Autumn


Autumn
Oh, how your Creator fashioned you with a sophisticated beauty
Your palette stuns
Your colors demand to be said aloud, tasted, and smelled
Orange, amber, goldenrod, mustard, maroon, mahogany, burgundy
Olive, vanilla, cranberry, russet, maple
Brown, plum, taupe
Maize, cinnamon, ginger, mocha, chocolate

 

Not only beautiful, Autumn, you exude fun.
You let me wear my butterscotch sweater as your crisp air beckons my family to gather together to pick pumpkins in a patch that smells of hay and earth.  On another day we hoist the pumpkins—cold from sitting on our porch—onto the dining room table covered in newspaper.  We scrape out the guts while Charlie Brown and his friends dance on the television.  By nightfall, our pumpkins turn into people animated within by flickering candlelight.

 

Oh, Autumn, we celebrate your bounty
We take your apples and dip them in caramel
We crunch your rusty fallen leaves under our feet
We wrap ourselves in your colors
And gather our people close to us
We partake of good and perfect gifts

Limited Creature: The Las Vegas Shooting, One Year Later

By Halloween the marquees of neighborhood casinos were back to their regular clothes, back to sporting steak and lobster specials and slot tournament details. The LED behemoths on Las Vegas Boulevard had already come out of their state of prayer and stillness, exchanging their black and white cloaks for their usual eye-popping spectrums of 4K graphics.

The electronic sign in front of the CVS on Valle Verde held out through the summer, wearing its static bold red digital “VEGAS STRONG” across all four seasons. I passed it every time I drove to church this year, and every time there it was like a widow refusing to doff her mourning clothes. One unassuming day in August, however, the sign was blinking and wearing new clothes: “12 Pack of Coke $3.99.” I found it oddly tender to witness the sign loosen its grip and move forward in its grief. I also winced at its moving on—it made me think about the victims’ families. Oh, the frustrating duality of the goodness of life going on and the audacity of life going on.

Click here to continue reading the full article in this month’s issue of Fathom Magazine.
(https://www.fathommag.com/stories/i-drove-by-mandalay-bay-the-other-day).

Thank you to Fathom for the honor of being included yet again in such a fine publication.

Limited Creature

Grief and Beauty in the Aftermath of the Las Vegas Massacre

Tonight I remember the fifty-eight humans who were murdered one year ago in Las Vegas.

Below is my tribute to my city and my God originally published in Fathom Magazine on October 16, 2017.
Click here to read the full article in Fathom Magazine.
(https://www.fathommag.com/stories/limited-creature)

 

The morning of Sunday, October 1, found me grieving the unexpected deaths of three friends within the previous seven days. The week had grown me accustomed to the taste of tears and wet sleeves. I easily and truly grieved and mourned with and for those who grieved and mourned.

Sunday evening, however, found me forgetting how to cry. At 10:44pm, a text message brought me word of an active shooter. I stayed up all night in the darkness gathering facts on my cell phone. Refresh screen. Updates. Videos. Reports. Refresh screen. The rhythm of the gunshots soon lodged in my brain. Refresh screen.

Grieving and Beauty in Las Vegas

Learning to cry in the aftermath of something so shocking and unbelievable, is actually learning how to pray, how to view through God’s lens, how to remind a broken heart that it isn’t stone, how to embrace stillness, how to accept the limited quantity of my tears, how to accept reality and forbid myself to file it under fiction.

The following days brought dry skin, dry mouth, dry eyes. My city. My dirt and gravel. My home. The mayor held a prayer gathering in front of City Hall. Dozens of local pastors surrounded the mayor. One by one, they stepped into the sunshine and offered unhindered laments. The group burst out in a chorus of “How Great is Our God.”

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Marble Wall

Grief Personified

Grief Personified

I touch the wall.  I want to feel something.  I want a tangible thing to react with my inner grief, my extremeness.  The grandeur and hardness and bigness of the marble wall gratifies for a moment. It makes me think it will do something.  Force the world to acknowledge and understand and bow down and wail in grief with me.  Give this “healing” and “closure” that people talk about.  Satiate my pain.  Bring back my beloved.

