Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Being Good

When's the last time you thought about being good?

We want to teach our children to be good. We want them to learn to do what's right.


Being good is precious. In fact, it's what gives life meaning.

What makes an athlete try hard? What makes an artist labor to reveal beauty? It's that they have each, in one way or another, seen that they have an opportunity to really, actually be good.

What if rather than thinking about getting things done, we thought about being good? Being really, really good. I'm not here to talk about what it means to be good. We all can feel that out on our own. But we will sure learn fast what it is when we strive for it - long for it.

When I was a kid I felt sometimes such a strong desire to be good. Just for no other reason than it was what was good! It made me feel happy to think about it. I felt in love with the goodness itself.

As we grow up sometimes our standard slips. We put less value in being good. We are told it's impractical.

What a revolutionary thing it would be to fall in love with goodness and live that love every day! What a beautiful life!

Goodness is not just for kids. It's not wimpy. And it's not too hard for us. It may be hard, but it's harder not to be good.

Here are some things I think are good. Maybe you will agree that they are good too. I strive to be them. :)


These things are all awesome things to be! They are good!

What would happen if we let ourselves fall in love with these things? What would happen in we let ourselves really try to be good?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Longing to Do and Be Good

On the plane yesterday I happened to watch "42", a cinematic telling of the story of the first black Major League Baseball player, Jackie Robinson.

The movie was lovely, I thought, showing in a simple way the great personal sacrifices that Mr. Robinson made, as well as his great virtue.

I'm not writing a film review though. The important thing to me is how it communicated with me. During the flight I had been praying, wanting to feel closer to God, and wanting to feel some direction for this recording project that I am embarking on.

During the movie I found myself adoring the goodness of the the man, Jackie Robinson. I found myself wanting so badly to be good, to do well, to do the very best that I can. In those moments, with tears in my eyes, I felt God talking to me. It's natural to want to do well, in fact, very well. It's natural to want to be beautiful, to do beautiful things, to love beauty and goodness and justice.

Was God talking to me in that movie? Yes, I think so. That feeling of spiritual love, the simple love of goodness and the childlike desire to be involved with it. Yes, yes, yes. That's God, and there He is, right in the middle of my flight from Cleveland to LA. Right on time as I need to feel the love of my work hold beautiful high hopes for my new recording.

This cd is not about me! I am learning more and more that it is simply about the practical effectiveness of the qualities of God. Beauty, insight, poetry, care, gentleness, spiritual defiance - each of these things, felt, changes the life.

So, let us feel our deep natural (SO NATURAL!) desire to do and be good. Let's commit to it and do it at all costs. Let's correct ourselves when we get lazy. Let's remember our heroes and reject the notion that our lives aren't meant for white hot pure goodness.

What can keep us from this? What can keep us from striving, day and night, to be good? To get better and better and better every day such that our lives are works of art?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Minor Adjustment and a Major Blessing

Recently I received a piece of news that was inconvenient and caused me to have to make some last minute changes that I didn't expect. My first reaction to the news was to be annoyed. I quickly felt a black cloud hanging over me.

Hating that bad feeling, I prayed. I simply asked God how I should respond. Very quickly I had the thought (and feeling) that it would be ok to make the necessary adjustments and though I didn't know exactly what the solution would be, I felt there would be one. The spiritual idea that came with this thought was a simple feeling that I could love God more than I loved the self-righteousness that was making me feel bad to begin with. I felt a little burst of love. I am allowed to do what it takes to keep my heart pure of anger and hate. I really am.

On the heels of that came another comforting thought - "I will be more useful to God as I go where necessity blows me than I will if I remain stiff and self-righteous." THAT was exciting. I love the idea of being useful. So, the deal was sealed. Inwardly I felt, God, let me be useful to you!

Over the next few days, I witnessed it. Because of the adjustments that were made, I found myself in a beautiful conversation with a person I never had had a big conversation with before. He told me how helpful the conversation was, how needed. I could feel that we had connected and that his needs had been met. I thank God!

Others who knew of the adjustments I had made were blessed by them too. The whole thing was surrounded by a feeling of spiritual richness. Compare that with the spiritual poverty of selfishness!

Looking back on it, it's so simple - even mathematical. Subtract self-righteousness and receive the spiritual goodness, being in the right place at the right time, which make the every day life a garden of riches.

How foolish I would have been to stay in my rut. To be stiff and self-righteous. I want so badly to be helpful, to be useful, to be in the right place at the right time. And those are things I cannot force to be. They only happen as I am loose, agile, and pure.

Once again (and again, and again) I am saved by grace, by the presence of the Spirit. How quickly we can be saved from stupidity by a little bit of listening and willingness to do and be good.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I'm Off To... Liturgical Dance?

Hi everyone! I am just now beginning several months of travel doing concerts and murals, all over the US and a bit in the UK! So, I'm back to the blog to keep you all updated on the cool things that happen, and the unfolding insights and joys that rock my world. Thanks for tuning in.

