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Jesus on the Margins Retreat

March 19, 2012 1 comment

I’m planning retreat exploring art and faith on May 11-13. This is the first in a series of retreats exploring the relationship between art and faith. This particular retreat explores on art and music that focuses on people at the margins of society. We’ll talk about ways of considering art; we’ll spend time individually meditating on specific songs, paintings or other works; and we’ll also discuss these works in relation to our faith and ask questions about a “spirituality of the arts.”

David Clifton, the worship leader at Apostles Anglican church, will be joining us for the weekend. For over 30 years, David has been working in multiple art forms including music (writing, producing, guitarist) as well as pottery, ceramics, paintings and most recently iconography.

Some of the artists we’ll be exploring:
Georges Rouault, Vincent Van Gogh, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan as well as the work of other artists who turned the spotlight on people who live at the edge. If you have some work that you would be willing to share with the group, we’d love for you to bring your own at as well.

Details:
Jesus on the Margins Retreat
Date: May 11-13
Cost: Suggested $100 per person (everyone is welcome, so pay what you can)
Location: Buffalo Mountain Camp and Retreat Center
241 Methodist Camp Road
Jonesborough, TN  37659

The Gospels reveal a picture of Jesus always moving toward the people on the outside. In fact, Jesus becomes the outsider to all of humanity.

Marginal Man

Watching and waiting for his coming.
Finally, He shows up
at the wrong time,
in the wrong place
and in less than respectable circumstances.
The King of the Jews is disappointing and a little embarrassing.

Heaven’s arrow crashes into stony hearts,
The Word made flesh says,
“You must eat my flesh and drink my blood,”
Polite society quietly slips away.
After all, this King of the Jews might damage our reputation.

The High and Holy God
dwells in unspeakable glory,
but he also makes home with the unspeakable ones
and parties with the indecent.
The King of the Jews has a penchant for embracing the
unsavory, unrespectable, and unclean
people we skirt to the edges of our world.

After revealing his glory to Peter, James and John,
the King of the Jews falls from the holy mountain
through the valley of disfiguration
and onto a cross.

He is the suffering servant,
the fool of God.
In his final hours, this marginal man
stands at the edge of all that is holy and true
no angels comfort him,
no friends or family share his pain,
even his Father turns away in disgust.
The King of the Jews bears his crown alone.

doug floyd, April 19, 2003

Categories: Art, culture

Dictums of Dr. Drake

August 11, 2010 6 comments

Robert Young Drake Jr.

I stumbled into Dr. Drake’s class kinda like the way I stumbled into college. While my friends were applying for grants and scholarships, I was busy dreaming of some great venture, some great project, some great something…or some great something else.

Then suddenly I was there. Sitting at freshman orientation for the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. I didn’t worry too much about what to study. As my dad would tell me, “What’s important is that you finish what you start. Study anything you want just finish the degree.”

My dad had just returned from the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. At one point, he shared a helicopter ride with Scott Hamilton’s dad. Dr. Hamilton, a college professor, told my dad that “if a young man is not sure what to study in school, he should learn how to communicate. If you can write and speak well, you can do about anything.”

My dad passed on that advice. That sounded good enough for me, so I ended up studying Creative Writing and Speech Communication at UT. Almost thirty years later I can thank Dr. Hamilton for helping launch me on the adventure of learning to speak.

Now where was I? Oh yes, stumbling into Dr. Drake’s Advanced Creative Writing class wearing one black shoe and one red shoe. For some reason, two different colored shoes made perfect sense in the 80s. As I sank down into my seat, I noticed that the man standing at the front of the class was wearing a linen suit. He looked and sounded like he stepped right out of nineteenth century Southern aristocracy.

Robert Young Drake Jr. stood before us as a living testimony of another time, another world. An old Southern sophistication that was and is vanishing under concrete Interstates, concrete shopping malls and concrete lives. Listening to him talk was like sitting on a big porch during the late afternoon, sipping on lemonade and swapping stories.

His slow drawl, devilish wit, and penchant for telling stories captivated us half-dazed students who stumbled toward degrees and possible oblivion. On the first day of class, he handed out no syllabi, no reading lists, and he gave no expectations for what was ahead.

Someone raised his hand. “What’s your policy on cutting class?”

“I don’t have a policy. Don’t cut class.”

Another hand. Another question. “How do you figure our grades?”

“Do what I say and you’ll come through with flying colors.”

One day he asked if anyone in the class had ever read Charles Dickens. I nodded yes.

“What did you read Mr. Floyd?”

