Art versus Art.

I think I need to verbalize this. Because flying around in my head, these thoughts are only making me crazy.

Tonight I lost any confidence that I had in myself as an artist. Don’t be alarmed, I do this frequently, and for different reasons. Continue reading

A few bits of news…

Hi.

I feel like I never write in this blog anymore because I’m always drawing dang comics. Thank God for the occasional bits of news so that I can keep the ol’ typing fingers in practice.

A few things:

I’ve added a Links page. After I did this I took my links, or, “blogroll,” off the sidebar but it looked naked so I put them back there. But links will be categorized and explained a little more on the Links page.

There were a few links I wanted to highlight here, though, as long as you’re reading. Continue reading

Two today, because I was slacking this weekend.

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Probably this is the most brilliant idea since Kristy Thomas came up with the Baby-sitters Club. Like a book club, but with records!

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Sunday science.

Ahh, I like church.  I do!  Some people think it is boring, or pointless, but I go to church and I feel like… well, I feel like I’m closest to being home.  I always come away from church feeling a little bit of a high.  That feeling fades throughout the week, but then on Sunday, boom, there is God, waiting, always faithful. I know that’s silly. I know that God is there throughout the week, and the challenge is for me to meet him. And I try to, and some days I am able to.  But there is still something about church that feels good to me.

I remember a segment on some infotainment news-type show in which there were scientists who did brain scans of people who were in worship services (of various different religions) and they found that there was a particular area of the brain that was especially active during the moment that worshippers felt this “high”.  I don’t quite remember, but I think they were trying to prove that spiritual experiences were simply a rush of neurotransmitters in the brain, nothing truly spiritual at all.  They thought they had pulled a fast one on believers, but really, most believers would credit God with the design of the human brain and all of the chemicals therein which make it tick.  So what did they really prove?  I think it’s silly when people base all of their arguments on the idea that God and Science are mutually exclusive.   They aren’t!  Duh!

Girl deciduous.

What I’m about to write is super cheesy, but also, I think, super beautiful.  I learned today that I am a tree.  (It’s a metaphor).  I am a tree and this is winter, and my leaves which seemed so good (and are!) have all been stripped away.  Winter is miserable.  It’s cold and gray, and these naked, skeletal trees such as myself only serve to point out exactly how depressing are the months when our earth is tilted away from the sun.  But all through the winter, something is happening to the trees.  Something is happening inside, where you can’t see it, beneath the bark.  Things are changing.  Life is happening.  And in all due time the seasons will change.  Spring will arrive (it always does) and that life will burst forth.  God is faithful!

Edit: Dang it!  Someone had to go and correct my knowledge of tree types, hence the title change.  I liked Girl Coniferous better, but what can I say?  I am a leaf-loser.

Correcting consumerism.

It began innocently enough.  Shawn was playing an instructional DVD which was teaching about light and color in digital art.  I made the comment that I would like to learn how to use Corel Painter, and my mom said, “Well, Christmas is coming.  Maybe you would like that program for a gift?”  We already have Painter, so I began to think what else I might like for a gift.  An ipod?  Computer accessories?  New clothes?  My mind settled for a moment on one thing, and I announced, “I think for Christmas I would like a digital video camera.”  Because it would be fun, to have one of those and make silly movies and capture the memories and what not.  But is it something I need?  Not at all.  It’s something that would be outdated in a year and I would be unhappy with it and want the newest model.  Don’t believe me?  I have a video camera.  It’s sitting on the top shelf of my closet because it’s not cool enough, it’s not digital, it’s not new.  I have an old ipod and heaps of last season’s clothes and stacks of books that I’ll never read, music I never listen to, and computer gadgets I never use, and I’m sitting here thinking of what I want next?  As if I need anymore stuff?

My good friend Rachel posted some great videos on her blog that kind of snapped me back out of my consumerist trance.  She posted the first three but you should watch the entire series.  They are informative and convicting.

