Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Peace, Hope, Love, & SOUL

Divine intervention made me pursue bringing "Nativity: The Pop Opera" to Cincinnati this coming Christmas season. In February 2009 a free issue of Ohio Magazine arrived in my office.  I usually just put the free magazines in the waiting room of the clinic.  The only reason I took this particular issue home was because the cover declared it was the "Green Issue" and had tips about how to live an eco-friendly lifestyle in Ohio. I like to do what I can to reduce-reuse-recycle, so I took it home to read.

That Ohio Magazine sat on my coffee table for at least a month before I finally picked it up to flip through the pages. Somewhere in the middle was an article titled "Picture Perfect" and it was about a guy from Dayton, Ohio who works as a storyboard artist for major Hollywood movies.  In fact, J. Todd Anderson has been the storyboard artist for every movie the Coen Brothers have made since "Raising Arizona" - one of my all-time favorite movies.  In fact, I'm a big fan of Coen Brothers' movies in general. So I read the entire article. I was completely intrigued by the fact that this guy with a major Hollywood connection still lived in Dayton.

Towards the end of the article, it mentioned J. Todd had written something called "Nativity: The Pop Opera" that had been performed at a church in Dayton.  What? A guy who works for the Coen Brothers wrote a "musical" about the birth of Jesus? Really? What inspired him to do such a thing? Was he a Christian? Did he lose a game of Truth or Dare? Was it his Nanna's last dying wish that he write something to rival "Godspell" or what?  I had to know.
Good thing I had honed my internet research skills at a former job digging up potential dirt on physicians recruited to work on military bases! The article also said J. Todd did a show on Dayton's public radio with another guy about the best movies ever made.  On the website for that show I found an email link.  So, I sent an email that basically asked for more info about "Nativity: The Pop Opera." I didn't think he'd actually respond himself.  Well, he DID respond himself.

J. Todd explained that the Dayton shows raised funds for Dayton Children's Hospital. He said that he had been considering approaching Cincinnati Children's Hospital to produce it as a fund raiser in Cincinnati. I told him that since I work at Cincinnati Children's, I could probably help! Specifically, I knew we needed help paying the costs of our summer camp for patients with cancer and bleeding disorders. Polly, the woman with a passion for making sure our patients got to go to camp, was thrilled to have a new fund raising option! But first we had to convince the hospital's Development office.  The only way to do that was to go see the show in Dayton.  Four of us went last December and we LOVED it!

"Nativity: The Pop Opera" is a magical, light-hearted pop opera that tells the Christmas story through the eyes of the angels. There is a band on stage and J. Todd wrote great songs in a variety of styles.  The wise men are actually part of the band and called the three wise-guys.  They look like ZZ Top.  The angels have super tall wings, designed by J. Todd.  The chorus of one song repeats, "Peace, Hope, Love & Soul" and that sums up the heart of this pop opera.  The whole show is mesmerizing and fun mixed with inspiring beauty. It is first class entertainment for the whole family! The success of this show will provide funding to send patients from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Cancer & Blood Diseases Institute for an unforgettable week at camp.  If you'd like to audition, get tickets or be an underwriter for production costs, please leave a comment. Thanks!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Art of the Storyboard

The Art of the Storyboard

Something I’ve noticed as I explain my screenplay visions to people, is that very few have any clue how much work goes into making a movie. Even crappy movies require tons of time, money, and effort to produce. One technique directors use to keep their film on schedule and on budget, and in most cases to secure financial backing so that they even HAVE a budget to work with- is to hire a storyboard artist.

This is what my friend J. Todd Anderson does and does with excellence. He sits with directors of movies (most consistantly, the Coen brothers) for long hours of long days for long weeks drawing sketches of the vision in their head. This is no easy task- often the directors have a difficult time describing the vision in their head in such a way that J. Todd can draw it accurately. J. Todd says he wads up and throws away hundreds of sketches while attempting to get the director’s vision drawn to satisfaction.

Recently, J. Todd was sharing stories about his work on the Men in Black movies. I asked him what it was like drawing some of the super imaginative aliens in the early stages. That, he admitted, was left to the CGI creatives, and he usually just drew a sketch of a figure about the size they wanted and labeled it things like “alien with 3 eyes” for the purpose of the storyboard.