“Well, I started ‘Tale of Two Cities,’ but I didn’t finish it.”

“What? You didn’t finish. Oh Mr. Floyd that is a grievous sin. You must go home and pray without ceasing.”

Another day he read a story aloud, and asked us what was the main theme of the story. Someone shouted out, “Compassion.”

“Oh my. I simply hate that word. The word compassion is so over used. I think people say it when they don’t really know what a story is about.”

This was the first class I had ever attended where the professor diced our answers to pieces and never hesitated to humiliate. Of course, he said everything with that slow drawl and that slight grin.

One student made the unfortunate mistake of cutting class. Next class he reappeared.

“Well, Mr. Jones I see you’ve decided to stay at the University after all. I assumed that when you failed to come to class you had left for some pressing reason. But here you are in our midst once again.”

Looking around to all the rest us he continued, “It amazes me that people will pay good money for a University education and then fail to attend the classes. That makes no sense whatsoever.” After about five minutes of a public tongue lashing, he finally released Mr. Jones from shaming and started the class.

Some people would drop Dr. Drake’s class but no one was bold enough to cut his class.

For the next three months us stumbling students sat up wide awake with holy fear: never sure if we might be subject to a public trial on the spur of the moment. At the same time, most of us loved this class and this professor. He spoke and taught and challenged us in ways we’d never been challenged.

He mocked our simplistic assumptions and forced us to think and speak and write better. Sometimes he’d say, “People ask me if I ever see talented writers in these classes. I reply that it’s not a matter of talent. It’s a matter of work, of discipline. A good writer writes and writes and writes.”

Then he might add, “Show me a great writer and I’ll show you a great reader. If you want to write, you must learn to read.”

“The most important thing a parent can teach their child is how to read. I don’t care if the child reads comic books or Mad magazine. If the love of reading captures their soul, they’ll read and read and read. And the reading will teach them to speak.”

Religion showed in one person’s story and Dr. Drake began discussing his own faith. “Of course, I believe in purgatory. I experience it every Sunday morning sitting on a hard wooden pew during the church service. After of lifetime of such suffering, God must surely allow me into heaven.”

Another day, he decided to introduce grammar into our conversation. “There are no rules.”

“Write what’s in your heart. Discover your voice. Grammar is your servant not your master. It may help you say what you need to say more clearly, but never let it confine you from saying what you must say.”

He taught me that writing is not about fame, not about fortune. Most writers are poor. Writing is about finding and speaking my voice. It is the discipline of listening and speaking and learning to articulate. He taught me to read.

On the last day of class, he gave each of us a blessing. As he turned toward me he said, “Mr. Floyd, my hope and prayer for you is that one day by God’s grace you’ll actually finish a Charles Dickens novel.” The class burst out laughing. I laughed.

And in a strange twist of irony. One day I did read Dickens and fell in love with his words, his characters, his world. And I am always haunted by the cry for justice that echoes all through Dickens.

Dr. Drake died almost ten years ago. And sadly, I never expressed my deep appreciation for his influence on my life. It took years for me to even realize the deep and resounding impact of this thoughtful provocateur. Yet, I still find myself quoting him and listening to him and responding to him.

I continue to write. I continue to read. I continue to learn.

Dr. Drake freed me from the oppressive weight of wanting to be recognized. He freed me to a life of learning how to speak…how give voice to one moment in time..how to discover that articulate word. As Czeslaw Milosz once wrote,

“To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.”

Dr. Drake spent his life teaching students to pound that one sentence into this fleeting world of glory. And for that I am forever grateful.

Rhythms of Love

August 6, 2010 5 comments

Photo by Filhi bahthi photography via Creative Commons

I’m sitting in a coffee shop, reading, thinking…sitting. Music is n the background. “Celebrate Good Times” begins to play. And suddenly the celebration breaks into my world, my reading, thinking, sitting. My head starts nodding. Soon my shoulders join in. The sounds that were outside me seem to be reverberating from inside me, and my body is moving to the rhythm. Looking around I notice other people responding, moving, smiling. We exchange glances. In a room of strangers, the rhythm visibly connects us for few brief moments.

I’ve had experiences like this in stores, parks, churches and living rooms. The rhythm breaks in upon us and suddenly the room, the people are connected and moving to an unseen current. Music fascinates me, moves me, breaks in upon me. It comes from outside me through a speaker, a guitar, a drum, a singer. But soon it is inside me at the same time. My body, my mind, my emotions all respond, all echo back the rhythm. Somehow I’m connected, caught up in the rhythm.