My church has been talking about this thing called Advent Conspiracy, substituting compassion for consumerism.  Even if you’re not a Christian it’s worth a look:

Strength.

I highly doubt I’ll be going to see the film Religulous – for the same reason I’ll probably never read The God Delusion – I do a good enough job coming up with doubt on my own and don’t need the help of any overly prideful intellectuals (and certainly not any stand up comics – have I mentioned my total distaste for stand up comics?)  Anyway, I get the point.  Religion is the opiate of the masses.  Sure.  Sure it is.  That’s why I just spent the whole day amongst some of the most service-hearted people I’ve ever encountered, and they didn’t seem stoned at all on dogma or blind-obedience – except maybe obedience to Christ’s call to love the world.  So if you’re going to attack the church, that’s fine, just don’t do so on the premise that nothing good has ever come out of organized religion.  If that’s your argument, prepare to be made a fool.  

Anyway, in this horrible place where I go each week to be brainwashed into loving my neighbor, they’ve begun a sermon series on Deuteronomy which the pastor insists will not be boring.  Furthermore, for people who strive to be like Christ, Deuteronomy is a necessary study since Jesus loved Deuteronomy and quoted it more than any other Old Testament text.  So there is this passage which I suspect we’ll return to with frequency which reads, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)  I tend to focus on the more abstract elements of that passage – my heart and my soul.  But what does it mean to love God with all my strength?  That is a physical, measurable thing, and I never really think about what it means.  But today I got a taste.  Because last night I didn’t sleep well, and today I have a cold, and I had committed my entire day to manning a table at a volunteer fair at Black Hawk Church.  This meant an early morning, a long drive, and almost non-stop physical and social engagement on a very shallow reserve of energy.  Today I loved God with my strength, a lot of it, if not all of it, which was an easier proportion to reach considering that I didn’t have much strength to begin with.  

So what if I gave God every ounce of my strength on a healthy, well-rested day when I had so much more strength to give?  What if I went to bed at night exhausted, as I no doubt will tonight, because I had depleted the oxygen in ever fiber of my muscles, every neuron of my brain, every cell in my body, from the exertion of loving God and my neighbor so completely?  And what if I didn’t stop there?  What if I trained my body to have more strength, adopted a healthier diet, pruned away anything toxic in my life, so as to cultivate MORE strength which I could turn around and use for love?  I would actually be a healthier person for it.

I know it’s all theoretical at this point, but when I imagine the upward trajectory of this kind of living, when I imagine the entire church moving and growing in this direction of strength (to say nothing of the dimensions of heart and soul) I have a really hard time seeing the church as the dangerous downward pull that Bill Maher claims it is.  I’m not talking about the mistakes we have made and still make which lead division, I’m talking about what is possible, if we really live like Christ, who gave every ounce of his strength.  Literally.  Every last drop. 

 

***

My friend Alex wrote a few pretty amazing words on the whole absurdity of defending our faith, which might be interesting to read as a parallel to this.  You can point out all of the ways that I don’t quite live up to Jesus’ standard of living our faith instead of defending it, even right here in this post!  :)

Outside the box, away from the line.

Prepare yourself for some run-on sentences and maybe some mini-brain explosions.  That said…

Earlier this week as I was driving to my parents’ house I was thinking about God, and how he is clearly a being that exists outside the realm of human understanding, or at least beyond it, with maybe a small portion, the tip of the iceberg, dwelling in terms that we can wrap our heads around.  We often use this characteristic of God, that he is not fully knowable by our limited minds, as consolation when things in this life do not make sense.  How could God allow such and such to happen?  Because God and his intentions are bigger than we can fathom.  We use this fact in response to arguments of logic: How could God be everywhere at the same time?  How could he have always existed?  How could a virgin conceive and how could a man rise from the dead?  How could any of the ridiculous claims in the Bible be true?  In response to secular thinkers and simply the skeptical, God is bigger than human understanding.  Even the smartest and wisest of us could not begin to explain the mysteries of God, and for some reason that takes some of the pressure on those of us who aren’t the smartest or wisest.