I find the whole process fascinating. So, I am glad I have the opportunity to see him demonstrate this talent for a room full of art students tonight. If you can’t make it to his presentation on short notice, his sketches will remain on display through October 15th at the Art Academy of Cincinnati on Jackson Street.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Failure of Imagination

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” -Galatians 6:4, The Message

I have been thinking about how God created us in His image and all that entails. It’s really rather mind blowing when I think about God’s infinite creativity. I mean, have you ever watched one of those nature shows about some bizarre creature (whether insect, wildlife, or sea urchin) that you have never seen before? And the guy being interviewed has spent years of his life studying this bizarre creature. The guy knows almost everything about the way it communicates, how it hunts, how it hides, how it reproduces, etc. And yet, the expert usually admits the creature is still a mystery. Whenever I watch one of those shows, I sit slack-jawed at God’s creativity.

Then I think about my own vivid imagination. My imagination can be so active that I often joke that it needs a playmate. However, it pales in comparison to what God can and HAS already created. Yet, God created me in His image. Why? So I can use the imagination He has given me to share His truth and grace with others.

In my case, my imagination and creativity manifests most naturally in writing stories. I don’t know why. I have always expressed myself and communicated most efficiently, effectively, and humorously in writing. For many years I wrote with no focus. I sensed my writing should have a bigger purpose, but I wasn’t sure what that was. Now that I let God break my heart for what makes His heart break, I want my writing to reflect His vision.

I have movie ideas in my head. I have more than two or three ideas. And I am very aware of the impact that motion pictures can and do have on people’s lives. Movies can simultaneously teach and entertain with an intimacy invisible to the naked eye. When I think about the why’s and how’s of marrying the movies brewing in my God-given imagination with God’s vision for his children, I realize why I have always liked this quote from a print in my bathroom:

“In my dream, the angel shrugged
And said, if we fail this time,
It will be a failure of the imagination
And then she placed the world gently
In the palm of my hand” -Brian Andreas

I became a fan of Brian Andreas when I stumbled upon his playful and provoking word art at a funky Philadelphia store in the early 90's. Being a writer, the first print I purchased was about stories. For several years after that, my mom gave me either a Brian Andreas print or book for every Christmas and Birthday. So, I have a nice little collection. Now I have my small gallery of his colorful prints hanging in my bathroom. I figure it gives my guests something interesting to read while sitting on the toilet.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gibson & Katrina

Gibson lost a lot of hope over the past few years. An older gentleman, he lost his job and almost lost his house. He had been fixing up his house himself whenever he could. He may have been feeling a little invisible, left out, or maybe even bitter when a large crew showed up next door to work on a Habitat for Humanity project.

As he sat alone in his yard, Gibson watched the workers sawing, hammering, mixing cement- he probably felt insignificant. There were so many of them working like a well oiled machine. They seemed to be having fun. But he noticed that when they stopped for lunch, they had no shade- no relief from the blaring sun. And there wasn’t enough room for the large group to spread out. Some of them even ate their lunch sitting right next to the port-o-potty.

Gibson’s yard had some shade trees and plenty of room. Somehow he gathered the courage to invite these many strangers to eat their lunch on his lawn. Grateful for a better place to rest, the group started asking Gibson about his life, hopes, and needs. They learned how he had struggled and how he had been trying to make it on his own- repairing his own house however he could. They learned how to love Gibson.

One woman bought a card to express her love for Gibson. And she wanted to share more than just her love, so she passed the card around to the whole team. One by one, without any need for coaxing, they filled the card with tangible love for their new friend.

Gibson had bills he didn’t know how he could pay. He felt ashamed and depressed about his uncertain future. The Habitat helpers looked for Gibson their last day on that job site. But he wouldn’t come out of his house. He was already down and didn’t want to face saying good-bye. But that woman who bought the card… she couldn’t leave and return home, several states away, without giving Gibson that envelope full of love.

That woman, transformed by love deeper than her fears, knocked on Gibson’s door and lured him out of his darkness. The people waiting for him outside in the bright day knew how Katrina had broken his spirit. That is why they were there. They had left the comfort of their own homes, hundreds of miles away, with the purpose to rebuild what had been wrecked by Hurricane Katrina. The woman, who seemed most affected by the bond with Gibson, joined this service trip thinking she could help rebuild a house. As she handed the envelope to Gibson, she realized she had helped build hope and love, too. When Gibson opened the card, he found over $600 – enough to pay those bills. In that moment, hope filled Gibson to the full and a wave of love washed over every witness.

This story is dedicated to the 300+ people who travelled to New Orleans in July with a team from my church community. It’s inspired by Gibson’s story- shared by my friend, Tania, over dinner recently. It is also inspired by my friend, Chelle- she courageously invited her friend, who has doubted God’s truth & grace, to experience God’s transformational love with her, first hand on this service trip to NOLA.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Power of One: Spirit Union- Holy & Human

When I got to work the other day I was greeted with a smile and an excited, “Did you see Julia? She’s back!” As I rounded the corner, there she was in the middle of a group of people beaming with joy. She was beaming with joy and the people surrounding her were like rays of her joy. She was dressed in her favorite bright pastel colors, including a sunshine yellow newsboy cap to hide her bald head.