And oddly, it lingers inside long after the music has stopped playing. The sounds, the words, the feel continues to resound within me. Though I speak about myself, I believe I’m describing an experience that is real for most of us. One moment we’re sitting alone and the next moment we’re caught up in an ocean of sounds that moves us, fills us, connects us.

Not all songs move us in the same ways. Hearing different songs can stir different feelings and different thoughts. For some strange reason, I used to force myself to listen to all sorts of music as some kind of imagined training. In college, I’d sit in the music lounge for hours soaking in all sorts of sounds. I’d join Columbia House Music Club again and again and again. I also joined the “Classical Heritage Society” and the “Jazz Heritage Society.” I’d listen to music I loved and oddly enough music I hated.

I remember picking up John Coltrane’s “Sun Ship” as yet another attempt at my musical education. I never figured it out. There were a few shining moments, but most of the time, I was immersed in chaos. I couldn’t hear one dominant rhythm. Instead, I felt caught up in a swirl of chaos. The music was disorienting.

It made me think of being caught up in the currents of a raucous ocean. Once my dad and I decided to “catch some big waves” by swimming at Myrtle Beach in the middle of an electrical storm. My mom was screaming and pacing up and down the shore while my dad and I were laughing and waving. It was fun but also disorienting. The currents above and below the surface pulled, pushed and turned us all around. When we finally decided to get out of the water, we had a hard time. The undercurrent resisted our every step.

I can only imagine the stress, confusion and disorientation of being caught in a storm at sea. With no land in sight, with no instruments of orientation, it’s easy to see how one could be truly lost of sea. I understand that pilots can experience a similar disorientation in the air. Without reference to his instruments, a pilot may literally not know which way is up. It is now believed that John F. Kennedy Jr.’s lethal crash into the sea in 1999 was a result of spatial disorientation. He thought he was flying up and flew straight into the water.

The currents of air and water and sound waves can propel us forward but also disorient us. We could be going forward; we could be going backward. We may lose our sense of direction.

We are immersed in a world of currents and rhythms. From the beating of our own heart to the fury of storm winds to the pounding of rain, we live in all kinds of rhythms and forces that impact us both inwardly and outwardly. There are also rhythms or currents of ideas, emotions, memories, and symbols that move through culture. The force of these rhythms are just as powerful as the physical force of ocean currents that move above and below the surface.

We cannot step outside of the rhythms of our world. We are all born at a time and place. We are born immersed in families and towns and eras with specific rhythms and struggles and currents. If I am born into a world where slavery is the norm, it will be very difficult for me to resist or act or think outside this force. If I am born into a land at war, I may have no memory of peace and find it difficult to even understand peace. If I am born into a family where divorce is the norm, I may repeat the pattern in my own life or never even marry.

Like the watery chaos of Psalm 46, all of us know the chaos of a world of conflicting ideas and emotions, of undercurrents that impact our dreams and our actions. The music of Scripture breaks into this world of competing currents with a strange alien rhythm. Sometimes when people first read the Bible, it might seem a bit disorienting. It should be. In fact, if it’s never disorienting we may not be paying close enough attention. The Word of the Lord breaks into our world as a challenge to the false rhythms of idolatry and oppression that reverberate on our planet.

In ancient Egypt, we discover the Hebrews trapped in a world of enslavement, oppression, and manipulation. The Word of the Lord breaks into this world as an alien rhythm, challenging the power structures and the whole conception of reality. After leading these nameless, powerless slaves into freedom, the LORD calls these people, His people and He gives them His rhythms that are rooted in love to God and love to man.

In Psalm 1, we hear a song inviting us to meditate or groan aloud these rhythms of love and worship and respect and honor. These rhythms directly challenge the constant rhythms in the counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners, the seat of scoffers. The world of the wicked, sinners and scoffers is built in resistance to the love of God and is rooted in self-preservation. It always leads to oppression and devastation. As the Psalmist sings, he reminds us that currents of the wicked produce a crop of chaff, of nothingness.

Like the disappearing world in “The Neverending Story,” the Psalmist realizes the end result of wickedness. Not some kind of naughty pleasure, but rather to destruction of all relationships, of all meaning, of all hope, of all beauty. The end result is absurd nothingness that blows away in the wind. There is only one sound powerful enough to withstand the gale force of oppression and emptiness: it is Torah, the Law of the Lord. The Psalmist proclaims that those who dwell, live, abide in this Law of Love will bear fruit in all seasons.

