Friday, April 08, 2016

Henri Matisse Gets It Right

Rosemary Blossoms

"What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter - a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue." ~~Henri Matisse

Friday, March 25, 2016

This Easter Thing

From as far back as I can remember I've always known heavy sadness when thinking of Jesus' torture and crucifixion. How much sympathy can a six year old experience? A lot. And a fifty-three year old? Even more. Yet, I only sense a whisper of his suffering.

Those Romans knew how to exact pain and humiliation. Crosses? I still cringe when I see that instrument of torture around the necks of people as jewelry or inked into their skin. Would they sport a guillotine or hypodermic needle should Jesus have died in another century? As a child I used to imagine Jesus walking down a busy street only to see crosses displayed as beauty on the people He loves. I imagined him recoiling from the assault, the reminder. I saw him violently shudder, run away, ask why.

Today I realize many people wear crosses for remembrance. It's important not to forget that Jesus did, in fact, die in a plea for mercy from God the Father. The Father accepted the sacrifice. Three days later He breathed new life into the son of His love. In that moment of amazing grace Abraham's spiritual seed likewise triumphed over death. Good to know! Just as grave markers engraved with crosses express resurrection to come so do empty crosses here and there symbolize the same.  

In that regard, for me, the most joyful reminder of that pivotal point in history is the empty tomb. Jesus the Resurrected walked away from death to life eternal, the first human to do so. His victory leads the way for the rest of us. It is a non-disappointing hope, a promise for those who are compelled by its truth.

I don't wear crosses. I don't have them in my home. They make me weep. In their place I carry a Savior in my heart, a triumphant elder brother who could and did save my soul from darkness. In His honor and in gratitude I live my life as best I can because I believe Him.

And more importantly because I love Him

(A repost from this blog, April 2010)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Technological Coup d'état

     "From the beginning of what we used to call the industrial revolution - what we see today more clearly as a sort of technological coup d'état - men and women, particularly men and women of imaginative sensibility, have seen that something was happening to the human role in the shaping of civilization.

     'A curious automatism, human in origin but not human in action, seemed to be taking over. Cities were being built and rebuilt not with human purposes in mind but with technological means at hand. It was no longer the neighborhood which fixed the shape and limits of the town but the communications system, the power grid. Technology, our grandfathers said, 'advanced' and it was literally true: it was technology which was beating the tambours, leading the march. Buildings crowded into the air not because their occupants had any particular desire to lift them there, but because the invention of electric elevators and new methods of steel and glass construction made these ziggaruts possible and the possibility presented itself as economic compulsion.

     'Wildness and silence disappeared from the countryside, sweetness fell from the air, not because anyone wished them to vanish or fall but because throughways had to floor the meadows with cement to carry the automobiles which advancing technology produced first by the thousands and then by the thousand thousands. Tropical beaches turned into high-priced slums where thousand-room hotels elbowed each other for glimpses of once-famous surf not because those who loved the beaches wanted them there but because enormous jets could bring a million tourists every year - and therefore did.

     'The result, seen in a glimpse here, a perception there, was a gradual change in our attitude toward ourselves as men, toward the part we play as men in the direction of our lives. It was a confused change. We were proud - in England, and even more in America, raucously proud - of our technological achievements, but we were aware also, even from the beginning, that these achievements were not altogether ours or, more precisely, not altogether ours to direct, to control - that the process had somehow taken over leaving the purpose to shift for itself so that we, the ostensible managers of the process, were merely its beneficiaries."

~~ All quotes in this post are from Archibald MacLeish, Master or Man, an essay found in Riders on the Earth, published 1978.

I do wonder what Mr. MacLeish would think of today's technological advances? 

