Friday, December 30, 2011

Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower

Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

- Rainer Maria Rilke

Leigh Kramer posted this poem over at her site, but I wanted to re-post it here, in the dark of the year. I love Rilke, but had not read or remembered this poem. I keep coming back to it this week.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Remind us how to pray
for we have forgotten the lament,
the praise, the triumph, the song
of the lost and the redeemed
the in-between

Remind us to sing, for we have forgotten
all manner of things we never knew
The songs of rejoicing, of trial and tear
The songs of pain and birth and fire
The songs that ever arc beyond understanding
oh, we have forgotten more
than we ever knew before

Readers and prophets! Writers and teachers!
Singers and speakers and makers and reachers!
Hold out the hope you hold inside
the small, the wide, the deep hope inside
let it go; it will return.
The in-between, we still must learn.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thursday Lyric: Too Many Miracles, Badly Drawn Boy

I wrote a post elsewhere a couple of years ago and included a few thoughts on the movie 'About a Boy', and its soundtrack which was entirely created by the British band Badly Drawn Boy.

Last year the band released a new single in December. I love to find Christmas-themed songs that explore the hopeful, powerful, patient ideas of Christmas in new words and ways, and this song is no exception. I put it on my Christmas mix last year, but I've been listening to it again recently and loving the story of hope and brokenness it tells.

Miracle rain makes snowballs falling slowly out of the sky
All you people wandering by
Make sure you don’t get one in the eye
There’s a new world forming out of the way
Future mothers born every day

Too many miracles happening here
It’s the same old story, different year
Oh I’m glad you were here
Been this way since the day I was born

I’m ready to be in love again
I know we could be in love

Photographing snowflakes lately I’m slowly losing my mind
There’s so many different kinds
Falling all the time
There’s a rainbow forming without any rain
A new dimension again

There’s too many miracles happening here
It’s the same old story, different year
Oh I’m glad you are here
Been this way since the day you were born

The age of romance is dead and gone
Maybe a chance I’m wrong

People falling out of love, I don’t know whose side you were on
Got to call these people along
And tell them where they’ve been going wrong
There’s no shame in changing and being alone
Just pull yourself one for the road

Hasn’t it been a strange old year
Well too many miracles happening here
I’m so glad you are here
Been this way since the day we were born

Are you ready to be in love again
I’m ready to be in love.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thursday's Lyric: All My Favorite People, Over The Rhine

Over the Rhine has been a sleeper favorite band for me for a long time. I had known about them peripherally for a while, but I first connected with their music when I was in charge of ordering books and music for a church bookstore and coffeeshop. In search of more than spit-shined Nashville CCM (no offense) I ordered in their two albums, Ohio and Drunkard's Prayer. We played those two albums often until a ladies' book club was enjoying a moment of silence one day and noticed an F-bomb in one of the songs, after which we were commanded not to play them in the store. But I still had plenty of time for the rich, honest lyrics to sink into my mind. 

Three years ago, I went to the Calvin Festival of Faith and Music with my sister and our good friends Naomi and Justin. Over the Rhine (Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist) were the headliners for the Saturday night wrap up concert, but they also taught a small breakout session on songwriting. It was scheduled at 8:00 am on Friday morning, and we got there early to get good seats for the sold-out class, clutching cups of coffee. Linford and Karin arrived about 5 minutes before class, wrapped in sweatshirts and scarves, clutching cups of coffee and grinning a little ruefully about early mornings.

Casually, they simply answered questions and extemporized about songwriting, Linford often from behind the piano playing bits and pieces of songs to illustrate points. 

To the question, "What are some elements that make up a great song for you?" Linford answered "The first eight to ten words are a critical element. They should draw you in, like a great opening line in a story or poem." 

On Saturday night, I went with friends to the Triple Door in Seattle for a dinner-concert. Over the Rhine has played here at the end of November for the past few years, and it's the perfect time of year to listen to them. Introducing this song, Linford said that it had been in the works for about 5 years. "I'm glad it's finally arrived in time for this album," he said, "because I think it's something I have to remember every day."

