Brokenhearted Theology, California, Equipping, Leadership, Meaning, Narrative, Ramblings

Sol LeWitt and the ReCreation of the World

The other day we had the chance to slowly move through the SFMOMA, one of my favorite spots in the Bay Area.

I spent a while sitting in proximity to a few different pieces by Sol LeWitt, an American conceptualist.

LeWitt’s work appears deceptively simple, using little or no color and simple geometric shapes and patterns.

“By repeating and varying a single principle, he created sculptural structures that were aesthetically satisfying even as their internal logic was pushed to the edge of irrationality.” (SFMOMA)

SFMOMA has a room filled floor to ceiling with several of LeWitt’s wall drawings, intersecting lines emanating out from several loci in bold primary colors.

These drawings are simple and they are beautiful.

But what struck me most was LeWitt’s conviction that the true art lay not in the product but in the idea or concept. The piece of LeWitt’s art I was looking at (Wall Drawing 273) was an original LeWitt, and yet at some point the wall would be painted over and a draftsman (following LeWitt’s instructions) could recreate the art on a different wall without losing the originality of the art.

Although it would resemble Wall Drawing 273 as I saw it (LeWitt’s instructions dictate the number of lines, the number of locus points, the color of the lines, etc.), the shape and size of the wall, the lighting of the space, etc. would all change the dimensionality and feel of the next iteration of Wall Drawing 273.

Again from SFMOMA’s bio on LeWitt, “each of these impermanent artworks consists of a set of the artist’s instructions, something like a musical score, with the actual execution carried out by someone else.

Unbelievably beautiful.

And now for some theological reflection…

I couldn’t help but wonder if this isn’t the pattern of creation and recreation that we find in the Christian Scriptures:

impermanent artwork: Genesis 1’s depiction of Eden isn’t static or sculpted; the garden is meant to flourish, multiply, grow, and change.

set of the artist’s instructions: not a blueprint or schematic, but a coherent yet loose invitation into the ongoing (re)creation of the world

something like a musical score: LeWitt’s concept for Wall Drawing 273 isn’t beautiful in and of itself, although it is, in some sense, the art. But when the instructions are drafted onto a wall, the art takes a shape and form that can inspire awe, breathlessness, wonder, reflection, inspiration, etc.

actual execution carried out by someone else: This is perhaps the most profound, the openness and willingness of the artist to invite other’s into the recreation of their art (not as the artist per se, but also not not as the artist). Every iteration of Wall Drawing 273 will be different, but they can all be true.

The entirety of the Christian Scriptures invites humanity into the project of (re)creating the world with a coherent invitation into the shape and form and concept yet with an unbelievable freedom to expand and innovate and adapt within the conceptual artistry.

 

 

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About Me, California, Family, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Ramblings, Resurrection

I know the future. I ignore the future.

This is not unrelated to what I wrote a few days back.

The last few months have been a bit of a blurry season with a lot of travel, additional projects our family has taken on, and the regular rigamarole of the days between Spring and Summer.

I was in a conversation with some friends the other week about meaning, happiness, fulfillment, and the rhythms of life. We talked about work-life balance, finding joy in everyday moments, and navigating the frustrations of various seasons of life (a lot of them involving the complexity and noise of life with little kids).

It struck me that despite the present feeling fuzzy and complicated, the future is crystal clear.

One day I will wonder why I worked so much.
One day I will wonder why I didn’t spend more time with my family.
One day I will wonder why I spent so much time feeling stress from artificial or actual deadlines.
One day I will look back with both fondness and regret for the season I wake up to every morning.

I know the future, a beacon warning ships away from a dangerous coastline.
I ignore the future, a whisper of what will be but need not be.

Bronnie Ware was a palliative care nurse who spent time caring for those in their last stage of life and chronicled the five most common regrets people had looking back on their life:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

We know the future.
May we not ignore the future.

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Food, Future, Global, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Ramblings, Resurrection, Travel, Urban

Resurrecting Ghosts

If you walk across the US/Mexico border into Tijuana, you will likely cross a large pedestrian bridge moving from the border to a tourist-y downtown section of Tijuana. As you walk across the bridge, you cross the Tijuana River which, at this spot, is a concrete channel with a deep vein down the middle and slowly sloping walls. The channel is large enough that cars could drive along the river on either side of the vein – a massive concrete basin that, both times I’ve walked across, sits mostly empty – a little water but nothing else.

But it wasn’t always empty.

