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.

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The apparent evolution of a blog.

These days, all I want to talk about and/or write about is the brain. It’s really interesting to me! And it makes me think that I probably made the right decision to enroll in this psychology class, and that makes me happy.

When our house settles it makes these loud clicking noises which I normally sleep through, or else I don’t hear them from my bedroom. But last night for some reason I slept on the pullout couch in our living room. I heard the clicking lightly weaving in and out of my dreams for a few moments, unconscious that it was the house settling or anything else, and then suddenly my brain interpretted those noises as someone trying to take the locks off of our front door, to break into our apartment and do me harm. Instantly I was wide awake, my heart was racing, and my breath quickened. And do you know what was my very next thought (while I was still very afraid for my safety)? I thought, “Sympathetic Nervous System!” which is the nervous system that produces the biological responses to potential danger known as our fight or flight response. Anyway, in my confused but alert state it took some time to assure myself that the noises were simply part of the building (and meanwhile I experienced the “Waiting for the other shoe to drop” phenomenon I had only just learned about that morning while reading Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers at the library… would the prowler just break through the front door already, so I can either fall back to sleep or be killed??) Anyway, I mostly just found it amusing that my first response was to recall a bit of brain anatomy, as if I were being tested on this information even while I slept, even on the brink of a terrible event.

And with that, I’m going to try to stop writing too much more about psychology, partly because I am far from an expert, and partly because it’s not quite under the umbrella of the topical goals of this blog (art, creativity, faith, and various acceptable tangents). But then again, this is the most recent direction my life has taken, and the handy thing about psychology (versus chemistry or calculus) is that it is very relevant to those other things. All of these things that fascinate me take place right there in that gross, squishy, and marvelous organ. I can’t wait to learn about the psychology of faith and religious belief. Or about the ideation process. About taste and preference and opinion and all of that. About emotion! So here, let me take this paragraph and do a 180 and say that you probably will have to read a bit more about the subject here. Or maybe you’ll enjoy that, depending on your brain.

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.

Ascend, then, comic friends, then, Mother hen.

Last week I declared that I would be writing a post about the Ascension, which is now 11 days in the past and still, here, unwritten about. Not for lack of time, and not because I forgot about it. I just couldn’t rouse myself to the task. The message connected to the Ascension, that Christ reigns victorious, is exciting, but it is also convicting. Or at least, the message we were delivered on Ascension Sunday, which said, in simplified terms: “Jesus’ ascension to heaven (after spending 40 post-resurrection days on earth) puts him on the throne of God. He is not limited to any one physical place, as a body on earth is, but he continues his ministry–omnipresent–from there.” And then comes the convicting part: “The Ascension means that Christ ministers to others through us. As his witnesses, we are to show others that his reign of hope, healing, love, compassion, and justice has already begun. We must demonstrate this through our lives.” It’s not a passive holiday, the Ascension. Well anyway, I would probably have let it go unmentioned–I don’t have anything very insightful to add here–but I can’t stand leaving an allusion unanswered. I have also noticed that I can be very lighthearted and maybe even a tad humorous in this blog, but as soon as the topic turns to religion or faith I become immediately stiff-backed, as if I am afraid to have any fun with the matter, as if I have been convinced by ages of rigid, starch-collar, religious formalities which were actually, for the most part, absent from my religious upbringing. I think we need to take God seriously, of course, and I doubt if God minds the sobriety. But I don’t think my witness can do too much good if it gets a reputation of being boring, and readers skip past any mention of God here. God is not the dry thread that runs around my otherwise amusing life, flossing teeth perhaps. God is inextricable from all of these other parts! He is deeply entwined with my creative process, both the lighthearted and the serious. That was the original point of this Easel Ain’t Easy, after all. Time to get back, perhaps?

To say a bit about the creative process as it stands currently, then: I’m taking a break from painting. I could go into all of the details behind this decision, but I will focus on the one that is most exciting: I’m in on the ground-floor of a very promising collaborative project. It will be a graphic narrative, and the goal is to have it viewable online once things get rolling (hopefully in an ongoing form, that is, with regular updates building on the story). Our team is a solid one, featuring one award-winning author, one acclaimed graphic designer/illustrator, and myself, a… spirited believer in graphic storytelling. And, well okay, I’ve got a few credits to my name. The plan is to get things started on a small scale, and then once it’s somewhat established, to invite more creative talent into the fold. So listen, if you are an artist or a writer, don’t be surprised if you’re asked at some point to contribute. It’s a team thing!

Finally, it’s Mothers Day, so naturally I started writing a post about my mother. However, the degree to which I love my mother requires that the post be nothing short of perfect, so I’m going to sit on it a bit, work on a few more revisions, and post it sometime in the near future. In the meantime, moms are the bombs, especially mine. I love you Mom!!!

American Idol Worshiper (or Focus, part two).

If something does not draw me closer to God, it brings me further away from him. There is no standing still. Everything is an action. If I have felt a distance from God in the weeks since Easter it is because I took an action to turn my eyes away from him. I don’t want to be so simplistic to say that giving certain things up for Lent was my way of drawing near to God, but, while it did afford me plenty of time to instead meditate on God, what have I done with my free time since then?

I have spent hours poring over my music and looking for new artists, I have spent hours watching movies and reading books that are unhealthy for me, I have spent hours worrying about my health and human relationships, I have spent hours watching stupid videos online and hovering around pointless websites, I have spent hours sleeping while dishes lay dirty in the sink and laundry collects in a heap on my floor. These are all active choices, and why don’t I call them what they are: they are idols (at least for me in my context). And I am an idol worshiper.

