Friday, December 22, 2006

publish me

I got my picture taken for the school paper yesterday so I guess that means they are going to publish the “Peace and Radicals” article I submitted (see the December 7 blog). It is a good feeling when something you have created turns out to be appreciated by someone other than yourself or your immediate circle of friends and family. As a writer (and photographer and musician and actor and artist at large), it is my job to create and explore beauty and truth and that gives me great joy. Sometimes, though, the pressure to be published or shown or get a paying gig or recognised in some way by the general public takes some of the pure passion out of my creativity. I had a very interesting conversation with a fellow writer this past summer in Mahone Bay.

We had both spent the better part of a year writing our first work of fiction and were entirely thrilled to find someone else who had gone through this intense creative process. We were both invigorated by the challenges of writing something of that length and totally investing ourselves in the story and its characters. But after a second look and some constructive criticism from trusted friends, each of us had discovered that while the process had been an incredible learning and growing opportunity as a writer, the book itself was not in any shape to be published. Neither of us regretted having done our projects, but at this point, we both wondered what to do with almost 100,000 words of toil, sweat, and tears on our computers. It is somewhat embarrassing when people keep asking you, "So, is your book done? When is it going to be published?" And the only true answer you can give is: "At this point, it is not good enough to be published and I am not sure if I should spend the better part of another year rewriting it or simply move on to the next project and chalk it up to experience." It sounds too much like failure.

As my friend and I walked along in silence and I pondered my questionable future as a thriving and self-supporting artist once again, a thought struck me. “Why does something have to be published to make it valid?“ I asked my friend. “That is a total unrealistic and unhealthy way of looking at things. Does every song have to be recorded to make it worth something, to make it meaningful? Does every piece of poetry have to be printed in order for someone to appreciate the beauty in the words? NO! That is just the way the world system makes us think - fame and reimbursement make things valid and that’s a lie.“ I asked my fellow writer why he had written his book and he said it was in honour of his friend. I asked him, “Is the story worth telling?“ He said, “Yes,” to which I replied, “Then it is worth reading, at least to me.“ I asked him to send me his book and I promised not to read it with a critical or editorial eye, but appreciate the story as a gift, a way of seeing something that only he could express. I got so excited about this new “validity” concept that I shared the idea with a few others and they immediately said they would also love to read something like that, just to appreciate the story.

Creativity is not owned by the publishing and recording and production companies who pretend to buy and sell it. It is found in the people who have let a spark ignite in their souls and added their hard work and ingenuity to it in order to make something unique and meaningful and beautiful and over time, increasingly more well-crafted. I believe I have many things to learn as a writer and artist, but I have ceased to make my goal that of being published. That is a dream far too small. I want to change the world by telling stories that no one else can, by presenting truth and beauty in interesting and unique, yet recognisable forms. I want to point my camera at things that no one else has thought to stop and look at. And I will tell my story and my vision and my dreams to those around me…one by one by one. This is worth my time. This is worth my effort. This is what a voice in the wilderness does.

“Prophets are those folk among us who dare to stop doing good. That is, they dare to be less busy, less consumed by the legitimate demands of the present day. Their peculiar asceticism is to stop the busyness, and in the stillness to listen. Only as the absorbing and distracting demands of the present are stilled will we hear the sounds of the future. This is a considerable risk. The good we are doing now not only fills our day but tells us who we are. In it we find our worth. Without it, who would we be? What if we quiet our hearts and then hear nothing? But the gift of the prophet is to seek silence, convinced that only then will we hear the subtle murmurs of God's Spirit. These sounds alone can tell us what time it is.”

James D. Whitehead and Evelyn Eaton Whitehead
The Gift of Prophecy, SPIRITUALITY TODAY
Winter 1989, Vol.41 No. 4, pp. 292-304.

Friday, December 15, 2006

NTKB: need to know basis

I want to know things. Big things, little things, future things, profound things, things that are true and certain, things that will not change, things that will change, things that make decisions easier, things I can depend on. I have noticed that I am not the only one. Especially when discussing life and faith issues, many people want to know things. How can I know God is real? Will things work out for me if I do this? Can I trust God? What is my purpose? How can I forgive when justice is not done? Why do bad things happen to innocent people? Is this the right career path? Is this the right person for me? What happens when I die? Will good really win out over evil? Why doesn’t the Bible make more sense? How long will I live? We all want answers to our questions, but what happens if we don‘t get the answers we think we need? All too often, I think we are waiting for some assurance that the outcome will be to our liking before we commit to something, and that keeps us on the sidelines, watching and evaluating and calculating, instead of participating and experiencing and investing.

Very little in life is certain or predictable. We live one day at a time and at the end of that day we are blessed if we still have a job, a home, all our loved ones in good health, shelter and food, more happy moments than sad, and hope for the future. Knowledge is a good thing, a very good thing, but it is not the only thing on which to base our entire lives. I cannot know everything - I am not omnipresent, I cannot predict the future nor totally control what happens in my world, I am not omnipotent nor all-wise, and I often perceive more than truly know these things we call facts or truths because my experiences (both good and bad), my self-image, and overall view of the world colour how I interpret the information I receive and how I fill in the blanks when things are not spelled out clearly.

