The Chain Reaction of Art in 3-D {A Less Digital Life…Day 30}

I think we all know the feeling–we go searching Pinterest for inspiration, maybe a new look for the mantle this season, and we end up coming across a pair of slouchy knee-high tan boots that make us want to go shopping, a must-try pumpkin bread recipe and a tutorial on how to make felted soap. There are a dozen or a hundred things we could be attempting, but we feel exhausted just trying to make a decision. When we do pick a project, we often end up copycatting what we find rather than letting our true art out into the world.

When creative work comes in bulk disconnected from its creator, when we see the results of someone’s labor without considering the labor itself, when we compare our own unadorned lives with all of the accessories on the screen, we find ourselves stuck in place like a feed that keeps recycling the same images again and again. That’s the Pinterest Effect.

Today, my friend Jessica is sharing about a whole different effect, one that helped her to stop pilfering away her moments pining over what she saw on Pinterest to find a better way of living. In my early days with baby Gracia, Jessica blessed me with a meal and good conversation. We took some time to swap stories about family and previous churches. When I mentioned the name of my good friend who leads worship at Jessica’s parents’ church, she sat up straight and told me how that very friend had taught her the true meaning of inspiration, unknowingly helping her to move from being a spectator to becoming a real artist. Here is her story…

As a tired and strung-out mom of two little ones, I recently I took a counter-intuitive leap, a step towards doing something that would require lots of time, effort, and energy…very limited commodities during this stage of life. I felt compelled to step off the sidelines and start actively and intentionally pursue my gifts. Continue reading

A Sabbath from Sound {A Less Digital Life…Day 16}

E and Hoover, 2010

It was a song he’d never heard. Austin Chapman clicked up the volume. When the sound of angelic descants whirled into his ears from a recording of Mozart’s Lacrimosa, the young man wept. It wasn’t just the first time he’d heard this piece of music, it was the first time he’d heard music at all. Continue reading

Worship Unplugged {A Less Digital Life…Day 6}

pianospotlightThe bassist leans forward and presses a button on his laptop keyboard to start up some YouTube sensation, two oddballs singing the praises of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. Across from him, the big kid guitarist whips out his smartphone and tucks it away again, a tick of habit, and then closes his eyes to snooze off the sleep deprivation from the usual Saturday night club gig.

A fork full of waffle helps the fried chicken go down. Ridiculous makes hilarious. We all chuckle on the greenroom couches. And so the bandmate clicks to replay.

I check the clock, the ancient variety with the round face and hypnotizing hands. And then the saxophonist, a philosopher of sorts, turns to my husband to ask what’s going to become of the book industry with all this new media.

We talk of folded page corners, notes penciled in margins, and the cracking sound a book makes when its covers are pulled back like shoulders stretching to the spine. I think of our little library at home whose shelves are lined with the Harvard Classics I rescued from a dumpster. Talk turns to end times and conspiracy theories, and I scoot out to the edge of my seat. What will we do with all of the quiet if the grid should ever fizzle out?

Soon, our friend, the worship leader, comes in to pray over the band, that we will make more than a joyful noise, that we will play with excellence. It’s a quick amen and we’re stepping out into the dark hall backstage. I put my hand in the bend of my husband’s elbow and let him lead me to my mic on his way to the drums. I squint in the beam of a spotlight.

Across the platform, the newcomer grand piano glows in the colored stage lighting, promising to rival the usual synthesizer keyboard. The mics are hot and ready. The electric guitar revs. The snare whips. The saxophone whirs.

And then something pops loud, something unseen.

It kills the rainbow of lights, the white noise of speakers, the slight feedback of amplifiers. A few scattered lights compete with the dark. Tech guys scurry, tugging on wires, twisting plug-ins. I look past the hundreds of chairs, only half of them filled, now stuck in the shadows of the power outage. At the faraway entrance, natural light and gawkers peek into the black. They stop their feet at the doors.

I set my mic back in its stand and catch a wink from my husband, the only unpaid musician in the band. He turned away his share of the Sunday morning money and makes do with the joy of feeling the music in his muscles. He mouths the words to the beat, an offering. The partial power outage may be our little dream come true, this whole worship of excellence finally unplugged.

The piano’s lid prop points up like an old church steeple. I picture us all gathered around the instrument, blending our voices in mid-air, hearing them resonate as one.