Yet even as I’m caught up the wondrous promise of the Psalmist, I am aware of my own duplicity. There are times when I speak words of love and life and encouragement. There are times when the rhythms of love seem to resonate in my every fibre. And yet, I know the fruit of selfishness. I hear James speaking directly to me when he cries out, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” I am not the man who lives in Torah day and night. I am the man who aspires to live in Torah but knows the way of hatred and anger and mockery all too well.

Isaiah says that the Lord looks for one true man, but found no one.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there
was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him. (Is 59:15-16)

He enters into our watery grave of idolatry. He entered into the alien rhythms of all world in complete resistance to love, a world that cannot build without breaking, cannot speak without cursing, cannot embrace with killing. Jesus, the Son of God, comes as the one true man. He steps into this world of complete disorientation where no one knows how to step forward and everyone stumbles in the dark. He comes as the true light. In His light, in His path, in His words, we behold the true and genuine rhythms of love. He is the God-Man from Psalms 1 who dwells and lives and acts in Holy Love. He enfleshes Torah, he embodies truth, He reveals the Father. He reveals Love between the Son and the Father. In His Life, His Death and His Resurrection He sets in motion reverberations of life that continue resounding and will eventually stop every false rhythm–even death.

So we turn to Him. We behold Him. We cry out to Him, “Lord have mercy.” It is then that we realize, He has embraced us and His song is beating in our heart. Yes, we are still learning His song, but we are no longer adrift in a sea of chaos. The music of the heavens is pulsing through us. Ours heads, our hands and our feet are beginning to dance.

Jeremy Begbie suggests that music itself is not hope but it is a dynamic of hope because it is sweeping us forward. In Christ, we are caught up in a true dynamic of hope. We are joined together in a song of love the will not fail but will overcome every false rhythm and conquer every lying word.

The Beautiful People of Charleston

June 23, 2010 1 comment

I met Lanis at Charleston's Candy Kitchen.

After spending a few days on the beach, our whole family boarded three cars and all 14 of us caravanned from Myrtle Beach to Charleston. Might as well get a little culture (Southern style) while on vacation. A two-hour drive for my family is still a bit long, so we took a pit stop about 40 minutes away from Charleston for restroom “rest” and snacks. We stopped at a large gas station/general store (sorry no pix).

Visiting the Men’s Room
One by one, the men headed back to “our” room, which was at the back of the store. As we stepped through the door of the men’s room, we stepped onto a loading dock at the back of the store. My first response was to assume I entered the wrong door and turn around. Nope. I was right. The men’s room door opens onto a loading dock. Immediately, I wonder if the men are expected to find some outhouse out back.As it turns out, the men’s room was behind another door on the dock. If you’re ever 40 minutes outside of Charleston, this is good fun watching the puzzled faces of men as they step onto a loading dock in search of the restroom.

A 14 person pit stop takes about 45 minutes of stopping, snacking and looking for stragglers. I think we waited about 10 minutes for Andy (my brother-in-law) to come out of the store who happened to be in his car waiting on us. Once we discovered that we were all really present (as present as possible), we shifted into drive en route to the “Holy City.”

Fort Sumter
As we rolled into the city, a sign pointed left to Ft Sumter, so we obeyed. When I walk through a museum, I try to read all the words on the signs. It’s my form of penance for years spent reading comic books instead of my history books. I’m hoping to learn all I missed before I forget it.

As I meandered through the exhibits, I was stuck by beauty of these people. The families of Charleston play a fundamental role in the formation of these United States of America (even though we often fail to recognize all the ways they contributed to the forming of the fledgling nation). In so many ways, these were beautiful people with beautiful stories and beautiful dreams. And yet…

the stain of slavery bleeds onto every page of this multi-layered tapestry. As a Southerner myself, I wonder how could so many devoutly religious people defend a system that dehumanized an entire race of people. How could they be so blind? But even as the words stumble out, I am struck with a deeper, darker question, “What is our blindspot?” This generation so easily looks back in judgment on the cruelties of early ages, but are we to assume a race of people has finally been born without blindspots? I doubt it.

Before this turns into a game of political finger-pointing at what group is blind and immoral, let me clarify to say that I am so very blind. If anything, Ft Sumter reminds me that I have the same capacity to dehumanize and fail to see the beauty in the people (and world) around me.

Lord have mercy.

Soon our stomachs won over our minds, and the whole Floyd clan scrambled away from Sumter and toward sandwiches.

