June 27, 2008

Pure Religion [jessi]

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

About four years ago, while volunteering for a child sponsorship organization, I was in conversation with a woman interested in sponsorship. On the point of filling out the proper forms, she asked, almost as an afterthought, if this organization had any dealings with the Catholic Church. This hadn’t occurred to me before. I quickly rifled through all the literature I had been provided—Mission Statements, and financial disclosures. None of these were stamped in 24pt font with “No Catholics Allowed” so I had to be honest and tell her that I didn’t know. They work with established churches in poor communities, and while they are an Evangelical organization, I supposed it was possible that they worked in conjunction with a Catholic church if that’s where there was a need.

She pursed her lips, thinking for a moment, and then unclicked the pen. She said (and these are her exact words—I still remember because they made me so angry), “I’d rather have a child not hear the gospel at all than have her hear about him from the Catholics.”

I would like to tell you that I drew myself up and looked at her with clear steady eyes, and told her that her money would give food and clothing and an education—not just a Sunday school lesson. That she was heartless and petty. I wish I had told her that she ought not to have heard about Jesus at all, if she was going to go around telling people about a white Protestant Jesus who only loves little children who go to Protestant churches. But I’m afraid my mouth gaped open, and the only thing that came out sounded like “uh-uhhnnn…”

Years later, that woman still embodies to me everything that is wrong with American Christians. She left me standing at my table while she gathered up her three precious kids, loaded them into her Ford Explorer, and drove home. A home that has electricity, running water, and food in the kitchen pantry. And somewhere, a couple thousand miles south and a little bit east, a little girl wasn’t learning about Jesus from the Catholics. I suppose it’s possible that this woman went home, checked out the organization online, satisfied her personal issues, and signed up. Maybe, but I doubt it.

I’m not here to argue about denominations—I feel pretty woefully ill-equipped to tackle that sort of thing. And anyway, the issue isn’t so much which group of Christ-followers you are a part of, but whether you are actually following Christ. One thing I’ve always liked about the Bible is how it constantly champions the underdog. In Leviticus there’s a whole section that shoots to pieces the idea that business isn’t personal—in sections across the board, dealing with everything from acceptable sacrifices to property ownership, there are exceptions for the poor.

Isaiah 58 is one of the most convicting things I’ve ever read, because it shows not only exactly where God’s priorities are, but also how far we fall short of his benchmark. It opens with God’s people upset that God doesn’t seem to be paying attention to an elaborate show of devotion, but God turns around and tells them that their display is a sham, and then tells them exactly what kind of repentance he wants to see:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Bring the homeless poor into our houses? Who does this kind of thing? Not anyone I know. This is the part where I'm going to lose most of you. You'll stop reading because I'm going to make you feel guilty and angry, and you're going to justify in your head all of the reasons why you shouldn't rush out and become the next Greg Mortenson (no, seriously. Have you read Three Cups of Tea? The guy moves mountains all by himself). You have a family, a job, and other commitments. You tithe to your church, and isn't that all Jesus tells us to do anyway? A Christian slogan like “love God, and love people” is popular—google it, and you’ll get over 15,000 hits—but we tend to limit its meaning to the people in our established bubble. If no one within that immediate circle is poor, needy or oppressed, are we off the hook? I don’t think so. The world is full of hurting people, and we who live in the wealthiest nation are the few who have the resources to do anything about it.

Here are some of my favorites:

http://www.one.org – I mean, come on! Be a part of Bono’s tribe!

There are a billion ways to help, even if you don’t have the resources of Bill Gates, Oprah, or Bono. Get off your butt and start giving cups of cold water to the very least of these. I don’t care about your politics or your denomination. Jesus doesn’t, either.

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June 24, 2008

What Really Matters? [editor]

Last night I imported all the personal essays and poetry pieces from version 2 of Silhouette into Wordle. After some small, rational edits, the Word Cloud below reveals the inner psyche of Silhouette's contributors.

What do you see?

