volume sixâ€‡ number oneâ€‡ winter 2014
Conspire magazine celebrates creativity, connection, and faith amongst a growing network of subversive friends. Plot Goodness.
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We are also distributed via groups, communities, and networks. To find a conspiring group in your area and plot some goodness, check out the current list of coconspirators on our website, conspiremag.com. Submissions Submit pitches, articles, and images via firstname.lastname@example.org. Upcoming themes are on where body meets soul (spring 2014), poverty (summer 2014), and forgiveness (fall 2014). Articles range from 2002000 words. Poetry, original art, photography, reviews, articles, and fiction are welcome. For complete guidelines and themes, visit conspiremag.com.
Our deep appreciation to the many artists, writers, and coconspirators who offer their work for this issue as a gift. Conspire would not exist without the many people listed below, most of whom work as volunteers. Developers Shane Claiborne Darin Petersen Publisher Darin Petersen Executive Editor Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove Managing Editor John Pattison Poetry Editor Michael Toy Art Director Beth Rhodes Director of Operations Janell Anema Subscription Manager Meeghan Petersen Fulfillment Manager Coe Burchfield
Accounting Manager Erica Mouliner Video Guru Dan Brearly Editorial Team Becca Griffin Megan Jackson Richard Pendleton Shana Scudder Editorial Advisory Committee Chris Smith Janell Anema Additional Photography John Beavert Study Guide Designer Jason Williams
front cover painting, Swept Away, by Victor Atkins back cover photo by Teri Clifton All poetry in this issue is by John Blase. John is the author of Know When To Hold ‘Em: The High Stakes Game of Fatherhood (Abingdon 2013).Read his poetry at www.thebeautifuldue.wordpress.com.
CONSP!RE origin: from Old French conspirer, from Latin conspirare ‘agree, plot.’ From con- ‘together with’ + spirare ‘breathe.’ We are breathing together, plotting goodness. Conspire is published in April, July, October, and January by The Simple Way. Volume 6, Number 1—Winter 2014 Copyright © 2014 The Simple Way. All rights reserved.
P.O. Box 14668 Philadelphia, PA 19134, 215-423-3598 ext. 109 2 // CONSPIRE
volume six number one winter 2014
features 10 Art and Exile: Makoto Fujimura
“An artist knows that what we can see and observe is only the beginning of our journey to discover the world.”
18 Face Painting
Josina Cooper Guess “Each face that presented itself to me was a work of art in itself.”
22 Prayer of a Young Artist Flannery O’Connor
“Nothing can be possessed but the struggle.”
23 Arch and Stone Fred Bahnson
“Our work proceeds word by word, stone by stone.”
27 WRITING AND SOCIAL CHANGE Fred Bahnson & Jonathan WilsonHartgrove
“When we’re true to our craft, we’re creating a container for empathy.”
37 Letters and Postcards Katrina Stock
“I sifted and wove, collected and cut up, all the memories, photos and bits of poetry that were connected to grieving my dad.”
40 Passing On a Prophetic Imagination Bill Wylie-Kellerman
“Word becomes flesh in the lives of the prophets and their existence speaks to us in that particular moment.”
42 A LETTER TO MY SON Lydia Wylie-Kellerman
“Prophetic imagination is the gift of an understanding of history and a commitment to the future.”
46 Reading in Prison Naseem Rakha
“The eight inmates had just read my book and had plenty to say about its topics: murder, the death penalty, hatred, loss, and forgiveness.”
47 THE STRUGGLE TO BE WHO WE ARE Rock Castor
“Creating something is always more difficult and messy than experiencing something created for you.”
50 MATRIX OF HOPE
Joel Sheesley & Walter Brueggemann “What artists have to do is exhibit ways in which the power of life exposes the limit and failure of the dominant ideology of death.”
featured poet John Blase
8 Bound Away 16 In Error 44 The Bravest Thing 58 Bending Toward a Rightness departments 60 Reviews
Books about art, faith, and the transforming of our imaginations.
64 Notes From Scattered Pilgrims
News and photos from our conspiring communities.