Floyd Clan Dining at Tommy Condon's Irish Pub

Rackshaw
After a delicious meal at Tommy Condon’s Irish Pub, we boarded “rackshaws” (pronounced pedi-cab) and quickly learned the difference between a taxi and a tour. Thinking we were getting a carriage drawn tour of Chareston for the low, low price of $4.50 a person, we lined up outside of the restaurant awaiting our “prince charming” so to speak. After about ten minutes, we noticed several rackshaw drivers sitting across the street waving at us. Turns out our carriage turned into a pumpkin before we even boarded.

They convinced us to take a chance and “ride the rackshaw.” So we did. Admittedly, we had a nice ride circling the block. In fact, I really like Larry (the guy who drive Kelly and I). He even told us a few interesting points of interest about Charleston. As it turns out, most drivers were silent. As licensed “taxi” drivers they were not licensed to give tours. If you want a fun little “green” taxi drive in Charleston, these guys fit the bill. If you want a tour of the historic city, look elsewhere.

The Candy Girl
By the time we finished our taxi, the snacks from the morning and the lunch from 15 minutes ago, were already starting to fade. With out “active pace,” we needed refueling. There’s nothing like sugar to strengthen a weary soul, so we ambled over to Charleston’s Candy Kitchen. From the moment we walked in the door, we were treated to candy corn, pralines, glazed pecans and gelato samples. This has to be one of the friendliest stores I’ve ever visited. It goes to show that sugar really does make you sweeter.

The young lady who greeted us upon arrival and departure was named Lanis (see picture at top of page). She wins the award for “friendliest of the friendliest.” In fact, her hospitality reminded me of the warm welcome I received several years earlier from “Uncle Ben.” A legless, faith-filled kind seller of incense who welcomed us to Charleston in 2006 with outstretched arms and a heart of love.

Lanis revealed that same joy-filled sparkle in her smile, her demeanor and her words. She told me that she was studying women and gender in college with hopes of eventually serving women and children in Latin America. As I talked with Lanis and listened to her passion for mission and service, I kept thinking about my walk through the Ft Sumter museum. She’s one of the beautiful people of Charleston.

This grand old city has known prestige and grandeur as well as struggle and pain. The conflicted story of slavery stains its past, and yet the beauty still shines around every corner. As I think of Charleston, I am reminded of a world that is filled with real and awful suffering. But as a person of faith in Christ, I do not believe suffering and human cruelty has the last word. Rather, I behold the God who pour himself into the brokeneness of human life and healed it from the inside out. He restores beauty into His good and wondrous creation.

So Lanis reminds me of beauty and love and kindness and self-giving. In her, I see a glimmer of His making all things new. Once again, I am reminded that wherever I turn and whomever I meet, has been created in His image. Oh that the blindness of prejudice and envy and jealousy might be healed so that I can see in and through the light of His glory, beholding the beauty of His handiwork throughout all of His good and glorious creation.

Greg, our tale-teller and tour guide

The Fabled Carriage Ride
After this exhausting day of eating and riding, we finally took respite in a nice leisurely stroll through the streets of Charleston aboard a horse-drawn carriage. Greg, our part historian/tour guide and part PT Barnum, led us through the city with tales of the glory of this city and tales of his life. Ever the showman, Greg recounted stories of Charleston’s yesteryear, Charleston’s shipping community, Charleston’s role in the Revolution, and Charleston’s dedication to libation.

Along the way, he also recounted his own rich Southern heritage and his successful bet to live in Charleston for a year without electricity. By the end of the ride, our eyes were dancing with dreams of days gone by and a sense that magic still happens in along these lanes. if you ever visit Charleston be sure to take a carriage ride with Greg and ask him to tell you the story of Eli Whitney.

As the day came to a close, we feasted on Bubba Gump’s shrimp, then boarded our motorized carriages for an evening drive back to Myrtle Beach, to our awaiting beach house, and to dishes of ice cream for all.

Charleston Skyline by Night

Charleston Skyline by Night

Categories: Community, culture, Family

Living in the World of the Wide Web

June 4, 2010 5 comments

Photo by dhammza (via Creative Commons)

My brother Jeremy paused momentarily from twittering, facebooking, ipadding, and conference calling to send me a link via Google chat to Nicholas Carr’s article, “The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains.” In a manner most apropos, Carr published the piece in Wired. After reading his article, I wonder if we might should called it ReWired instead.

As you probably guessed from reading the title of his article, Carr writes about how the web is changing the way we think (and I don’t just mean our opinions). His key idea is that the brain moves between “working memory” and “long term memory.” Web surfing operates in working memory but do to the overwhelming influx of data disruption, our brain keeps reorienting between competing streams of data. Thus we experience “cognitive overload” (think of the dread spinning wheel on your computer).