Word Cloud - Silhouette Contributors v.2

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June 20, 2008

Naked on a Rooftop [justin]

The psychological warfare begins well before the actual test takes place. An official polygraph test, lasting between 2 to 3 hours, starts with the facilitator explaining how the lie detector scientifically works, proceeds to review the questions that will be asked, moves on to hooking up monitoring devices (breathing, blood pressure, electro dermal response) and then finally culminates to the authorized, monotonous torrent of Q and A. Each step of the drawn out process is used to crack the guilty conscience.

I would like to think that I am pretty open in whom I am, but watching a portion of Moment of Truth the other night on television made me feel otherwise. Sure, it is more of a pop culture polygraph game show, condensed down to its 42 minute time frame, nevertheless it works somehow and has the added pressure of not only everybody you know watching, but also millions of other strangers tuning in to see how bad of a person you are. I empathetically felt the social death of the lady on the show as her husband and parents sat on the side grimacing. The person that others, including herself, thought she was took a few last gasping breaths as the more naked, vulnerable, and ugly (albeit sincere) one was revealed.

Humans fear social death more than physical death. Signing up for a lie detector test, or even confessing in general, is like choosing your societal cemetery plot. But unlike the Hollywood world, life doesn’t award you for telling the truth every time, and the brunt of the issue certainly doesn’t end after 42 minutes.

“It's a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only variable is about what,” the fictitious and pompous Dr. House once said. “The weird thing about telling someone they're dying is it tends to focus their priorities. You find out what matters to them. What they're willing to die for. What they're willing to lie for.”

The greatest deception is self deception. We know when we are intentionally lying to others, but our inner psyche is too distorted to always reveal the truth to our selves, and, in turn, to others. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still responsible for our junk, but our egotistical self preservation almost seems like something separate from, yet ingrained in, us.

As one who believes in the redemption of Jesus, being true hasn’t been a whole lot easier at times. God’s children are called to die each day unto themselves, and if Dr. House’s thesis is true, the thing I’m willing to lie for the most is my ego and the way others perceive me. This is a complex, two sided issue that basically has me as a contorted void at times, neither confessing sin nor sainthood, which, in the current era, dances mysteriously together.

I would like to take a polygraph sometime to see what‘s in me. Actually, no, that’s a lie. Saying that makes me look noble and strong enough to face the truth. However, I would be scared to death for an internal paradigm change. The only consolation is that redemption is process (in part) and affects not only desires but the will as well. Just because I have thoughts or desires to do something un-honorable (sin), doesn’t mean I would choose to continually think about or act on them (sainthood). I guess those two aspects aren’t so much dancing… rather they are in an all out cage match.

Still, what if we couldn’t hide and had to deal with ourselves head on and, on top of that, have others see us as we really are?

“Have you ever fantasized about having sex with your wife and one of her friends before?”

“Have you ever stolen something from work?”

“Are you in ministry for the purpose of respect and power?”

“Have you ever given your boyfriend a blowjob?”

“Do you gossip about your friends?”

“Have you ever abused a child?”

“Do you think you are better than your friends?”

“Have you thought about killing yourself before?”

“Do you believe in the Word of God?”

If none of these strikes a chord, there are more. In watching Moment of Truth, questions came up that I never thought of, and this was made for TV, folks; reality doesn’t pull any punches. If we think we are immune to being asked a question that wouldn’t cut and expose us to our core, we are lying to ourselves again.

When he was fifteen, a friend of mine heard a sermon and read in his Bible that one day everything will be uncovered and brought into the open, that even whispers and secrets will be shouted from the rooftops. If everything is going to be revealed anyway, why not confess the junky stuff now? In conviction, he stood up on a public picnic table and started confessing that he struggled with sexual temptation and sin. It was a pretty bold move.

Are we willing, in wisdom, now that we are “grown-up”, to do the same?

Do I believe…
that all flesh is like grass?
that the Word of the God is eternal?
that I cannot justify myself?