Find more stories and a study guide for this issue at conspiremag.com You’ll love our blog of word and image!
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Bound Away I often walk beside a creek with no name bursting with frog song. They’re singing Shenandoah, or at least that’s what I hear. As I walk I dream thoughts of my father and the love I feel for that unsung man reaches inside my chest and turns my aging heart one notch counterclockwise. It is on those walks as the dark gathers close to the ground to envelop me that I find, as the Quakers say, peace at the center.
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Face Paint by Josina Cooper Guess
ix years ago, our church in Philadelphia planned a block party as a way of connecting to children and families in the neighborhood. The big attraction was the Moon Bounce, which was scheduled to arrive at 10:00 a.m. I had offered to do face painting, and so I started setting up at 11:15. But the closer it got to noon, the official start time, the more anxious the organizers became, because the Moon Bounce hadn’t arrived yet. Would the children still have fun? The three kids who lived next door to my family paid no heed to official start times. They were on our doorstep at 8:30. Their mom left at 3 a.m. to go to her $8 an hour job at Wendy’s; the kids were left home alone, or sometimes with her boyfriend there. I had told them about the block party earlier in the week. They remembered and rang the bell, wanting to play at our place before the ten-block walk from our house to the church.
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The neighbor kids were uncharacteristically disheveled. I offered to re-twist the oldest girl’s hair, which was held together with a regular rubber band. As I gently restored order to her hair, she told me about her week. Mom and boyfriend got into a fight. He had a knife. Mom took too many pills and had to go to the hospital. The four year-old little sister saw it all. She told me these facts to explain why they would be moving at the end of the month. It was only 9 a.m. and my heart was in my stomach. These children who had woven themselves into our lives for the past few months weren’t going to be our next-door neighbors anymore, and I couldn’t just twist us together like strands of hair. To keep from crying I kept moving. I got myself and my own two kids ready, and we all walked together, our lives still intertwined for the day. I was an art major who never intended to be a professional artist. My days often revolve around the inglorious tasks of homemaking, the daily creation and re-creation of order. I wasn’t an experienced face painter, but I had always wanted to paint faces at an event. While I helped a few dozen kids imagine themselves as new characters, they would allow me to play the role of a practicing public artist. My inexperience showed when I was setting up my supplies; I realized I had forgotten a mirror. The children would just have to have faith. The first face I painted was my neighbor’s, the eightyear-old who’d been left in charge of her two younger siblings. She became a clown. Her seven-year-old brother was transformed into Spiderman. Their four-year old sister needed only a few brush strokes of whiskers and a nose to become a kitty-cat. My four-year-old son became another Spiderman, his two-year-old sister a clown. The children kept coming. They saw in each other’s faces reflections of what they wanted to become. But each face that presented itself to me was a work of art in itself—from brown to tan to pink and white. They took on new and unnatural colors for the day. Some faces were as flat and white as canvas. Others were so brown that blue and red barely showed up, so I had to use strong lines of white for contrast. They closed their eyes as I anointed them. I prayed silently that, in that moment of contact, the kids would CONSPIRE \\ 7
feel themselves beloved. They opened their eyes with delight and emitted self-satisfied smiles as they felt themselves changed into princesses, leopards, zebras, and pumpkins. Without a mirror, the children trusted that when they rose from the chair they were transformed beings.
