunity for your students who are interested in the media in the areas of PR and marketing and for getting their “foot in the door” in NYC. They’ll have a chance to meet and see the inter-workings of the NYC media business and get insightful information on how they can take what they’ve been learning in their classrooms and move into the professional world. This is the first of it’s kind conference that I’ve seen done that gives the students real “boots on the ground” information and allows them to be personally introduced to leading professionals in the industry. I’ll be attending and speaking along with many top leading professionals in the industry.

I believe it’s a significant event you don’t want your students to miss

Here’s a flyer which you can print and distribute as a poster for the conference: FUTURENOW flyer

But here’s the deal – your students have to apply by May 15. There won’t be any walkups.

One more thing – the conference is FREE! All you have to do is pay for transportation, food and lodging.

It’s worth scholarshipping promising student artists who are moving to NYC!

 

Good, Holy Friday

Love Nailed to a Shared Cross

If you’re familiar with the writings of C. S. Lewis, you probably know him as a spinner of the wonderful children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia.

Or, you may find yourself basking in the glow of his intellectually profound nonfiction work such as, Mere Christianity, or his autobiographical, Surprised by Joy, or his excellent radio address on The Four Loves.

But there is a treat in store for you if you have missed out on Lewis the poet (Don W. King does an outstanding job of exploring this corner of Lewis’s life in C. S. Lewis, Poet: The Legacy of His Poetic Impulse).

One of my favorite Lewis poems captures in just a few verses the essence of Good Friday. I share it with you as a gift and as an invitation to meditate on the depth of God’s love as expressed in the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, on our behalf.

Have a blessed Good Friday.

Love’s as Warm as Tears, by C. S. Lewis

Love’s as warm as tears,
Love is tears:
Pressure within the brain,
Tension at the throat,
Deluge, weeks of rain,
Haystacks afloat,
Featureless seas between
Hedges, where once was green.

Love’s as fierce as fire,
Love is fire:
All sorts–Infernal heat
Clinkered with greed and pride,
Lyric desire, sharp-sweet,
Laughing, even when denied,
And that empyreal flame
Whence all loves came.

Love’s as fresh as spring
Love is spring:
Bird-song in the air,
Cool smells in a wood,
Whispering “Dare! Dare!”
To sap, to blood,
Telling “Ease, safety, rest
Are good; not best.”

Love’s as hard as nails,
Love is nails:
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
Seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His.

 

Visit the Holy Land Online with Wayne Stiles!

An Exciting New Opportunity to Experience the Land of the Bible

 

I have some great news for you! A good friend of mine, Dr. Wayne Stiles (see handsome mugshot above!), will be hosting an online walkthrough of the Lands of the Bible.

The focus for this series is on Passion Week and the sign-up will be open until April 19, but why wait? Go to this website today and sign up for Wayne’s FREE 3-part series on Passion Week, recorded on site in Jerusalem.

What you’ll see: the key places where Jesus walked and taught during the days leading up to and including His crucifixion and resurrection.

What you’ll hear: teaching from one of my favorite Bible teachers! Wayne delivers more than just information. He gives you lessons for living in light of biblical truth. I’ve been to Israel with Wayne on several occasions, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that God’s blessing rests on this man and his teaching. Don’t miss this opportunity.

If you enjoy the mini-series, as I’m sure you will, you’ll have the opportunity to subscribe to an ongoing video series where you will walk the Bible lands with Wayne.

The URL for the FREE 3-part series: www.passionweektour.com

Poets & Poems that Heal More Than Fish

Why Poetry Matters...

 

 

A poem is when you are in love and have the sky in your mouth.
from, This is a Poem that Heals Fish, by Jean-Pierre Simeón, translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick.

Simeón captures the effervescent effect of a poem in her delightful exploration of poetry. We discover along with young Arthur, the book’s protagonist, the many things a poem is:

A poem is when you hear the heartbeat of a stone.

A poem is when words beat their wings.
It is a song sung in a cage.

— When you put your old sweater on backwards or inside out, dear Arthur, you might say that it is new again.
A poem turns words around, upside down, and — suddenly! — the world is new.