Nope.  The marble wall does none of that.  I lean into the cold stone, grasping, running, pressing my fingers across his name and digging it into my skin so that it imprints me.  Crowds mill about.  Murmurs fill the air.  Children squeal.  Sporadic laughter.  The audacity of laughter.  The marble wall makes the companion with whom I came, Mr. Ache, hungry.  Stirs him up.  Amplifies his dullness.  Mr. Ache gains weight at the marble wall.

But the hardness against my hand reveals to me that the marble wall stands as a barrier.  A strange gratitude for this cold marble separation seeps into me.  For the separation testifies to the existence of two sides.

So, yes, the old marble wall fails to give me what I came for today.  It leaves me with my turmoil.  It leaves me with my pain.  It leaves me with Mr. Ache on my hands.  It leaves me with a world that does not grieve and wail with me.  It leaves me without my beloved.  This stony wall ain’t no door, no healer, no giver back of life.  But you know what?  This wall will come a tumbling down.

A breeze of fresh grass wafts by, and I push myself off from the wall.  As I walk away, I pass by the wall’s book of names.  A line of pilgrims wait to flip its pages.  Mr. Ache tips his hat to some of his kinsmen who stand in the queue with their constant companions.  Somewhere I think I read about a book of names in which someone wrote my name.

Beauty in the Desert

The heat of the sun hits my face and a little spiny white feather drifts across the air. Just like the feather I saw this morning outside the church. A curiosity. It floats up and down and around and out of my sight. It does not have a care in the world. Floating things are not bound by time or restrictions or obligations.

I walk among the rocks. They crunch under my feet like a microphone lurks under the floor. I stop to inspect the ground.

I tie my hair back with a headband and a hair clip, and the wind blows dirt particles on my eyeballs and tongue. An unnoticed world lies there. Seeds, plant particles, string, and twigs cover a bed of brown dirt. Pieces of rock make up the majority of the gravel ground. Tiny pebbles and every size up from tiny lay at my feet. The small rocks are miniature versions of the bigger rocks. What a marvel. Where did they all come from? What else have I not noticed? White, red, tan, and grey. Some of the rocks have sharp edges, some have smooth and polished edges from time baking in the desert sun and wind. If you listen, truly listen, you will hear the rocks cry out. Their ignored beauty testifies to their creator. Neither will tolerate disregard for long.

Ella

Ella

The song her mother sang to her colored her whole life

It lulled in her ear at the cradle

It played over her childhood in the green grass and daisies

Where mice and birds her friends

Clouds masterpieces shifting around on the sky canvas

And it hummed in her head as she danced in her blue shoes on the cobblestone

“Have courage and be kind”

The lavender blue melody of her mother carried her

Long after her mother left her for another world

Even when darkness came dressed in chartreuse and carrying a cat

And never did she have an inkling of an inclination to change her colors

Nor abandon her mother’s melody

Even in the face of the pangs of sorrow, insults, and absolute indifference

And she did good to those not good to her

And she lavished kindness on the ungrateful and wicked

And when day’s work done, she doted on her mice friends

As she served them a feast of corn kernels and cheese curds on a tea cup table

 

Alas, the vicious darkness will persist and will come near to drowning out her song

But one day the gloom will part

And the music will swell and swoon as she joins a heart that sings her same melody

Festooned with satin sashes and beads of pearl and white rose petals

And on that day the mice shall eat wedding cake

 

 

 

 

 

This piece was inspired by Disney’s 2015 “Cinderella,” a gem of a film covered in the glorious fingerprints of Kenneth Branagh.

How Extravagant Is That?: What I Learned While Practicing the Art of Ina Garten, Part Four

Cheese Board

For the fourth and final week of my project, Dr. Tim Basselin threw out the challenge to meditate on an aspect of God’s character, to embody and wrestle with that aspect of God’s character, and to then practice art in the throes of the wrestling.

The aspect of God’s character that came to my mind? Extravagance.

Extravagant.

God is extravagant.

God has lavished many blessings on me over the course of my life and been so extravagant to me, that I awe and almost cannot bear it nor truly express it. Life with Jesus is no mediocre existence. To describe the ways He has revealed Himself to me would require tomes, so for the purposes of this reflection I will reign in my story.