This cognitive overload means that we transfer less information to long term memory and gradually lose or weaken our ability to process ideas deeply. Or to put it in the words of Patricia Greenfield, we weaken our capacity for “deep processing” that underpins “mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.”

The impact stretches into our non-surfing time because our brains actually begin processing differently. Drawing from Michael Merzenich’s pioneering work in the field of neuroplasticity, Carr suggests that “our online habits continue to reverberate in the workings of our brain cells even when we’re not at a computer. We’re exercising the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading and thinking deeply.”

This brings to mind Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” and Michael LeGault’s reply, “Think! Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of An Eye.” There is a real tension between the instant message multi-tasking, hyper-frenzied world and the analytic, thoughtful processing that takes time.

As I read Carr’s excellent article, I wondered how people negotiated changing mental processing during dramatic shifts in history. The pre-Socratic world negotiated a dramatic shift from story to abstract reasoning. The Reformation world negotiated a dramatic shift from a memory-based oral culture to a book-based written culture. If the brain is plastic, then these shifts surely had disruptive impacts as well. I would suggest that good and bad probably came out of each shift.

Some things were discarded that may need to be rediscovered. Yet at the same time, other things were introduced that served to catalyze many positive developments.

In many ways (exceeding even the Internet), we are in the midst of an epochal shift that will most likely continue throughout our lifetimes. When it comes to the Web, how might we learn to negotiate the threat of cognitive overload and then possibility of losing our capacity for analytic thought. Can we cultivate both deep diving as well and surface snorkeling?

As I read Carr’s article, I thought about Wallas’ four stages of creativity thinking: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, Verification. Preparation is the process of gathering information. In some sense, it does carry this idea of overwhelming data. And the data is not necessarily all interrelated. Information may seem to have no connection at all. And yet, in a process that some have called “bisociation” the mind forces disparate ideas together. The result may be unexpected, surprising, and even enlightening.

This stage of creativity seems to correspond closely to Carr’s description of web use. And in that sense, the web is an excellent place for “surface snorkeling” massive amount of data. This can lead to surprising, new and often dramatic new ideas and shifts that might be associated with the “Illumination” or “Eureka!” stage of creative thinking.

But per Carr’s piece, the web may actually contend with the “Incubation” stage. This is the opposite of collection. In the mystic sense, it is the time of purgation, of luminous darkness. It is the great waiting. It is the pregnant pause. In a world of constant data overload, how might we craft “pregnant pauses” in our lives?

We may take a page from Chang Tzu and learn the mystery of the useless tree. There is a time (and a desperate need) to stop, turn off the computer, turn off the ipod, turn off the television and simply breathe. The restorative power of cultivating times of silence and deep breathing can nourish our brains and our bodies.

We might also read long articles…out loud. Or pause over a poem. Living in a culture that seems to despise poetry, we could the value of waiting over words, reading and rereading words until they come into focus.

We might write a long article or write a poem. The process of write can help us to slow down and organize our thoughts. We might try thinking again. Of course, we are always thinking. But cultivating times of intentional thought. My professors used to suggest two hours of thought for every one hour of reading. When I’ve followed their advice, I read much less but oddly enough, I learned much more.

Like an egg resting beneath the hen, the incubation period seems like wasted time. But then the shell breaks open revealing a tiny chick. Many of the great ideas that changed the course of the world, broke into this world suddenly and surprisingly.

We might also intentionally look backwards to the Pre-Socratic world or the pre-Reformation world and try to see through their eyes, hear through their ears, and feel through their hands. We cannot fully do this, but we can at least try. For instance, I think all of us might benefit from spending time learning about and practicing ancient mnemonics. Our deep memory capacity seems greatly diminished compared to our classical and medieval counterparts.

By looking backwards (at these earlier cultures) and looking forwards (into the possibilities of our connected web world), we might begin learning how to act. We might get ideas on how to negotiate this challenge and blessing of a web of information that circles and encircles and continues encircling our world.

Then we might realize (more often) the final stage of creativity: verification. This is the realization of the idea. The movement from abstraction to action. It is the idea embodied. In Christian theology, this is the Word made Flesh. We might not simply be able to reference all the cool sites and techniques on gardening. We might actually plant a real garden.

Is Your Business Transparent?

