Adventures AWAKE

A pithy little blog encouraging creative adventures of the Christian spirit

Under the Influence March 24, 2010

“At some point in your life, you need to decide if you are going to impress people…

or influence them.” 

~ Gary Haugen, International Justice Mission

I’ll be honest, sometimes when I sense someone is wanting to impress me or others I end up left with a bad taste in my mouth. (I know I shouldn’t judge…) I don’t want flash, I want substance.

But what am I doing on a daily basis?

Am I going through my day bent on impressing certain people? — or am  I working on my influence? Substance is an awfully mundane topic but it’s absolutely essential if I am who I say I am. And, it doesn’t happen by accident. Substance is the fall-back of character. Despite the sometimes tedious nature of establishing it, truth be told I want it to be the foundation of my parenting, my work, my art, my spiritual life…virtually, everything. When someone has influenced me, I move closer to their way of being. I’m not just like them while they’re around; that would equate to a reaction to peer pressure. I become something different and it sticks. For whatever compunction, I leave part of my old ways behind. Thinking about it, when I’ve sought to impress someone I tend to be a copy of someone — or something — else. And, who wants to be a copy?

 As I gain life experience (a.k.a. “get older” but not that old), I’ve realized that without examining my days through the lense of influence, whether I want to admit it or not the quality of them is diminished. It’s kind of like my sudden need for readers. I can get away without the age-exposing eyewear but I know I’m missing detail. I’m aware things aren’t as sharp as they could be. (Thank goodness WholeFoods sells really cute ones, now).  I want to be sharp — capturing every brilliant detail of God’s creative plan for me.

 

Want an adventure? Consider whether your life has centered on impressing people or influencing them, lately. What difference would it make in how you’ve been approaching things? Ask a friend if he/she notices one characteristic moreso than the other in you. True strength resides in humility. Humility undergirds lasting influence. And, that kind of  influence can change the world.

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The ailing nation of India March 9, 2010

I recently returned from a trip to India with my oldest daughter. Beautiful, exotic country. Amazing developmental potential. Seemingly limitless foreign investment. Archaic social infrastructure. Never have I — as a woman raised in the West — witnessed, imagined or experienced such oppression.

As it is in India, what today are referred to as “slumdogs” — the 250 million subcaste members (meaning sub-human, below the four acknowledged/”legitimate human” castes under the feet of India’s 1.2 billion people) — can not vote. They are Dalits. Translated, their name means “broken underfoot.”  They can not hold property, they can not better themselves. They are frequently enslaved, murdered, beaten and raped. Sadly, it’s not just the stuff of Hollywood. I have heard it compared to the Apartheid movement of South Africa. The difference: In South Africa, the majority blacks could legitimately vote along with their minority white counterparts. Apartheid was overturned. Nelson Mandela was inaugurated…

Today, I received an email which shared excerpts of a letter sent to Nancy Pelosi in 2007 and, again, in 2010 to First Lady Michelle Obama.  Here are some excerpts authored by Dalit women:

We who have signed our names to this letter are the Dalit women of India. We are history’s longest standing oppressed people group, and by all reports the largest number of people categorized as victims of modern-day slavery.
 
We are also known by the demeaning labels “untouchables,” “outcastes,” and most recently “slumdogs.” We have been born “untouchable” according to the hierarchical social system of India, which considers us impure, subhuman, godforsaken, and deserving of our present suffering in this life because of our bad deeds in a past life. In this hierarchy, we are placed below animals. We have been told—and most of us agree—that it would be better if we had never been born.
 
There are 250 million “untouchables” in India today. We are denied education, healthcare, economic opportunity, and basic civil liberties that other citizens in our country enjoy. We are dying from AIDS, malaria, TB, and other diseases that we could prevent with vaccinations and proper care. Few of us own land or our own businesses. Most of us do not have access to clean water and are forbidden to draw water from the wells in our villages. Hundreds of thousands of our children as young as five years old work 12 or more hours a day, six or seven days a week. By the time our children turn eight, they are already slaves in their own minds.
 
Our lives and the lives of our daughters can be among the very hardest in India. We know that the only thing worse than being born a Dalit is to be born a Dalit female. We are raped as girls. We are sold to religious temples as prostitutes as young as age four to be used in sexual acts of worship. Some of us who will live to become widows will choose “sati,” throwing ourselves on our husband’s funeral pyre to spare ourselves a life of begging and starvation on the streets of India.

Let’s hope the letter gets read.

This is not myth. I was there. My daughter was there. Thanks to burgeoning Bollywood and the overflow of outsourcing from developed nations, India could more than afford to take care of their own. But sadly, because the Dalit are not considered “human,” they will never be cared for within this outdated, inane system. And the only thing worse than being a Dalit? Being a Dalit woman or girl. Look into the eyes of a four year-old who has already been dedicated to serve as a temple prostitute and consider the system that would allow it to happen (while it is theoretically outlawed, the state still gets a cut of every holy trick turned in a temple). I even saw a soda sponsorship banner draping the entry into a temple of prostitution we toured. On all levels, it is officially sanctioned trafficking…and it is wrong.