Do I believe…
in forgiveness offered?
in the necessity of forgiveness towards others?
in truth?

Do I believe that if I sit on a rooftop naked with shame, that God Himself will not only cover me, but change me as well? Or am I just playing pretend?

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June 17, 2008

Untitled [jana]

Some memories are simply ideal moments. I have a few of those stored away in metaphorical boxes of spicy dried rose petals. I take them out every once in a while and handle them carefully, lovingly, looking at them from every angle and seeing them anew. Some have grown faded with age, blurry round the edges, like those old photos that were printed on bad paper so the color went monochromatic. Some look as if they were formed whole and beautiful, but were later damaged by other forces; water damage, maybe, making the words illegible, and causing the pictures to distort and fade. A few are acid-burnt, eaten away with bitterness so the last remnants of sweetness are difficult to discern. A very few are whole and perfect the date written on acid-free paper, with permanent ink, photographs printed on the best paper, framed and set under indestructible glass. One such is clear today. It is shared by someone I knew only casually, and whom I probably only really remember because of this one day. She asked if I wanted to walk one October afternoon during my senior year at college. So we headed out in the crisp-edged blue fall day to the Back Forty school acreage, meandering first along the blackberry trail behind the art building.

At the end of the trail, near the entrance to the woods via the tunnel under the railroad tracks, stood an apple tree. We stood under it, looking up at the red and yellow apples against the black branches and blue sky. After a little bit of chat about the apples, I gave the trunk of the tree a good shake (a technique I learned from reading Anne of Green Gables, of course), and two round, rosy apples dropped neatly to the ground. We picked them up, and walked further along the trail and into the meadow on the edge of the school woods, where long grass tassels curved over, a spider web spun in the crook between tassel and stem. I was polishing the apple on my jeans as we talked about a literature class we were both taking, Romantic Poetry, I think. I polished and polished it. The apple seemed sound and whole and shiny, so I dared to take a bite. Sweet, tart, cidery...I've never eaten as good of an apple before or since. The entire fruit was sweet, crisp, fresh, cold, and bruise- and worm-free. Each taste seemed different. I finished munching the apple as we walked back out of the woods. I wished I could keep the core or the seed or the stem of the apple to remind me of the memory, but I didn't. The memento was the memory...all consumable, only present in the moment.

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Instructions Pending [sean]

…and if you stay, I will lay my life down.
No, I mean it—please get off the overpass.
And if you’ll just believe, we’ll make it last.
But today, the blacksmith left a twisted frown.

Here it is, we’re all suspicion and empty deceit.
This heart always struggles in its’ own unbelief.
And if we read our own instructions, they would read:
“Wash. Rinse. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Repeat…”

…can you feel the weight of something beautiful?
It’s like the room, it fills ‘till we are on our faces.
And here with my hands out, I think I understand.
This moment now is beautiful, it’s beautiful.

Jesus speaks and says He hates what we’ve become,
And points to the nail wounds in His hands and whispers
“I have come that they might have life,” and then I run.
Freedom always begins with my surrender.

…and if you stay, I will lay my life down.
No, I mean it—please get off the overpass.
And if you’ll just believe, we’ll make it last.
And then they twisted thorns into a crown.

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June 13, 2008

On Small Town Life [matt]

I grew up in the county. It couldn’t even be considered a town. I grew up six miles outside of a small town. And not surprisingly the teens in my small town had the same broad ambition that is shared by all small-town American teens: graduate and get out of town. Although I didn’t necessarily share their abhorrence of our locality, I did have a great desire to see big cities and important places. Like a million teenage boys before me, I saw myself as somehow picking up where Jack Kerouac had left off. Adventures, crowds, noise; this was my future.

Nobody in that stage of life pictures themselves at thirty. But that didn’t stop me from aging to this point anyways. I’ve been all over the US and now find myself hunkered down in Ferndale, Washington. I am rooted down in the far northwest corner of a state that is already pretty far from everything. Local bands play cover songs at the bar, and a few ma and pa shops still eke out a living while the big box shops move closer each year. Main Street is lined with flags every national holiday and we even have a celebration of the old settlers every year. Every Saturday I wake up to the sound of gunshots; Civil War reenactments are a big deal to some in this town.

