Tag Archives: Creation

Resuscitating a Worn Out Phrase

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
John 3:5 (NRSV)

I find it fascinating how some words or phrases take on unintended meanings. As I follow the media coverage of the presidential elections, I will on occasion hear those in the media labeling people, or groups of people, as “Born Again” Christians. The phrase became popular back in the 1970s when Chuck Colson, a convicted Watergate conspirator, wrote a book entitled Born Again to tell the story of his own spiritual rebirth. Now when the label is used by members of the media, I get the feeling that the intended image is that of a narrow-minded, widely ignorant, politically conservative, socially repressed minion blindly leading some televangelist. While there are definitely people who fit that description, I find it sad that they seem to have become synonymous with the term “born again” because it empties the phrase of its intensely powerful meaning.

The phrase “born again” did not originate with Chuck Colson or evangelical Christians. It comes directly from Jesus, and it’s found in today’s chapter. Jesus was having a conversation with a religious man name Nicodemus and he simply makes the statement that if you want to enter God’s kingdom you must experience a rebirth.

The idea of rebirth is not new and it wasn’t new when Jesus said it to Nicodemus. It’s a theme woven into the tapestry of time and creation, and even Jesus seemed a bit frustrated that Nic was perplexed by something so spiritually elementary. Every year lifeless seeds buried in the ground bear life from the ground in the spring, grow to maturity in the heat of the summer, bear fruit during autumn’s harvest, then die and decompose in the harshness of winter. Spring is an annual, seasonal rebirth. Each week we start on Monday and work towards Friday night when we can take a break, end the week and start a new one. Every night we go to bed in darkness, enter the oblivion of sleep then with the break of light and the dawn we start a new day.

“Wait ’til next year.”
“Tomorrow’s a new day.”
“This is only for a season.”
“I just have to get through this week.”

God layers the Great Story with this theme of rebirth. The final chapters speak of a new heaven and new earth, and God says, “Behold, I make all things new” (btw, the reference to that verse was embedded in the the crux of my first tat). So, it should not be a surprise that Jesus tells Nicodemus that one of the basic realities and necessities of God’s Kingdom is a rebirth of Spirit, a new start, a new season, a spiritual new beginning. It has nothing to do with political affiliation, demographics, denomination, or attending church. What Jesus was saying was simple and organic: those facing a dead end need a new start, anyone whose spirit is languishing in darkness needs a new day to dawn, those whose hearts are frozen need the thaw of Spring, everyone who is dead in their sin and shame need to experience the power of a spiritual resurrection.

Today, I’m feeling the desire to breath new life into the worn out phrase “born again.”

Power of the Art of Acting

I have observed along my life journey that acting is largely misunderstood and under appreciated as an art. To many who have asked me about my experiences on stage, acting is perceived to be nothing more than adults engaged in a child’s game of make believe. That notion certainly contains a nugget of truth, as good actors tap into a child-like sense of play and imagination. It does, however, fall short of the whole truth. One might equally say that a painter is simply “coloring” or a composer is simply “making up songs.” In every one of these examples the notion falls far short of understanding both the art form and the work of the artist.

Acting, to steal a term used by Tolkien and Lewis with regard to their writing, is a form of sub-creation. It is the art of creating an individual being, from the inside out, in all of his or her (or its) infinite complexities. Think how intricately layered each one of us are in our unique experiences, gifts, talents, intentions, thoughts, feelings, desires, quirks, flaws, handicaps,  strengths, and idiosyncrasies. What a Herculean task to start with nothing more than words in a script and attempt the creation of a living, breathing, believably real human being on stage. Even more challenging is the fact that the actor must fulfill this task utilizing his or her own existing body and voice. Imagine a composer being asked to take exactly the same notes, key, and time signature that exist in one piece of music and rearrange them to make a uniquely different work.

An actor’s task is made even more difficult when his or her creation must interact with others on stage whom they do not control.  Your creation, in all his or her uniqueness, must react and respond to others in the moment without the assurance of knowing exactly what will happen or be said (or not said) in that moment. Like all other artists actors put their creation out there for all the world to see. It is a courageous act fraught with the risk. Unlike artists in other mediums, actors are, themselves, the canvas, the composition, the sculpture, the sonnet. When actors step on stage they present their own flesh and blood as part and parcel of the art itself. The risk is more personal and more public than almost any other art form.

In the process of creating this living, breathing creation on stage, the actor becomes psychologist, historian, private investigator, sociologist, theologian, and priest. Actors become among the world’s most accepting and empathetic inhabitants because they are required to find understanding and empathy for some of literature and history’s most heinous villains. In this pursuit of the embodiment of a real person on stage, an actor comes to embody love and grace that believes, hopes, and endures even for the most tragic of characters.

As with all art mediums, there exists in this wide world of actors a diverse panacea of education, talent, experience and ability. You may not find Olivier, Hoffman, Streep, or Theron at your local high school, college, or community center. You may, however, be pleasantly surprised if you take the risk of venturing out and buying a ticket. You will find courageous actor-artists stepping into a real world created on the other side of the fourth wall. They will transport you to another time in another place. You may just find yourself swept up in a story that not only entertains, but also causes you to think, laugh, weep, and feel. Your disbelief may be suspended just long enough for you to care, truly care, about these characters, these persons, these living, breathing, real creations and their stories. That is the power of the art of acting.

Related Posts

10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Past
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Script
Preparing for a Role: The First Rehearsal
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Character
Preparing for a Role: The Rehearsal Process
Preparing for a Role: How Do You Memorize All Those Lines?
Preparing for a Role: Bits and Moments in the Grind
Preparing for a Role: Production Week
Preparing for a Role: Keeping Focus When Siri Joins You on Stage
Preparing for a Role: Ready for Performance
Theatre is Ultimate Fitness for Your Brain!

 

Photo: Arvin Van Zante, Wendy Vander Well, and Karl Deakyne rehearse a scene from Ham Buns and Potato Salad. Pella, Iowa.

Artist’s Date

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 (NIV)

Wendy and I will sometimes go on an artist’s date with friends. Often it’s just another couple, though we have done it with slightly larger groups. We typically go to the Des Moines Art Center because it’s close, it’s free, and it has an amazing collection of 19th and 20th century artwork. Here’s how the artist’s date works:

First, we wander together through the Art Center quickly browsing through each gallery. Each person is to be open  and mindful to pay attention to what particular piece of artwork strikes them for whatever reason.

Once we’ve made it through the Art Center, we then spread out, each person to the one piece that struck them the most as we browsed. This time, we stand or sit in front of that piece of artwork and look at it for 30 minutes.  There are no particular rules. You might look at it from different angles. You might get in close to inspect the brushwork. You might just sit in one spot and stare at it. I personally like to bring a journal (and a pencil, the Art Center doesn’t like you using a pen!) and write my thoughts.

When the 30 minutes are up, everyone meets back at the lobby. We go to a nice restaurant, order some good food and drink, and then take turns sharing what art work we looked at and what we gleaned from our 30 minutes with it. It’s always fascinating to hear others share.

When you look at an artist’s work, really look at it, you eventually begin to catch a glimpse of that artist. The painting, the photograph, the drawings, the sculpture are an expression of what’s inside the heart and mind of the artist.

We often forget that God first reveals Himself to us as Creator. “In the beginning, God created….” God is an artist, and the universe is an ongoing work of art as the heavens expand out into the seemingly endless canvas of space and time. When you look at creation, really look at it, you begin to catch a glimpse of the Artist. Detailed, ordered, and infinitely particular while at the same time infinitely playful and diverse in subject, composition, line, color, and form.

Today, I have the fortune of driving for several hours through forecasted rain and snow as I make my way home. My artist’s date today is in the Art Center of nature and I will focus my attention on God’s artwork: Prairie Winter. I can’t wait to see what new things there are for me to glean as I study the landscape.

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Living in the Mystery

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great….”
1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

Both Taylor and Suzanna were home with us over the weekend so we had family movie night on Sunday evening and watched Interstellar. It was a fascinating yarn and made for some really interesting thoughts and conversation afterwards about time, space, relativity, dimensions, and humanity. On 60 Minutes, just before we watched the movie, Lesley Stahl did a piece on the supper collider scientists are using to try to scientifically explain things such as how spontaneous existence can happen.

