Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Eine Kleine Nacht Fishen (A Little Night Fish)

Here is the painting I mentioned. It's the first real painting I've done and actually been excited to hang on the wall.

And yes, that's a little guy with a fishing pole. He seems to have been out for a little night fishing. I don't think he caught anything. Probably because all the fish are in the sky.

Perhaps another reason I loved Ponyo so much: I've always thought of slightly anthropomorphized fish as being all happy and exuberant, just like in the movie.

I also like this painting because it's kind of in the style of children's books illustrations. I remember seeing an exhibit of illustrations from some award winning children's book in a museum in Washington D.C. and realizing that illustrations in children's books are often fine art with as much merit as the stuff hanging in museums. And in fact, I often find illustrations in children's books more compelling and accessible than stuff in you find in museums or art galleries.

Oh, and for those who are curious, the stars are indeed meant to imply the constellation Pisces.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

making art; writing stories; Up

When I was young/in college/13-19, I would get an idea for a poem, or a painting, or a story, and I would sit myself down to create it. Poems and paintings I would finish in a single sitting. Stories I virtually never finished at all. I was full of ideas, excitement, and energy.

Now as I get older, my brain processes are slowing down. I don't have so many ideas, or so much energy. I used to feel grieved by that. But now it seems to be turning out for the best.

I used to be so impatient, wanting the satisfaction of a finished project immediately, and losing interest if something was taking too long. If I got stuck writing a sonnet, I would jump on the first solution that presented itself, even if it sounded awkward. But now I care about making every line smooth, and I'm willing to wait for just the right words, even if it means completing a project over several days rather than in a few hours.

Anyway, likewise with writing stories--I've actually finished a few. And with painting. I've been working on this painting and--well, when I'm finished, I'll take a picture and post it on here.

But anyway, about writing stories and my feelings about Up: I enjoyed Up, but I was kind of thrown by the wacky story. I've thought up some wacky stories like that, and I feel such wackiness needs to be reworked and refined until it becomes smooth, and inoffensive. It seemed like they did their preliminary rough story sketching, and then instead of working it into a seamless, compelling narrative, they left it jarring and weird.

But I am glad that other people enjoyed Up more than I did.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


So, I was looking into what new movies are coming to the (two) dollar theater this weekend, and I saw that there's a film playing today called NoBody's Perfect. It's about a German filmmaker's project of creating a calendar of nude photos of people (including himself) with congenital deformities resulting from their mothers' use of the drug Thalidomide. I was intrigued and checked out the film's website. Now I really want to see the movie, but unfortunately, its last showing in the L.A. area, as far as I can tell, is going on right now. No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o ...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An Aha! Moment

Yargh! Too many things to blog about today: I want to write about being "an aging artist" (yes, yes, I know, I'm only 23, not very aged, but still, aging), and about why I loved Ponyo, but was not so impressed with Up, and also about how in Christian Apologetics class last night, I finally felt like I understood what the Buddhist nirvana is about.

But I'll start by letting you know: I did eventually figure out where that cut on my face came from: it was a papercut! A papercut on my face! Oh, the hazards of being a student.

Okay, now about the Buddhist nirvana. When I took World Religions at Whitworth, I felt that of all the major world religions, each one held a peculiar appeal for me, except Buddhism. Our text book explained that the Buddhist idea of nirvana should not be understood truly as nothingness, and that Buddhism is not really so pessimistic as Westerners think. But the author did not explain what exactly the Buddhist nirvana was. Which makes sense, since it cannot really be described. But then, how are you suppsed to know what is meant by the term?

So in Apologetics class last night, Dr. John Carstensen was giving his argument for belief in a supernatural God, as opposed to a pantheistic God. His argument was something like this: For the pantheist, all of Nature is the infinite God. Because God is infinite, God cannot be described, except by way of negation (not finite, not divisible, not possessable, etc.). And because all is God, and God is one (not divided), all plurality (things being separate from each other) is an illusion.

Carstensen's critique here is that this is not a reasonable belief because it contradicts the whole of personal experience. We do not experience the oneness of the infinite, we only experience a plurality of things in the world. But I doubt this would be at all persuasive for a Buddhist, since they presumably just take it on faith, by intuition, and by some mystical experience of oneness, that in fact, contrary to experience, plurality (the separateness of things) is an illusion.