Things change slowly here. The changes that do occur are as likely to be from the slow decay of time as from progress. And I think that is why I have started to put down my roots in this place. I have seen what progress brings us. Progress brings us cars that pollute, pills that dull our senses, computers that give us hundreds of “friends” while causing us to neglect real friends, TV’s that make neighbors unnecessary, bombs that make places like Nagasaki and Dresden non-existent. This noisy destruction of all that creates life is what we call progress. I left home looking for noise. I found home when I started looking for peace.

Small town life: my neighbor and I share some space between our houses, and both of us mow it, but never try to figure out who owns which part. I’m getting my mail when another neighbor drives by; he stops in the middle of the road and we talk for twenty minutes. People drop-in regularly.

Nearly every day we pack up our daughter and go walking. We walk in the snow, rain, sun, even when it is well below freezing and icy. Often we go to the grocery store, but other days we walk just to walk. We see the building that is half police station and half Masonic hall. We walk through a group of Bandido bikers, one of whom can’t help but momentarily let down his outlaw stance and smiles at our daughter. Friends stop and talk for a bit with us. On the left we see the infamous Ferndale bridge which has had Metalica spray-painted on its flank for decades. Down the road to our right we once saw a mother skunk with five young ones waddle across the road. More than once we’ve spotted bald eagles circling overhead.

If I’m leery about progress, I suppose that’s because I am excited about digress. To digress is to wander from the point. I take this as my duty. The world around me begs to be entertained away from neighbor, nature and Creator. It wants to destroy or kill what it does not understand. I do not believe people think this way, yet people en masse act in ways that few individuals would on their own. The point in a capitalist society such as ours is to seek whatever it is that provides you with “happiness,” to gain as much of that as possible. Together, with all of us seeking our own good, we will collectively succeed is the thought. Getting to the point, then, is what ultimately brings about the problems I see around me. But I digress.

And I digress some more.

And I will continue to do so. In small-town life I see the possibility of living a revolutionary life. It is not likely to be noticed because it is quiet and calm. But in a world of noise and hate and greed, what could be more radical that quiet, peace and generosity? I experience this in my town and give it to others.

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June 10, 2008

The Deep End [karen]

My chin was itchy from the place where the tears had fallen from my face. Depression was nipping at my heels again, and I was afraid. At least it was a safe place to fall apart. After nagging and probably embarrassing him with my corrective whispers at a party, I had had the moment of realization that sucks so much: the real reason that I'm finding so many flaws in him is that I feel really, really crappy about myself. I pulled the car into a mostly empty parking lot and collapsed into tears and sobs. He somehow forgot about my lousy treatment of him and put his arms around me, understanding that the demons in my head were a lot bigger than the tiff we were having a few moments before.

I don't know if you've walked with depression before, but if you have you know it's not a pleasant journey. I discovered that depression had been following me around about 3 years ago. At first it was a relief, realizing that I wasn't going crazy. But it took awhile to admit it. I would say things like "The counsellor says I have depression." After awhile I was finally able to get the actual words "I am depressed" out. Since then, I've learned a few other things...

It's not what you think it is.
Depression is not merely being sad, or what I called being "depressed" when I went through an angsty breakup at the age of 14. For me it involved a lot of fear, anxiety, stress and of feeling very, very alone. I was sure that no one really understood how I was feeling. Most of all, there was this unsettling sense that I just wasn't myself.

More people deal with it than you know.
After opening up to people about what I was going through, I found a lot of people who had also gone through similar struggles. I told a friend that I was in counseling, and she said "Me too!" and had heard of 3 other people that week who were also getting counseling. Curiously, I've found that it is an amazing connecting point. When you open up about your brokenness, people are very compassionate. And it helped me so much when I realized I really wasn't alone, and that there were others who felt some of the same things I had been feeling and that they had survived.