A few were skeptical, though. A hesitant butterfly muttered, “It feels like you made a drip on my cheek.“ “No,” I told her, “that’s just the tip of the butterfly’s wing.” Her furrowed brow loosened. Others asked, “Why are you doing those colors there?” and “Did you do the fangs with blood dripping down?” “Yes,” I assured them. “Trust me, I heard your request.” By 3:30, the flow of children was down to a trickle, and it was time to clean up. The Moon Bounce never arrived, but the kids had fun. I looked over at my neighbor as we began our walk home. She had played hard for those hours. She looked more like a soldier than a clown, her face camouflaged with blue, green yellow, and red. Face paint and days like this don’t last, we knew. When their mom picked them up from our house later that evening, I worried the girl would be punished for the smear of paint on her white shirt. 8 // CONSPIRE
In the months that followed, I tried to keep in touch with my young neighbors, but the distance of a few blocks proved to be a chasm. One time, they stopped by to visit and the youngest had a significant wound on her face. A reckless driver had jumped the curb and struck her while she played, then sped away from the mess of sidewalk and blood. The canvas of her young face was raw and marred, but her mom said the girl was blessed: a few feet closer to the road she would have died. Now, years later and living far from the city, I still wonder about the day I painted my neighbors’ faces. They were so hopeful. They were so trusting and sweet in a world that wanted them to soldier up. So eager to play in a world of hit-and-runs, dead-end jobs, and
abusive boyfriends. Did my silent prayers and blessings last? Did the anointing of face paint guard them from the demons of destruction? My heart still aches when I look at their faces through the dim mirror of memory. On that sunny afternoon, we saw one another face-toface, and we saw the face of God. Josina Cooper Guess lives in Comer, Georgia with her husband and four children at Jubilee Partners, a Christian service community that offers hospitality to newly arrived refugees. Before moving down south, she lived for 11 years in the Kingsessing neighborhood of Philadelphia. CONSPIRE \\ 9
Prayer of a Young Artist Flannery O’Connor, age 22
14 April 1947
I must write down that I am to be an artist. Not in the sense of aesthetic frippery but in the sense of aesthetic craftsmanship; otherwise I will feel my loneliness continually—like this today. The word craftsmanship takes care of the work angle & the word aesthetic the truth angle. Angle. It will be a life struggle with no consummation. When something is finished, it cannot be possessed. Nothing can be possessed but the struggle. All our lives are consumed in possessing struggle but only when the struggle is cherished & directed to a final consummation outside of this life is it of any value. I want to be the best artist it is possible for me to be, under God. I do not want to be lonely all my life but people only make us lonelier by reminding us of God. Dear God please help me to be an artist, please let it lead to You.
Excerpted from A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor, published in November 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2013 by the Mary Flannery O’Connor Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.
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Arch and Stone:
Thoughts on Writing and the Christian Imagination Fred Bahnson paintings by Victor Atkins
Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone. “But which is the stone that supports the bridge?” Kublai Khan asks. “The bridge is not supported by one stone or another,” Marco answers, “but by the line of the arch that they form.” Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: “Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me.”
Polo answers: “Without the stones there is no arch.” —from Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
I’m fascinated by this short exchange in Calvino’s novel. It speaks, I think, to the vocation of the religious artist, particularly the literary artist, a vocation that has never been more necessary. Like Marco Polo, our task is to describe a bridge, stone by stone. The bridges we construct—through poems, fictions, essays—are ones through which God’s mystery might become visible in human experience. And in order to describe such spans of Divine encounter, we have nothing
to get us there but the material stuff of creation. Our work proceeds word by word, stone by stone. It cannot be otherwise. As the Incarnation revealed, God comes to us through, not around, creation. When he fed the multitudes Jesus did not create food from thin air; he multiplied loaves and fishes already on hand. For writers of faith, we know that if a bridge to the Divine is formed by our work, it will always and only be upheld by our words, and not one word but the line of
left: Secret Garden acrylic, oil paint and oil crayon on canvas top: Homage to The Three acrylic and paint marker on canvas
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the arch that they form. This arch is the undergirding work of God that upholds every work of art. Though we share common building techniques, the stones each writer chooses to work with are unique. In one of Wendell Berry’s poems, it might be the heron that begins his evening flight from the hilltop. For Boris Pasternak, it’s an oil lamp flickering inside a snow-crusted window on a winter’s eve outside Moscow. Or, for Melville, it’s a white whale that’s both elusive and full of menace. The individual stones can’t support much by themselves. But when they’re
Parable of The Lost Sheep acrylic on canvas
placed alongside other stones, meaning begins to accrue. A story takes shape. The line of the arch slowly becomes visible. It’s worth reminding ourselves from time to time that we work not with grand, abstract ideas, but with the humble materials of creation. That’s not to say that grand ideas don’t sometimes emerge, but first we begin with what is at hand: a word, a gesture, a piece of dialogue. “No ideas but in things,” wrote William Carlos Williams. Without the stones there is no arch.