Good poetry accomplishes this feat in a more condensed form than prose. If you don’t have time to dive into a novel, try poetry! You will get the biggest bang for your buck, and you are likely to remember far more of what you read, especially if it rhymes, and if the meter is regular. Iambic meter, with its series of unstressed and stressed syllables , is the most memorable of all. Most of Shakespeare’s Sonnets are written in iambic meter with five “feet” to the line:

When I / do COUNT / the CLOCK / that TELLS / the TIME (Sonnet 12)

Notice the tick-TOCK metronome cadence of this little poem that uses time as a metaphor. Don’t shy away from Shakespeare. His poems (and plays) are often funny, poignant, and insightful. And his use of language is unparalleled. His sonnets are a great place to start. They’re short (14 lines). Each one takes less than a minute to read.

There are plenty of other places to explore along the paths of poetry. You might find yourself trudging with Robert W. Service through the ice and snow of the Klondike with a frozen corpse, in search of a suitable crematorium:

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate those last remains.” (from, The Cremation of Sam McGee)

Or you might walk beside those carrying the casket of Emily Dickenson through fields of buttercups, as per her request — and recall this introductory quatrain from her exquisite rumination on death:

Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just Ourselves —
And Immortality.

Allen Tate (poet Laureate, 1943-44) wrote of this poem that,

 this poem is one of the greatest in the English language; it is flawless to the last detail.

Or, you might discover along with little Arthur, that poetry can heal a fish.

Poetry matters because, once we welcome it into our lives,  it will shatter us. It will heal us.

And it will leave us wondering why we waited so long.

Mimesis — Creative Contagion

How and Why we Empathize with Art and Why it Matters...

 

Been noodling on some connections — BTW, thanks once again to the excellent Brain Pickings website by Maria Popova, to which you really should subscribe. In the March issue, Popova explores the idea of empathy as articulated in Rachel Corbett’s book, You Must Change Your Life. Despite the ubiquity of the idea of empathy as “a centerpiece of our very humanity,” (see Reclaiming Conversation, by Sherry Turkle, who challenges our preoccupation with virtual relationships and the consequent loss of empathy) as it turns out, originated in art. It’s only a little over a hundred years old, and “empathy” only entered our lexicon,

…when it was used to describe the imaginative act of projecting oneself into a work of art in an effort to understand why art moves us. — Popova, Brain Pickings, 3/5/17.

In the late 19th century a German philosopher named Theodor Lipps, building on the earlier work of Dr. Wilhelm Wundt, was trying to figure out why art impacts us so powerfully.

[He] originated the then-radical hypothesis that the power of its impact didn’t reside in the work of art itself  but was, rather, synthesized by the viewer in the act of viewing. —Popova, ibid. Emphasis mine.

Pretty heady stuff.  So, art “works” — that is, it affects us most deeply — when we participate in the art. Well, that raises other questions: How do we, the observers participate in the art we are observing? Is it something over which we exercise conscious control? Or is such sympathetic response, as V. S. Ramachandran claims convincingly in The Tell-Tale Brain, completely unconscious? Is our virtual participation in an event part of a complex neurological auto response to stimuli that excite a cluster of what Ramachandran labels mirror neurons? And what about Corbett’s claim that,

The act of looking, then, becomes a creative process, and the viewer becomes the artist. —Popova, ibid.

Through the act of viewing, the observer becomes a participant rather than a clinically detached observer. This idea stops shy of the hypothesis proposed in The Dancing Wu Li Masters that the act of observing electrons in flight (as if we could do more than trace where they have been—nobody can see an electron in motion) influences their trajectories; however, the idea expressed by Corbett is similar. By projecting ideas, emotions or memories onto a work of art (any work of art in any genre), a person may,

…unconsciously move in and with the forms. (Popova, citing Robert Vischer, ibid. Emphasis mine).

