7.29.2011

Making good

I had a conversation with a friend recently about how to make good things more accessible to people - all kinds of people, not just the kind of people that have the resources for "good things."  I make art that is only available to those I know or those that have the resources to see, enjoy, and purchase.  I also make pastries - a luxury inaccessible to most of the world, available to those who can afford to enjoy a croissant or a piece of cake that is far from our daily essential nutrients.  These are, in reality, non-essentials.  I'm not saying we can't or shouldn't enjoy art or pastries.  I think these "luxuries" were created for us to enjoy.  The Artist who imagined and formed the universe and everything in it, desires His little artists to in turn, create, imagine, and take great joy.  But in my quest for a more just and verdant world, I am disheartened by how limited we are by knowledge, space, time, and chiefly, resources.  

I like to use cleaning and healthcare products that are made without chemicals, fragrances, or other harmful toxins.  But these products cost more, and therefore, are available only to those who can afford them.  When possible, I also like to eat fresh, local and organic produce, which not only takes more resources, but it also requires neighborhood accessibility.  I can visit my local farmers market, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe's and for a couple extra dollars find an apple that meets my standards.  But not more then two miles from my house is the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, where there are no grocery stores and no farmers markets.  If the people of Austin want more than what the corner store can offer, they have to make there way to my neighborhood's grocery store. This is only the beginning.  How do we begin to make things like good art, environmentally friendly transport, a college education or fair trade clothing accessible? If I, a white, middle-class, working, American woman, am limited by my resources to participate in such "good" movements, how much further are those in the underprivileged communities of Chicago and around the world from being able to access and enjoy things in there best and most wholesome state?

I get excited about things like "Fresh Moves," a mobile produce market bringing fresh produce to food deserts in Chicago (food deserts are communities with severely limited access to fresh fruit and veggies, like Austin).  And I love the conversations I'm hearing from other artists about making art that is sustainable, street-friendly, and approachable - art for everyone.

In a world created by an Artist who daydreamed the blue waters and the expanse of the sky into being, a world full of other young artists and dreamers who live in between the two blues, perhaps we might create something we have never imagined before and somehow, make the good even better.

7.20.2011

In feast or famine

Today CNN's homepage told me that the "U.N. declares famine in Somalia; makes urgent appeal to save lives."  Apparently this struggle for food and survival has been going on for some months.  I didn't have a clue.  Half of Somalians are in crisis, and $300 million is needed to intervene and save lives.  CNN's article on the crisis told me that the United Nations has a five-step scale to measure issues of hunger.  Somalia is at Stage 5: famine. According to Oxfam, famine is the "triple failure of food production, people's ability to access food and, finally and most crucially in the political response by governments and international donors.  Crop failure and poverty leave people vulnerable to starvation - but famine only occurs with political failure."  Drought in Somalia has been a significant contributor to the famine, but the nation has been without an actual government for two decades.  

(Somali men wait in line to register and receive food at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya in early July. They are among 4,000 to 5,000 Somalis who arrive each week at this complex of three refugee camps in Kenya's North Eastern Province.)

Most of what I know about Somalia according to the American media relates to pirates.  I didn't see any pirates in the images on CNN.  Just hungry, dirty, and very sad people.  I am no US ambassador or foreign aid worker, but I'm wondering how we let it get this bad.  I don't give much thought to famines these days. There are three grocery stores within walking distance of my house, and I've never seen them run out of food.  When I say "there's no food in the house" or "I'm starving," it doesn't have anything to do with a famine.  

When I think about "famine," I think about the experience of famine in the Bible, how Abram fled to Egypt because there was a famine in the land and how Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dream about the seven years of feast and seven years of famine.  I hardly know how to think about famine today.  I think and write a lot about feasting. The Bible is scattered with all sorts of feasts...passover, purim, pentecost, jubilee.  I believe that God desires a feast for his people, not famine.    But I also know the reality of a broken and fallen world that is continually being redeemed.  I believe that God has the power, ability and desire to bring feast to Somalia.  And I know that he created us with a reason and a purpose - to be in relationship, to share our resources, to journey, struggle, and celebrate together.  

According to CNN, U.N. officials have airlifted emergency supplies and continue to address the issue of bringing aid to Somalia.  It is times like these that I feel pretty small, insignificant, and helpless.  I don't know any Somalians.  I don't work for the U.N.  And I don't have a lot of resources to offer.  So I am putting my faith in the Master of the Universe - the One who sees and hears his people in feast or famine - and I place my trust in the people of the U.N., Oxfam, and Worldvision - in hopes that soon we will be feasting together.

PS - For ways in which you can help famine victims in East Africa, see this list of organizations mobilizing:  http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/impact.your.world/

7.13.2011

Tree of Life

Last night I finally had a chance to see the new film "Tree of Life."  I've had plenty of time to read about the film and wonder.  I went in thinking I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but I never anticipated such magical obscurity.  I left the theatre somewhat perplexed and speechless, not quite sure what to make of it all and wishing I could sit down with the film's writer and director, Terrence Malick, wondering what he was thinking as he filmed and edited the "Tree of Life."



Like many of Malick's films, it is a quiet, introspective movement, with more imagery than narrative - more like a poem than a novel.  The "Tree of Life" imagines the beginnings of the universe, considers the nature of humanity, and ponders some of life's biggest questions.  The film opens with a beautiful dialogue on grace and nature:  "There are two ways through life, the way of nature, and the way of grace.  You have to choose which one you'll follow."