In his book, Truth and Transformation, respected Indian-born activist Vishal Mangalwadi put it best when describing the Western perception of these people based on what was seen in the 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire: ” The film powerfully portrays the evils that dehumanize the “filthy” rich and the powerless poor in India, but it does not even pretend to explain how such evils can rule a democratic country. Neither the film nor its hero has any strategy to fight evil. In fact, the film has no hero. Viewers feel good only because blind luck helps the lead character win millions and his beloved.” The hero wins millions of dollars, but what of the hundreds of millions of other Dalits? His girlfriend is rescued, but what becomes of the girl who is infected with HIV by a man carrying the virus who — in keeping with Hindu tradition — is “allowed” have sex with subcastes in order to maintain the virtue of his betrothed?

During my brief time in India, I routinely witnessed men put before women for all levels of need. We saw a woman beaten for preparing the wrong food for a group of construction workers. Female infanticide is also a regular practice in desperately poor villages. Newborn girls are given a rice cake to choke on or poisoned due to the economic hardship they present their impoverished family. It is hard to believe but even within their own subcaste, Dalit women are considered at the bottom; they are only slightly better-off than Dalit widows, disabled and orphans. Despite the appearance of making a progressive climb, India embodies a sick system, an ailing nation. I believe that if enough external pressure is brought to bear, things can change. But, as with South Africa, it will not happen without pressure…

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world ~ James 1:27

 

Want an adventure? Create change. March 8 was International Women’s Day…but Dalit life continues to go on. For the month of March, celebrate women — your mom, your sister, your daughter — by thinking about this deeply disturbing system. What can you do? Really. What does your faith mean in the midst of all that you know? Contact organizations like International Justice Mission, Operation Mobilization or The Dalit Freedom Network. The system can’t change until brokenness is acknowledged.

 

Expressing Inexpressible India February 25, 2010

India in a word:

Joyful                          Tragic

Colorful                      Dark

Beautiful                    Dirty

Bold                             Invisible

Healing                       Painful

Hopeful                      Hopeless

Crowded                    Alone

Spiritual                     Spirit-less

Organized                   Chaos

Progressive               Archaic

Lifecycle                     Survival

Simple                         Complex

Surrender                   Fight

Dependence               Isolation

Hot                                 Frozen

Memories and Lessons:

  • Wrong versus Different
  • The varied countryside
  • Insane organized chaos of traffic (HA!)
  • People EVERYWHERE
  • Color!
  • Smoke
  • Circumstance of women, widows and orphans
  • Un-common “common-sense” health care
  • The price of Hindu “enlightenment”
  • Never-ending naan
  • Feeling conspicuous
  • Tasting oppression
  • Illustrations of loving the culture’s unlovable/AIDs and transgendered
  • The plight of the Dalit and Devadasis
  • Washing muddy clothes back home
  • The brainless balance of Bananagram at the end of the day
  • Tata trucks, trash-eating cows, wild barking dogs

 

Blessings:

  • Indian children
  • Joyful people
  • Unmatched time with my own beautiful, growing daughter
  • Generosity of heart, prayer and wallet
  • Enduring thankfulness for the entire experience
  • New friends from an untiring and fun team
  • Operation Mobilization Staff
  • Witnessing commitment and new meaning of sacrifice
  • New meaning of unconditional love
  • That “what to do now” feeling…

 

James 1:22-27

22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. 26If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Matthew 25:42-45

42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

How should we then live?

~ Francis Schaeffer

 

Not to decide is to decide.

~ Harvey Cox

Want an adventure? Don’t ignore the question. Serve someone, somewhere. Whether it’s half way around the world or next door, commit to go out of your way to make the most out of your life for “the least of these.” Look for where your talents and giftings intersect need. (Note: You’ll know you’ve hit the spot when the anticipation of serving becomes energized – not burdensome). We’re built for it.

 

The-500-Year-Question December 23, 2009

 

The year is quickly coming to a close. (Once again, the season finds me wondering HOW it is upon me so fast). And this morning as I read an excerpt from Refractions by Makoto Fujimura, I had to pause.

If life seems to speed up as we tally years, if my life is a blip on the radar of history, if I hope to be more than a “blink” of goodness in my time on earth, the greatest gift I could offer would be a means of transcending the dash of this season. As this sense of time flies at me, it seems right to ponder a gift which will make life — your’s and mine — richer, fuller, more engaging, and a bigger blessing to the “close others” in our lives. Beginning now.

It occurs to me that the best gift I could give comes in the form of a question I tripped over in what I read this morning. The question is one Makoto recalled as he stepped back, breathtaken, from the beautiful painting, Madonna and Child, at the Met’s 2005 exhibit of Fra Angelico. It  is “The 500 Year Question,” according to Fujimura.

