A Prayer for Kindred Spirits

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My six-year old son played soccer for the first time this summer. At his first practice, I dropped him off and watched from the fence as he lingered on the sideline, right cleat atop his ball, and watched the others enthusiastically drilling their shots into the small net. His coach greeted him with a warm hello; my son looked at him, but said nothing, still moving the ball back and forth slightly under his foot.  

During the Red Light-Green Light drill, while others in the group shot toward the far cones as if drawn by a magnet, my son moved down the field – tap, tap, left foot, right foot. At first, he appeared lethargic, but then, I realized he was simply being cautious, his eyes fixed on the ball to make sure he never lost possession. His coach moved behind him and urged him on, shaking his head at my son’s turtle’s pace. But, as I expected he would, my son continued dribbling steadily down the field. I had to grin. Nothing that coach did or said was going to change the way my son dribbled.

Earlier this year, during a family overnight trip to Niagara Falls, he won a bundle of tickets at one of those arcades and chose to trade them in for a superhero pen and notebook set. Though he had barely learned to form his letters, he set about recording the previous day’s events meticulously in that little book. You should see the few sentences he wrote about seeing the waterfalls and dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. They veer and wobble across the page like an out of control automobile, but there’s such passion, such commitment to recording his world in a notebook. It reminds me a lot of myself as a boy. I found myself wondering where it comes from – this instinct to record experiences, to use writing as a way to make sense of the world.

Read more at Story Warren

Making Things Matters

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I recently read The Song Machine, John Seabrook’s startling book about the state of pop music in the digital era. Among other topics covered in the book, Seabrook spends quite a bit of time talking about the process of making hit songs for chart-topping pop acts like Katy Perry and Britney Spears.

I’ll spare you the long version, but in essence, Seabrook describes the songwriting process now as an assembly-line system, where “beats” – intricate combinations of drum sounds – are created on computers, then emailed in batches to “hit factories” in California or New York, where another group of people – not the recording artists yet – are brought in to take the beats and add “lyrics.” These words are usually created to fit within the existing framework of the beats, with primary emphasis placed on rhyme and rhythm, not actual meaning.

In short, Seabrook explains, songs aren’t really written any more; they’re assembled from parts created around the world by people who might not even know each other.

Does that sort of process make you feel a little sad? Me, too.

Not just because it means letting go of the romantic notion of an artist toiling away to create songs that are deeply personal, yet still universally meaningful, but because it also means letting go of other things, like the connection between the artist and her art – the spark of inspiration Dorothy Sayers called “Idea,” which is that breathtaking moment at the beginning of a creative endeavor, when it seems the horizon opens up and anything is possible.

I guess I still believe that making things matters.

Read more at Story Warren

Might With Measure: Some Thoughts On Masculinity

 

209984_1259970461My two boys are little cups brimming with physicality. Most days our house looks like a war zone of plastic weapons and combat toys. There are lightsabers, Nerf guns, bows, and arrows, plastic superheroes, and plenty of battle cries. When we’re reading a novel like The Horse and His Boy, which we just finished, you can see my boys sit up straighter, pay a little more attention, when the battle scene begins. At the risk of generalizing, it’s in their DNA, this desire for courage, justice, and high-stakes conflict. They love to battle.

But on days like the kind we’ve seen far too many of this past week, I confess, I’m afraid of aggression, and our current culture which is fraught with it. Aggression is instinctive. It’s selfish and acquisitive. And it’s easy. But look what havoc gets wreaked worldwide by naked aggression. Our films involve avenging and destroying, and our rhetoric is combative. Enemies are proclaimed, and outrage is the flavor of the day on social media. You’re not really communicating unless your remarks are full of venom, or at least point a finger in ire at the Other, whoever that is. And round and round it goes, this cycle of combat. 

So, no, I’m not a fan of aggression. And yet, I want my boys to grow to embrace their identity as the men they were created to be. But I think there’s something fundamentally flawed with equating masculinity with aggression. Being a man does not mean being dominant, running roughshod over the desires of the weaker, taking what they feel they’re entitled to, shoving finger-pointing, or brute force conquest.

So what is it? Well, this isn’t one of those “I’ve found the answers”-type posts. But, in the New Testament, the apostle Peter paints a helpful vision of holy masculinity. He compels husbands to treat their wives “as a delicate vessel,” with nurture and care.

I love that little simile. It’s too brief to be a complete set of instructions but it’s a start. It leads to actions like protecting the innocent, standing up for the needs of the weak, sacrificing one’s self for a noble cause, promoting order, cultivating a tender heart, and most of all, drawing close to the heart of God, who revealed himself in the form of a man named Jesus who wept at the death of a close friend, yet drove out of the temple by force those fraudulent sellers, and ultimately allowed himself to be murdered for the sake of the world’s souls. Not weak, but might with measure. 

