Category Archives: metaphor
Our church, Trinity United, received some media attention in the Ottawa area recently. We created two stained glass windows.
So, what’s so newsworthy about that, you might wonder?
The part of the story that drew the media interest was the artist, Beth Jenkin, who created the original pictures for the finished pieces; she’s in her twenties, and she’s quickly losing her vision. When she began the project, she could still see, but as the work progressed, her vision failed more and more.
Now that the work is complete, she can’t see it clearly, and it is the last work of this type she will be able to do.
That heartbreaking and compelling part of the story was unforeseen at outset of this project. People who were involved from the beginning know there are many other meaningful sides to this story.
The biggest meaningful piece is a man called Chris Humphrey. (Sometimes when I’m typing his name, I inadvertently add a “t” to the end so it comes out “Christ.” That’s not so far off the mark.) I admire Chris so much that even a writer like me can’t find the words to wrap up what an exceptional human being he is. He’s much more comfortable behind the scenes, but when he’s there you can bet that he’s the one building the scenes, holding up the scenes, beautifying the scenes, making sure the scenes work properly and have good sound, and that every other person with him is taken care of back there.
At a meeting last week, Chris presented his interpretation of how this stained glass project became a reality.
- A longing, a need. Our church building, designed by renowned architect James Strutt, is among Canada’s top 500 buildings of architectural significance. Some members of our church made their first visit it to us out of architectural curiosity. But architectural significance and beauty don’t always go together, and our building is also noted for its less than attractive exterior. The sanctuary within this architecturally significant building does not have windows. For many years the warm people who love this church have longed for, felt the need for, some stained glass to brighten our worship space.
- Vision. Our church has a memorial fund to which people donate in memory of someone they love. This money is then used to beautify the building or the worship experience of the church in some way. We accept proposals from congregation members, and one of our members had a vision of light shining through stained glass.
- Motivation. Many visions flit into and out of our heads without taking shape in reality. For thought to transform into something physical, one or more people need motivation to take the first step. This is where Chris’s work on this project began.
- Inspiration. In our church, we turn to the archaic use of this word: to breathe on, or to breathe into. In this case, Beth received the breath of inspiration during one of our meditation sessions. The guided meditation led her to a vision of the tree of life, infused with light, fed by a flowing river.
- Creativity. Beth began her artwork—still able to see her work at that time. She began with the tree of life, and the vision she received. From there she drew on the creativity of others to make the two pieces of art true to the spirit of Trinity. Each piece has a dove to represent the active justice and outreach work of our church. Incorporated into the body of the tree of life is our Trinity Cross, designed by Rev. Dr. Glen Stoudt. Our cross has three flags in three corners of the cross to represent Higher Power, Body, and Soul. One corner remains open to represent our minds open to new ideas and ongoing progressive evolution. The rainbow above the Trinity Ark represents our inclusivity. One of my favourite things about these two pieces is that they aren’t generic representations of Christian ideas; they truly represent the spirit of what our church is all about.
- Action. With the vision in place, the work began. Chris got the glass, set up the work spaces and sought volunteers to help him. He trained people to cut and solder the glass.
- Enthusiasm. The more people thought about this, the more enthusiastic they became. The project became a labour of love for many. Their enthusiasm drew in others to help.
- Community Involvement. As Beth’s vision faded shockingly quickly, she had to reach out for help. Another church member, Alex Dunn, worked with Beth to support her emotionally through her dramatic loss of sight and to help her complete the artwork. More than 30 people helped to cut and solder stained glass. We didn’t farm out this work to other people. The people of our congregation created and completed the windows from start to finish.
- The cycle. Chris drew his graphic with the community involvement flowing back into inspiration, creativity, action. He believes that when a group of people see the successful fulfillment of one dream, it allows them to believe in the possibility of other miracles: the impossible becomes possible. They ask, “What next?”
I can see Chris’s ideas in other projects I’m involved in, too. A need leads to a vision and a motivation to seek inspiration. The inspiration leads to creativity, enthusiasm, action and community involvement.
And the cycle carries on in a spiral of miraculous outcomes.
Read more about the battery charger that is Trinity here:
See more about our stained glass here:
CTV Ottawa, Regional Contact: http://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=283883&binId=1.1443144
We hope for miracles. We pray the person we know with cancer will be the one to beat the odds.
We love exceptions to the rule, the people who make good against all odds, like a baby worshipped in spite of being born to an unwed mother in the harsh culture of patriarchal society.
That’s why we can’t stop telling the Christmas story. No matter how you interpret it, the story is about faith in the unexpected, hope for miracles and love for exceptions to the rule—all the things that captivate us. Now matter how you feel about it, we can learn from it.