DRU - Road to the Future?
In the news today I read a story about DRU (Domino's Robotic Unit), a 'cheeky and endearing robot' that Domino's is 'confident' will one day become an integral part of the Domino's family as a pizza home delivery system. "He's a road to the future and one that we are very excited about exploring further," gushes the chain's New Zealand general manager Scott Bush. I wonder just how the presence of DRU will play out in everyday life? Robots on freeways, avenues, and sidewalks cruising beside intimately conversing couples quietly strolling arm-in-arm, more DRU's passing relaxed children in strollers or squirrelly kids on bicycles, navigating rush-hour round-abouts, tempting runners with pizza as it putts along beside them, or simply gliding next to our cars in our rainy, dark neighborhoods as we drive home from work?

Carl's Jr., the fast-food chain, is also in the news this morning because its CEO, Andy Puzder, wants to create fully automated restaurants, where 'you never see a person.' Kiosks would take and deliver orders. These kiosks would eliminate Andy's worry over increasing minimum wages, absenteeism due to illness, race/sex/age issues, and besides, "Millenials don't like seeing people." Well, there you go!

Skye Aero, advertising drone
Over in Switzerland we are told that flying drone billboards are the future we deserve! Yes, lighter-than-air 10-foot helium-filled balloons with small propellers offer increased safety for flying over crowds. Blocking out the sun, this drone junk mail would advertise who knows what, pummeling our collective consumerist mind-set with assaults on our outdoor freedom, in the very places in which we seek personal renewal - solace - from the ever-tightening throat-grip of manipulation.

"The freedom of science to follow the laws of absolute possibility to whatever conclusions had been established, or so we thought, as the unchallengeable fixed assumption of our age, and the freedom of technology to invent whatever world it happened to invent was taken as the underlying law of modern life. It was enough for a manufacturer of automobiles to announce on television that he had a better idea - any better idea: pop-open gas-tank covers or headlights that hide by day. No one thought any longer of asking whether his new idea matched a human purpose. 

'...we were ceasing to think of ourselves as men, as self-governing men, as proudly self-governing makers of a new nation, and were becoming instead a society of consumers: recipients - grateful recipients - of the blessings of a technological civilization. We no longer talked in the old way of the American Proposition, either at home or abroad - particularly abroad. We talked instead of the American Way of Life. It never crossed our minds apparently - or if it did we turned our minds away - that a population of consumers, though it may constitute an affluent society, can never compose a nation in the great, the human, sense." 

Though Mr. MacLeish addresses a condition which began forming in the 19th century, his adroit observations follow their logical conclusions into this 21st century. These conclusions now leave us with a Gordian Knot question: Where do we go from here?

"The frustration - and it is a real and debasing frustration - will not leave us until we believe in ourselves again, assume again the mastery of our lives, the management of our means."

Monday, March 14, 2016

Who Cares About Art?

 Bruges Madonna and Child, Michelangelo,
 It has taken six decades for me to understand the importance of art for a people, a culture, a civilization.

This quote from the movie, The Monuments Men, summarizes my thoughts succinctly. Frank Stokes, the leader of the group of men sent near the end of WW2 to save works of art stolen by the Nazis and stored in Hitler's hidden treasure troves, explains to the close-knit group his perspective on their mission.

"All right, listen up fellas because I think you should know the truth as I see it. This mission was never designed to succeed. If they were honest, they would tell us that. They'd tell us that with this many people dying, who cares about art. They're wrong. Because that's exactly what we're fighting for, for our culture and for our way of life. You can wipe out a generation of people, you can burn their homes to the ground, and somehow they'll still come back. But, if you destroy their achievements, and their history, then, it's like they never existed. Just...ash floating. That's what Hitler wants. And it's the one thing we simply can't allow."

Art matters. Too few of us alive today seem to understand this truth.

Ghent Altarpiece, Jan van Eyck, 1430 
An Art History course I'm currently enrolled in through the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City teaches me how to see history through works of fine art. Information is gleaned from more than what is overtly depicted in the art; it's in the style, the reasons behind the style, the perspectives and perceptions of the artists, how they came to have their views, and why the strong desire to express those attitudes and convictions. Our cultural timeline, our achievements, our failures, dreams, rebellion, foolishness, nobility, wisdom, and spirit are preserved in fine art.