There are skitters and whispers behind. I turn to see the lead pastor in a panic, looking for the culprit. Nothing’s working, not switching wires, not flipping switches on the circuit board, not restarting things in the soundbooth.  To me this is a sign to go with it, to let the people be more than an audience, more than swaying spectators whose voices have no chance of being heard over the booming speakers. This is our chance to let them be a congregation. Minutes are ticking by. The pastor sends the worship leader out with a prayer to stall for time. His voice is small in the sizable space.

In the balcony, there is a laying of hands on the soundboard. I cringe. I know God will probably give them over to their desires like He did when Israel begged for a king so they could be relevant.

Another unexplainable click and pop and then something that sounds like an old slide projector. Red, yellow, green, blue. The lights cycle through as the system reboots. Our opportunity is lost. A tap of the mic. Check- 1, 2, 3. A strum of the acoustic. The rumble of the bass. People applaud as they crowd in. And someone onstage sings out in a farcical vibrato the cliche meant for concert halls: “The show must go on.”

Disclaimer: This is not a scene from the church where our family attends and serves now. And while the church in this story had its focus wrong in many areas, I don’t mean to say that all churches who have professional-quality bands falter in the same way. Some of my dearest friends provide top-notch music with a tender heart toward the Lord in a band at a very large local congregation. It’s not that excellence isn’t a worthy endeavor as an act of worship, only that it is dangerous when people worship excellence itself.

lessdigitalHere’s a little Internet break for you. Right now, before you do anything else online….
Close your eyes and sing a hymn or a worship song, meditating on the meaning of the words.

{I’m linking up with Nester for her annual 31 Days blog get together. Don’t want to miss this series? Be sure to subscribe by entering your email in the box on the homepage sidebar. Find all posts in the series here.}

Laugh Lines {A Lullaby}


Several years back, well before I became a mother, I sat in a middle school library helping one of my English language learners with her homework. She was a good student but fortunately wasn’t as obsessive as some of the students in her home country who sometimes jumped out of windows if they didn’t make the grade. But there was another kind of perfectionism creeping in. As we got talking, she told me about her cousin’s obsession, how she prized her smooth, porcelain skin so much that she decided, in order to keep it wrinkle-free, she must not smile. Continue reading

Just Two Eyes to See

I pivot the tiny screen on its hinges and almost slam it away in the ceiling of the minivan. “Don’t even ask,” I tell them, “we’re keeping our eyes on the real world today.”

I’m lecturing by now, a woman with a diatribe, “There’s so much beauty around us….” A song is running through my head. I think of the lyrics I’ve accidentally quoted: “There’s so much beauty around us for just two eyes to see but everywhere I go I’m looking.”

I’ve communed with God through those words and ones like them, plain-speaking words that roll out of my mouth a decade and a half after the artist up and went to heaven in a chariot. I want to be looking. I want us to be looking.

I pull the lever to reverse out of the driveway. Our wheels are rolling and my firstborn blurts it out: “The world is beautiful even though it’s broken.”

I am stunned for a moment. I expected to be arguing with him about the little silver screen. I am quiet, nodding at him, my foot on the brake. My eyes go blurry before I focus and take a mental picture to pack away as a keepsake.

We drive out of our little town and take the scenic route through the farmland on our way to the doctor’s office in suburbia. The kids are quiet, not even asking for the radio. They are looking.

I roll down the windows as I turn onto the road that traces the edge of a river. An old white barn gives way to gravity and lets the shingles sink low. Splintered cornstalks shake like tambourines in the breeze. A gnarled wire fence crouches in prairie grass. One, two, three, four and more. We count the spiraled haystacks.

And then we see it. On top of the haystack nearest to us, just past the claws of the fence, two eyes stare us down. I look in my rearview, press my brake and click on the flashers. The kids hold their awe to a whisper. The engine idles at a low hum.

The fine-feathered fellow stays still, not paused on a screen, but steady, fixed in real time. Right there on the river road, at these exact coordinates on real earth, I study him with out even the glare of a window to cloud the view.

Strapping chest dappled white and brown. Ochre beak tipped in fashionable gray. Batik print detailed on brawny wings. Football player neck. He eyeballs us from his perch, the self-assured bird.

There in all that brokenness sits bold-faced beauty, and each of us with just our two eyes to see.