All my favorite people are broken 
Believe me 
My heart should know 
Some prayers are better left unspoken 
I just wanna hold you 
And let the rest go 

 All my friends are part saint and part sinner 
We lean on each other 
Try to rise above 
We’re not afraid to admit we’re all still beginners 
We’re all late bloomers 
When it comes to love 

All my favorite people are broken 
Believe me 
My heart should know 

Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers 
Step forward 
You can stay right here 
You don’t have to go 

 Is each wound you’ve received 
Just a burdensome gift? 
It gets so hard to lift 
Yourself up off the ground 

 But the poet says, 
We must praise the mutilated world 
We’re all workin’ the graveyard shift 
You might as well sing along 

All my favorite people are broken 
Believe me 
My heart should know 

 (As for) your tender heart— 
This world’s gonna rip it wide open 
It ain’t gonna be pretty 
But you’re not alone 

‘Cause all my favorite people are broken 
Believe me 
My heart should know 

Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers 
You’re welcome 
Yeah, you’re safe right here 
You don’t have to go 

‘Cause all my favorite people are broken 
Believe me I should know 
Some prayers are better left unspoken 
I just wanna hold you 
And let the rest go

*the video is not an official music video, but was put 
together for a church service in Knoxville, TN. 
What a great song for the church to hear.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Everybody has a dream that they will never own.
--The Laugh of Recognition, Over the Rhine

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sara and I were roommates for over 3 years. We have worked on many a project, hosted many a party, cooked up many a feast together. 

This week I get to visit, meet her brand-new daughter and enjoy a few days of assorted fun with her family.

A few years ago, I went to visit her on my birthday, right after she was engaged, and we held an art night in the garage, just like we used to. This photo makes me smile.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mutual Influence

“I’m about to tell you something that will BLOW YOUR MIND.” I typed to my sister the other day.
“Proceed with mind-blowing.” She typed back.
Mindy Kaling is following me on twitter.” I typed.
“DUDE.  How did you get so famous?”
“I feel my existence on this planet is justified because Mindy Kaling follows me on twitter.”
There’s a slight pause as I look at the tiny “Friend” accompanied by a tiny, positive green check mark in Mindy Kaling’s feed in my TweetDeck screen. A particle of doubt enters my mind. I click on @rarariot, and the “Friend” along with the green check mark appears. I click on a sure-fire one who wouldn’t follow me, @MichaelHyatt (he wrote a blog post to this effect), and I see the little “Friend” with that blasted little green check mark.
I am considerably deflated.
“oh. Wait.” I type. At the same time, she types:
“I do not think that means what you think it means?”
“huh. I thought it meant a mutual follow. Dang it.”
“So” she types. “How is your existence.”
“Lame, Twitter, lame. ‘friend’ and ‘follower’ are way not the same thing. Mutual followers are friends.”

That got me thinking. Of course, asking “How is Twitter following like real relationships?” is something like asking “How is a raven like a writing desk?”

Still though, among various christian Leadership activities, it's a common theme to discuss how every person should seek to have the influence of a Paul (a mentor), a Timothy(a disciple), and a Barnabas (an encourager) in their lives. I suppose you don’t need just one of each, but basically Twitter works the same way. Among many others, I follow @MindyKaling. I think she’s funny, and I respect her interests and work as one of the head writers and actors in NBC’s The Office. I think she’s a woman of influence in culture, and I want to keep up with things she’s recommending and thinking. I also follow cultural influencers @cornelwest, @makotofujimura, and @funnyordie.

Thanks to a talk from @jasonboyett at a writer’s conference, I usually follow back the people who follow me, with the necessary exception of an oddball or annoying person, bots, or someone who uses hacky social networking “solutions” to hack through to my feed and my followers. (side note: if you need a solution to fix your social networking #youredoingitwrong). However, it’s curious to follow how we end up getting connected. Sometimes it's a sort of growing into a mutual-interest based acquaintanceship. This happened with many of the artists from last year’s Sketchbook Project. I joined fan pages, added blogs to my Google Reader roll, favorited Etsy items, and followed many an artist on twitter. I won a facebook drawing for a T-shirt designed by @RobJelinski, and discussed a potential jewelry comission with @Carijanehakes (I've got to get back to that...). I got hooked on Pinterest and gained followers from curating some fun, pretty “pinboards.” I can't be sure, but I think maybe artists thrive on encouragement.

I follow more people than follow me at the moment, but if I can narrow it down, people follow me because:
1.       They know me in real life.
2.       They’re interested in something I talk about often (or they are interested in the smart things I RT from the people I follow!); Art, pop-culture, food, travel, gospel, (weddings, according to and others.
3.     They found me through a common interest. We may have commented on the same blog, or connected on Pinterest or Etsy, or listened to the same podcast. Sometimes a small comment or connection will inspire a follow, just to see what happens; sometimes a life-giving conversation grows out of it, but sometimes nothing happens to foster the initial connection.