This is no revelation. I’ve always suspected music was an idol of mine, which is why it felt good to give it up on the times that I have. I probably should have suspected all of those other things were idols too, and while there are plenty of things in the human experience which I don’t idolize (fashion, television, celebrity, intellectualism, material accumulation – generally) a single, tiny idol is one giant idol too many. This morning I was reading in First Samuel the story that takes place right before the Israelites demand a king for themselves, where they are being afflicted by the Philistines and Samuel offers a sacrifice to the Lord to bring deliverance. Right before he makes the sacrifice, Samuel says to the Israelites: “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” It couldn’t be clearer. I need to get rid of these idols. Everything eternal depends on it.

Yes, yes, just when I was starting to sound fun again I go and ruin it by writing a post like this one. But let me clarify something (I feel like I clarify this a lot). I don’t think there is anything wrong with music or movies or comics or romance or naps, and I don’t think God is expecting me to cut those things out of my life completely. But they need to be rightly ordered. I’ve gone through extreme phases where I thought entertainment in any form was inherently evil, but I’m certain now that it’s not. We are meant to have some fun in this life. Music and film and all of those things can bring glory to God, and often does! But it can also suck me of my devotion. It comes back to the matter of focus, I think, and it comes back to the line I opened with: If something does not draw me closer to God, it brings me further away from him. It’s about time I reordered a few things.

Easter snow.

Though your sins are like scarlet you will be white as snow, and today, on Easter, it snowed.  Today it snowed giant Christmastime flakes and perhaps it was an attack on our fledgling spirits but it didn’t even faze us, there was just too much love in the room.  Although my drive to my parents’ house was complicated by this Spring blizzard, the roads home tonight were clear and dry, and was there music?  Yes, there was!  Maybe you are dying to know what my first post-Lenten album was.  I hadn’t given it too much thought before hand, and in the end my choice was predictable but nonetheless perfect: Sufjan Stevens, Come on Feel the Illinoise.  After 47 days without playing music there is no lovelier way to welcome it back into your life than by listening to this album during a car trip.  Was there Cherry Coke?  I have to admit that there was, mainly for the sake of staying awake while driving.  It felt a little weird to be drinking it again and I’d like to take that as a good sign, that maybe I’ve really kicked the habit (but I won’t make any presumptions here, not when it comes to Cherry Coke).  But, all right, what is this Easter business really about?  Why all the build up?

Though our sins are like scarlet we will be white as snow.

We sang a song in church this morning that I have always liked, but on Easter morning it seems extra fitting, especially the last two verses:

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

– From “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend

He lives that we might also.  White as snow!

Prince of Peace in a war-torn world.

I thought I’d write a little bit more about Mary and Joseph this Advent and in the end I didn’t write a thing about them.  Guessers may suggest it was a Protestant reaction against the virgin Mary (which is not true) or a skeptical mistrust of the earthly father of Jesus, who is barely mentioned after the Nativity story (Did he even stick around?).  But the truth is, I have all kinds of respect and devotion when I think about the parents who raised Christ in this world, I just didn’t have the time to write much about them.  In my private thoughts I did consider what it would have meant for a scared fifteen year old virgin to learn she was pregnant with the son of God, and why her fiance would stand by her in a time in history when it was not only acceptable but even expected that men put women in their place.  I know there was a lot of divine intervention through all of this to make sure that things went on as planned, but even considering that it is pretty evident that Mary and Joseph were some incredible human beings.  Those are the things I didn’t have time to write about this Advent, I apologize.

I have a little time today though, on this Christmas Eve of 2007, and I wanted to just say a few things about the Prince of Peace whose arrival we will celebrate tomorrow.  Something I have been wondering this season is, “Where is the peace?”  Since the birth and life and death and resurrection and ascension of Christ there have been countless wars and holocausts, genocides and massacres, and what’s worse, many of those were exacted in his name.  (My grade school mascot was the Crusader, for crying out loud!) Jesus may have been a pacifist himself, but we don’t go around calling every kind-hearted soul the Prince of Peace.  Even Ghandi didn’t get that kind of a title.  I don’t pretend to know history–I have no idea if the cummulative blood shed was greater in the time before his life or after his life, but I know that this post-Christ era is seemingly infinite and the body-count is growing.  How can we call Jesus the Prince of Peace when there is no end in sight, where violence is concerned?  Jesus may have saved the souls of this world, but he left us here on earth in no better condition than when he came.  Right?  So why the “Prince of Peace”?

I don’t really like to admit that my Advent meditation was, at times, less than adoring.  We’re supposed to focus on the savior, after all, and didn’t I even write a few words about that, about our expectations being horribly misaligned from God’s?  So I continued to ponder it and slowly my skepticism was clouded by a realization.  In Advent we are not only remembering what it is to anticipate a savior–a savior who has already come, as those of us in the A.D. know–but we are waiting this very day for his return, when he will bring peace!  This is one of those ideas that I’ve heard a thousand times–the second meaning of Advent–but I guess I needed to come to realize it on my own for it to fully sink in.  We celebrate the birth of a savior who presently brings peace and quietness to our troubled souls, but we also await a prince of peace who will return and obliterate the suffering of this world!  This is something to get excited about, this Advent.  Peace is coming!  And that name bears all relevance: we await the Prince of Peace.

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    Breena Wiederhoeft
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