And yet we write for people who, like Kublai Khan, are hungry for instant arches. They want easy answers, immediate transcendence. We write for people overly distracted by Twitter feeds, Facebook, the 24-hour news cycle, most of whom care little for the daily work of masonry by which lasting art gets made. They demand the Cliff Notes version, the boiled down message. I confess I’ve become a bit cranky from dealing with the Kublai Khans of the world. In August 2013 I published a long work of literary nonfiction, one I spent years researching and writing. I leaned into that book with almost everything I had at the time. Since then I’ve been traveling across the land giving readings. For the most part I have found these events to be gratifying. Gratifying with this minor exception: I’ve begun to notice a disconcerting trend. At the end of my reading and talk, some man (it’s almost always a man) will raise his
Mr. Khan, here is your take-home message: there is no take-home message. There is no hidden secret behind the poem, the story, the novel. The meaning is contained in the thing itself. The Gospel cannot be Tweeted. The Good News doesn’t come to us as a set of clichés, propositions, list of rules, or some bland and boiled take-home message. God save us from take-home messages.
hand and ask for what I have by now come to anticipate. From his tone and his question, which is always a variation on the same theme, it’s clear the man doesn’t want to do the work of actually reading the book. He simply wants that irreducible nugget of wisdom he thinks the book is withholding from him. Sometimes he even seems annoyed. I’ve just spent the past 30 minutes telling stories. But for him all that is a prelude, a tease, for what he and his fellow audience members have really come for which is—here it comes—“the takehome message.” There are Mr. Khans in every age. They are the conquerors of the known world. The world is their oyster, they’ve put their boots on the ground, and they demand the takehome message. They have succeeded in part because they’ve memorized clichés like the ones in the previous sentence and they have lived by them. Why do you speak to me of stones? It is only the arch that matters to me. If the Gospels themselves can’t be reduced or boiled down to some lifeless lump of meaning, then neither should the art that follows their example. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John didn’t give us a pamphlet called “Kerygma for Dummies;” they gave us stories, and they expected us readers to do a bit of work to figure out what those stories mean. The Gospel writers gave us stone upon beautiful stone, each fitted
Parable of the Pharisee & the Tax Collector acrylic on canvas
lovingly—artfully—to the next, fitted in a way unique to each of them as individuals and forming a line the discerning eye can follow, a bridge that has come down across two millennia as a life-giving arch of Divinehuman encounter. Each stone can be examined on its own, but the arch of God’s story
only becomes visible to whoever will take the time to see the work as whole. Such an arch is irreducible. It is incapable of being anything other than what it is. Which makes it all the more lovely and compelling. But for readers and writers both, we must always proceed stone by stone. Without the stones there is no arch.
Fred Bahnson is the author of Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith (Simon & Schuster). His essays and poems have appeared in Washington Post, Image, The Sun, Orion, and Best American Spiritual Writing. He is the director of the Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, and lives with his wife and sons in Transylvania County, North Carolina. Victor Atkins is a fine artist and writer/director of films. His current works challenge the viewer to look past the first impression and explore deeper truths of emotion and spirituality. Atkins paintings are based on scriptures, music and uplifting stories that have effected his life and his journey as an artist. He currently resides and works in Philadelphia, PA. 14 // CONSPIRE
Writing and Social Change Fred Bahnson & Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
ast year, when I agreed to teach a workshop on writing and social change, folks over at Duke asked me to write a short piece on how I make sense of my vocation as a writer. This got me thinking about words—their power and their limits in society and in a life. Whether you’re a writer or not, it turns out words are the tools you end up using, at least some of the time. As Witgenstein said, “Words make worlds.” But can words really change the world–not just the world we imagine, but the world that is? If so, what sort of words? And how might we best shape them to achieve our desired effect? (Do we really understand what change we hope to effect?) In November, I had the chance to join my friend Fred Bahnson and a wonderful group of writers at a workshop hosted by the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. It was also a workshop on writing and social change. Fred is the author of an achingly beautiful book, Soil and Sacrament, that hopes, among other things, to help people connect with both heaven above and the soil below. I didn’t get to ask Fred all the questions I had during the workshop, so we continued the conversation over email, which we’ve adapted here. —JWH
JWH: If you’re writing to change the
world, what do you want your words to do to your reader? What was your prayer when you sent your manuscript to Simon & Schuster?