No matter what you believe about how Mary came to be pregnant, she was an unwed mother in a time when unwed pregnant women were shunned or stoned. Neither happened to her. She was an exception to the rule. No matter what you believe about who Jesus‘ real father was, he was an illegitimate child at a time when such children would have few prospects. Even before he could walk or talk, Jesus broke the rules.
Jesus captivates us because he lived making exceptions to the rule. He ate with the unclean, walked with the lepers, preached on the Sabbath, and turned the tables on religious rituals that prevented everyone from participating. If there’s anything we can learn from his life, and it’s a lesson too many Christian churches today forget, it is that love is more important than rules.
When forced to make a choice between the most compassionate option and the most obedient option, Jesus chose compassion.
A woman gets pregnant out of wedlock? Love her anyway. A child is born out of wedlock? Love it anyway. A man is disenfranchised from society? Eat with him anyway. A woman has a communicable disease? Walk with her anyway. Someone wants to learn or play or work even though it’s a holy day? Teach them, laugh with them or help them anyway. And, for goodness sake, open your doors and your ceremonies with unrestricted compassion for all people.
The Christmas story, no matter how you interpret it, reminds us to value exceptions to the rule. They make the best stories, and who knows what greatness a compassionate exception might lead to?
1 Corinthians 13:13
13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Posted in Belief, Christmas stories, Fundamentalism, good faith, Gratitude, How do you define success?, Inspiration, Living life to the fullest, metaphor, modern faith, progressive christianity, quote, religion
At the end of my Tuesday post, Charlie Brown reflections, I tagged on the Christmas story that Linus recites in A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Since Tuesday I have discovered how deeply Linus’s scene touches people. People have told me it’s their favourite scene. They have told me that as soon as Linus says “Lights please” a peaceful quiet descends on a room, and that all movement stops until Linus says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
The King James version of the Bible isn’t used in my progressive Christian church very often anymore, but Christmas is the one time of the year I wish they would. Other Bible versions cannot match the lyrical rhythm of the King James Luke 2:10-14.
But I’ve been mulling this passage over in my mind since Tuesday. I’m a stickler for non-gender-specific language, so I would rather have the words “all people” at the end instead of “men,” but I am willing to live with it in this case as a nod to a time when we didn’t know better. If I had to change something, it would be the order of the last phrase of the last line: “. . . and on earth peace, good will toward men.“
The writer of this passage wished for peace first and then good will toward all people. Wouldn’t it work better the other way around?
If we had good will toward all people, peace would follow.
So this Christmas, no matter whether the season is a secular one or a religious one for you, show good will toward all people. From that, we make peace.
Luke 2:10-14 (Arlene version)
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and with good will toward all people, on earth peace.
Yesterday our American friends celebrated Thanksgiving, and I celebrated—in my heart—with them. Today our American friends have the “day after Thanksgiving,” which has become known as Black Friday, for some reason. I celebrate this day—in my heart—with them again.
But little by little, incrementally, in a way that makes me tilt my head in confusion, Black Friday has been creeping north of the border to live outside of our hearts—in our big box stores and shopping malls. Why? There’s no good reason for Canadians to be doing anything special today. It’s a day like any other. There’s no colour needed here.
I look around me for the colours of my day.
I have a yellow happy face frisbee that hangs on the wall behind my desk because it makes me happy; perhaps it’s a yellow day for me. The frisbee hangs over my modest collection of orange and black tigers (a minor obsession); orange and black would power my day beautifully.
We had a major snowstorm here this week, so outside my window is a white world; maybe white should be my colour of the day.
I baked cookies for our church bazaar tomorrow, and I have plates of blue, green and pink ready to drop off later; are those today’s colours?
Speaking of the bazaar, I’ll find plenty of Christmas red and green there; I could adopt red and green for the day.
But then, I’m wearing purple pajamas as I write this and I love purple; I would be really happy with a purple day.
But I still can’t seem to find any black in my day. Oh, wait a minute. It’s recycling day in my neighbourhood. I put out our black box this morning.
Ah ha! It is Black Friday after all.
I suggest you read Kate Heartfield’s column on Black Friday, from today’s Ottawa Citizen. http://www.ottawacitizen.com/business/Black+Friday+invented/9224792/story.html
I set “Ruby Slippers” in an embalming room, so I thought it would make good Hallowe’en reading. Enjoy.
© Arlene Somerton Smith
Dead women really should wear ruby slippers. Kirk Brady learned that lesson on opening night of his Little Theatre production of The Wizard of Oz.
When the show wrapped at 10:12 p.m. to whistling applause, I lay on the embalming table at the Brady & Son Funeral Home. While the cast and crew warmed the bar stools at Finnegan’s Pub for hours after, Kirk’s father, Sean, prepared my body for my casket. I watched Sean touch me. Fingertips I had longed for in life found my tender, private places in death. Fluorescent light flickered beside me, around me, through me, in rhythm with Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major—Sean’s favourite embalming music. He fastened the last cream silk button on my blouse, perched on a stool and held my hand. “Mary, I’m getting old,” he said. He smoothed my hair with a trembling hand that lingered in a gentle stroke of my cheek. His thumb caressed my lips. The living touch the dead in mysterious ways.