“What is the five-hundred-year question? Well, it’s a long-term, historical look at the reality of our cultures that asks, What ideas, what art, what vision in our current culture has the capacity to affect  humanity for more than five hundred years? It’s the opposite of the Warholian ‘fifteen minutes of fame.’ It’s also a question I raise to my teenagers, whose cutlure celebrates immediate gratification, also seeking after ‘fifteen minutes of fame.’ If our decisions matter and make ripple effects in the world, then should we not weigh what we say and do in light of the five-hundred-year question?…If Fra Angelico were alive today, he would have a hard time being apprenticed or finding anyone to teach him his craft, let alone joining an order. The church is not the first place a creative genius would look to be trained in art. That statement alone reveals how much Christians have abdicated our responsibility to steward culture…In short, we are all staggering about, or should be…those who have eyes to see. That is precisely how we should react to Fra Angelico and the five-hundred-year question. We stagger because we have lost even our ability to ask that question.”

I get sucked into the drivel of our culture…heck, of my calendar. And I, too, have teenagers. The slick, fine and beautiful garner the most attention, too many days (that and the scandalous trainwrecks outlined on the nightly news, in tabloids and entertainment “journalism”). But what can I say and do — TODAY — that has the capacity to affect humanity in 2509? Afterall, Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has planted eternity in our hearts.” When we live for less, we undoubtedly find ourselves yearning for more. Purpose. We change history by how we live now. 

Though this may sound like more of a new year’s wish than a Christmas gift, I place it directly beneath the branches of your glorious tannenbaum. For I find no greater occasion to consider what has been given to us than what will truly last well-beyond when our overstuffed trashbags and overfilled stomaches are again empty. This Christmas, I humbly invite you to a Renaissance of spirit. To a creche turned Kingdom. To a silent, peaceful, revolution of heart. May it carry us both world-changingly forward — ever toward God’s creative heart.

Merry Christmas all year through…

Want an adventure? The question is it. Spend the last week of this year considering how to spend each day in the its shadow…

 

Inside outside upside down October 29, 2009

Children_IndiaWhen I was a copywriter I was taught basic creative problem solving, early on. One such primary lesson was that in order to capture your target audience, juxtapose two opposites.

“It’s the inside-outside, upside-down Kingdom where you lose to gain and you die to live…”

~ Misty Edwards, Servant of All

The greatest are least, the least are greatest. In the depths of experience and spirit, we serve the greatest who are the least. We serve the Greatest who is the least. I am captured…

 

Want an adventure? Find a way to live today in the inside-outside upside-down Kingdom. (Hint: It will be the opposite of your norm — it will change you).

 

Dance like nobody’s watching August 31, 2009

Gillian Lynne

Recently, I heard creative guru Ken Robinson tell the story of Gillian Lynne. Gillian is choreographer of the Broadway hit Cats, which ran 21 years in London’s West End and 18 years on Broadway. She also directed and choreographed Phantom of the Opera. Impressive. But when she was a little girl, Gillian was a not so impressive — o.k., frankly a horrid — student. Her school thought she had a terrible learning problem and she couldn’t quit fidgeting. So her parents took her to see a specialist; hoping to figure out what could be done. After listening to Gillian’s mother voice her concerns, the man told Gillian that he wanted to speak to her mother alone for a few minutes in the other room. As they left his office, the specialist turned on the radio and — just outside the door — told her mom to turn around and watch. As soon as they left the room the girl was on her feet swaying to the music. The specialist said to Gillian’s mother, “Your daughter’s not sick…she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.” So she did. And, there the girl met others who, by her account, were just like her: they needed to move to think.

Gillian went on to become a gifted dance soloist, graduate from the Royal Ballet, open her own school and eventually meet Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer of the two mega-hit Broadway shows which she collaborated on. All it took was someone looking and really seeing her for who she was — for what was inside trying to wiggle its way out. And once that someone saw, once the people around her believed in her potential —  Gillian’s creative capacity was unleashed. Her future was cast as she entered the dance studio. (I imagine somewhere deep in her creative spirit came a huge sense of “at last!“) But what if the specialist had gone along with the school, labeled her a problem, medicated her and left it at that?

Because it gives others a glimpse at our souls, sharing our creativity is risky. Mark Twain said: “Sing like no one’s listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching, and live like its heaven on earth.”  It was only when Gillian danced — thinking no one was watching — that she was freed to choreograph her future. It must have been heaven.

In Jeremiah 1:1-9, God tells Jeremiah that  He knew him before he was born and has set him apart to do great things. In that way, we are all like Jeremiah. Even he had excuses, but God would hear nothing of them! Like Gillian Lynne, we all have a dance inside us, too. And God has set the stage; our lives are a working production — choreographed to engage our unique combination of abilities. We have to show up, work hard, discipline ourselves to develop into our gifts but no one else can handle your part and you won’t be satisfied until you join in.

Your creativity is important…life-giving! Stop making excuses and enjoy the joy of your God-given talents.

 

Want an adventure?  Think about it: How has your creativity gone unrecognized, misunderstood or resisted (by you or by others)? How have you been labeled — or perhaps, labeled yourself? What excuses have you made? Why? Who do you know who needs to embrace their gifting? How can you encourage both of you to “join in the dance”?