"Tree of Life" more or less follows a family in the 1960s with three young boys, a very authoritarian father (Brad Pitt), and a loving mother, who wants nothing more than to offer her boys all the beauty the world has to offer.  Young actress, Jessica Chastain, plays the mother and in my opinion, steels the show.  Her own beauty is simply captivating, and she is a thread of grace throughout the film, offering us a balance of the whimsical against her husband's severity.  I realized later that the majority of the movie is filmed outside - it will make you ache for an opportunity to explore all of nature's wonders.  The scenery is mesmerizing, the story heartbreaking, and the music magical. Composer Alexandre Desplat captivated me with his soundtrack, a flawless companion to the film's images.





One thing I didn't expect was such a spirit of sadness.  I had tears in my eyes as the film came to a close.  Malick allowed me to feel the weight of loss, doubt, and fear experienced by this family, essentially as representatives of humanity.  I left feeling as though I had encountered a bit of the brokenness of humankind.


The film is far from perfect.  I am still a bit confused and perplexed.  I wonder about some of Malick's editing choices. I feel better about the first half of the film than the latter.  And I am puzzled by Malick's conclusion of the story.  The couple sitting behind me made it very clear that it is not for everyone, and it will challenge the understanding of even the greatest lovers of art film.  But I applaud his creativity and confidence.  He had the audacity to create a film that would confuse and awe.  He must have known that people would walk out of the theatre and many people would wish they'd taken a film course, but he went ahead with it anyway.  Creating a visual masterpiece, if nothing else, and offering us all a bit of wonder in a world of great expectations.




Near the conclusion of the film, a voice whispers a word of counsel:

"Unless you love, your life will flash by."

7.11.2011

25

I recently celebrated my 25th birthday.  25, yikes, I know.  It all depends on who you talk to - to my 79 year old grandpa, 25 is sounding pretty good right now - to the 2 year old I babysit, 25 makes you seem prehistoric.  As much as I hate to admit it, turning 25 made me stop in my tracks.  It startled me a little bit to realize I was 1/4 of a century and just as close to 30 as 20.  I never imagined I would be one of "those people" who have this ridiculous age complex, and I don't really.  But I began to wonder what I have done with the gift of these past 25 years of life, and what will I do with the next 25?

I guess this is a good thing to ponder.  I would hate to breeze through 20, 25, 30, and all of a sudden wonder what I had done with it all.  I would rather spend a few days moping about being in my "mid-twenties" than miss the gravity of it all together.

What have I done?

A few things.  Nothing super extraordinary, like cure cancer, fly into space, make the cover of Vogue, or  complete the New York Times crossword.  But in general, I'd say for my size, abilities and resources, I'm content.  One always hopes that you will have done more - what you've got is never good enough.  But if there's one thing I learned from spending a few months in Brasil, it is the power of presence.  It has made me weary of the incredible emphasis we have placed on accomplishments.  

So, being instead of doing.  How 'bout it?

It makes me think about things a little differently, with a little more purpose and value. Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of things I'd like to do - like go to graduate school, learn how to can fruits and vegetables, hike to Machu Picchu, publish a book, have a farm in Africa, learn several languages, make bread and wine for the eucharist, and see the Redwood Forest - I'd just like to do them with a profound sense of being.

I'm incredibly thankful for these past 25 years of life.  I am remarkably blessed.  My hope is that I can say the same at 50.  Screw the 5 year plan, I'd like to spend the next 25 years being deeply present, wherever I am, so that at the end of the day/month/year I don't so much wonder what I have done as how I have done - purposeful, fully present, and with thanksgiving.

7.04.2011

Colors

I do not consider myself a patriot.  More often than not, I struggle with the elements of division, superiority, and blindness that have inundated America.  Most conversations surrounding politics or religion make me want to turn in my citizenship for all the misunderstanding, disrespect, and division.  I do not care to be grouped in that category of "American."  You might think that the violence, oppression, and genocide we have witnessed around the world is reason to believe America is excluded from the "inhumane," but we too are capable of loosing our humanity for a moment.

Despite all of that, I do know this:  we are blessed.  We live in a nation of incredible abundance and progress.  The more time I spend outside of the US, the more thankful I am for the seal on my passport.  I find myself judging my neighbor and my nation, until I remember the incredible meal I just had, the college diploma on my shelf, how cozy my bed is, or that I have a job and a bank account.  Sometimes I carry shame and embarrassment for how lavishly we live.  Walking around the streets of Kolkata, I felt like royalty, but I was more sad than proud.

For the past few years, America and I have been at odds.  I have been trying to reconcile myself to her.  Along the way, I have discovered hope, transformation, and humility.  I know that we've got a lot of work to do yet, but I also know that we've come a long way. Rather than gain pride, I am more humbled to be an American.  I find that I have a renewed sense of responsibility.  Rather than try to shrug off the smell of America when I am in another country, I am compelled to embrace who and what I am, sharing my resources, knowledge, and experience.  I believe that we have a responsibility to be the best possible representatives to the world of this little pocket of humanity.

I think the fact that we are the United States of America is pretty cool.  

I love this stanza from Wyclef Jean's song "Million Voices" (written for the film Hotel Rwanda):
"If America, is the United States of America,
Then why can't Africa, be the United States of Africa?

And if England, is the United Kingdom,
Then why can't Africa unite all the kingdoms
and become United Kingdom of Africa?"

Maybe if we consider ourselves ambassadors of peace, we might be able to share our dream with Rwanda, Sudan, Libya, and Haiti.  And if we come together with openness, in brotherhood, maybe they can teach us something great too.  Let's do away with the us and them.  We don't need it.  Because that's not really us and that's probably not really them either.  When heaven crashes into earth and we all come around the table, I'm not so sure the passport, flag, or political position will matter so much.  I do not wish to sit at that table able to speak only of myself, nor do I wish to sit in shame.  I only hope that I already know my neighbors and that we have joy in being different, together.


PS.  My heart still swells when I hear the national anthem, and I really love this cake - even an unpatriotic girl can love a cake that is a flag.