At some point the concrete river bed was a living, breathing neighborhood, called El Bordo. The population of El Bordo was largely men and women deported from the US into Tijuana. Most were not from Tijuana and may have never been in the city before. Some were not Mexican, some didn’t speak Spanish. But they made a home in the concrete channel of the Tijuana River. There was no where else to go.

Sometimes community pops up in the most unlikely spaces.

It wasn’t the best neighborhood in Tijuana. There was crime and drug use. Many residents could not find work. The channel served as a concrete quarantine for those who made their home there. There was not much hope. The word ñongos was used to describe the area – a problem, a blight. Those who lived in los ñongos were the unseen, the walking dead. Some called them ghosts.

Samuel Pérez waged peace on behalf of the ghosts living in El Bordo first by seeing them and immersing in their lives. He walked their streets, he heard their stories, he took seriously their hopes and dreams. He recognized that no vision for flourishing in Tijuana could overlook El Bordo. Samuel’s work and passion involves agriculture and environmental sustainability, so he worked with the neighbors in El Bordo to construct dozens of raised garden beds in the middle of this concrete city. He saw humanity in their faces and advocated on their behalf.

The ghosts were beginning to breathe.

Samuel described the transformation of some of these neighbors – “they were becoming like humans again.”

My heart raced as I heard Samuel’s story, a story of resurrection happening in this place I was standing.

He did not belabor the point, because despite the miraculous recovery of life Samuel witnessed, the story took a sad turn. El Bordo was cleared out by la policía, possibly because El Bordo was impacting the flow of tourist dollars from the US into Mexico. What good could come out of El Bordo? 

Samuel said he did not know where the former-ghosts were now living; the garden beds had been destroyed. What was once a community beginning to breathe again now existed as a stark and empty concrete channel.

God have mercy.

May we become the people who learn to see ghosts.
May we become the people who speak in valleys of dry bones.
May we see breath enter dust and begin to breathe.

May we witness not only to the resurrection of Jesus but the resurrection of the world.
May we witness resurrection in the neighborhoods that have gone unseen.
May we witness resurrection in the neighborhoods that we call home. 

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Crazy Bible, Meaning, Ministry, Ramblings

“But, are ya still preaching the gospel?” and other solicitous questions

We just moved and, apparently, with moving comes solicitors.

no-solicitors-allowed-1444909We’ve had people come to the door asking about everything from security systems (You do plan on protecting your family, right?) to cable television (With us, you’ll get a bazillion channels!), and, tonight, we had a visit from bless-their-hearts church people that just wanted us to know they are starting up a new gospel preachin’ church in the neighborhood and, if you don’t attend a gospel preachin’ church, would you like to come and visit?

They handed us a tract covered in stars, stripes, regal eagles, and “God Bless America”s.

Between the move, toddler-dom, less-than-ideal-sleep, and 25% of the adult ankles in our house sprained, all amidst the piles to unpack and organize, I feel like my energy and interest in engaging solicitors has been minimal.

Tonight, we were having post-dinner family time – dancing, laughing, and listening to records (Gershwin) – as the solicitors approached.

Hi, we’re just here to let you know about our new church.
Oh, hi.
Do you have a church you go to?
Uhh, yeah, actually, I’m a pastor.
Oh, where are you planting your church?
It’s been around for a while, it’s called Open Door.
Oh, you get a lot of young folks, then?
Yeah, I guess.
But are you still preaching the gospel?
Uhh, yeah.
What is it?
What is what?
The gospel.
Oh, I think we both have answers to that question.
Only by the blood of Jesus!
[Tired smile.]
And no works, right? You don’t preach works, do you?
Sorry, we were having family time, so I think we’re actually going to go back to that now. Have a good night.

There’s all kinds of commentary to add here – about my response and what it should or could have been, about door-to-door church invitations, about the strange-but-all-too-common bedfellows of patriotism and religion.

I sometimes wish I had more energy to enter into constructive dialogue with these solicitors (their questions, how we might differ on our understanding of the gospel and where we might agree, how there is more about Jesus than his blood that is good news, etc.).

But, at the end of the conversation, I decided I would rather spend my energy dancing with my family than picking theological nits with strangers (err, brothers and sisters in Christ?).

Thoughts?

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California, Family, Meaning

Your Blood or Mine?

The elevation was increasing as the snow continued to fall. The freeway slowed as we approached the chain restriction check point.