Anyway, Carstensen then introduced into the pantheist's world Descartes's one supposedly unquestionable fact: I exist. For the pantheist, this statement does not work. Because the only thing that really exists is the oneness of God, not the separateness of the self. It is not quite right, even for the pantheist to say, "I am God," because it is the whole of the universe, not the finite self, that is God. And to a Westerner, it is also nonsensical to say "I do not exist." But that is what Buddhists say.

Also, the problem of evil becomes more acute for the pantheist even than for the supernatural monotheist. If God is identified with a world that contains evil, then either God contains evil, or evil is an illusion. It would seem Hindus go with the option of God containing evil. Buddhists go with evil as an illusion. And I must say, I much prefer the Hindu approach to the Buddhist. And the Christian approach to the Hindu.

In fact, I think it's an outrage to declare evil an illusion.

But anyway, now I think I actually have some idea of what Buddhism is all about. It's like a pantheist religion that refuses to say "all is God" because they don't want to name the infinite oneness in any way, even by calling it God.

If you have made it to the end of this post, congratulations! I will write about those other things some other time.

Sermon: The Prayer of the Destitute

For anyone interested, here is the text of a sermon I delivered last Sunday, August 16, 2009 at Wilshire Presbyterian Church.

Psalm 102

John 6:52-58

"The Prayer of the Destitute"

I'm going to start by asking you a question, although I don't expect you to answer me, just to consider. Now, the first part of Psalm 102 is a vivid description of individual suffering: grief and depression--"My heart is stricken and withered like grass … I like awake … I eat ashes like bread, and mingle tears with my drink"; and physical distress: "my bones burn like a furnace … I am too wasted to eat my bread."

Okay, so here's the question: are you there with the psalmist right now? Are you suffering like that? If that's where you are, this psalm is for you. For anyone silently enduring, in terrible pain, know that this psalm and several others, was written to give voice to that unspoken anguish.

But what if you're not there with the psalmist right now? Maybe you knew suffering at some point in your life, but things are going well now and thankfully that all seems distant and pale. Or maybe you're extremely lucky and you've never suffered that much. Is this a psalm for you?

Let's take a look at verse 13. This surprised me as I was reading it. The psalmist affirms of God, "You will rise up and have compassion on"--Zion? Wait a minute. I was expecting it to say "You will rise up and have compassion on me." It's the "I" who is suffering, the "I" who needs compassion, not Zion. Right?

Suffering is a very individual experience, not least of all because it can tend to isolate people--and yet, it most often has some causes coming from outside the suffering individual. And as this psalm demonstrates, grief and depression are not just an individual problem, but a societal problem.

This has perhaps become more obvious to us as a result of the rising unemployment rates, especially in California. Job loss, and chronic unemployment can be a source of profound grief and anxiety. And as our drastic state budget cuts begin to take effect, it seems likely there will be a great deal more society wide suffering, as our state tries to deal with this financial disaster we've brought upon ourselves.

Psalm 102 is a prayer for all of us, because, like all the psalms, it is a prayer for public, corporate worship. It is the cry of the destitute, and it is a call for the rest of us to join with those who are afflicted, to notice them, and in any way we can, to care for them, and to pray that God's grace will break into our corrupt society--our neighborhoods, our city, our state, our nation, and our world.

This is a time for us to pray with the psalmist that God will again "regard the prayer of the destitute," "hear the groans of the prisoners," and "set free those who are doomed to die." This is a time to intercede before the throne of God for people have lost their jobs, or their homes, and especially for people living in the poorest neighborhoods of our cities, who are most at risk for being victims of violent crimes.

This is a time for us to pray that we will recognize any ways in which God may be calling us either as individuals, but especially as a church, to respond to this financial crisis in our state. This is time to remember that we are called to be God's hands of help and healing in a broken world. But we can start by praying.

Now, maybe your thinking, "Oh, I don't have much of a gift for intercessory prayer." If that's what you're thinking, YOU'RE WRONG. God hears every prayer, whether you were feeling especially holy when you prayed it or not, whether your mind was wandering, whether your heart was really in it or not, God listens to every prayer. And the effect of our prayers does not depend on us, and how well we prayed, but on God's will and power and grace. So, you have no excuses; we are all called to practice this ministry in some form, because it's something we all can do, and because the need is so great.