Demanding that we know all the ins and outs of something before we commit is simply unrealistic and perhaps more truthfully, fearful and self-protective in an ungenerous sort of way. One should always make informed decisions, and I wholeheartedly support the practice of thinking things through and doing some research before making choices, but knowledge is never a guarantee and at some point, one must simply take that leap and give it a try. If you must have every question answered before you believe God is real and trustworthy, you will never believe in him. If you must know everything about a person before you marry them, you will never get married. If you must know exactly what a food tastes like before you try it, you will never eat. If you want to know how every business venture works out before you risk any funds, you will never be an entrepreneur. Life is experience after experience, not fact after fact.

When I look at the life of Jesus, I see someone who, though he had the knowledge of God at his disposal, put that aside to become one of us, and that lack in no way hindered a life filled with faith, passion, wholeheartedness, and undeniable integrity and effectiveness. His most precious and useful knowledge was not of facts and events, but of what was in his Father’s heart. That fuelled every decision and under girded all his authority as a healer and teacher. Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions. Instead of demanding proof and guarantees and specific directions and neat solutions, we should be asking God to show us his great big heart which encompasses every situation and need that could ever arise, which transcends all knowledge and time, and best of all, makes a way for freedom, redemption, and wholeness.

Perhaps the next time I have a question about some tangled life situation or complex intellectual or social problem, or am faced with a dead end, instead of demanding an explanation or an assurance that I will not be disappointed, I will ask some better questions. Where is God in this place? How much does he love me? What can I do right now to walk in peace? Can I trust the most faithful person in the universe to make a way? Why has this opportunity been given to me? Who knows everything about my situation and can give me the best advice and direction?

The question is not do I have enough information, but do I trust God with what I don’t and can’t know?

I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.- God’s Decree. For as the sky soars high above the earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think.“ from Isaiah 55, the Message.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

and now for something completely different...

Last night, or rather early this morning, I wrote a little something for the brand new student newspaper being started at my school. Though I set out to compose a lighthearted inspirational story that would bring a smile to many faces and most importantly, not offend anyone at this multicultural, multi-faith, in some ways anti-faith institution with a definite rough side to it, the following is what came out of my head at 2:00 am. It is much too wordy and slightly argumentative and I don't know how the name Jesus snuck in there when I was really trying to be inoffensive, but I submitted it this morning trusting that God did in some way answer my prayer to give me the right words.


If peace is indeed defined as an absence of war or conflict, then the hope for friendly co-existence between the peoples of this earth seems as far-fetched as it has ever been. When questioned as to the source of this growing climate of dis-ease, many people blame the “radicals” of different belief systems for the degradation of a general sense of security and safety in our world. While there is a grain of truth to this sentiment, it is primarily a misleading generalisation and a misuse of the word “radical.”

“Radical” is first defined by Webster’s dictionary as “of, relating to, or proceeding from a root; of or relating to the origin, fundamental.” A radical in the truest sense is one who embraces a system of belief at its very root and follows these beliefs through to the smallest stems of life. Any belief system that does not hold true at the fringes the same as it holds true at the foundation is a faulty system, and any blame for inconsistent behaviour should not be put on the so-called extremist, but on the inadequate set of values and principles. If a person, however, misrepresents the root values, then the blame for any destructive behaviour rests solely on his or her shoulders and should not detrimentally reflect on the system of belief, for these individuals are not true representatives of any faith but that of their own invention. The discernment to tell the difference between the two appears to be sadly lacking in this day and age. It is much easier to blame radicals and extremists than to take a cold hard look at the fundamental problems in our society that we in fact propagate by our participation.

Tolerance has become a politically correct and desirable attitude to adopt, when in fact it is nothing but passivity which paves the way for the lowest common denominator to pull everyone down to a base level instead of challenging anyone to rise to a higher standard. It is time to stop blaming the radicals for all our problems and instead, develop a set of values whose foundations as well as their outermost limits stand up to the tests of conflict, suffering, and pursuing peace in a pluralistic society over the long haul. True radicals have deeply held convictions that have withstood the test of time, and contrary to resisting change, know how to apply these principles to current situations and new challenges. They are not passive, they are active. They change their environment by example instead of by force. They pursue peace but not at the expense of truth and justice. They are characterised by trustworthiness, faithfulness, love, and compassion. They are transparent in their motivation and do not react defensively to criticism or aggression. The escalating violence in this world is not because there are too many radicals out there, but rather, because there are not enough REAL radicals.

One of the greatest examples of a true peace-maker and radical was Mother Theresa, the recipient of the Nobel Peace prize in 1997. She influenced an entire world by believing and acting upon the words of Jesus which urged people to love one another. She said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the presence of trust, and in order to trust, we must first love each other.

“It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.” (Mother Teresa)

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” (from the song by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson)