The times they are a changin’

I guess it’s been three years since I posted anything in the blog-o-sphere world. Lots has happened and this isn’t a blog about my day-to-day so I haven’t used it much. I’m in El Paso, TX, married, working as a nurse in the Army and trying my darndest to keep up personal growth and development. That thing was easy in college where you’re surrounded by like-minded, like-aged people who are all learning a once. Their are countless events you can go to related to art/literature/science/media/culture/etc./etc. On the other side (out of college and miles from Los Angeles) its been more difficult to find those experiences. But never fear! all is not lost, there are still lots of great things and people out here. I am constantly reminded that a place is what you make of it and that only you decide how to perceive a situation. All that being said I’d like to talk about a few recent interests:

  1.  A new blog project: I haven’t used my own blog in years and I’m starting a new one? I know, I know, what is she thinking? Let me tell you. This new project is a collaboration that I’m starting with some friends. Its centered around the idea of sharing recommendations in conversation. I’m hoping to get mixed involvement with a variety of interests and subjects. I’m no expert in blogs and if this evolves the way I’m hoping it will I’ll need to learn fast and enlist some help. Primarily I’m really excited to see what other people come up with and what they suggest to form and shape this thing. It may fizzle out and die, but I hope it can survive as a way to connect friends and enrich our lives. Heres l’chaim: to life!
  2. Outsider Art: Probably late to the table on this one but I’ve just discovered the term “outsider art”. It seems like it may be a term on its way out for political correctness sake, since it can ostracize these artists, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Outsider art is work created by someone who is untrained. An amateur artist setting out to make art, almost accidental artists in some cases. Examples I’ve found compelling so far are: James Edward Deeds, who created a series of incredible and somewhat weird drawings from inside a mental institution, Bill Traylor, an African american man born into slavery who didn’t start drawing until he was 85 then produced an astounding 1200-1500 pieces, and Adolf Wölfli, a Swiss peasant who suffered from mental health issues but went on to create a 25,000 page 45 volume “imaginary autobiography” that intertwines prose, poetry, collage, drawing, and music pieces to form a staggering, detailed compendium.
  3. Minimalist Wardrobe: I have noticed a refreshing increase in environmental awareness in America over the last several years. Maybe I’m just seeing more of it, but there is hope that it’s an actual shift in people’s mindsets and lifestyles. I’m sometimes paralyzed by the things I do to contribute to a lazy abuse of the world we live in. When I think about the fact that I’m using plastic bags for my produce and food storage, or not making all of my food from scratch to cut down on waste I feel a little guilty. Then I remember that no one ever taught me better growing up and now that I’m learning it’s going to take time to get there. I’m working on one step at a time. One of these on the forefront for me right now is clothing. I shopped a lot at big chain retailers who would sell me cheap, trendy-enough clothes. Never thrilled about supporting businesses with less than perfect labor practices and material sourcing, I justified it by thinking I didn’t have enough money to do anything different. Not a good enough excuse. Being conscious and intentional about our choices in apparel is as important as the food we eat. No more supporting child labor/sweat shops/economic inequality /human rights abuse and massive amounts of unnecessary waste out of neglect. I’m looking for clothing brands with transparent business practices and ethical production processes. Companies Who make high-quality goods so I don’t need clothes every month when cheap things rip, fade, and lose their shape (or go out of style when you turn your head). The first step for me was to get rid of most of my clothes. I took 80% of my wardrobe to Plato’s Closet where they bought about 15% and took the rest to the Salvation Army. I still have plenty of clothes and I’m working on slowly and steadily adding better pieces that will last long and look great. One resource I found to be incredibly helpful in this project is this blog Where the author explains her own wardrobe and some ins and outs of having an intentional and thought out closet. If you are interested in learning more, watch this (a quick look at whats wrong with fast fashion), and this (John Oliver’s sarcastic, satirical comedy doesn’t diminish the serious issue of clothing consumption in America).

Sacred Space

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The Hagia Sophia: Church, Mosque, Museum

“So many people come here and for so many different reasons. Some to rejoice, some to mourn, some to worship, others to sit steeped in thought. Almost everyone who comes to this place must be united by one thing: the staggering awe of one of the most beautiful spaces on earth.”

I wrote this as I sat on a stone step in the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul in Turkey. As I entered this magnificent building I couldn’t help but be struck by its glory. The vaulted and domed ceiling towers high over the viewers head, and the space is suffused with golden light streaming in from the windows, around the domes, and emanating from chandeliers suspended from the ceiling. Gold paint and intricate mosaic tiles glimmer in the radiance. However, despite this magnificence and splendor, the viewer is immediately confronted with a stark juxtaposition of two religions. Islam and Christianity. On the walls massive discs with beautiful, gold, Arabic lettering bear the names of Allah and Mohamed. Many of these discs are hung directly beside a glittering mosaic depicting a scene of Christian iconography. Jesus Christ, Mary the mother of Jesus, a seraphim covered by his six wings.

As a visitor to this museum I felt a sense of unease at seeing a place that was once holy, first to the Christians, then to the Muslims, stripped of its identity like this. Neither Christians nor Muslims can now claim this awesome place as their own space of worship. It is a museum, neutral. Sacredness cross-canceled by competing religions.

Museum to Mosque

Now, as tension continues to rise in the middle east, there is talk of changing this Hagia Sophia in Istanbul back into a mosque. Two other Hagia Sophias, one in Iznik (once Nicea) and one in Trabzon have recently been converted into mosques. These events point to the possibility of the golden Hagia Sophia of Istanbul being converted as well. In an Article on Al-monitor Amberin Zaman discusses the conversion of the first two buildings and the implications that this may have for the future of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Museum. However, in his conclusion he states that:

Western diplomats warn that the court ruling for the Trabzon Hagia Sophia has set a dangerous precedent. Even so, converting Hagia Sophia in Istanbul seems far-fetched. Restoration work on the famous basilica has continued throughout a decade of AKP rule, and new frescoes have been uncovered. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has himself dismissed speculation about Hagia Sophia’s future. Drawing around 3.3 million visitors in 2012, the museum is in the words of Kalas, the Byzantine historian, “a money-generating machine.” Kalas believes Hagia Sophia will not be converted into a mosque “precisely for this reason, … not because [the government] doesn’t want this to happen,” she concluded.

This sentiment is echoed in an article published in The Economist. 

While some spectators offer the Hagia Sophia’s monetary value as a museum as proof that it will not likely be converted, other evidence points in the opposite direction. In the Hurriyet Daily News an article appears indicating that due to the activism of some citizens parliamentary consideration is indeed being given to this proposal.

“Three citizens living in the northwestern province of Kocaeli appealed to the commission with a request to change the status of Hagia Sophia. A survey conducted with 401 people was attached to the application, in which more than 97 percent of interviewees requested the transformation of the ancient building into a mosque and afterwards for it to be reopened for Muslim worship.”

 

hagia sofia

Implications of the Conversion

The conversion of this building has so many implications. As a follower of Christ I see a direct attack on Christendom. While it is true that a relationship with God is not dictated by physical buildings, I can’t help but feel sad that the icons of the Christian church will be covered up once again. The tension that exists there now will give way to a victory for Islam.

This issue is not simply a religious one though. There are many pieces of art in this building created by Christians that are not allowed to be present in a mosque. This means that they will be covered in one way or another and not only will the public not be allowed to view them, but further discovery of such pieces would likely halt. The artistic value of these incredibly detailed mosaics is undeniable. The historical nature of this building and its extant past infuse it with cultural significance. Buildings like this one are important examples of byzantine architecture and art. The conversion of this building will likely cause damage as has been seen in the other two converted churches.

In 2011 Michele Stopera Frehauf wrote an article for Popular Archaeology in which she asserts that:

“Hagia Sophia represents the very essence of the history of Turkey and the continuous transformation it has undergone throughout the ages and even today … As a Museum, this structure must remain a testimony to its past, Pagan, Christian and Muslim alike, standing to tell a story, in its structure and stones.”

This museum is a rich vein of history and its conversion into a mosque would stifle the benefit of being able to explore such a sacred space in an academic or religious way. Is the fate of the Hagia Sophia in Trabzon as depicted in The Economist a window into the future of Istanbul’s building?

“A red carpet now obscures exquisite floor mosaics. Shutters and tents beneath the central dome shield Muslim worshippers from “sinful” paintings of the Holy Trinity. Shiny steel taps with plastic stools for ablutions clutter a once-verdant garden filled with ancient sculptures.”

This Haunting image of a once richly historical place now shrouded in obscurity for the sake of Islam is a grim one. Only the future will show what will become of this sacred space.      

Here, at the end of all things (yet not quite an ending)

As we come to the end of yet another semester, I find myself unusually wistful. There is an increasing feeling of opportunities gained and of those missed as this earth continues it revolving dance with the sun. Reflection fills my mind with pictures that flash and glow like scenes in a dream sequence or a life in review moments before death. So much has happened and I feel almost as if each piece deserves its own space. However, there is little time for all of that and so much can be offered up in a summary form more conducive to reading. Among other things this spring was filled with school, music making, art exhibits, Los Angeles excursions, a car accident and many pensive, sun-dappled moments. I will give you just a few stories since I cannot fit everything in this little space between 1s and 0s. I’ll supplement this post with some poetry I wrote, inspired by T.S. Eliot.

I spent several delightful evenings this spring at The Charity shop. This is a fantastic little place operated by none other than Jordan Avila. In order to promote this place and garner the attention such a place deserves, events are being hosted that offer guests the opportunity to meet new friends, enjoy good food and discover burgeoning artists. Rapid courtships, box wine, crackers and goat cheese? a guaranteed good time. Stop by sometime and pick up something unique, its an incredible establishment, well worth a visit.

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The event of a lifetime of course was returning to Fauxchella. Joshua tree, Shangri La. The incredible miss Laurel Dailey is the true artificer of this world, read her own words about it. Heres my take: The little house off of a dirt road: Shangri La, hides a lot of things. It hides the fact that it is a virtual petri dish for creative minds. This isolated desert house, rented by a group of beatniks in the spring two years now seems to spawn fresh art. It may seem odd since its a dessert house surrounded by nothing but chaparral and, well, a lot of dirt. Yet when the ladies and gents start arriving at this piece of dusty thirsty ground, its like the gold rush era all over again. There’s gold in them hills. The untold secret of the California desert lies in its severe beauty and devastating sunsets. The stars that glitter in endless swaths that smash Hollywood’s cemented five pointed wannabe’s all to pieces. How could a human fail to find a muse in the peach and butter flavored sunrises, or in the way the horizon surrounds you in a low lying bowl of little foothills that seem to blanket you and strand you all in one motion? The song of the cicadas, invisible orchestras surrounding low lying tents, or the warm eddy of a raucous passing dust devil are the roots of the purest forms of essential human expression.

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker’s rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,

In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

Stevens said it well I think. We experience this world of natural, raw beauty and the result is the maker’s rage to order the words of the sea, of the mountain trees, of the desert sands and winds. This being said, going to Shangri La was merely an accident in this case. While there is obvious inspiration in that place, the artists who found themselves there possess talents that show themselves in any environment. Last year songs like this blew our minds. This year was no disappointment  Musicians gathered together, voices swelled, and instruments clamored, creating some of the most epic, beautiful music I have ever heard. The place where this happened might have something to do with the magical creation that took place there, but I am certain that the people involved make up the majority of that incredible experience from year to year and it is a unique privilege to know them, though we be ships in the night. I wrote this piece about that experience with the inspiration of the desert, Wallace Stevens and East of Eden:

Mountainous atmospheres of sky and sea,

We believe that miracles happen here

Where creative angst takes a final stand

Sparkling earth admits this, a mere

Ground for growing that which we understand

To be a breeding ground where all will mirror

Every expression, developing, coming to hand.

Fire withers and consumes such fears

That mortal minds build to be grand.

However barren it may to one appear,

This is arrival in a fertile land

Watered not by rain, a hemisphere,

A world created by the makers minds and

Offered only accidentally to those who hear.

This is the agricultural dream of melodies,

Enter in and here retrieve

Any pieces you have lost along the way.

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The memorabilia in my mind does not end there. Other bits and pieces roll around like the tumbleweeds you see in the desert and I’m looking around at them to see which I should capture to offer up next.

Another highlight of the new year, 2013, would be Sacred Streets. This is an art exhibit created by Jason Leith and installed on Skid Row in Los Angeles. He created portraits of homeless individuals living in the area and set them up in a sort of makeshift temple. each portrait contained saint-like symbolism and was accompanied by a story about the person depicted. This exhibit served to offer a connection between the viewers and the people on skid row, some of whom were one in the same. It was an incredible opportunity for members of different communities to connect through art placed in a very unusual space. It is not often that an artist chooses to showcase their work in a place that is famous for its dense homeless population. However, Jason created a place where people who are often looked down upon in society were shown, etched and sketched on pieces of found objects, some gilded with gold-leaf, in a new and radical light. Depicting these people in a manner similar to the way that the saints of the church are rendered gave viewers a chance to adopt a completely different point of view. Many of the stories shown here contained tales of beautiful spirituality and intense spirituality that put me to shame. One woman even directly asked God if it was His will for her portrait to be drawn when Leith approached her. After I had looked through the gallery I stood outside in the light drizzling LA night and watched the faces of people ascending the steps into this space and viewing the artwork in this unusual venue. As a friend and I stood observing this, we saw some homeless men and women approach the gallery with some suspicion, eyeing the security guard at the door. Would he let them in, was this place only for those with homes? No, he even helped some people up the stairs, this is a place that all are welcome. One homeless man approached, not on his legs but borne by two wheels. Immediately my companion realized that the gallery was not wheelchair accesible and he could not get in. We gazed as another man pushed the wheelchair around to each of the four doors of the gallery and the man looked in. In this occurrence I saw a similarity to the story of the paralytic man who is taken to Jesus to be healed but cannot get to him because of the crowd, his six friends carried him to the roof and took of the shingles to lower him at the Lord’s feet. Approaching the fourth and final door, this man, unable to use his legs could not enter the sacred space. Then something incredible happened. As if from nowhere, about five or six people from different places around that door surrounded the wheelchair and after a moment or so of discussion I could not hear, lifted the chair up, over the steps and into the structure. After wheeling around inside the man was borne out again and I think Robynne saw a tear glisten on his cheek.

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This rapidly growing year has presented many new things and continuations of old ones. Friendships are strengthened or broken, things created and worlds changed. My best friend is engaged (she’s not the only one) and I have one final year of school ahead of me. I have raided bookstores (especially this one), spent too much time on pinterest, and learned much more about nursing. A major chapter comes to a close in my own life, but not before I read Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, T.S. Eliot, Lewis, and Chesterton among others, and struggled with some of the most difficult things I have encountered yet. And after all this I gotta say, the future is comin’ on.

My Christmas List

I went to write a Christmas list this year, like you asked for. I started out by writing that I want Marilynne Robinson’s “When I was a Child I Read Books”, The “Pina” dance film, the SLAKE literary journal, The poetry of Dana Gioia, also a record player. These are things I sort of want but I can tell you that what I want even more is simply to spend time with my family, to go places, do things and see things. I want to go to the theater, and walk around LA, and spend time smelling books in used bookstores and talk for hours over steaming coffee as it grows cold, and to look into the eyes of my mother and father and brothers and feel contentment. To see the ocean in the winter and to see trees that dress up so fantastically for the seasons. I want to experience the world every day as if it was the last day of my life, but also as if the big picture includes more than just me. I want to learn people and meet new ones all the time. I want to serve God like my life depended on Him, because, lets face it, it does.

I want to cook meals and watch the people I love enjoy them. I want to receive letters and spend time writing back. I want to find secret places where magic still exists and bask in the warmth of the untouched places still left to this world. I want to read poetry and stories out loud in spaces made just for that purpose, underneath a spreading chestnut tree or over a lazy river on a warm summer day. I want to run around like a child and lie in the grass guessing at the shapes shifting in the clouds. I want to go to a zoo. I want to read, and read, and read, then talk with people about books and find those who are as fascinated with the world as I am.

I want to see creation through I microscope and through a telescope, then just with my own eyes. I want to write new stories, not because I think I can add to the vast world of literature as it is but because I want to respond to the conversation of time that beckons me in. I want to climb to the tops of tall buildings and watch sunsets and sunrises. I want to make snow angels and sandcastles and daisy chains. I want to love and to be loved. I want to shop in thrift shops and spend my free time talking to homeless people and showing them the love of the Father. I want to create paintings, drawings and music that will remind people of the one who created us in His image so we could be little creators. I want to listen to the craftsmanship of great composers and skilled musicians, and gape for hours at the brush strokes of the demi-gods who are worshipped in galleries.

I want to collect sea glass on the oceans doorstep and train marbles by the tracks. I want to breathe the air of different countries and see how its different from mine – or the same. I want to make wishes on eyelashes, puffed up white dandelions and shooting stars. I want to let the televisions of the world gather dust and fall asleep while I see the world for what it really is. I want to watch things grow and watch them die to let other things in. I love music and art and literature and people and conversation and timeless moments. I want to stretch in the sun on a wooden boat on a tired old river with trees hugging the banks. I want to hold a hedgehog and ride a horse. I want to eat fresh snow every winter and feel my face grow red and icy in the cold wind. I want to go for long walks in forests when they are fully clothed and when they are completely naked. I want to sleep for hours knowing that the people I love are near me and that they are safe. I want to click my heels and play my violin and dance even though I so obviously don’t know how.

I want to hear people’s stories and let them cry and laugh. I want to get wrinkles around my eyes and mouth where I laugh and frown. I want to sing and talk till I’m hoarse and then do it some more. I want to play board games all night with you, mom. I want you to beat me at scrabble and tell me how you only drink herbal tea and hate vegetables and salad dressing. I want to sit across from you in the fat chairs in your room and hear about your students and your teaching and how much you love what you do. I want to hear stories about how you grew up with your sisters and how you met daddy. I want to know what it was like for you to see your children grow up from babies to become adults. I want to see you bundle up in the cold so I can laugh and call you “snow penguin”. I want to learn how you did it all those years – how you took care of four kids who could drive anybody insane. I want to reminisce about the times you read to us on sleepy afternoons with the smell of fresh baked bread laced in the air like an opiate. I want to give you foot massages since I’m the only one who doesn’t tickle your feet. I want to come in your room and jump on your bed to distract you from your Grisham novel when you’re tucked into bed in your jamies. I want to curl up next to you so that you stroke my hair and call me your favorite daughter (lucky for me you only have one). I want to tell you all of my stories and secrets and revel in our blooming friendship. I want to talk about how brilliant my little brother is. I want to make you laugh and see your beautiful smile light up the room. I want to tell you that you’re the most incredible mother a girl could ever ask for and that I love you more than all the things this world has to offer. These are the things that I really want this year. I know its a tall order so you don’t have to get me everything listed here. I’ll understand if the only one I can have is cuddling with you. I love you momma.

Sacred Spaces #1

Biola University is beginning a series in this new semester having to do with the idea of sacred spaces. Dr. Darien Lockett gave a chapel lecture on the subject of sacred spaces warning his audience against two dangers involved with this idea and using psalm 24 as a guide away from them. He began by defining a sacred space as, simply and area dedicated to God/religion. This led to the two views of sacred space which lead Christians into error. The first of these views is that all space is either sacred or secular. This insinuates that while a church or cathedral may be a sacred place, a park or someone’s house must be secular space. Dr. Lockett dispelled this idea using Psalm 24 which says: 

1. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,

the world and those who dwell therein,

2.  for he has founded it upon the seas

and established it upon the rivers.

Essentially, this means that we, as Christians, cannot see any space as secular because God is the creator of everything and he has called it good. Because of this we can treat all space as sacred space. “The Heavens declare the glory of God.”   

     

Summer In the Chaparral

Our three pairs of feet make indescribably delicious crunching sounds on the gravel of the Pacific Crest Trail as we wend our way towards the legendary Silverwood Lake. The dominant sound when we still our own conversation is the scraping, dry rattle of the cicadas. It might pass for a rattlesnake’s warning if it weren’t for the drawn out droning quality that the little chorus insists upon. The tiny musicians hide on either side of the narrow trail, making temporary homes of the buckwheat, Chemise, and bush poppies that grow like wildfire in the arid, high desert climate.

Since this trail, which stretches its arms from Canada to Mexico, passes directly through the forestry land of our back yard, we have been known to hike it not infrequently. However, we have never taken it farther than a few miles towards the lake which remains somewhat mystical, nestled behind several foothills to the east of our home. Today’s trek led us to a vision of the misty lake behind the hills but we never reached it. Despite our nine mile excursion, our pilgrimage ended in contented tiredness by the side of the highway, barring us from our final destination. Maybe next time we will reach the seemingly mythical waters of Silverwood.

Tiger Lily

But for now I look out from our back porch over miles and miles of hill land and from here I can see a red-tailed hawk effortlessly gliding, circling in the invisible spout of a thermal air current. The sun is setting. I love watching the dense blue shadows that settle into the pockets of the rolling, lazy hills behind our home. The green mounds lie like sleeping giants who might stir at any moment under my foot if it touched a too tender spot, slipping into an eye. As the wind whips across the chaparral that covers their bodies like thick, rough, green hair, punctuated by patches of bright orange Cuscuta, “Witches’ Hair”, they rumble from deep within their hibernation, snoring terribly yet quite innocuously. As the sun sets behind Mount Baldy, which clasps the remains of its white blanket tightly around its shoulders and head, the gnats and dust mites are ignited in tiny halos of brilliant orangish yellow by the ball of gold descending behind them. The flight of these otherwise, almost invisible spots is gentle and unhurried.

Sometimes the wind here is more than a little persistent. It whistles through the cracks in the window sills and between doors. I don’t understand the song; it seems rather tuneless to my ears, but that is because it is being filtered by the house. The only way to actually hear what the wind is trying to vociferate is to go out into it where it blows right by your ears. The gust rips through hair and clothes as though it would not welcome me as an audience, but I know that its only because it doesn’t notice me and keeps running around regardless of who or what may be in its way. The wind is powerful.