     At least, that's why I follow people.

    but it's not the followers or the follow-ees that really get the full benefit of conversation, relationship. It's the mutual followers. According to, my "top followers" are my sister @JessiGering, my friend @petiteartichoke, (which friendship has been conducted almost entirely online), and friends-of-a-feather @luzbonita, @janisecookston, and @sknep (all three artist/designer and in-real-life friends), @teenbug, an old friend first from college and rather secondarily but possibly more significantly,the post-college blogosphere, and @akimoku, my lovely writer/co-worker friend. These are the people I talk to most, these are the ones who foster mutual influence.

   It takes a mutual followership to create a true conversation. 

    For those of you who don't have Twitter accounts for the reason that it's simply another stream of cluttery data clogging up your already-too-absorbing online life...well, you're probably missing out on a lot of clutter and a few great conversations.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thursday's Lyric: On Your Side, Susan Enan

I've enjoyed being a part of a group of friends who have co-erced our friend James, who has a large house, to host a few house shows over the past year. So far, we've helped him host David Bazan and most recently, British-born singer-songwriter Susan Enan. 

I first heard of Susan through a Paste Magazine music sampler, where her song 'Bird' became a staple song on my favorite mix ever, the Run Away Album.

When her album 'Plainsong' came out, I bought it the day it released. It's an album of quiet, sweet, intimately honest and hopeful lyrics paired with a uniquely passionate voice.

Susan arrived early for the show, (incidentally, almost as early as David Bazan was late) and stood around in James' kitchen, casually chatting with us about the area, the drive, and her current tour, in which she had covered 18 countries, almost exclusively doing house shows. She was headed to Folsom Prison in a few weeks. Be sure to view her blog about the experience there. 

She set up a few t-shirts, cds, and a baby onesie with a lyric from one of her songs, 'Bring On the Wonder,' on James' kitchen table. When I bought a t-shirt, she pulled the size I needed out of a backpack. 

What I love about live music in general, is that it's nearly impossible to multi-task. I know people do it, and I usually snap a picture or two myself. But to truly enjoy is to really enter in to a several-hour 'moment' where all you have to do is be present, enter in, and enjoy (because, opposed to a book or a movie experience, a response is required). I know this is what conversation with God should be like, and really, live music sometimes is the closest you get in our busy lives. Perhaps a reason why worship music is such a phenomenon in recent...centuries, I suppose.

With the house concert in particular, I was sitting about a dozen feet directly in front of Susan until she pulled the chair a few feet forward, like a pre-school teacher during 'circle time.'

In her soft speaking voice, she said that even though she was expecting a friend from Vancouver to show up at any time, she supposed we should begin, and simply started with the song below. I knew the song from her album, but her soulful voice as well as the points of tension affecting my soul at the time brought my attention to the beauty of, and the innate need we all feel, a friend who sticks 'closer than a brother.' That friend who believes you're all right in spite of failures, who is truly there, who is alibi, light, and refuge. Who knows the worst and yet believes the best.

"On Your Side" 
from the album Plainsong by Susan Enan

If your lights are ever broken
And your vision’s less than calm
In the midst of the unspoken
I’m on your side.

If your guns are ever smokin’
I will be your alibi
I’ll be the drink to stop your chokin’
I’m on your side.

‘round the corner may be hills to climb
But you’re doin’ all right

If your morning brings a black sun
I will be your neon light
Drop your nets into the ocean
I’m on your side.

‘round the corner may be hills to climb
But you’re doin’ all right

If you’re feeling tired and weary
Let me carry you away
If you only do this, hear me
Singing, I’m on your side.

If you struggle for the finish
Across the great divide
If we’re all made in the image
Be on my side.

‘round the corner may be hills to climb
But we’re doin’ all right.
I’m on your side, yeah, I’m on your side
I’m on your side
I’m on your side

And just like that, first song, listening to every clear word expressing hope and belief in relationship, I was in tears. Because how often do we stop and listen to needs like this? We roar endlessly and almost thoughtlessly about feeling empty, alone, busy, tired, marginalized, constantly put-upon. But to stop and listen to the need and also the hope it means for ourselves, our communities...that is a rare kindness.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


It's a good thing I've never had my heart shattered like crystal
Never carried its precious burden out to share with a guest
and had it beaten from my hands
and handed back to me in pieces.