So here is what I was thinking about, specifically.  I was thinking about Kilgore Trout (of Kurt Vonnegut’s imagination) and his theory that time is not a linear experience, that our limited human minds may interpret our experience in a linear way, but really all moments in time occur simultaneously, or maybe eternally, or something along those lines, and a person who is aware of this can pick and choose which order they wish to experience life events, can jump around at their leisure.  (I’m basing this weak summary on Slaughterhouse Five which I last read a few years ago, so I’m sure that I’m butchering the theory.  But there is some incentive to go pick up the book and read it yourselves.)

Of course, this is the stuff of science fiction.  In reality, time is linear.  It has a beginning, and it has an end.  Human lives have a very distinct beginning and an often equally distinct end, and a series of events that take place between those two milestones.  Time is linear.  Right?  Or is it just that our tip-of-the-iceberg sized understanding of time is linear?  After all, God is eternal.  He exists infinitely in all directions of time and space; he always was, always is, and always will be.  How does one express such an existence with a time line?  There is no beginning and no end, and while experiential evidence suggests that there is a sequence to events, it’s quite possible that it is simply a perception that comes about when we try to explain something much more complex (if I knew what that something was I would probably say it outright here, instead of dusting around with all of these question marks).

I don’t know that it is necessarily important to fully understand the physical shape that time takes.  Except for this, which is what I was thinking about on the drive: if all time is actually occurring simultaneously, wouldn’t it make sense to adjust prayer accordingly?  Currently we pray God’s forgiveness for the past, we pray thanks for the present, and we pray supplication for the future.  I’m generalizing of course (there are some who pray forgiveness for sins not yet committed, or some who can’t stop thanking God for something that happened years ago) but this seems to be the standard association between prayer and time.  But if time is not actually occurring on a line, wouldn’t it make sense to pray for things that happened in the “past”?  If we prayed in 2008 for events of 2007, would it make any difference?  If we prayed today for things that happened in history, the genocides and wars and natural disasters, would we see any effect?  Not that the headlines of our newspapers would mystically change before our eyes (a  la Back to the Future) but perhaps that the current “result” (in quotes because without a chain of events there can’t actually be any causality) of those events would be altered.  That we would be changed in light of these things.

If all time is occurring simultaneously and I begin to pray for my “past” self and do so faithfully, then I could exist today knowing that my “future” self was praying for me on this very day.  Surely my “future” self would know better how to pray for me, having already experienced parts of my linearly-perceived life that my present-day self has not yet.

Mostly this was just a bunch of wild thoughts that were more interesting at that time than the farms and fields that I was driving past.  Probably it’s safe to say that praying for the past would not be the wisest way to spend valuable time, particularly valuable time with God.  Even if time is not happening quite the way we understand it, there is a reason that God wired our brains to interpret it this way.  Maybe it’s for our safety.  Or maybe we are supposed to think about it, and outside of the niche of science fiction.  Could we do it without laughing at ourselves?  I told my mom about the subject of this post and she laughed and said, “So it’s Christian Sci-Fi.”  Maybe that’s all it is.  Maybe I’ll pitch it to George Lucas.  And my future self can pray that he buys it!

Speaking lately in Last Nights.

(Note from B: The frinternet is down again, which means I haven’t been able to post this, let alone perfect it. I’ve got all kinds of blog ideas that are just piling up without any outlet. This could damage me, if left untreated. Sorry for the infrequent posts. This one I wrote on Sunday.)

Last night The Art Table played at a wedding. Well, more accurately, Holly and the Non-Italians played at a wedding and I sat in for a few of the requested classics. Holly and I also kicked off the set by singing that Moldy Peaches song Anyone Else But You that they sing at the end of Juno (which the bride and groom had danced to five years before Juno ever came out, so it was their song first!) We also sang Mable, which was really the reason why I drove up to Green Bay this weekend, and once we realized there was only one vocal mic I ended up signing with Holly on hers while someone else played my drum part… so we all got to hear what Mable would sound like with a real drummer! (For those of you who missed it–it sounds pretty awesome.)