The sunshine yellow cap was a perfect choice since Julia has always had a sunny disposition. Including the day she went to the doctor last winter because she thought maybe she had an internal bruise or torn muscle from shoveling snow after the storm. That was either a Monday or Tuesday, I think. The doctor sent her for a biopsy immediately. By Thursday or Friday she was on an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy. We were told they were not sure when Julia would return back to work.

Julia and I had not talked in depth about our faith before. But we both knew the other had deep faith. We had shared moments of intimate tears… when I told her how my boss supported & encouraged me through my divorce (while she interviewed me for an article about his 35 years with the hospital), we cried together. When my dad died, she shared how she got through her dad’s death, and we cried. As we had impromptu chats in the hallway, we’d get teary and need to move along before the tears consumed our day.

But seeing her at work for the first time in five months reminded me, in full color, how resilient the human spirit can be, especially when united by faith with the Holy Spirit. I have seen news reports about how a person diagnosed with cancer will have a better chance of surviving if they have a positive attitude. Some have even been more specific that a person’s faith affects their survival chances. That is probably true and a nice thought to think. However, what I see in Julia is surrender! She lives in surrender to the peace and comfort given by the Holy Spirit within her. She has surrendered to letting God use her and this experience of enduring cancer however He sees fit. Julia chooses to be grateful for her life, friends and family - even (maybe especially) on the days she is weak with pain and physical discomfort. She has a hope that surpasses her hope of surviving cancer. Her hope is that she can continue to be a servant of God, regardless of her health.

“I know God is using prayer warriors like you to help me on this journey and my job is just to be His servant in all of this.” -Julia

That quote by Julia is from an email reply to me a couple of days ago. The words, “I know,” demonstrate her faith in the power of one. She has faith that God will never leave nor forsake her, that He always surrounds her with His love, and that His love prevails. His love prevails in the union of prayers prayed, guided by the Holy Spirit, with the collective faith of her friends and family. In those moments of prayer for Julia, we are mystically united as one with God and Julia by a common denominator: God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us.

Therein lays a tale of God’s love, truth and grace.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Eleven syllable, unpronounceable substitute for the word tool

The other night I woke up at 2 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. So, I got up for a while. I don’t remember whether I watched T.V. or what. But eventually, I picked up the book my dad had bought for me when Billy Collins did a reading at Miami University about 12 years ago. My dad knew my passion for writing and had asked me to go with him. But I had to work. Dad said he had wanted to get the book signed by Billy for me, but the line was too long. Looking back, that is one of my sweetest memories of my father.

My favorite selection from my Wee Hours poetry reading was this one:


It could be the name of a prehistoric beast
that roamed the Paleozoic earth, rising up
on its hind legs to show off its large vocabulary,
or some lover in a myth who is metamorphosed into a book.

It means treasury, but it is just a place
where words congregate with their relatives,
a big park where hundreds of family reunions
are always being held,
house, home, abode, dwelling, lodgings, and digs,
all sharing the same picnic basket and thermos;
hairy, hirsute, woolly, furry, fleecy, and shaggy
all running a sack race or throwing horseshoes,
inert, static, motionless, fixed and immobile
standing and kneeling in rows for a group photograph.

Here father is next to sire and brother close
to sibling, separated only by fine shades of meaning.
And every group has its odd cousin, the one
who traveled the farthest to be here:
astereognosis, polydipsia, or some eleven
syllable, unpronounceable substitute for the word tool.
Even their own relatives have to squint at their name tags.

I can see my own copy up on a high shelf.
I rarely open it, because I know there is no
such thing as a synonym and because I get nervous
around people who always assemble with their own kind,
forming clubs and nailing signs to closed front doors
while others huddle alone in the dark streets.

I would rather see words out on their own, away
from their families and the warehouse of Roget,
wandering the world where they sometimes fall
in love with a completely different word.
Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever
next to each other on the same line inside a poem,
a small chapel where weddings like these,
between perfect strangers, can take place.

I had never really thought about it before, but for a writer, his declaration that there is no such thing as a synonym is true. Yet, when I am writing, I do tend to use the thesaurus as a tool- precisely for the fine tuning of meanings. I study the related words as if they are puzzle pieces. I try each one in the sentence until I find the perfect fit for the context. When I write a poem, I’ve been known to keep extrapolating definitions of contextual relatives in the thesaurus until I’m so far down the rabbit hole that I’m only running into those odd cousins and going mad trying to grasp why I wasn’t happy with the first cousin.

