A Surprising Land of Splendor – Part 1

 Forward

Consider me an ambassador: an emissary from a foreign land, a place whose name I dare not mention for risk of causing you to turn away before the end of this very sentence. Do you truly have faith in that age-old hope of finding beauty where you least expect it? Can you let go of what you thought you knew, what you thought you feared, what you remember feeling when you were young? Can you forgive?

Imagine a land of exquisite, other-worldly splendor. Some would call it ‘exotic,’ though when you look more closely you see but an amplified, glorified version of the types of landscape features that are familiar to you. The hidden connections and relationships between the myriad pieces of our own natural world have their incarnation here; what is invisible is here proclaimed, and the complexity will quickly overwhelm you if you aren’t careful to take in the scenery in small bits. Natives of this land continually experience the bittersweet sense of knowing and loving a place of profound beauty, with few people around to share it. The rest of the world believes only what they’ve heard, the misconceptions about the place that lead them to believe it uninhabitable. Those misconceptions fall into three main categories.

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Rending the Veil

photo: Kristina Kupstienė | Flickr

About two weeks ago, well-known author, speaker, and pastor Eugene Peterson gave an interview that left many reeling from its implications. In the midst of a series of articles on Religion News Service, Peterson, who was announcing his retirement, gave his thoughts on topics from talking with the dying and megachurches to the president. In the course of the interview, he spoke to journalist Jonathan Merritt about homosexuality and the Church, stating that he would, under certain conditions, officiate a homosexual wedding. A little later, after some predictable hubbub from LifeWay Christian Stores, and after social media marshaled its respective forces in the Valley of Elah, Eugene Peterson returned to the mic via The Washington Post to clarify and retract certain of those statements, saying he “affirm[ed] a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman.”

That’s not what this essay is about, per se.

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Traversing the Shadowy Lands of Grief

I have spent months in a shadowy land between life and death, Here and There. Walking between worlds. I have come to believe that those who grieve are only partly in this world for a while. A part of them continually longing for their loved one on the other side. We are not sure how to live in a world without them or even if we really want to. We see eternity and the other side differently now, and going there looks so much better than before. As most of us get older we start having to say more goodbyes. As we grieve we exist only half alive, in a fog, surviving until we find the will to be fully present in this life again.

I understand grief more fully now. Nothing in life could have prepared me for losing my mother. Not my counseling degree, not the devastating loss of my sweet baby I never got to meet face-to-face, and not the ten long years of slowly saying goodbye to my mother while watching her diminish, and not the pain of the first time she didn’t know me anymore. I see clearly now why there were grief observances throughout history for those who mourned. We live in such a hurried culture that wants everything to be glossed over and things to move as quickly as possible. Grief cannot be hurried, but mourners are expected to behave as though it can.

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The WordPlayers Present: Little Women

For the fourth year in a row, The WordPlayers are bringing a musical production to the historic Bijou Theatre in downtown Knoxville. Louisa May Alcott’s beloved story about the adventures of the four March sisters will be brought to life this weekend in Little Women: The Broadway Musical.

It’s fitting that this particular production, being based on a novel that’s all about family, is in many ways a family affair. The show is being directed by veteran WordPlayer Terri Lloyd, and her husband Matthew is the Stage Manager. Lloyd also has four children and a niece involved in the musical, which premieres this Friday night at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re not a regular family,” says Lloyd. “Regular families go to soccer practice. We take broadsword lessons.” Lessons that came in handy when choreographing a fight scene written by the headstrong Jo March, the second of the four siblings.

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Pruning Tomatoes and Hearts

I remember chasing after my grandmother into the garden when I was a young girl. I would kick off my shoes in the grass at the edge of the garden, just so my feet could sink into the soft, powdery dirt my grandfather had just tilled. I would follow at the hem of my grandmother’s skirt watching it swoosh in her shadow at the tips of my bare toes.

I wanted to play in the dirt. I wanted to sift the soil through my fingers and watch the dust cloud burst up, transparent, toward the sunbeams streaming down.  But the garden wasn’t a place to play and I knew the etiquette. If you ventured inside the square half acre of strategically designed dirt rows you better be prepared to sweat. What grew inside that square fed three families and a handful of neighbors that feasted off the extra. That bounty fed us well into the winter.

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