Bahnson: Thanks, Jonathan, for
the invitation to continue this conversation. Well, I do hope my writing changes the world in some way for the better. But in terms of the writing process, I can’t think about that while writing. I find that if I think too hard about my intended audience or what I hope they get from a piece of writing or what societal change might result, then the writing gets overly abstract or argumentative. I have to start with a story or image that I find intriguing, and then write my way into it. When the article or book is finished, I have
to trust that it will move people in some way. And the parts that move them are often different than the ones that moved me or that sustained my interest in the writing process. My hope for the words I give the reader is that they will first find them beautiful and compelling and true. If social change results from a piece of writing, it’s because people found a compelling vision in that work, and they want to see that vision enacted in the world. Our job as writers is to stay true to the vision. We must craft it as faithfully as we can, and not worry overmuch about the result or its lack. My prayer when I sent my mss. to Simon & Schuster was something like “Lord, thank you that this is over.” Writing that book was a lot of fun, but it was also pretty exhausting. CONSPIRE \\ 15
JWH: Fair enough. You know, I’ve
been reading William Stafford, a poet we both love, on writing. He says that the longer he taught writing, the more he came to feel that his praise was unhelpful to his students. Praise only taught them what they needed to do to please him as their instructor. But they needed to find their own vision, their own voice, their own reason for writing. I hear you saying something similar. Maybe the first rule of writing to change the world must be to give up our ambition. We write because we’re called to pay attention, to name, to describe. Our responsibility is to do that well and let the consequences fall where they may. But I hear something else in what you’re saying–something you are suggesting is basic to good writing. Namely, that it begins with a concrete engagement with the world. I think most people who write with conviction–people who write for a “cause”– need to hear this. (I am one of them.) You don’t compel people to give themselves to something by telling them how important it is. That’s not how most of us came to care about the issues that matter to us. I care about prison reform because I lived with Roy his first five years out of prison. Because I lived with him, I started visiting prisons. Because I know people whose lives have been crushed by a broken system, I care. If I quote for you the statistics that show how broken this system is, you’ll ask me, “Whose study are you quoting?” But if I tell you about Roy or Al or Frederica
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or Manuel, you’ll know their story. If I tell it well, you may come to care too. But don’t you think it’s fair to say that some stories evoke social change more than others? I mean, what’s the difference between a Jane Austen and a Charles Dickens? We do decide, each of us, what we pay attention to, which stories we tell. What effect do these decisions have on the world around us?