C.S. Lewis found inspiration for holy masculinity in the chivalric ideal of Medieval knights: “The knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and the ragged stumps of lopped-off limbs; he is also a demure, almost a maidenlike, guest in hall, a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness; he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth.”

The command in John goes: “This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends,” This, and not aggression, is how I pray my sons grow. I pray Grace that my life’s example would model these traits, and more Grace on those occasions when doesn’t. But, even more, I pray that the stories I tell, the stories that we all tell with our lives, would be full of the order, justice, and dignity which embody a vision of the coming Kingdom, where love will reign long after the last tear has fallen.

Fight for the Beautiful

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My older son was born the same week as the Pixar movie Wall-E, and I’ve always felt a bond with the little trash-collecting robot. Like Wall-E, I’m a bit of a pack rat, I have a fondness for old musicals, and I have a tendency to run into things when I’m trying to impress someone. Only a few years ago, though, when I heard director Andrew Stanton explain Wall-E’s driving motivation during a TED talk on story did I put together what it was about the robot that I truly admire. Wall-E’s driving force, his “spine,” as Stanton calls it, is to find and protect the beautiful.

How great is that?  

Read more at Story Warren

A Room Like This One

image-1Confession: When I first got serious about writing, I did the coffee shop thing. I’d take my laptop down to the corner Panera and park myself in front of the gas fireplace with the other soup-lovers and pound away at the keys, feeling more confident with every passing minute that I was a Real Author. I suppose I was more sizzle than steak, at that point, to tell the truth.

Then, when we bought our house a few years back I began hunting for a spot to call my own. I set my sights on the shed out back. I called it a “studio,” painted the walls, hung a few pictures, and set to work. I soon discovered the Studio was not as glamorous as I had envisioned. In the summers, it was pretty hot. And there was the spider problem. The winters in Western New York? Forget about it. So I moved to the loft above the garage. It wasn’t insulated, but it was better protected against the elements. A summer passed out there, the weather began to turn, and I noticed the temperatures in November creeping lower and lower. No matter; I bought a space heater, threw on fingerless-gloves, and kept pounding away at the keys. But when Christmas vacation arrived, I knew this was folly; it was time to head indoors. Keeping a long story short, I wound up in a corner of our walk-in closet. It was cramped; it was cozy; but, it was also private. So, I rolled in the writing desk, set out a lamp and a few knickknacks, and kept working.

It was during my stint stuffed into the closet, my back to my wife’s wedding dress, that I had an epiphany about the importance – or not – of having a Special Writing Spot.

Read more at Story Warren

The Old Stories

 Image by © Luc Beziat/cultura/Corbis

Image by © Luc Beziat/cultura/Corbis

I’m a sucker for the New. Whether it’s browsing the stacks of a bookstore and salivating at the tantalizing jacket copy, or streaming a 90-second clip of new music, the impulse to acquire is often too strong to resist. I cave; I buy; I apologize to my wife; I invest in more shelves; the cycle continues. Much in our culture feeds this hunger for the new, pointing us toward the future at the expense of the present or the past. After all, new is good for business. Mark down the inventory, clear the shelves, start again.

But what happens to the Old in all of this? Take old books, for example. Sure, new volumes with their scent of fresh glue and wood pulp are delicious in their, well, newness. But what about the smell of old books? Or the way they feel against the fingers, rough and buttery at the same time?

And what about the old stories? When visiting a new city on vacation, I love nothing more than wandering through its finest used bookstore, getting lost amidst the stacks, then unexpectedly stumbling upon a copy of Baum, or MacDonald, or the Hardy Boys or Paddington. Opening these books is like revisiting old friends. Far from nostalgia, the stories contained within remain rich and rewarding.

Read more at Story Warren…

Illuminate Arts Camp 2016

cropped-cropped-illuminate-logo-smallLast year, a bunch of us art-loving folk gathered at my home church for something brand new – a day-long workshop-style arts camp for kids. I called it “Illuminate,” to encourage children to remember their creativity is a gift from the Creator which allows them to share his light with their world. It was, admittedly, a bit of an experiment. Would busy families give up a Saturday for our little ole’ attempt to celebrate the good, truthful, and beautiful through creativity and imagination?

Well, we were gobsmacked by the turnout. Nearly 40 campers, ages 7-15, showed up for a day of drawing, music, storytelling, pottery, and sculpting. It was a blast!

Well, long story short, we had so much fun at last year’s Illuminate Arts Camp, that we’re doing it again in 2016!

There will be lots more details coming soon, but suffice it to say we’re adding new teachers, new workshops, and planning on having a whole lot more fun and making a lot of memories. I can’t wait to share all the exciting developments with you, but for now, head over to IlluminateArts.Wordpress.com for the details.

Illuminate Arts Camp 2016 is on!