This morning at the Asilomar Bible Conference I saw a woman (the courageous and expressive Laura LaPoint) do some "liturgical dance". This is a form of worship I have been almost totally unaware of until now. And I have been noticing that the word "liturgical" made me feel like there was something clinical about it, that it wouldn’t be very expressive. But how wrong I was!

In fact, what I found was that I had tears in my eyes because the whole point of this dance was not to be pretty, or perfect, or graceful exactly, but rather, to worship God.Laura explained that the concept of liturgical dance is not about appearance, but rather about accepting all body types, all dance proficiencies, and giving people the opportunity to worship God in the language of dance.

Now, I am all about recognizing that there are lots of languages with which to worship and communicate. In the same way that sometimes body language is more honest than the spoken word, I can see and feel how dance could very well be used to express feelings and convictions that might not be so succinctly expressed in words.

While I watched Laura dance, I could really feel how humble it is, how transparent one must be, in order to get up in front of a congregation and honestly express ones prayer, using the language of movement. In a way, it felt like a challenge to the often heady, intellectual way we often talk about God.

As I considered the many benefits and corners of thought that having dance and movement as part of our sense of communicating with God I wondered this: We are so used to singing together, and that’s just a language – what if we ALL became used to dancing together in our worship? What would that require of us in terms of our willingness to reveal something about ourselves? I could feel almost viscerally how we would have to shed some self consciousnesses that we hold about our bodies.

I could also feel a voice coming up within me, a stiff, complaining voice, that this dance was not dignified. It wasn’t "smart". But really, that was what I was loving about the dance. Communicating with our bodies, in a way can invite us to communicate feeling, not so much intellect, and can enable us to communicate from parts of our being which are often overlooked or not invited to be part of the conversation.

Today I learned about liturgical dance. I think it's a good thing!

And now, for our second hymn, we will all dance together, feeling and sharing our love of God.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pure, Innocent Love in the Darkest Places

I have served as a volunteer chaplain at a jail in Boston for 6 years. During that time I have seen, beyond a doubt, that the qualities of God are alive and well, living and being lived in these places which would otherwise be very dark. Lots of people, when they go to jail, find themselves face to face with the mistakes they have made and the problems they have, and want very badly to get past them.

A couple of months ago I was talking with a man, we'll call him William, who had had a very sad life so far. He described being raped at the age of 13, drug abuse, friends lost to murder, and the list truly goes on and on. He was relating to me how now that he is in jail, where he can't get any drugs, all the feelings he had been pushing away by using drugs, are coming out. He speaks sincerely, calmly, soberly.

His basic question to me was, "With all these terrible things that have happened to me, how can I be free from these intense feelings of sadness, loss, and grief?" It is easy to see, when you hear him talk, what an honest, kind man this is. So, I began to speak to him about knowing himself as God's creation, not the creation of a human history. We spoke about knowing ourselves as spiritual creations who are defined, not by what we've done humanly, but by God's love for us. I also mentioned that it is useful, when we feel miserable, to turn outward instead of inward – to seek to love and serve someone else, instead of getting stuck on ourselves.

He seemed to a little confused about what I meant, and said, "Oh, do you mean like this?" He went on to tell me this story, without pride. There is another man in this unit – call him Joe. Joe is older and had really let himself go. He was not taking care of himself – long scraggly hair, not showering, finger and toenails long and curling. He was a mess and obviously unhappy. William, feeling sorry for him, asked Joe if he could help him, clean him up. Joe said no, he didn't want to be touched. Rather than take no for an answer, William tried bargaining. In jail each detainee has their "canteen" which is extra food and supplies that one has to buy using their own, usually very limited, money. William asked Joe if he would let him clean him up, cut his finger and toenails, etc., at the cost of a certain number of food items in his canteen. At this Joe said sure.

When William told me this story, I looked over to the couch and saw Joe there, hair and nails cut, shaved, clean face, and a smile on it too. William said, "Is that what you mean by serving others?" honestly wanting to know if that's what I meant.

Tears nearly rolled from my eyes as I said "Yes, William, that's is just what I'm talking about." I quickly told him also that he was teaching me. That is riches of the heart. To desire so much to do an act of kindness to another that one buys the privilege of cleaning up a messy, smelly, surly brother.

In the following weeks as we do our Bible study it is easy to feel the calm respect that exists between Joe and William. Joe's physical cleanliness (which has been maintained!) is a testament to William's tenderness of heart – the compassion of Christ. Also, where he had been surly, Joe now joins us, timidly asking questions about passages in the Bible.