Then I started thinking about words where a so-called-synonym would never do. Grace is one of those words. I can’t imagine kindness, decency, or benevolence sounding as amazing as grace.

And I love the last stanza of Billy’s poem. I need to live in that world of wandering words more often when I write. And learn how to lean less on the thesaurus crutch. But I still think it is a very useful tool, gizmo, apparatus, or device.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Juicy Fruit

Yes, my posts have been few and far between over the past year. I could list a million boring excuses. But for the most part, I have been busy and my life has been full of juicy fruit! Friends, concerts, travel, moving- my oh my! I've missed writing, though. And writing posts for this blog is good for my soul. When I write, I feel I'm using the gifts God gives me. I think God wired me to express my thoughts and feelings in writing. When I write, I ponder God's Truth & Grace and how it shows up in unexpected places. So, I ask God to keep me abiding so that I may bear fruit. It probably won't be so long between posts in the coming year. I think I'll want to share my future fruit.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Intimacy of Redemption Take 2- True Freedom

I had an online (Facebook) chat Tuesday night with a good friend I hadn't talked to in many years (15 at least). Steve was the main guy who started the whole GANG of Friends who "lived" at my house for a couple of years in high school. To get an idea of this gang of friends and the environment at the house, listen to the song “Our House” by Madness. It describes it near perfectly. The chat with Steve was great in itself. He probably has no idea how much it impacted me, but just going down memory lane with him was the reminder I needed to love Mom for who she is and to appreciate the love she gives me no matter how she chooses to give it to me. Steve asked me to tell Mom that he’s forever grateful for what she did for us. I have been so busy working through my own “issues” with Mom, I had almost forgotten to love Mom for who she IS. Steve told me to listen to the song, "These are the Days of our Lives" by Queen in the midst of our chat. So after we logged off I listened to the Queen song and sobbed and sobbed. On the other side, I have a new clarity about the times in my life where Satan’s lies led me astray. It was a moment of intimate redemption for me.

I’m not sure if I coined the term “intimate redemption” but I notice I am the only one who uses it or who knows what it means. But I’d be willing to bet that most people have had at least one experience of “intimate redemption” in their lives. I think what I am trying to capture with the term “intimate redemption” is those moments when the perfect balance of God’s perfect Truth and perfect Grace consume me and it feels like a unique balm was mixed especially for me to heal a pain I had swept under a rug. Sometimes the catalyst to a moment of intimate redemption is conversation, a movie or a song. For me, the moment is always flushed with tears until my soul is clear. God created my inmost being. In these moments I praise Him that I am fearfully and wonderfully made by Him. God is so good like that!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To be free...

"To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." -Nelson Mandela

That quote is on a t-shirt I got at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. And a few months ago I heard a man speak who lives by that motto naturally. I have no idea if he's ever read that quote, but I get the feeling he wholeheartedly lives it. This man who lives this quote doesn't even know his real name. He goes by Jean-Robert Cadet which was the name his owners gave him in order to bring him to the U.S. from Haiti. Yes, I said "his owners." Jean-Robert was a Restavek. Restavek is a creole word that means "stays with" and it accurately describes the life of a child slave in Haiti.

Most of Jean-Robert's childhood was more like the life of an abused dog- he was not treated like a human with feelings. He was treated like an object- a possession- and beaten badly if he behaved any other way. Once his owners moved him to the U.S., he was eventually discovered by truancy officers. That's when he started going to school and learning that he didn't have to live as a slave any longer. He learned how to escape to freedom. He went on to college, got married and had children. And he started a foundation to help free more children from slavery. Here's the link (if you want to learn more about his story) to his foundation's website: www.restavekfreedom.org

Jean-Robert is part of my church community. Last May my church sent a shipment of 7,000 meals to the foundation's orphanage in Haiti which holds over 100 children saved from slavery. However, those meals sat on the docks in Port-au-Prince waiting for customs clearance ever since May. We got word last week that the food was finally delivered to the orphanage the morning of January 12th...just a couple of hours before the earthquake hit. In the midst of devastation, God is so Good.

I wrote this piece on MLK Day because Martin Luther King, Jr. lived in a way that respected and enhanced the freedom of others. He is famous for his civil rights activism, but his speeches are applicable to ALL people's freedoms. Didn't he say something about his dream being that one day a person would be judged by their character and not by the color of their skin? I think he said it more than once!

If you read the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (and I highly recommend doing that), you will notice that all his speeches quote the Bible. Because he knew the true source of his freedom was his faith in the truth and grace of Jesus Christ, who came to teach us ALL how to be FREE!