I find it interesting that there are some things that are an elusive mystery, even to science which believes everything can be known, quantified, and explained apart from God. A few lines I pulled from the script of the 60 Minutes piece:

  • American physicist Greg Rakness showed us one of the four detectors where subatomic particles called protons ram into each other at nearly the speed of light to simulate conditions that are believed to have existed when the universe began. [emphasis added]
  • One of their biggest goals is shining a light on dark matter and dark energy which are among the great remaining mysteries of modern science and reminders of how little we know about the universe. [emphasis added]
  • We just didn’t find [black holes]. They still could be here. [emphasis added]

I find it strangely comforting that, when it comes to answering the great questions of life, people of science have mysteries that can’t be easily explained or quantified the same as people of faith.

Today, in the stillness of the autumn morning, I am asking big questions about faith, science, God, creation, time, and space. My mind ruminates and wanders through what both science purports and God’s message purports, and both roads lead to mysterious places. Some mornings I end my quiet time with more questions than answers. The further I get in life’s road, the more I am learning to enjoy the mystery.

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Green God

If you besiege a town for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. Although you may take food from them, you must not cut them down. Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you? You may destroy only the trees that you know do not produce food; you may cut them down for use in building siegeworks against the town that makes war with you, until it falls.
Deuteronomy 20:19-20 (NRSV)

One of the things that I have quietly gained as a life long fan and student of J.R.R. Tolkien is an appreciation for trees. Tolkien loved trees and his expression of love is woven throughout his works. In his creation story, there are two trees, gold and silver, which produced light. When evil destroys the trees their fruit become the sun and moon.

Throughout the Lord of the Rings you find Tolkien’s love of trees expressed through Old Man Willow, the ents, and through the elves who dwell in the forests and carry the blessings of all things that grow. Those who are evil, like the wizard Saruman and his minions, fell the trees and destroy the forests to fuel their war machine and generally tear down that which is good. As a result, it is the trees embodied by the Ents and the mysterious forest of Huorns who rise up against evil and help usher in an unexpected victory in The Two Towers.

So it is that I read with keen interest God’s command to the ancient Hebrew in today’s chapter. The army was not to fell any tree that was living and bearing fruit. When laying siege to an enemy city, they could eat the fruit of the surrounding trees but were forbidden from cutting them down to use in building siege engines and utensils of war. Only trees which were already dead could be used for such purposes.

I am reminded this morning that our Creator and artist God began His work on earth with a garden, and at the center of the garden He placed a very special tree. The vision of the end given to us in John’s revelation likewise makes special mention of a tree:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Revelation 22:1-2

I am not much of a gardener and I often joke of having a “brown thumb.” Yet, along life’s journey I have grown to appreciate that God, like Tolkien, is a gardner and a lover of trees. If I am to be like Him, then I must grow to love, appreciate, and protect gardens and trees and the living things that grow in His creation.

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featured image: The Tree of Life , Gustav Klimt

Whale Sharks, Scope, and the Matter of Dreams

Whale Shark

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.
Daniel 7:1 (NIV)

Last week I had a dream and I referenced it in the message I delivered on Sunday. I dreamt of a giant whale shark that was swimming in the river Thames. It was so big that it was almost as wide as the river itself. It lifted up out of the water and a gust of wind burst from it’s wide mouth like an exhale. As this happened I thought to myself that the mighty sea beast really needed a 300 gallon bottle of Scope.

What did my dream mean? Nothing really. The previous evening in conversation someone had referenced a whale shark. The city of London had come into the conversation as well. I believe that my dream was simply regurgitating in its subconscious state the images and bytes of conversation from the previous day.

A few years ago I had a very different dream about tornadoes. I woke up and was troubled by what I had seen much like Daniel in today’s chapter. I wrote down the dream and shared it with a few individuals. I can still recall the dream in its vivid entirety, but also like Daniel, will choose to keep it largely to myself for now. I admit that I don’t understand all of what I saw and experienced in that dream but I knew that this dream was different. It had been given to me, though the reason has yet to become clear.