Way back in 1873, Vischer, a German aesthetics student, named this process,

…einfühlung, literally “feeling into.” The British psychologist Edward Titchener translated the word into English as “empathy” in 1909, deriving it from the Greek empatheia, or “in pathos. … He dubbed this bodily mimesismuscular empathy,” a concept that resonated with Lipps, who once attended a dance recital and felt himself “striving and performing” with the dancers. He also linked this idea to other somatosensory imitations, like yawns and laughter —Popova, ibid (see Ramachandran on mirror neurons).

Popova notes Mark Rothko’s observation a half century later,

 “The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.” He was articulating the model of creative contagion — or what Leo Tolstoy called the “emotional infectiousness” of art — that Lipps had formulated. (Popova, ibid).

So—the simple act of viewing art can change us (see the title of Corbett’s book!).

So what?

Bottom line: the more we Christians immerse our hearts and minds in the Word of God—the more we consciously, prayerfully enter into and submit ourselves to the Author’s intended influence, the more likely we are to participate in the great work of His Holy Spirit—nothing less than the transformation of a casual sin-stained observer, into a holy participant in God’s Masterwork.

Slow Ride, Full Heart

Finding Joy with Evan in First Gear

 

“Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy —

to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work,” — Kierkegaard (1843) 

 

When I go to the ranch it usually takes me a day or so to loosen up, to let go of the death grip I have on my busy life. That’s when I don’t have Evan in tow. When Lauren and I are down there by ourselves I have a little too much time to think about—and feel guilty about—what I’m not doing. I actually have to work at letting go, relaxing. Maybe you can relate.

On the other hand, when Evan is with me, our busyness is play. Just ask my nephew Wes (pictured above). He gave Evan his very first ride on a tractor.

Joy is the serious business of heaven.

C. S. Lewis

While I’m pretty good at juggling anxieties, keeping those worry plates spinning, I find it next to impossible to balance time on the tractor with Evan and my worries over the budget for my department back at DTS. Climbing the windmill, or tossing a line in the river to try to snag a catfish, or “going on explores” do not comport well with my gradebook, or my next committee report. My “professional life” takes a temporary back seat and I let Evan drive.

Great masses of people these days live out their lives in a dull and loveless stupor. Sensitive persons find our inartistic manner of existence oppressive and painful, and they withdraw from sight…I believe what we lack is joy.

The ardor that a heightened awareness imparts to life, the conception of life as a happy thing, as a festival… But the high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy.

Herman Hesse

May I suggest, as I have before, that we take time for the little joys. They will, unless you stop to offer them a ride, allow you to pass them by. They will outgrow you. It isn’t the other way around. Look in the rearview mirror and they are gone. And once those unattended joys are grown and out the door, and the neglected opportunities lay discarded along the side of the road, you will be left with the sure knowledge that the thing you were pursuing all along went missing somehow — and it was standing right there, right there, all along. Waiting for you to say, “climb on up and let’s go shred some brush.”

Here’s a link to a very short movie clip—first time I’ve tried this, so let me know if it doesn’t work. It’s of Evan and his uncle Wes going for Evan’s first ever ride on “Max the Trac.” Max was Dad’s name. We spent a lot of tractor time together.

2017 3 March iPhone .MOV 3119

Intersections

A Bug's Life and the Incarnation...

We normally think of an intersection as a place that slows us down. If there isn’t a stop sign, then we are wise to look both ways before crossing. The objective is to get through the intersection safely and continue on our journey in the direction we had mapped out.

That, says Frans Johansson in The Medici Effect, is directional thinking. It is efficient. It will take you, predictably, to the place you intend to go. It’s relatively safe, with little to distract you from your intended destination. There is a time and place for directional thinking. Like when you need to get somewhere quickly, with as few interruptions — as few intersections — as possible.

But there’s a different way of thinking about intersections. When ideas (rather than cars) collide across an intersection of disciplines (fields, in Johansson-speak) the effect can be startling. Intersectional thinking (according to Johansson, p. 14) is positively creative when it is new and valuable. It is innovative when the creative idea is realized. Intersectional thinking happens when two disciplines cross paths.

We live at a time when knowledge is increasing at a staggering rate. One invention alone — the microchip — has resulted in computing power doubling every two years. So what happened when computer engineers, armed with this ever-increasing computing power, actors, and artists crossed paths back in the early 2000’s?