No, I am built of different stuff, of clay, not crystal. Lucky
to be so unfragile, so dependable, something to use
Every day. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Blight

Farewell summer.
but not a blithe kiss from fingertips, 
speaking mercy within mercy.
a pinch instead, 
the bite of frost,
'good-bye' belies itself. 

The blight
ruins, wrecks, rots.
Final fruits of goodwill 
left on black stems
to fall instead of ripen.

will we meet again
next year, the ground 
restored by that same fall
to bear new fruit?

or the blight grow
into the marrow of the soil
a garden no more
but a barren patch, a scar,
an ugly memorial.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sea change

See change?
It's like the wind
You only see where it has been.

Sea change.
Remember, then,
it was not love, but abandonment.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy all the time

Two ways to be happy
Have everything you want
Want everything you have

I have what I need.
I love what I have.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Cue the metaphor
Like water into wine

Like water into coffee, more like,
heat and pressure,
stressful transubstantiation.

Pressed down
shaken together
Cup running over.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Good Faith, part 2

To these I have a debt of love, continual:
the ones before me,
and the love is not mine, that small love,
easily overwhelmed, panicked, and sticky
with my messy fingerprints.
The perfect giving; out of love, more love. 
comes only from the river unending,
the only good giving is not my own gift.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Good Faith

To these I have a debt of love; continual
As the rhythm of wave on rocky shore.
Those who begin with ebb and flow, who try, who remember,
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love
drives out fear,” and sigh, relax the shoulders
and pitch away the fear, the mistrust, the terror
of obligation far, entering with good faith
to share loving work and joy in small things.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Business of Celebration

We are sold on celebration
It's Fall! It's Spring! It's Halloween!
The seasons march by, unaffected, and yet
unpromised, which is why we welcome them, I think,
with ritual, with Pumpkin Spice, with Easter Dress, with ice cream,
We consecrate the slow return of old friends we were not certain to see again.

We are bold with celebration
Bridal showers, baby showers, luncheons, old friends in town,
Birthday parties, extravagant foods and uncounted calories.
I tire sometimes of the wild expectations of serving up such luxuries,
But I cannot quell that voice that says no celebration is void.
How boring it would be to reject these rejoicings;
how glad it is to celebrate friends.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I'm busy this week with a fundraising event I help to coordinate every fall and spring. Taking a break from regular work even if it's not a real vacation always helps center me and remind me why I do what I do. 

The events--chaotic as they are because they involve youth and food--have built into a sort of liturgical calendar year of stress and success, a practice of giving up me for chaotic, messy, busy, joyful days that are all about service. 

I teach teens to make and serve espresso drinks and food. I help them learn to watch for empty containers, messy tables, old ladies with trays too heavy. I make it a practice to walk around the building and see if any vendors look especially tired or down and bring them a free cup of coffee. I delegate students to do this every now and then, too, and they look at me, surprised, and then smile as they get it, that success isn't only about sales.

I get annoyed at the student who made up the sinks wrong or forgets to wear gloves or over-rings the cash register by double-digits, too.

This world is small, but I know the students walk away feeling good about what they have gained, and most of the people we serve walk away with a good meal at a good price.* My three-day world of hands-on service. It does me good. 

And I'm leaving this here as a reminder so that on Saturday evening, feet aching, I'll come and remind myself of that very fact.

*one of the most valuable things I have learned by doing this is that it's really true that you can't please everybody. Someone WILL complain about the salad dressing or coffee. Last spring I had one woman insist that our coffee brewer wasn't drip coffee, could not be drip coffee, we had given her something strange and bitter. I brewed a new pot and she pointed at it as it was dripping through the filter. "see there? that is not reg'lar old coffee." she insisted. She wanted no money back. She wanted no replacement. She wanted plain old reg'lar coffee. At my wits end, I walked back to the breakroom in the building where the event planners left a percolator of lukewarm coffee going for the workers and poured a cup and brought it out to her. She still insisted that I was somehow purposely giving her something different from reg'lar coffee. I never did find out what she wanted.   For some people, you never will.


Share a cup with me
sweet heirlooms, onions, 
basil leaves, garlic and sage,
A drizzle of vinegar, the drop of bitter
only sweetens this cup of thanks, a health to
summer and sun and green 
growing things giving 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Awake Now

Make me awake;
Opportunities to bless
often look like impositions, obligations,
and impossibilities.

Make me awake;
A chance to delight
A day to put off laundry and
put on a party.