Bahnson: I agree. Good writing
begins with concrete engagement with the world. And I love the way you describe why you came to care about prison reform. Or rather, not why you care about “prison reform” in the abstract, but why you care about Roy and others like him, and in writing about their lives you help others to care, too. I think the most important thing good writing can do is create empathy. And here’s the thing: whatever social change might result–Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for instance, playing a role in the Civil War–it always happens first on the most intimate level possible, as a conversation between two people. Reader and writer. When we’re true to our craft, we’re creating a container for empathy. And it begins with a concrete story, an individual life. A word. Gesture. Image. As to your question about which stories are worth telling, let me respond first as a reader and second as a writer. As a reader: you’re right that certain stories lead to social change and others don’t. I don’t want to say that we should do away with Jane Austen
just because her stories aren’t going to incite the next Occupy movement. That’s not what you’re saying, either. But it’s worth noting that for those of us who want to see social change, we shouldn’t chose our reading solely based on “the issue.” If we did we’d end up emotionally impoverished. We should read as widely and deeply as we can. And yet, we do make choices in which stories we read, and clearly some stories are more compelling than others. Some stories do lead to changed lives, others just lead to, well, fuzzy thinking. I don’t read much modern fiction for that reason. I just don’t finally give a damn about some twenty-something hipster from Williamsburg wading through the muddle of his middle-class anxieties (I subscribe to The New Yorker, and I almost never read the short stories for that reason). There are notable exceptions in modern fiction, like Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, but when I read fiction I’d rather just re-read the Russians or Flannery O’Connor or start another classic. As a writer: I’m struck by what you said about how each of us must decide what we pay attention to. In Soil and Sacrament, I wrote about four agrarian faith communities: a Trappist monastery that grows mushrooms in South Carolina, a Protestant communal food garden in North Carolina, a Pentecostal farm and coffee business in Washington, and a Jewish farm in Connecticut. But before choosing those, I researched dozens of similar communities. I could have, for instance, written about a group of nuns at a place called Genesis Farm up in New Jersey. I learned that those nuns were heavily influenced by Thomas Berry, whose thinking strikes me as a bit wacky and obtuse, so I decided not to go. I’m sure those nuns are great ladies, and they clearly do good work. But when it comes down to it, the Thomas Berry Story of Reality is not one I’m particularly interested in promoting. I think there are better ways to think about faith and environment. I was much more drawn to this obscure group of Trappist monks. They weren’t promoting some snazzy new philosophy involving evolutionary cosmology. They were just a group of mostly 70-and-80-year old men trying to lead lives of faithful prayer while they cared for CONSPIRE \\ 17
their piece of land along the Cooper River. Which is to say, they were just living the 1,500 year old Benedictine Rule, and it was indeed leading them closer to God. They didn’t call attention to themselves. They weren’t trying to convince anybody of anything. They were just sort of plodding along in their quiet, lovely, non-heroic way. And as I was trying to tell this larger story in Soil and Sacrament about our need to care for this Garden called Earth, it struck me that the examples of the brothers at Mepkin had a lot to teach us. To return to your earlier point, if I launched into an argument about what the Benedictine tradition has to teach North American Christians concerned about the environment, I would have lost most of my readers, and the only ones who would have kept reading would be those already convinced anyway. I have no interest in preaching to the choir. I wanted to write for people outside the family of faith, or for Christians who weren’t all that interested in caring for the earth. And so I wrote about the details of the monks lives. I wrote about my choir mate Brother Gregory, for example, how once at the end of Lauds I looked over and he was dozing, his head in his lap, a bit of drool forming on his lips. He was 92 at the time. I wrote: “It seemed to me as if Brother Gregory was returning to the fetal position, as if through all those
years of bowing and rising, God had been slowly curling him up again before bringing him home.” Does a story about Trappist monks practicing earth care need an image like this to make it work? Perhaps not. But in order for the reader to care about the larger issues, details like this are indispensable. I don’t know why, but I’m particularly fond of this one. As I experienced it, it was an utterly intimate, human moment but one brimming with mystery. It still gives me a shiver whenever I think of it. That kind of feeling where you’re reading along and a story suddenly opens up and the bottom drops out and you’re left reeling in recognition– those are experiences I love as a reader and ones I try to create as a writer. Pointing to the larger Mystery in which we live and move and have our being should always be the writer’s the first aim. And we do it through details. “No ideas but in things,” wrote William Carlos Williams. Whatever social change might or might not result from my book, I want the reader to experience such moments, because that sense of mystery and the empathy that comes from immersing ourselves in another’s life, those are qualities that will make us want to care for others and for the world. How we care is always secondary, but the desire to do so comes first. Coaxing that desire out of people–that’s the role of literature.