But I do have a suggestion for you, because I myself do have a hard time following a regular discipline of intercessory prayer. One habit I have found very helpful is that whenever I hear a siren--whether it's a police car, ambulance or firetruck passing by--I just briefly pray for the emergency personnel and for whatever situation they are trying to help with. Okay, that's something I do. I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of that.

But anyway, I have a modified version to suggest to you all. Uh, firstly, how many of you watch the news on t.v.? How many of you read the news--either a hard copy or on the internet? Well, my invitation to you is that whenever you see something in the news about the economic crisis here in California--about government programs being cut, or prisoners being released early, or rising unemployment rates, whatever it is, I invite you just to lift it up before God, just right then, and pray that God will have mercy on our state, upon those who are already suffering, and those who are the most vulnerable. Okay, so just take a moment, whenever you see it in the news, just to lift up the people of California, and ask for God's mercy, grace and healing in this crisis.

Okay, so you may have noticed the title of this sermon is "The Prayer of the Destitute" which is a phrase taken from the psalm. But I also wanted to use that phrase to talk about our passage from John. Because so far, we've talked about being destitute or afflicted in societal terms. But now I want to talk about it in terms of personal spirituality.

Jesus says, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." The verses we read today do not go up to the point where some of Jesus' disciples were horrified by this apparently cannibalistic teaching and deserted. And indeed, this is a wacky sounding passage.

Some people will point out that no doubt it's some kind of reference to the sacrament of communion. But in the context, what is more important, and what explains it better is that eating Jesus is a spiritual metaphor. Like when Jesus says, in the Gospel of John, "I am the true vine," or "I am the gate"--these are also spiritual metaphors.

But even as a spiritual metaphor, what does it mean, "eating Jesus"? Well, Jesus himself says, if you don't eat him, you'll die. He might have said, you'll starve to death. Our souls need Jesus Christ as much as our bodies need food and drink.

Now, just imagine: what would happen if we tried to live as if we didn't need to eat or drink? We would turn into emaciated scarecrows, like Brandon over there. We would have no energy, feel awful all the time, and eventually we would either have to eat and drink something, or else die.

And in the same way, I know I frequently will try to live as if I don't need God. Like, I can just go along on my own power, my own initiative and will, without thinking about God at all. But then I start feeling tired. And all the joy, just starts seeping out of me. And I feel anxious about things I've done--Oh, maybe I shouldn't have said that, or done that, or left that other thing undone … And really oftentimes, I only remember how much I need God when I'm already spiritually dehydrated and faint with hunger.

So I want to end with another invitation for you. Two invitations! Oh my gosh, this is already way too much to remember, right? Okay, well, you don't have to do either one, they're just invitations. But how many of you pray before eating a meal? My family has always said grace before meals, and I've always thought of it as a time to thank God for providing food, and to remember God's provision in all aspects of life. But this week, I invite you, as you say grace over your meal, to remember that your soul needs Jesus as much as your body needs food and drink.

I'll give you an example of something like what you might add the next time you pray over a meal. And we'll just close this way. Will you pray with me? Lord Jesus Christ, teach my soul to feed daily on the abundance of your grace and truth, that I might learn to ask whenever I am in need, and receive from your hand this spiritual food and drink without which I am lost. In the name of Christ Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


The other night we watched Bill Maher's film Religulous with some other Fuller folk from our apartment complex. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I was expecting the kind of deception-driven agenda pushing and blatant disregard for truth that I've come to expect, and utterly despise from Michael Moore films.

But that's not Bill Maher at all. He is actually quite honest about the fact that he's not really trying find out what religious people believe--he's just going around, fishing for opportunities to get in as many cheap shots against religious people as possible. So it's hard to take him seriously, which is good.

I didn't find the film to be consistently funny throughout, but it certainly had its moments.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

now, how did that happen ... ?

This is hardly blog-worthy, but it's been so long since I last posted anything, I feel like offering up just any old tidbit ...

I somehow cut my face today and I have no idea how. Obviously, as a woman, I do not shave my face, so that couldn't be it. And I don't recall waving a knife around my face, either. It's a very fine, clean cut, almost an inch long, just below and to the right of my nose. Odd.

On a related topic ...

The other day, I was walking along and I saw this woodpecker flying around in a strange way. It was fascinating. Then I walked right into a pole. OUCH! Man, that hurt.

I should stop being so oblivious to my surroundings. It seems to be resulting in minor injuries.