But the crowd at Finnegan’s was oblivious to all that. Everyone in the place was either part of the show or part of the audience. The Tin Man watched highlights of the Toronto Maple Leafs on CBC, the Cowardly Lion sank the 8-ball into a corner pocket, and Dorothy sat beside Kirk and their friend, Maggie, at the bar.
“Kirk, there’s no one else who could play Scarecrow like you. When you dance, straw flying everywhere, I can hardly keep a straight face.” Dorothy’s real-life persona, Brooke, hoisted her beer. “Here’s to the most . . . elastic . . . person in town.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Maggie said. “You do the full splits and then just rise up again. How do you do that?”
Kirk shrugged. “All my years as a goalie pay off at times like this, I guess.” He poured the dregs from the pitcher of Labatt Blue into his glass, drained it and set the empty on the bar. “I have to get going. I need my Scarecrow beauty sleep.” He gave the girls a half-salute/half-wave then turned to Ed Duncan, who stood behind the bar drawing a pitcher of Canadian for the Lollipop Guild. “I’ll be in at 11:00 for the lunch shift tomorrow,” Kirk said. Ed nodded and continued pouring without looking up.
The Wicked Witch of the West, her glass of vodka and cranberry half way to her mouth, watched Kirk all the way to the door. The Cowardly Lion leaned on his pool cue and savoured the view of Kirk’s firm buttocks weaving through the tables. Brooke shook her head. “There goes the best-looking, most confused scarecrow you’ll ever meet.”
“Yep.” Maggie nodded.
The clock in the town hall tower struck 1:00 a.m. as Kirk jaywalked across Conroy Street. He paused at the corner of Main Street in front of the new sign for Knox Presbyterian Church. Plastic letters slotted crookedly into place read: SOMETHING WE CANNOT SEE IS SOMETHING WE NEED MOST. “Well,” he said. He tilted his head to one side and then the other. “I see the sign, so I guess I don’t need it.” He chortled to himself and sauntered toward the bridge.
His steps slowed and his smile faded as he crested the rise of the bridge. On the far river shore floodlights emblazoned the gold letters on the sign his father installed the month after Kirk was born: Brady & Son Funeral Home. Kirk sagged against the railing and looked down at the dark rapids. The river surged and frothed over jagged rocks then hurried downstream past the old flour mill that had been renovated to accommodate viewing rooms and a chapel.
Light shone through a small window beside the abandoned mill wheel. Kirk clenched his jaw, as I had seen him do many times in his life when this light told him his father was working late in the embalming room, or his father forgot about his game, or his father missed opening night.
Kirk pushed off from the railing and ambled toward the blazing Brady & Son. When he reached the old mill, he paused at a fork in the front walk. The glow of the sign lit up the left side of his face; darkness shadowed his right side. “There’s no place like home,” he said.
If he slipped in the front door, his father would not hear him, but Harry McLeod was laid out in Room 2 and Kirk shuddered at the thought of the darkened visitation room, Harry’s coffin and those creepy hands. “Bastard,” he muttered. But if he used the private residence side door by the embalming room, his father would hear him. Kirk considered his options: Harry McLeod, or his father. A dark room with a coffin, or his father. Those hands, or his father. Finally, he closed his eyes, sighed and walked to the side door.
The ancient hinges creaked as he stepped inside. Ahead of him, grooved wooden stairs climbed to their apartment. To his right, linoleum-covered steps led down to a door labelled “Preparation Room.”
He winced. “Yeah, it’s me.”
“Come on down. I want to see you.”
“I’m beat. Can it wait`til morning?”
“It’ll only take a minute.”
Kirk rubbed his temples and took a deep breath. “Okay, Dad.”
He tip-toed down the stairs, pushed open the door and stood outside the threshold. He knew my body lay on the steel table, but he could not look at me. Instead he examined the bottles of pink, purple and orange fluids. Dodge Inr-seel. Dodge Poze.
Sean Brady bent over the head of the table. He wasn’t as tall as his son—he didn’t quite crack six feet—but he had the same dark curls and green eyes. Silver highlights crept up his temples. He dabbed lotion onto gloved fingers and tenderly massaged my forehead and my cheeks, smoothed out lines, instilled peace.
The irritating odour of formaldehyde reached Kirk outside the door, and he screwed up his face and started to breathe through his mouth.
The irritating odour of stale beer reached Sean, and he wrinkled his nose. “God, you smell like the pub floor. You were at Finnegan’s?”
“Yeah. We were so wired after the show we went there to wind down.”