On July 28–August 3, The Ecumenical Institute will host an all-expense-paid retreat on writing for social change with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Interested writers may apply online before February 24: www.bit.ly/1ctop9q
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The Struggle To Be Who We Are by Rock Castor
hen God said, ‘Let us make (hu)man in our image.’” Is it possible one of the ways we are most fashioned in the image of God is in our ability to create? How fascinating that in its very definition, creativity comes from some original, imaginative part of ourselves, unique to who we are. It is often seen in children; in untempered, imaginative responses calling us to see things in a new light. On a windy summer day, looking out over our swaying woods, a twelve-year-old mystic once asked me, “Rock, what if the trees are servants of God, waving their hands in praise?” My daughters in their early years would fashion hysterical dramas, falling seamlessly into roles they created for themselves from some wacky place in their brains. It is this place, this wacky place, this unfettered garden of imagination that is being eroded by a torrent of electronic distraction. The screen, by its very nature, cannot be original. No matter how imaginative the content, “originality of thought” has come from another. Exposed to this dynamic over an extended period of time, these creative, original places within us begin to wither. We lose touch with one of the most primal and gratifying ways in which we were created. With this loss comes a confusion of how to construct a Real Life. Virtuality has infused reality to such a degree that the border between the two appears blurry. A friend of mine took her son and a friend out bowling
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the other night. She asked her son’s pal if he had bowled before and he responded confidently that yes, he was an experienced expert at bowling. She was surprised when he rolled one ball after another into the gutter until he had to move over to the kiddy lane that had bumper rails to prevent gutter balls. On the way home, he expressed how much more difficult real bowling was from Wee bowling. Creating something in actuality invariably proves far more difficult and messy than experiencing something created for you. My spouse and I run a program (www.lagomlanding.org) where young people are exposed to the gift of working with their hands in carpentry, furniture making, landscaping, and cooking. It is interesting to watch the ideal sentiment of “creating with your hands” meet the reality of, “OK, we have to dig six 48-inch deep post holes to begin this deck project.” The ability to toil is a necessary ingredient in most of our creative endeavors—whether it be bringing forth music, a poem, a piece of furniture, or a deck. Struggle is the well-earned yin to the yang of seeing your creation come alive. After the last deck board had been pounded down, it was hilarious to watch the young men dance around the deck they had just minutes ago been sweating and cursing over. One of our students kept saying, “I can’t believe we just built that!” Perhaps some new spiritual disciplines might be called for in the electronic culture. Can we take a sabbath from
Can we find that organic place that dances with the spirit of our creator and all of creation?
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our iphones, ipads, screens, games, and TVs for scheduled periods of time to ponder what might be creatively brewing within ourselves? Can we find that organic place that dances with the spirit of our creator and all of creation? Can we still the beeps and rings and buzzers to hear the quiet voice reminding us that we are part of that creation process? We are creatures called to create by our very nature. Yet many of us have lost touch with this vital part of ourselves. The Ignatian Examen asks us what is it that brings us fully alive in the day. It can be a good barometer for the health of our spirits. When we reflect upon that question and find little that stirs our hearts, perhaps it is time to rekindle our creative fires, to give ourselves space, and to seek out community that will nurture the artist, the athlete, the pilgrim, or perhaps the child who just loves jumping in puddles? When the answer to what brought me life today consistently centers around the screen, it is likely that some disconnect from the creative has occurred. In the reconnection process, remember there will be inertia to overcome—the actual will not be as neat and pretty as the ideal. Getting back on the bike, hiking the Appalachian Trail, picking up the paint brush, pen, or the hammer will involve struggle. But if we accept struggle as a fundamental part of the creative process—we may even learn to embrace it as a tonic for the flaccid soul. Rock Castor is a life-long carpenter who discovered his trade in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, where he served when he didn’t know what else to do in life. He and his spouse Laurel now work with 18–25 year olds discovering the use of their hands through a gap-year program called Lagom Landing.
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Bending Toward a Rightness I’ve become too old for bullshit fantasies of invincibility. At any time God may dispatch an angel to bind my tongue or allow evil to scour all I cherish. Those things have not happened to me but other things have. Has my age made me brave or empty? Yes. A number of my peers have recanted, found God just too wild. Oh they still rise to say the creeds but there is no blood in their mouths. I expected by now to learn the language of God but I have only learned to love him. I no longer listen for his voice. I listen to the wind.
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Published on Feb 12, 2014
In the “Prophetic Imagination” issue of CONSPIRE we explore the creative implications of being made in God's image. When we sing, dance, wr...