September 4, 2009 Leave a comment

For their September issue, Trendwatching revisited a consumer trend that is consistently growing in importance: Transparency. St. Maximas the Confessor believed that Adam and Eve were transparent luminous beings and that in the future transformation this luminosity would be restored. In our ever-growing socially-connected world, businesses are becoming more transparent (luminous or not). I’d say businesses and individuals alike would do well to pay heed to this trend, since I think we may be growing transparent in more ways than one (but that’s another topic).

I suggest you read the whole briefing.  Highlights from the September 2009 Trendwatching Newsletter include:

1. Reviews Revolution – The impact of customer reviews continues to soar. Trendwatching suggests (and rightly so I think), “Reviewing is the new advertising.”

Deluge – More people are online, thus more reviews are online. (And not all the reviews are on your website!) Some key sites to watch include: Bazaarvoice (their new ShoutIT integrates with FB et al); TripAdvisor (top travel review site); Google’s Rich Snippets; and a variety of local review sites like Yelp and GeoGraffiti.

Truthiness – As aggragated reviews increase, fake reviews (by tricky businesses and angry customers) will more likely be exposed, so if you’re doing that kinda of stuff: Knock it off!

Everything Reviewed – It’s not just books anymore. Everything from churches to childcare will be reviewed. I’m thinking about righting a review of my parents (5 stars out of 5 stars of course!)

Real Time – If the diner on the corner has a rat in their soup, people may know within minutes. This means companies will have to be more vigilant than ever and ready to respond (plan of action in advance) to crisis and mistakes. I suggest humility and honesty as the best policy!

Mapmania – With Smartphones bulging from everyone’s pocket, people more easily are pulling reviews via map searches.

Reviewer Trumps Review – Reviewer profiles are growing more important as more people will want to read reviews by people like them. (I must admit that I’ve always used the Amazon profile link to see what other books a person reviews before I blindly accept their words. Who knows? They may say Tomaato while I say Tomaeto!

Right of Reply – Reviewers no longer have the final say. Companies will and do have opportunities to reply on sites like TripAdvisor and Amazon.

Warning Will Robinson – Okay I added the “Will Robinson.” But the big deal for companies with reviews is the thing I harp on again and again when talking to folks about social media. It’s about listening! Social media is not another way to spam your message via Twitter, FB and more. It’s a change to listen. You can turn off the comments on your blog, but you can’t turn off the comments your customers are making in other places. So listen. Engage. Learn the art of responding to complaint with grace.

2. Pricing Pandemonium – I like this, “What else can we say about online price comparison than that full price transparency seems near?” Their right. Who doesn’t do searches for products when getting ready to purchase? More than once I’ve been shopping in a store, and done a quick comparison via my iPhone, then ordered the product I was looking at in the store online (and got it in the mail the next day to boot).

Niche – This is interesting. Trendwatching sees the emergence of niche pricing sites focused on a specific think like medication, skiing, bus tickets, elder care, medical tourism, and more.

On-the-spot – Like I said, I’ve used my iPhone for in-store price comparisons. Some shop apps include Amazon Android, Shopsaavy, and SnapTell.

Alerting – With GPS, there are all sorts of price alerting functions that will soon be commonplace.

Forecasting – How about apps that forecast the best time for purchases. Oh yeah! This is already happening with flights in apps like Farecast.

3. Inside Out – Finally, Trendwatching suggests (and rightly so) that transparency extends beyond pricing and reviews to corporate citizenship. So companies need to be more conscious about “doing the right thing” because everyone will know your deceptions. Who knows what employee might be posting stuff online, exposing your fraudulent and poor behavior. This is a great opportunity as well for companies to think and act more responsibly in the world. But it does have some potential problems in my opinion. What exactly does “Do the Right Thing!” mean? In our politically divided nation (and even more divided world), this has potential of politicizing actions by companies even more. How long before everyone gets sick of all the tattling and attack culture that is continuously bred in the left and right of our culture? In spite of the downfall, I do like the idea of holding people and companies responsible. So it just means we have a heartier conversation. Now let’s hope we learn (at some point) the fine are of civility.

Walking in Two Worlds

April 11, 2008 Leave a comment

We live in at least two worlds or two types of world. We are born into the first and primary world. We didn’t create it. Some people think it just appeared somehow. I believe in the Creator of this world as revealed in the Bible.

The First World
God creates the first world in and through His Word. This world is not God and yet symbolic power is rooted in this world He created by His Word. Thus the prophet can proclaim, “The whole earth is filled with the glory of God.” This world of mountains and valleys and trees and oceans and all manner of creatures and human beings express the glory of God. Not because it (or we as humans) consciously choose to but because His Word created it.