People who love you can save your life.
A roommate walked with me through the whole scary process when I first discovered it was depression that I was dealing with. We talked about whether or not medication something I should try. We talked about whether the cause of my turmoil was my situation, character flaws or if it was my brain chemistry. Ultimately, she wasn't phased by me and my patheticness. She loved and accepted the parts of me that I couldn't love or accept. Two years later when I had a brutal relapse into depression, two other friends helped me through one of the toughest summers of my life. They let me stay at their house, mostly sitting on their couch watching TV, because I couldn't face anything else. They accepted me as I was and even genuinely seemed to want me there, which helped a whole heck of a lot. And then of course, there's my fiance, who gave me the space and time to figure things out when I needed to. He's also attentive when I tell him of the struggles in my mind and he encourages me to do things that help me feel better: being creative, exercising, and simply getting out of bed when I'd rather lay around and feel sorry for myself.

The ups are good, the downs are scary.
I go through seasons when I feel like myself again, when I'm comfortable with who I am and confident in my abilities. There are also seasons that are reminiscent of the bad times. I've been trying to teach myself to deal with negative emotions. It's difficult. When I get stressed, anxious, or down, I immediately relate it to a time when those negative emotions were the only ones I felt. I have to remind myself that feelings of stress, and sadness are normal, human emotions and that everyone deals with them, and that it can be normal and good for me to respond to my circumstances with those emotions.

I wish I could say I have it figured out, or completely under control. Mostly, it is under control. I hope that I won't have to be on antidepressants forever, but who knows. It's things like this that help me remember to keep seeking, to keep asking for help. I know that it's good to realize that "sometimes you can't make it on your own." For now, I'll try to be open enough with my broken parts so that others don't feel ashamed of theirs, and so that we can find strength in each other and in our God. And I'll keep dealing with the itchy chin moments as they come.

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June 6, 2008

I Writer [mark]

“Write, write, write, write!” they chanted outside the window by my desk. Twenty jr. high kids stood on the other side of the fence around the school yard. Some pumped their fists in the air with every word while others sat down picking grass where they were. This is not another weird dream I had-- this actually happened. This is what happens when bored teenagers congregate on their lunch break; this is what happens when you tell bored teenagers what you do. They cheer you on.

Just a few moments ago there were three of them, then eight. That is when I opened the door to talk to them.

“Hey window guy, what are you doing?” the short one with headphones the size of his head draped around his neck yelled.

“Writing,” I said as I realized that I was still wearing my Homer Simpson pajamas.

“Like books?”


“Can we be in it?”

“Uh… maybe.”

After a few more minutes of small talk I closed the door and returned to my page. What seemed like seconds later I looked up and there were twenty. They had been running around the playground desperately trying to enlist every spare body they could find to cheer me on. The moment they saw me look at them they began to chant, “write, write, write, write!” They yelled each word with the greatest glee any one person could muster. “You’re my hero Writer-guy! I want to be just like you!” One of them tried to feed me grass through the fence to entice me into opening the door again.

I like having children playing outside the window where I write. It reminds me that I don't have everything figured out just yet and, perhaps they do. Every day an elementary school girl comes to the fence by my window and picks grass. I imagine her sitting at the dinner table at home telling her parents how wonderful school is. They think she likes the kids or the teachers but she is thinking about the grass. The nice, soft, green grass out by the fence that she longs to sit in and enjoy the satisfying plink as each blade gives up its grip on the ground. then she throws it into the air and watches it float down to the ground carried by the wind. In two or three years she will learn that this isn't fun, she will then spend the rest of her life trying to find what is fun.

What self-respecting adult would stand on the other side of a fence and cheer on a total stranger doing something so innocuous as putting words on a page? But that is what kids do; that is what makes them kids. I saw a few of them several days later and told them that I am about to get married. They promised to give me a proper countdown and on my wedding day they would put a poster on our back door.