The wedding was held at the National Railroad Museum, which looks really neat inside with all of the party lighting and the train cars and such, and while Holly and the Non-Italians were setting up I sat on the front steps of an engine car and took the scene in. There was so much energy in that canyon of a room, with the wedding party dancing and Holly testing the distortion from her pedals and some little boy wearing a Mardi Gras mask beating away on the drums like he was the happiest kid alive. I glanced up and saw the Wisconsin flag hanging from the rafters, and the train cars lined up in a row, serving industriously as the backdrop of all of this. Life was pulsating. The noise of joyful conversation and laughter mingled with white lights and then kind of swallowed me up and I was for some reason overjoyed. I remember thinking, or maybe praying, “God, can you beat this?”

I don’t know what prompted me to say something like that. Even as soon as I thought it I realized it was ridiculous, because A) of course God could beat it, but more importantly B) God was there anyway, whether people were aware of it or not. Sometimes I forget that when I’m in a secular place. I feel like I’ve checked God at the door and any fun that I have is fun without him. Sometimes I feel like if I’m having fun while I’m not in church, if I’m having fun while drinking a beer, if I’m having fun while rock and roll pounds against my eardrums, then it must be wrong. But that’s a lie, and an unfortunate one. That’s the kind of lie that can lead to guilt, and what about this weekend should actually cause guilt? Nothing, really. Fortunately, guilt never came. This weekend was just fun. I had a great time with my friends and family, with the fireworks and art supply shopping sprees and too-big burritos, with the rock and roll wedding party and, hey, with church too. It’s really a great relief when you realize that there is nothing wrong with having fun, at least not inherently. And it’s a different kind of relief to be reminded that God is still there in the midst of it, no matter what.

An open note to Craig Thompson.

To Craig Thompson, author and illustrator of Blankets, I have a few things to say. First of all, well done, really. The first time I read this book I read all 582 pages in a single sitting while my friend and host slept into the afternoon. This was in San Francisco, the day after Thanksgiving, 2005. Your book had already been in print for a couple years by then, and I was embarrassed at the time that I had waited so long to read it. You draw the way I wish I could. Just last night I spent a half hour copying your ears into my sketchbook (I always have trouble with ears). Maybe you’re my favorite illustrator, even, I’m not sure yet. I love the way you draw yourself as a child. I love the way you draw Wisconsin.

This time I checked your book out of the library. This time, unlike that day after Thanksgiving, I read your book one chapter at a time, with days in between. There was sadness, just like the first time I read, but the sadness that time had come in a wave at the very end, whereas this time the sadness lapped and licked at my ankles throughout the entire reading experience (even the days in between). I think you meant for there to be sadness, didn’t you?

Here is the one objection that I feel I need to make, Craig. On page 533 your character says, “It [Christianity] denies the beauty of being human, and it ignores all these gaps that need to be filled in by the individual.” I’ll have to say that I whole-heartedly disagree with you on those points, and maybe it will serve as inspiration for future posts here. But for now, how is this? I went to art school and worked from nude models and never once felt guilt over it, and have never ever felt that the humanness of body or spirit was belittled or made profane by an active faith. Even my mother, who rolled her eyes whenever my artist siblings and I spoke of our figure classes, never made me feel sinful for studying the human figure in this way. Maybe the members of your church told you that art is a sin and a distraction, and shame on your Sunday School teacher who said you would never draw in heaven but only spend all of your time in song, but they were wrong. I feel like you experienced one corner of the Christian world when there are certainly other corners which celebrate creativity and artfulness and the individuality that feeds and is fed by those things. I’m not clicking my tongue here and saying “It’s a pity you lost your faith.” I’m just thinking, how sad that in your experience the church severed itself from your creativity, because in doing so they cut off an incredibly talented limb. Keep drawing pictures, please.

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    Breena Wiederhoeft
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