Surprising Rest Part 2

The Blessing of the Overflowing Cup

The last time out, I said I would reveal the second surprise the Lord had in store for us.

As a reminder, the first delight was our visit to Clingman’s Dome where Lauren and I had watched the sunrise over the Great Smokies 43 years ago.

The second surprise caught me even more off guard, and I found myself “drinking out of the saucer.”

Back in 1974 – the same year we visited Clingman’s Dome – I was acting in Unto These Hills, the regional play written by Kermit Hunter. The theater is situated in Cherokee, North Carolina. On our recent vacation to Jillian’s Cabin, we were nearest Whittier, N.C.

Cherokee was 5 miles up highway 19!

Unto These Hills was in the middle of its summer run. The production had just returned to the original version of the play, after having abandoned it for other adaptations that didn’t work as well as Kermit’s original script – which I had acted in 43 years ago!

I took my family (Evan’s favorite part was the Eagle Dance — see the pic above), and we met Dustin Wolfe, who did a fine job playing John Ross (the part I had played back in 1974), along with several of the other cast members: Addison Debter, (a great Will Thomas), Lori Sanders who pretty much reincarnated the late and wonderful Martha Nell Hardy as Mrs. Perkins (that voice!), and Kaki Clements who will break your heart as Wilani.

The set had undergone major improvements since my day. I’ll always remember standing stage right, high on a rocky outcropping back on August 8, 1974. We were in the middle of a short scene when they stopped the show with the following:

“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention, please.
President Richard Nixon has just announced his resignation
from the office of President of the United States. Thank you.”

I wish I could remember who had the next line, following a stunned pause, but it’s a blur. I’m sure that, given the nature of the scene, it had something to do with the need for Andrew Jackson’s government in Washington to keep its word and help the Cherokee Nation – President Jackson had been duplicitous, so say the least, though I’m sure he insisted that he was not a crook.

Hmm.

And then there was the title of the play: Unto These Hills is an allusion to the first line of Psalm 121.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
 My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. (KJV)

The Lord is the one in Whom we place our trust. Neither the Cherokee, nor we, dare place our trust in any, save the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God of the individual pilgrim as much as He is the God of His people. He has promised never to leave us, never to forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)

And…

He will always surprise us with His grace.

When we least expect it.

When our cup is already running over.

And we are drinking out of the saucer.

Brevity

Living Between the Frames

 

Top Hat is one of my favorite Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies. The heavenly elegance of their dance, the fluid, dancing-on-air genius of these two artists was captured for us on 35mm film back in 1935. Well, most of their dancing was captured. Not all of it.

Film is shot at 24 frames per second (fps). That means you see 24 discrete images every second when you’re looking at Top Hat or most other films. What you aren’t consciously seeing is the 24 tiny seams between those images. Our minds simply fill in the small gaps to make the motion appear to be seamless. 24 fps may appear to correspond to reality, but, at a running time of 101 minutes (like Top Hat), your eye is actually stitching together roughly 145,440 discrete frames.

Each frame is illuminated with a small burst of light lasting for around 40 milliseconds. When the frame rate of a movie is too low (think of the old silent movies that were shot at 18 fps), your mind will no longer see the movie as fluid. It will appear to jump.

Researchers recently discovered how many light flashes per second the human brain can discern as separate before they look like a steady beam. It turns out that life as we see it day-to-day is a movie running at around 60 frames per second.

Wow! Don’t blink.

But even when viewing a film shot at 24 fps, we miss a lot and forget even more. After three days we will retain about 65% of the visual content of a film, and far less of what we hear. Even at 24 frames per second, which is a little less that 1/2 the 60 fps that are zipping by us in daily life, we fail to register what is actually going on.

In fact, we don’t even have to try to ignore the spaces between the frames in a film or in life. It’s automatic – not to mention, it’s easier to keep up appearances that way.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. – Ferris Bueller

Ferris is right. Too much of my life is a blur. But there’s a lot of life lived out between the frames – in those private interstices where nobody sees except God. It’s in those imperceptible interruptions to our life film where character is truly formed rather than in the brightly illuminated frames that the public sees. That’s where character comes to light.

God puts a high priority on the brief space between the frames. Matthew 6:4 tells us that our giving and our praying should be in secret. Why? Because God, whom we cannot see, resides there, between the frames. And He sees.

Absolutely nothing escapes His penetrating gaze. Good or bad. No matter how brief.

Over the course of our life, let’s make it a goal to pay attention to the quality of life lived in the space between the frames. It will make heaven that much more special.

And speaking of heaven…

 

 

 

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.”