Art is more than beautiful or interesting pictures, architecture, and sculptures. Art is a language of history, of culture, of mistakes made, of wisdom gleaned, and of warnings. Art is messages from the past which, when correctly understood, serve us today and will continue to in the future. Art inspires, disturbs, informs, challenges, soothes, and perplexes. It tells who and where we've been, and what we currently are. Art records everything!

How exciting to discover a new-to-me language, one which broadens understanding of the historical timeline, while encouraging the heart!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Episodic Beauty of Everyday Life

"The upper story of our society (national politics, big business, large-scale media) dominates headlines. But these upper story headlines ought not distract followers of Jesus from seeking the kingdom of God locally - in the episodic beauty of everyday life. The kingdom extends its borders through forgiving insults, loving enemies, and hosting warm meals for our neighbors. Against such things there is no law." ~~ Tim McIntosh

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

"It is in the Shelter of Each Other That People Live"

"The present is passed over in the race for the future; the here is neglected in favor of the there; and the individual is dwarfed by the enormity of the mass. America, which has the most glorious present still existing in the world today, hardly stops to enjoy it, in her insatiable appetite for the future. Perhaps the historian or the sociologist or the philosopher would say that we are still propelled by our frontier energy, still conditioned by our pioneer pressures or our Puritan anxiety to 'do ye next thing.' Europe, on the other hand, which we think of as being enamored of the past, has since the last war, strangely enough, been forced into a new appreciation of the present. The good past is so far away and the near past is so horrible and the future is so perilous, that the present has a chance to expand into a gold eternity of here and now. Europeans today are enjoying the moment even if it means merely a walk in the country on Sunday or sipping a cup of black coffee at a sidewalk café." ~~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, written in 1955
One has only to visit Europe to discover that Anne Morrow Lindbergh's assessment proves true. Excitement grew as I came upon these words gleaned from her book, Gift from the Sea, which I read while in England and Ireland this summer. My husband and I discussed the differences we encountered in the attitudes of the kind, generous people we met and observed. Our conclusions match Mrs. Lindbergh's.

Irish workman answers Tom's work-related questions in Dublin
While Americans are busy forming a brand new country, those in Europe are busy resting from centuries of horrid experiences including brutal invasions and wars, famine, division, political unrest. A respite cradles them in this present time, even as problems arise which, in comparison, are small, manageable. For now. There is a sense of contentment, of calm, even in the rushings of London, the vibrant artfulness of Galway, and the joyful noise of Dublin.

Irish and English hearts remind me of contented guests who know the night is coming, and with it another morning of hard work and a long week beyond. Yet, even then, the sweet and spicy aroma of traditional foods still tantalize, and yes, there is another good story or two on the moist lips of those in the flame-lit living room, and a lilting melody begs to vibrate strings and voices. So linger the guests do, while the camaraderie does last, and the senses are enlivened. Lingering, relishing, taking in the moment, this seems to be the state of the people I met, the culture I stepped into. It felt right, real, natural.

To clearly view a further distance backward down history's time line than I ever have before, while measuring that distance with the wisdom of the ages, expands my boundaries, enriches my perspectives, and energizes my understanding while at the same time balancing my equilibrium toward future distances yet to traverse. Observing past and future from a clearer European vantage point snapped the present into sharp focus for me, the present moment with its gentility, its serenity, even its wary hope.

Ireland calls me home. London invites another visit.

Soon. Soon.

This sign hangs in the beautiful Belfast City Hall

Monday, June 15, 2015

For Mom


Moist with one drop of Thy blood, my dry soul
Shall—though she now be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly—be
Freed by that drop, from being starved, hard or foul,
And life by this death abled shall control        
Death, whom Thy death slew; nor shall to me
Fear of first or last death bring misery,
If in Thy life-book my name thou enroll.
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
But made that there, of which, and for which it was;        
Nor can by other means be glorified.
May then sin’s sleep and death soon from me pass,
That waked from both, I again risen may
Salute the last and everlasting day.

John Donne