Jesus counseled us to wash one another's feet. Sometimes we think that is for "saints" to do. Seeing this story play out (and many others like it) has shown me that it isn't. Tender acts of forgiveness, generosity, and mercy are happening anywhere someone is willing. I can't imagine someone with a darker human history than William's. Yet, he has demonstrated, beyond doubting, that darkness and human history cannot overcome the desire to love, and to feel the blessing of loving another.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Making Friends with Ideas

Several years into my adventure with art I began to make pictures of a man lying on his back. The image came to me the way images most often do. The images simply comes into thought, or even feels its way into my thought. A good image comes with a feeling of fascination or love or deep meaning. Very often the image comes without my really understanding why I should make it, but with a feeling that I should.

This is what happened with this image of the man lying on his back. When it first came into my thought it came with a feeling of such love and depth that I immediately began to follow that path. Usually when this happens, I explore the image for a while, make a few paintings to figure out what it is and what it means – to learn what it has come to tell me. Then after a while it usually transforms into a different idea or peters out and a new idea takes its place.

In this case, however, the image became stronger and stronger to me as I worked on it. My fascination with it grew and my desire to explore it was undiminished. After a year I found myself just as in love with this image as I was when it first came. In that time though, I had discovered some of its identity. It told me some stories about itself, what it meant, and what it was saying. The paintings continued to come out. For another year, and then another, and even another! It was so clear to me that he was teaching me about things very spiritual - things that were beyond my knowledge. He didn’t come speaking in words, but just in feelings and ideas. And those were things I could understand way down deep.

For about 4 years I worked with this image. The man lying on his back became to me the sleeper, the dreamer, the soul, the innocent – on and on! My understanding and love for him grew. At one point I was struck by the fact that I was having a relationship with an idea. This idea had come unsolicited. Then, when I was interested in it and explored, the idea shared new ideas with me. There was back and forth, like a conversation.

This was like a bolt of lightning. Don't friends need to be… people? But here, I have a friend and it is not a person. It is an idea. From this friendship I am being made stronger, more sensitive. My life is richer for it. I feel actual real love because of it. Yet, this is relationship is not with a person.

But, as I let the idea unfold in me further, I came to the resolution that made me thank God. It was this: in fact, all my friendships are with ideas! There is not a difference between my friendship with this idea and my friendship with a person! I am simply surrounded by ideas. My interaction with ideas is what creates my life, gives me joy, causes me to progress.

So, the gift of the man lying on his back is a spiritual gift from the Infinite Good just as are my many friendships with people. They all are surprising to me. They all cause me to grow, force me to get better, show me my need of God, show me His glory, color, fascination.

We are surrounded by ideas!

Friday, January 18, 2013

How Can We Be Made New?

In order to live our way successfully from the now into the next we must conceive of ourselves as being on a journey. We must see ourselves as being on a robust and demanding road that leads from what we have known, into what we don't yet know.

Certainly, if any of us were setting out on a trip like this we would want to bring with us all the best tools. We would bring appropriate clothing, supplies, food, money – all the things we could think of. And in this metaphor that means bringing with us all the best ideas we have. Best practices, best spiritual insights, best models of behavior, best qualities.

The wonderful thing about being on a journey with God is that in addition to all the tools we bring with us, God is always giving us brand new tools that fit perfectly with the needs we encounter along the way. The Bible quotes God as saying "Behold, I make all things new". We must be willing to accept that new ideas will come to us, and they will be God's provision for our journey.

As a kid growing up in a Christian Science Sunday School I didn't relate to the music in church. It wasn't speaking a language I understood. I couldn't get anything from it. (Thankfully, as an adult I have come to see and feel its goodness and utility much, much more!) So, several years ago it was a deep delight (and surprise!) to me, to find that my creative world was revealing to me that I could create music that would speak about the deepest and best spiritual ideas I knew of, AND include the best, most expressive musical and poetic ideas I could arrive at. It was a revelation. Just as language evolves naturally over time so must our expressions of church and spirituality.

I have come to see that this is not a choice. It is God who makes all things new. It is not we who get to choose whether or not to make one or two things new. It is God who makes them ALL new.

When I began making this music I thought, like everyone else who heard it, that it would be the youth who would most get into it. But, in the following years of performances it was fascinating to see that what was really happening was very different. In fact, the most powerful responses that I have come across have been from an older group of folks who were LONGING (and some didn’t even know it!) for the beloved ideas of the Bible to be expressed in a new way. It has been moving to me to see and feel the way this music has found some people – like water in a parched land. The journey began with one thought, but revealed a different success along the way.

One of the realities of being an artist is that you have an idea you know is good, and then you have to show others why it's good. Sometimes people think it's actually bad, only because it is new! Anyone bringing a heartfelt new idea sometimes finds themselves in that case. But it's good because it causes us all to be patient and demonstrate new love for our ideas, willingness to stand for what we truly believe in, and learn unselfishness.

How do we know which new ideas will be useful and which won't? We can only do our best. Just as in music there are songs we remember from decades past, and countless others we don't. Mary Baker Eddy says that "sincerity is more successful than genius or talent." We must be sincere, and sacrifice ego and opinion for the sake of recognizing the new, holy ideas that God is providing.