We pulled off to the side of the expanded shoulder, a parking lot of slush and semi-trucks. A small army of men in fluorescent-orange and -yellow snowsuits with vests reading “Chain Installer” moved about, diving into the slush and stretching odd assortments and varieties of metal over the wet, slippery tires of sedans and mini-SUVs.

I dread tire chains. I dread putting them on and I dread driving with them on, not so much because of the speed restriction (which is annoying) or the constant hum and vibration (which is annoying) but because they represent the risk of driving in unknown conditions: the roads are terrible; put metal spikes in your tires and maybe you won’t drive off the cliff.

I rolled down my window to ask one of the jumpsuit soldiers where I should pull in to install my chains.

Doin’ it yourself?

Yeah.

Then I don’t care. Over there, out of the way.

Oh. Of course. Jumpsuit guy is there to make some cash, not to help out of the goodness of his heart or some great initiative funded by my tax dollars.

I pull over next to my friend whose white SUV still carries what looks to be a foot of snow packed on the roof of his car.

From the backseat: their car needs a haircut!

The SUV doesn’t need chains, but my friend knows I’m dreading this and he offers to help before we head over the mountain pass back home.

As I step out of my car into the slush, I’m grateful to not be alone amidst the hazard lights, fluorescent jumpsuits, and stench of idling eighteen-wheelers.

When’s the last time you did this?

A long time ago.

Me too.

We each take a side, unrolling my cheap bought-them-on-the-internet-for-twenty-dollars-on-sale-used-once-and-returned tire chains, which are not so much chains as they are small little discs of metal attached to a thin wire that may or may not fit around my tire.

I am not convinced these will actually help in snow and ice, but that is not why I bought them. I bought them to get me past chain restriction checkpoints. I am confident they will do the trick.

A fluorescent jumpsuit: You sure you have the right size?

I am sure of very little at this point, and I perceive the sneer and constant eye of the jumpsuit footmen, ready to take a short stack of cash in exchange for my dignity.

For a moment I consider it. At least it would be finished quickly.

But I remember my three-year old, who is straining in the car seat to get a view of his dada putting chains on the tires so our little silver hatchback (the “adventure car”) can brave the mountain pass.

In his imagination, which is only thinly separated from reality, this is just another part of our hero’s quest. This is a great adventure and, while he is told to stay in the car, I am his proxy, preparing our car to slay the dragon.

I cannot abdicate my duties and, while I am not sure what is at stake here, I sense it involves a curious and potentially volatile mix of honor, pride, ego and self-respect, so I squat down near the tire and try to figure out how to put these damnably-frustrating contraptions on.

I recall the conversation I had in the front seat ten minutes prior, in anticipation of this side-of-the-road ordeal.

I wish I had gloves.

You have some right there. Won’t those keep you warm?

No, I don’t care about being warm. I just need to be able to grip and use my fingers.

Oh. That makes sense.

I unroll the chains by the driver’s-side tire as my fearless friend does the same on the opposite side.

They go on the front tires, right?

Yeah.

For a moment, I slip out of my body and survey the scene from above. I have this odd realization that I am a grown up. A man. A husband. A dad. I am terrified and thrilled at the responsibility and weight of this.

I slip back into reality as both my friend and I fumble around on our respective sides, occasionally peeking over to see how the other is doing. I call him over to my side, to see if together we can tightly fasten this twisted necklace of metal to my tires. My hand slices across a sharp edge on these high-economy-low-functionality tire chains of mine. A patch of red instantly paints across my slushy hand and drips onto the slushy roadside below.

My interior monologue grows increasingly loud and deprecatory.

You look like an idiot.
You have no idea what you’re doing.
Those guys are laughing at you.
Why didn’t you buy decent chains?
Why are you trying to drive your Prius across a mountain during a blizzard?
Don’t you know you’re going to drive your family off a cliff?

I have to back up the car a few inches so we can attach the chains, and I hop into the car.

From the backseat: Dada! Are our chains ready to go?

Not yet son.

From the frontseat: Oh, I see why gloves would be nice.

Yeah.

We finish up my tire and move across the front of the car to the other side.

My friend kneels down, pulling the chain taught so we can fasten it and finish the job.

I notice the blood on his hand.

You too? I’m glad it wasn’t just me. I’m sorry about this.

It’s okay. I’m actually not sure if it’s my blood or yours.

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Meaning, Narrative, Ramblings

The Slow Suicide of Donald Draper

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From the first season, the opening credits of Mad Men told us how this story would end.