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Practicing Culinary Art, Part Three: Cup of Tea

For the third week of my practicing of culinary art I chose to do something on a simpler scale than the previous weeks. My practice involved making and partaking of a cup of hot tea. I rarely have hot tea, so this was a treat.

I started by choosing the vessel that would hold my tea. The vessel was as important a part in my art this week as the edible elements. I picked up an exquisite teacup made out of crystal clear glass that my mother had bought me at the Magic Kingdom in WaltDisneyWorld.  Not only was the shiny and smooth glass beautiful to look at and touch, it also would allow each element of the tea to be on display during the creation and would provide an uninhibited view of the process and the final product.  The selection of this beautiful glass cup brought to mind something I had read about: the idea of hiddur mitzvah.

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What I Learned While Practicing the Art of Ina Garten: Part Two

Celebration Spread

During the second week of my four-week art practice I continued to study and be inspired by culinary artist extraordinaire Ina Garten as I embraced Mary McCleary’s assertion that “those who aspire to great craftsmanship should regularly look at as many examples of fine art and craft as possible” and “study with the very best teachers they can find” (Mary McCleary, “Craftsmanship,” in It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, ed. Ned Bustard (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2007), 135-136).  The first week my practice of art was in the creation of chocolate ganache cupcakes.  I intentionally chose to do that as a first draft in preparation for this second week when I would again endeavor to make the recipe as part of a larger scale culinary arts project that would serve as a celebration of the birthday of my friend and then coworker, Veronica. Makoto Fujimura (a constant inspiration along this journey) speaks of culture care as “a generative approach to culture that brings bouquets of flowers into a culture bereft of beauty” (Makoto Fujimura, 6, On Becoming Generative (Fujimura Institute and International Arts Movement, 2013), 6), and this project was intended to be a bouquet of flowers for all of my coworkers.

For the project I created a celebration spread in the style of Ina Garten, centering on her principles of making things good and beautiful yet simple and clean.  I again focused on quality of ingredients and also added an emphasis on the way in which the final products would be displayed.  I came up with the idea to create a variety of items rather than just one and to display these items on a tower of some sort.  After much consideration, I narrowed it down to four items.  I made Ina’s chocolate ganache cupcakes as well as chocolate-covered pretzels, and for the other two items I followed one of Ina’s basic rules of culinary art for gatherings: don’t make everything from scratch, but purchase or outsource from other artisans one or two quality items and display them well.  I commissioned my sister-in-law to make her renowned caramel corn. For the fourth item I chose colorful candies from a local store.

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How Good Is That?: What I Learned While Practicing the Art of Ina Garten

Part One of Four: Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

During a class at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dr. Tim Basselin threw out the challenge to practice an art form for four weeks and to then put the practice into theological dialogue. After much back and forth deliberation (with myself!) about which art form to choose for this endeavor, I decided to practice culinary art. Before I embarked on the journey, I read an essay by artist Mary McCleary in which she asserts that “those who aspire to great craftsmanship should regularly look at as many examples of fine art and craft as possible” and encourages artists to “study with the very best teachers they can find” (Mary McCleary, “Craftsmanship,” in It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, ed. Ned Bustard (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2007, 135-136). With that in mind, for this project I dedicated myself to study and be inspired and influenced by one of the best culinary artists of our time: Ina Garten.  For over a decade I have beheld (and adored) many examples of her art via her television program as well as her writings and photography, and for this first week I chose to put her style of art into practice in my own life by making one of her signature recipes: chocolate ganache cupcakes.

Ina has taught me over the years that a major element of practicing culinary art is the selection of good materials.  She often uses the word “good” when describing what she employs in her creations and even puts the word in her written recipe ingredients lists (i.e. “good olive oil,” “good ketchup,” “good vanilla”).  As I gathered materials for my art project, I sought and purchased the best I could find of each: Ghirardelli chocolate, heavy cream from the local dairy, the freshest eggs my store had to offer.  Inspired by Ina, I also took extra care to display these elements in aesthetically pleasing containers as I began the actual process of making the cupcakes.  I measured each ingredient and placed each one in a separate glass bowl.  Then I arranged the bowls in a pattern in my workspace and took a moment to take in the lovely materials before I began the mixing and cooking process.

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