Paris, Art and Holy Ground

Last night, I went to the theater with two of my oldest and dearest friends and two of our children.  We arrived at the restaurant we had agreed upon for a pre-show dinner, Paris unspoken (as the children present varied in age and need/appropriateness of information that could be shared) but heavy on our hearts.  A phone was discreetly lifted, revealing a rising body count.  We swallowed our sorrow, but I know we all we carried it into the theater with us later.

The musical we attended provided moments of transcendence, moments where I forgot what was happening outside the walls of our shared space, as good theater often does.  We laughed riotously with the audience at times, sat somber in other moments, and at intermission, the cell phones powered back on, were brought back to the jarring reality that is the co-mingling of grief and also joy in the present moment.

Half a world away another audience had gathered in another theater to share in the collective experience of live art at a concert.  As I drove home, safe in the comfort of my car with my son lost in his book in the backside, I finally let the tears fall, thinking of the more than hundred vibrant lives that wouldn’t make it home from that other theater halfway around the world. 

It felt like an attack on holy ground.  There is something otherworldly about a concert, a play, a symphony, something extra that happens when a small group of humans gather together to collectively experience the transformative magic of creativity expressed.  Out loud.  Live.  There is a palpable energy in a concert, a moment when voices are raised together and you swear that maybe your heartbeats are in sync with your tapping feet.  There is a moment at the symphony where the instruments swells and you think your heart might burst from swelling alongside it.  There is a moment when a performer is storytelling the truth onstage in such a vulnerable way that you remember that we are all connected.  That we are sharing this human experience.  That we belong to each other. 

So I’m not surprised that those who wish to terrorize and destroy life would deliberately choose to attack those committed to living creatively.  Living collectively.  Embracing the tenacious and vulnerable and diverse expressions of humanity.  I’m not surprised they would choose a place where humans are gathered to celebrate the beautiful source of creativity within us, no matter how we choose to define that source.  It’s perhaps the closest thing we have to a church that embraces all of humanity.

 But I am devastated and a part of me is worried.  Worried that we will continue to slowly pull back from collective human experiences.  That we will continue to retreat into ourselves, our private spaces, our safe homes in order to protect ourselves.   That we will continue to qualify and categorize humans into groups, easily identifiable good guys and bad guys, so we can have answers now.   I am fearful that the easy answers, the ones that come wrapped up in pretty paper with a bow on top, the ones that promise swift and thorough solutions to the world’s most ancient and complex problems will win out over the hard answers.  The complicated answers.   The answers that require much more than the course of one lifetime. 

There was a moment last night when my friend commented that he just wanted to get on a plane to Paris.  I knew the feeling well.  When we are confronted by unspeakable tragedy, we want to help.  We want to do something, even if we have no clue what that something is.  I see the collective prayers, love, light and energy being sent out to the city of Paris from around the world and I have to believe that is something.  I see the lines of people in the streets of Paris waiting to give blood and am reminded that there are tangible action pieces we can take. 

But it’s more than that, more than the desire to help.  I think we also desire to be there to simply mourn alongside those who are suffering.   To remind us that they are our own brothers and sisters.

So we will do just, mourn alongside Paris.  But I think there is one more thing we can do, all of us.  We can keep creating.  Keep sharing creative space with other humans.  We can keep making our art and playing our music and writing our books.  We can go to a play and laugh generously.  We can attend a concert and sing way too loudly.  Dance with abandon.  Look at the people standing next to us, look them in the eye and see ourselves reflected in them and them reflected in us.  We can renew our commitment to participating in this thing that helps define us as humans, our desire to make something with the lives we have been given. 

 I am hopeful that we will do just that.  In the immediate hours following the breaking of this news, this illustration began to circulate on social media, and it was followed quickly by many others.   Thank you Jean Jullien for your work, for reminding us to respond to violence with creation, to despair with hope. 

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It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still love it.”  – Oscar Wilde

Let’s be courageous together.  For Paris.




I’ll Have a Peppermint Mocha With a Side of Outrage

This morning a news article popped up on my Facebook timeline about how people are upset about Starbuck’s 2015 Red Cup design.  Like a total Internet dummy, I clicked on that link.

There I was confronted with my first “War on Christmas” faux outrage article of the year.  And it’s only November 6th.

In a nutshell, some people are upset about Starbuck’s cup design because it is plain red, and does not feature any seasonal decor.  Look, I hear you, to a point.  The cup is kind of boring.  I imagine this is how the graphic design meeting went down.

Red Cup Designer 1: Hey, I’ve got an idea!  Let’s make the Red Cup red this year.  Just red.
Red Cup Designer 2:  We can’t do that!  We can’t just have a plain red cup! You’re an idiot.
Red Cup Designer 1:  Hmmm.  You make a good point.  Two shades of red?
Red Cup Designer 2:  Brilliant.  You’re a genius.

source: Starbucks.com

But to turn this into some kind of battle in the so-called War on Christmas because the cup is missing its usual (secular) holiday graphic snowman is just lunacy.

Every year when this debate rears its head, memories of my childhood float to the surface.  I remember the greeting cards from relatives that said “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” and I also remember no one being offended by them in the least.   But memory is a capricious historian, so I did a little digging.

Last month, the Wentzville Community Club held an event celebrating the town’s anniversary and it featured a plethora of memorabilia from clothing to washboards, from old toys to newspapers.  The newspapers were my favorite part.  I flipped through articles written in the 1950s and marveled over the commonalities to themes our town still faces today, like funding for the school district in a growing community.  But things got really interesting when I stumbled upon the papers released near Christmas.  Page after page of the paper featured paid advertising from companies all over town, many wishing newspaper patrons “Merry Christmas” and many others wishing “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” or “Holiday Cheer.”

Just look at those ads.  Talk about a war on Christmas!  It’s no wonder Kelley’s Beauty Shop is nowhere to be found in Wentzville these days.  I’m sure that Kelley was run straight out of business after she featured that heathen child holding a stocking. 

This one is the most confusing of all.   First it says “Happy Holidays” but later it mentions Christmas, then it references the Pagan holiday Yule but there are angels decorating the tree which makes it unclear if that tree is a Christmas tree or a Yule tree and the babies are naked.  How do we know if we are supposed to be offended or delighted?

The ads went on for pages.  It was immediately clear to me why the streets were filled with angry mobs demanding an abolishment of the words “Happy Holidays” in the 1950s.

Oh, wait.  No, no they weren’t.

It turns out that outside of one pamphlet released by a communist conspiracy group, most people in the 1950s were able to view these egregious advertisements and instead of feeling offense feel … joy?

Crazy, right?

They saw words of merriment where today we see words of political agenda.  They gladly accepted their neighbor’s wishes of joy instead of ascribing malicious intent.   In short, they behaved like rational grown-ups.

Every year, writer Rachel Held Evans posts this very useful graphic to help you determine whether or not you are being persecuted during the holiday season:

Source: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/holidays-persecuted

Because the truth is, there are very real examples of religious persecution happening in this world every single day.

Being handed a plain red cup at Starbucks is not one of them.

Here’s the bottom line.  We can either accept one another’s holiday wishes in any form with gratitude, or we can dismiss them because they don’t meet our expectations of what should be said.

When we choose the former, we are reminded that for the most part, people mean well with their words and actions.

When we choose the latter, we must accept the fact that we are the only ones taking the Merry out of our own Christmas.

And if you still can’t move on, draw your own snowman on your Starbuck’s cup.