What happened was 3D animation, a la Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Shrek, and Monsters, Inc. 

Back in 1996, Steve Jobs saw it coming and had already entered the intersection of these disciplines. In his first annual report for Pixar after it had gone public, he said the following:

In the new world of computer animation the opportunities for innovation are immense. Traditional cell animators must spend a great del of time drawing…, (over 100,000 frames in a typical feature-length animated film must be drawn by hand)…. Pixar’s computer animation…done by hundreds…of very fast computers…frees our animators from drawing so that they can concentrate on acting, breathing life into their characters as they move.

This allows Pixar to hire animators who may or may not excel at drawing, but are brilliant actors. Our animators even take acting lessons.”

OK, let’s consider theology for a moment in light of intersectional thinking:

God had a “problem:” how best to glorify Himself.

There was no directional answer to the problem, so He welcomed the intersection of infinitely divergent fields of time and eternity. By His own divine alchemy, the eternally holy God would enter time encased in a vehicle of flesh. He would, in an exercise of unfathomable love, willingly sacrifice His only Son in order to bridge the infinite gulf that separates His sinful creatures from Himself. And then His Son would rise from the dead as evidence that He had effectively accomplished His mission. He had glorified Himself in a way that was new, and valuable, and innovative.

We can choose a directional (predictable) approach to solving our problems.

Or we can consider an intersectional (creative, innovative) approach.

Choose a problem today.

Look for an approaching idea. And step into the intersection.

On Acting and Living in the Character of Jesus Christ

Both are Inside Out Affairs...

As usually, when it comes to acting at least, Ms. Streep has it right. “finding myself in [the characters I portray]” is, to a large extent, what it’s all about.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Howard Fine’s book, Fine on Acting: a Vision of the Craft. I like what I see so far. For example, from p. 85: “If you want to get better at cold readings, READ! All art is derivative.” In chapter 4 on “Common Mistakes,” he notes: “The first common mistake that will lead you down a very bad path is judging the character. To me the root of all prejudice stems from our inability to see ourselves in other people.” Review the Streep quote above!

But here’s the core of it: “You don’t have to do a lot in order to get the message across…know your performance from the inside…not from standing back and looking at any of the externals, like how you look, but focusing on what’s coming from within you,” (p. 157, emphasis mine).

This is what I’ve been teaching and trying to embody for years. Here’s a handout I give (edited for you) to all my acting students. I hope it’s helpful as you try to re-present the character of Jesus Christ to the world.

“Learning to use the stage, speak lines, re-present a character requires constant discipline. It’s like learning to ride a bike. In the beginning our mechanics are clunky, awkward. Same thing with a performer. His lack of excellence is a matter of immaturity in the craft.

So, we rehearse. Mastery of any craft, from plumbing to singing opera, carries with it the demands of disciplined apprenticeship. We all must acquaint ourselves with the tools of the trade and then use them with such frequency and precision that, if I’m a plumber, the wrench becomes an extension of my hand, or my movement on the stage becomes natural and doesn’t come across as mechanical, or unmotivated. Acting is no less true for being well-rehearsed. It is more so.

My blocking/choreography is always conscious at first, and will need polish to appear natural to the point of nonchalance, and to allow me to fully inhabit my character. Eventually, over years of rehearsal and performance, we find that characterization and blocking become more and more natural because we have trained ourselves to go to the “right place” for so long. None of us wants a “paint-by-number” style of performance—predictable. Boring. It should appear as natural, anticipated and yet as surprising as the first leaf in spring.

But art is not natural in and of itself any more than the Christian life is “natural.” As artists we present edited life, lest we drone on about humdrum affairs that fail the “grace/seasoned with salt” test (Colossians 4:6). The Christian life should be considered a work of art. We don’t live it willy-nilly, according to the whim of the moment, but after careful consideration, prayer, and the discipline required by the spiritual life (editing out the fleshly desires of the old man), we re-present the Lord Jesus to the world with beauty and grace.”