While we could think about Word on many levels, I want to focus here on the aspect of word of symbolic power. Words are primary symbols. They express meaning. Words take forms that express meaning. God speaks the world into being. The whole world conveys meaning (whether we are blind to it or not). In our sin, we may misunderstand the meaning or even worship the world that express the symbol, but our failure does not diminish the riches of meaning, of glory, of wonder expressed by the world of soil, grass, trees, mountains and more. The Bible interprets the meaning of this created world (see Jim Jordan’s “Through New Eyes” for a wonderful introduction).

The fullness of God’s Word is expressed/imaged in Jesus Christ. (More on this later.)

The Second World
Human are created in the image of God. Humans are rational and emotional communicators. We relate. We express meaning. We create symbols. So we create a second world through our words. Our words carry symbolic power. Our words take forms that express meaning.

I can tell a story about an evil empire and the band of noble rebels who resist the evil forces and end up rescuing the enslaved people. These words take form in the imagination. They might also take form in a song. Then someone may write down the words in a book. Another person might act out the words on stage with a group of actors. These words might even take shape in the houses and communities we build.

Our words take form in poetry, song, story, paintings, communities, buildings, dreams and more. Our words create a world that conveys meaning. Every day we create through our words. If our hearts are evil we create worlds that mock God, oppress people and damage the first world.

The 10 Words (10 Commandments) form the building blocks for creating worlds of wonder. Through the 10 Words, we create songs, proverbs, stories, homes, and communities. These words burst out in drawings, paintings, architecture, sculpture, music and dance that all sing out to the glory of God.

The worlds that we create are imperfect (incomplete). They do not reflect the fullness of God’s glory or wonder. They may reveal partial aspects His glory but the not whole. Thus God cannot be limited or contained by our worlds. And we cannot be limited or contained by our worlds. History reveals humans breaking out of one world and into another.

The child leaves one symbolic world and enters into the fuller world of adulthood. As we grow and develop, so does our ability to create worlds. But at the same time, as we fall under the deception of sin or allow the root of bitterness to grow, we create like worlds. Some of us create worlds of darkness, hopelessness, victimhood, and we need to be delivered from the horrible world that we’ve created and brought into the light of God’s good creation.

Woo Hoo! Where did this come from?

July 10, 2007 1 comment

I don’t know when I started saying it, but at some point in the last 10 years, my mouth overtook my mind and the pre-verbal, primal sound, “woo hoo!” uttered forth. Then this little brother from another planet overtook my mouth like a body snatcher (or a tongue snatcher to be exact).

Is it an alien invasion, a beloved phrase of America’s favorite son (Homer Simpson), or some pre-lingual archetype still attached to our language like an unnecessary appendix.

Everything2 has the answer and all the applications for “woo hoo.”

Mosaics – Mashing up cultures across space (and time)

February 13, 2007 1 comment

Strawberry Frog offers some interesting ideas on the notion of the Global Soul. How we’re influencing one another:

From Mono- to Multi- to Transculturalism.  First, it takes the form of exposure to another culture. Then, a ‘tossed salad.’ From there, multiculturalism evolves. From a Canadian’s perspective who has lived during the melting pot era of politics in that country, the melting pot simply assumes too much.  A mosaic is a better metaphor, but only a snapshot in time, which ultimately led to the Benetton cliché—assimilated transculture.  An ‘active mosaic’ best explains the phenomenon. Existing culture meets emerging culture,  they exchange and mutate characteristics – creating an ever-evolving mosaic of global, organic living culture.  Some examples of this are Remixes and hybrids: design, arts, media, social. Musical genre-blending. Film allusion and homage. TV remakes and exports. Food and drink fusions.

Great thoughts. Take time to read the whole thing. While I think it is the West primarily mashing into smaller weaker cultures, there is a coming shift and mosaic will probably take on more shades of Indian, African, Latin and Asian cultures in the years to come. He seems to be envisioning a mashup across space, but there is also a mashup across time taking place, and a new world is being formed in our midst (but that’s another post for another day).

American Popular Culture

November 16, 2006 Leave a comment

While trying to find out some words related to treasure chest, I stumbled across an old Catholic comic book series and eventually ended up at the Authentic American History Center. This site provides a fascinating collection of American pop culture artifacts that reach all the way back to the revolution.

There are pamphlets, comics, images and audio files from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, early 1900s, WWI, WWII, and each decade up to the present. The topic range from religion to politics to other elements that captured the national  consciousness.

Way cool! Plus the Catholic comic book Treasure Chest was pretty interesting as well.

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