Make me awake now
to do the laundry after all
have left; now with a smile
return to my burdens.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Love Will Best Judge

By plan and deed and word and time
I tell you “I love”, I LOVE! 
The word echoes, trembles, grows,
And lives and carries on
Returning kinder, greater and more infinite love,
Abundance of the loaves and fishes.
I have seen it, that joy-driven response
Not diseased obligation, but
Fair, redolent of all thanksgiving.

Deed follows heart; mouth echoes mind, so
the heart and mind of fear withdraws, silent.
But Love will best judge how I have been loved
By my people, by my God.
Still must I love and begin the song
Let me love my friends,
Love in deed, love with time, 
love in word, love to ring the echoed joy,
And all manner of things shall be well.

The Open Door

Appetizers, thank you cards,
hostess tips and recipes,
napkin rings, water glasses, 
salad forks and centerpieces

All the alphabets we've built
to break down welcome's meaning,
turning Hospitality into rules, warnings
that Gratefulness must be constrained.

For Hospitality is only a gratefulness 
for what I have been given,overflowing; 
and what could I do, but welcome close
the people I love to catch the spill?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Transformation: What is essential, part 2

I was able to get the photos of this project loaded to my computer tonight while watching Sense  and Sensibility with 3 girls-o-my-heart, always a treat.

This is what the big deal was. I may be weird here, but sometimes I hold this small sculpture in my hand and think to myself, This is the SURFACE of a painting. And I'm HOLDING it in my HAND. 

It astonishes me every time. It reminds me to wonder. 

Here's a close-up of the surface. Once I peeled the surface up from the board, I had to gradually heat and fuse it together to keep the layers from splitting. the layers of colors were still underneath, so after I got it into a sort of solid shape it was time to start using the pottery tools to scrape away some of the layers and find the inherent colors and shape.

to scale on the windowsill.

It was a nervous business, sometimes, deciding what to remove and what should stay. Some pieces of the sculpture lost their structure and I had to continually re-fuse when that happened to reinforce the integrity of the piece. I lost some of my favorite parts during the constant restructuring and discovered new beauties that I couldn't have foreseen.

The high lighting reveals some of the color striations.

There are so many layers beneath the surface, such complexity and such beauty that is buried. But all of that history behind the surface, lifted up and discovered in a new dimension, transforms.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I intended, from my last post to put up the pictures of what that thick surface of wax became. I will post those pictures soon, but my sister absconded with the usb compaqflash reader for a few days.

In the interim, for anyone who still reads this blog in spite of my fitful participation, just want to remind you all of the upcoming deadline for a project that I love very much, The Sketchbook Project, from Arthouse Cooperative and the Brooklyn Art Library! 

This collaborative project is so much fun to participate in...something like creating an elaborate message in a bottle that is then archived and made available in Brooklyn's art library should you ever want to visit!

I can't recommend participating strongly enough...if you are interested in exploring art, drawing, collaging, or any form of exploring visually (for heaven's sake you could stick a piece of gum on each page and call it "all used up" if you want to!), sign up! you have until January 31 to complete your book and mail it in. Then it goes on tour, and eventually is archived into the library!

You don't have to be any kind of professional artist to participate, and you can even sign up with a group of people, a class, a small group or just pass the book around to a bunch of friends!

Like any good collaboration, it's the community that makes it fun. Check out the arthouse website link and explore many of the wonderful artists and their work featured there.

Last year, having never completed a sketchbook in my life, I realized the very valuable lesson that the inspiration more often comes while I'm working than before, kicking off a journey of writing and working more regularly, slowly reclaiming discipline in my life about artistic habits. 

Try it out and let me know what you learn!

Friday, September 23, 2011

"What is essential is invisible to the eye." (Part 1)

I may have posted this video, called "The Way Paintings Go" a few posts back. And on Pinterest. And on Twitter. and I may have contributed significant views to it ever since Shannon Newby showed it at the Wax and Wane retreat this spring.

It is fascinating to see the layers build, and to think this happens in all forms of painting. Surface is built, obscured, rebuilt, pulled away, rediscovered. It is layers of material that transform into something different--a 2-D image that communicates ideas. But to go one step further and turn that painting into a 3-D sculpture...laughable. Fascinating. Brilliant, but simple. Fun! 

It makes you want to play, to discover. So I had to try it. Here is the painting after I finished building the layers, perhaps 30 layers of colored and fused wax on a plywood board. Tomorrow, I'll show you what became of it! Suspense!