One day I will have children of my own and I only hope that I can teach them as much about life, joy and fun as they will teach me.

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Ira Glass on Storytelling [editor]

Ira class is a storyteller, executive producer and host of This American Life, which is, of course, an NPR radio show by those hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are.

In these short video casts, Ira gives some nuggets of wisdom about storytelling. Though the focus is on audio/video media, many of his points are transferable in the grander scheme of written word as well.

Perhaps the most relevant issue, in my opinion, for us at Silhouette is what he says in episode three about the phase in any creative persons life of being somewhat crappy in their work. This can go on for years and the problem is that most people quit too soon before they get their groove on. The best way to get through this phase is to simply do a lot of work to catch up reality with your ideal.

Number One [Building Blocks]

Number Two [Finding a Good Story]

Number Three [Being Crappy]

Number Four [Pitfalls]

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June 3, 2008

My Body is a Building [liz]

My body is a building
My heart on the forth floor
With a room reserved for you
Forced by wind and time, the door cracks open
I enter to find
Your image, together with mine
Hung upon the walls
Memories drift with me and settle
As smoke upon cotton denim

These four corners and these four walls have never been stationary
They expand and contract
Taking on new shape and new size with
Every word, touch, silence, and space between.
I’ve been gone too long
And can feel the cement moving closer and closer
Will this room soon fade to nothing?
Or always remain, labeled box of my youth?

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The President's List [guest]

The biggest victory of Satan in this battle against the people of God, in my opinion, is his campaign against rest. Despite his irrefutable win in this match, perforated by oh-so-many fouls against humankind… nobody is blowing the whistle. I have watched him work this dark magic even in my own life and have done nothing, and now I have come to this conclusion:

I am tired.

My path of late has taken me through territory that I have not seen for many years in my walk with Christ. Lately, I learn the lessons of the beginner…

Jesus is God
Jesus was a man
God Is

God is love.
God is gracious

A great man once said that grace is the one ingredient that sets Christianity apart from the other world religions. To me, that poses a solution and a problem. In this faith, there is no need to prove yourself and no way to earn your place. Adoption is completely unearned and stems not from our own merit, but from the Father’s benevolence. What that means to me is that I do not need to DO anything… no that is untrue, I have one thing that I must do. I must accept a gift. Acceptance of that gift just happens to be the one thing that is so hard for people in our culture to do. We would much rather work our fingers to the bone trying to earn the favor of God that He gives so freely.

I am such a silly Martha sometimes. Oh, come on… You know the one I mean: Martha, the woman who had Jesus over for supper and forgot to talk to Him because she was so busy cooking dinner. Yeah, that’s me bustling around in the kitchen grumbling because there is nobody there to help me. I feel like I have to earn favor, either God’s or someone else’s when what God wants most of all is for me to come sit down and have a chat with Him. It is not that my choice is so displeasing to Jesus it is that I overlook something much better. Let me put my situation in a more practical way; I am on the President’s list at my university. That means I have a high GPA, and ultimately, it does not mean anything. It means that I work my tail off and burn the candle at both ends; it means that I obsess about grades and worry about failure. It is also a quiet arrow pointing to a problem in my heart.

I have forgotten one of the most brilliant gifts of a Father who loves me.

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”
“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
“It is vain for you to rise up early, to stay up late, and to eat the bread of painful labor. For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”

We humans have methods by which we attempt to distinguish ourselves from our peers. We fight and claw our way up the social food chain and forget that the only President’s List of lasting value is the Lamb’s Book of Life. I forget, but I need to remember, that when Paul said “…run in such a way that you may receive the prize” he spoke of an attitude of the heart exhibited in the constant pursuit of the goal. The goal is not to beat the person running next to you. The goal is to please your Savior.

Elizabeth Olwin is a (somewhat busy) student at WWU who is nearly finished with spring quarter. She enjoys driftwood treehouses and tidepools and is learning to take the time to talk to Jesus.

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