Our eyes are drawn to a silhouette slowly falling to his death. Even with the dishevelment of gravity, the silhouette is incredibly well-kept, almost calm. Slim-fitting suit, neat tie, a graceful free-fall past the icons and idols of advertisement and consumption.

So calm, so graceful that you almost forget the silhouette is falling.

Almost.

Mad-men-title-cardThe credits close with the same figure, cigarette lazily at his side, no longer falling, simply an observer. Waiting for the inevitable to occur. An object in motion stays in motion, a body falling continues to fall until it hits rock bottom.

Much has been written (eloquently, thoughtfully, truthfully, beautifully) about the closing of Mad Men’s story. I love a story that leaves room for our own. The best stories are so intricate and true that we find ourselves inside of them, leaving us wondering how much, if any, distance there is between fact and fiction. I love the thick, stubborn nature of redemption – that even in the most tragic characters, even in the most tragic circumstances, there lies the potential to find hope. So I’m grateful for those who saw redemption in Mad Men.

But the silhouette is falling and, in Mad Men’s closing scene, Donald Draper hits bottom.

The bottom isn’t the concrete of a New York sidewalk or the barrel of a smoking gun or the bottom of an oft-filled tumbler.

That’s what I expected. That would have been too obvious.

The bottom is a return to the thin illusion of happiness.

The bottom is a return to the suicide-in-progress that has slowly unfolded since the opening credits of Episode 1.

The writers saved us the dignity of watching the gruesome end.
Our cigarettes can still hang lazily from our fingers as we watch the fall with a curious ambivalence.
We can hum a catchy jingle while waiting for the train.

But don’t we all know how this story ends?

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Global, Meaning, Peacemaking, Ramblings

Immigration as Crisis, Immigration as Opportunity

Immigration is one of the most polarizing issues that presents itself today. It’s the stuff of debate and divisiveness more often than open-minded dialogue. We have mental pictures or words and labels that spring to mind to describe and identity the 41 million immigrants who live in the US. We’re astounded by the large number (11-12 million) without documentation.

For some, the state where I live – California – is the butt of scornful comments and jokes. We have the largest number of immigrants in the country, the largest share of an immigrant population when compared to the overall state population, and the largest absolute growth of immigrants compared to the state population in the entire country. More locally, the Bay Area is particularly affected with immigration as we have high profile touch points everywhere, from immigration courts in San Francisco to detention centers in Richmond to the incredible diversity of neighborhoods in Oakland and the Monument Corridor in Concord. Immigrants – lots of them – live in California.

http://www.ibtimes.com/immigration-reform-2014-48-percent-americans-oppose-obama-executive-action-poll-finds-1726342

This past summer the media focused on the large insurgence of unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central America attempting to enter the US. This summer a similar wave of unaccompanied minors is expected.

Listen to that phrase – unaccompanied minors. Recognize that in most other contexts we’d just call them kids.

I spoke with a local leader who catalyzes faith communities into the local story of immigration who shared a story of a child who, at the age of 14, came to the Bay Area from Guatemala to work in order to financially support his mom and little sister. He’s 14. He’s been in and out of immigration detention centers. He’s told he needs to be in school but, without work, he’s not able to support his mother and little sister. This is the reality of his story right now.

At Open Door, we talk about the dream of seeing heaven and earth woven together again here in the east bay and beyond. Seeing that dream come true involves caring well for those whose lives and stories are shaped by the immigrants’ journey. Seeing that dream come true requires each of us – regardless of our status, birthplace, or documentation – to recognize how our lives and our stories are shaped by the immigrants’ journey.

There is far less distance between “them” and “us” than we often admit, and immigration is something we need to talk about. But we can’t to just talk about it as a current political crisis. It’s a bigger story than that.

There may be 12 million in our midst without legal residence status, but 98-99 percent of us living in the US have a story of immigration in our lineage. As often as we like to forget, all but a very small percentage of us are here because of immigration.

As followers of Jesus, we are invited to see not stranger, immigrant or “other” but neighbor, sister or brother. One of the more common Greek words in the New Testament for immigrant or sojourner is the same word that would be used for neighbor, from the same root as our word parish. The stories of immigration that surround and encompass us are lexically and intimately woven together with our ability to care for a place and fulfill what Jesus called the Greatest Commandments (Matthew 22).

We can’t simply think of immigration as a crisis.
Immigration is a reality that shapes all of our stories.
Immigration is an opportunity for faithfulness and formation.

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