I have come to believe that there are two errors one can make with relation to dreams. One is to dismiss them entirely. There are numerous instances throughout history of people having very specific dreams for, it turns out, very specific purposes that cannot be wholly explained by science. We should take note and pay attention when prompted in our spirit to do so. The second error is to make too much of dreams. Some dreams are simply whale sharks in the river Thames, and I believe it a fools errand to spend too much time and energy searching for metaphorical meaning in every subconscious vision that emanates from our brains’ nocturnal processing.

Centuries later there are, and have been, numerous interpretations of Daniel’s dream of the four beasts in today’s chapter. I have read and studied several of them over the years, and I have my own thoughts on which interpretations have credibility. Nevertheless, Daniel’s dreams have little bearing on my day. I have a long day ahead of me with several presentations to make for a client, tasks that must be accomplished, and people to show love and kindness. I am reminded this morning by Daniel’s dreams that the times and eras and kingdoms of this world are part of the Great Story which, I believe, is already written and continues to be slowly revealed in the borders of time and space that were set in creation. It’s fascinating to ponder Danny Boy’s dreams, and discuss them over a pint. The bottom line, however, is that I have my own small part to play in the Story, and so I begin my day.

The Point Amidst the Myth

Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
    Everything under heaven belongs to me.
Job 41:11 (NIV)

The description God gives of the great Leviathan in today’s chapter is one of the most intriguing passages in all of God’s story. Having just watched The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies in 3D a few weeks ago, I have to tell you that Leviathan appears to be a dead ringer for Smaug, the dragon who destroys Lake Town (watch the video, above):

Who can strip off its outer coat?
    Who can penetrate its double coat of armor?
Who dares open the doors of its mouth,
    ringed about with fearsome teeth?
Its back has rows of shields
    tightly sealed together;
each is so close to the next
    that no air can pass between.
They are joined fast to one another;
    they cling together and cannot be parted.
Its snorting throws out flashes of light;
    its eyes are like the rays of dawn.
Flames stream from its mouth;
    sparks of fire shoot out.
Smoke pours from its nostrils
    as from a boiling pot over burning reeds.
Its breath sets coals ablaze,
    and flames dart from its mouth.
Strength resides in its neck;
    dismay goes before it.
The folds of its flesh are tightly joined;
    they are firm and immovable.
Its chest is hard as rock,
    hard as a lower millstone.
When it rises up, the mighty are terrified;
    they retreat before its thrashing.
The sword that reaches it has no effect,
    nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.
Iron it treats like straw
    and bronze like rotten wood.
Arrows do not make it flee;
    slingstones are like chaff to it.
A club seems to it but a piece of straw;
    it laughs at the rattling of the lance.
Its undersides are jagged potsherds,
    leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.

I have heard this passage interpreted many different ways. As John mentioned in his comment on yesterday’s post, we sometimes get so darned literal these days that we fail to appreciate the nature of poetry when we see it. In the spirit of poetic device, which we discussed yesterday, perhaps Leviathan is simply hyperbole layered over a description of an actual beast (i.e. crocodile, komodo dragon, or etc) and used for dramatic effect. We must remember that the epic poem of Job comes out of early human history which was very different than our post-enlightenment age of advanced science and modernity. Mythical beasts in epic poems were threads in the fabric of ancient society (i.e. Grendel in Beowulf). Perhaps there are extinct creatures that resemble the description more aptly than we know or can appreciate. It’s certainly fodder for spirited discussion over a pint.

Amidst the fun debate over the description of Leviathan, however, I don’t want to lose sight of the point of today’s chapter. I am constantly finding that people like to debate the jots and tittles of obscure textual references (e.g. prophecy, the Nephilim, Eden, angels, demons, heaven, hell and etc.) while ignoring the larger point of the overarching story. Let’s make sure we essentially get the point, and then I’ll buy you a pint and we can haggle over the non-essential question of what Leviathan actually is.

I found “the point” of  today’s chapter in verse 11 (pasted at the top of this post). God’s point to Job in His description of behemoth and leviathan were that these great beasts were created by Him and were under His dominion, which by contrast reveals how impotent Job’s authority and dominion are. God declares that everything, from mythical beasts to Job himself, belong to Him.

Today, I thinking about dragons and unicorns and Pegasus. I’m thinking of Grendel and Smaug and Faery. I’m mulling the intersection of human myth and spiritual reality, and how beautifully layered it all is across history with imagination and meaning.