“Sorry I had to miss opening night. But, unfortunately, people don’t die conveniently.” He added another dab of cream to his hand and massaged my throat.
Kirk was poised to bolt, but after this direct reference to me and my condition he risked a quick glance at me. He opened his mouth to say something but stopped. He leaned against the door frame and watched his father’s fingers trace the line of my jaw. “Dad?”
“Yes?” Sean’s fingers moved up to circle my temples.
“I don’t think I can do this.”
His father straightened. “Do what?”
“This.” He nodded his head in my direction. “This.” He waved an arm to include the whole room. “This.” He waved both arms to include the building, the business, the entirety of it all. “I don’t know how you can do this. I mean, you knew her, really well. How can you do this?”
“All the more reason for me to do it. I can’t think of a more loving tribute.”
“I couldn’t do it. I need . . . I need . . .” Kirk searched the shelves of pink jars for answers. “I need people to smile when I’m around. I need people to be happy to see me.” He leaned into the room. “Like tonight,” he continued. “Tonight was amazing. Everything just clicked. The music was perfect. The voices were perfect. There was such an incredible feeling in the room. It was like we were all—the cast, the crew, the audience, everyone—all one.” He relaxed against the door frame again and grinned. “Even Toto hit his marks.”
Sean walked to a cabinet against the wall and brought back a large fishing tackle box. He lifted the lid on a collection of heavy makeup and selected a beige cream foundation. “So, people were happy to see you tonight? You made people smile?”
“Everyone just fell apart when I did ‘If I Only Had a Brain.’”
Sean removed a clean makeup sponge from a glass jar and scooped a small amount of foundation onto it. “Show me.”
“Show me. I’d like to see it.”
“Dad, that’s just a little too weird. There’s a . . . I mean . . . with the body and everything.”
“Mary won’t mind. She likes the theatre.”
“Come on. I’d like to see it on opening night.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Come on. I’d love it. There’s lots of room over there. And good acoustics.” His father crossed the room to turn down the volume on Mozart.
“I think I might find it hard to get into character down here.”
“For a character with no brain, you sure do think a lot.”
Kirk stared at his father. Finally, he shrugged. “All right.” He crossed over to the far side of the room, between the jars of fluids and a large stainless steel sink, assumed a scarecrow stance and sang. His father sat on the stool beside me and enjoyed the singing-in-the-shower quality of Kirk’s voice in the embalming room acoustics. Kirk sang tentatively at first and then with more confidence, wrapping up his performance with the same full splits and rebound that had impressed Maggie.
Sean’s applause echoed. “Ah, that’s a goalie stretch if ever I’ve seen one.”
Kirk bowed deeply then moved to a stool on the other side of the embalming table. “So, what do you think?”
“I think people will remember that performance for a long time,” he said, turning back to me to apply foundation. “But there are lots of different ways to make people remember you. And lots of different ways to make people smile.” He passed the sponge over my eyelids and worked the colour into the crow’s feet in the corners. “And, sometimes, something we need the most is right there, but we just can’t see it.”
Kirk narrowed his eyes. “Hey, did you see the new sign at the church?”
Sean tossed the used sponge in the garbage beside the table and reached for the tackle box. He tested a pink blush against my face, but shook his head. His hand hovered over the other shades, finally choosing a wine colour. He selected the proper brush and applied shading to my cheekbones.
Kirk studied the professional ease of his father’s hand. “I’ve never seen you do this before, Dad. You’re good at it. You could do my stage make-up.”
“Oh, no. Do your own. You’ll need the practice,” his father said.
Kirk didn’t reply.
Sean replaced the blush and chose brown/black eyeliner. He moved in close and drew it across my left eyelid and then my right. The eyeliner brought the canvas of my face to life.
“Eyeliner,” Kirk said, “makes such a difference.” He ran a finger along his lower lid that still held a trace of liner missed in his hurried clean-up. “It’s hard to believe she’s dead.”
His father picked out a cedar-coloured eye shadow. “Well, her body is.” He loaded the brush and started on my left eye. “And I need to make Mary look her best because Mary always likes to look good.”
“But if she’s dead, why do you talk like she’s still here?”
“Come on, Dad. You can’t seriously believe that. You, of all people. The master of . . . of . . . decomposition.”
Kirk nodded in the direction of the embalming machine. “We’re all just . . . bodies and molecules. And when we’re dead we’re just food for other bodies and molecules.”
Sean Brady sat back. My left eye was professionally shadowed. My right eye was bare. “Really?” he said.
His father put down the shadow and the brush and put both hands on the edge of the table. He drummed his fingers on the metal. “Well, okay then. Think about this. Do you remember when we went fishing for the first time and you caught a three-pound bass?”
“Do you have that picture in your head?”
“Okay, hand it to me.”
“Hand the picture to me.”
“I can’t do that. It’s just in my head.”
“Exactly. I have lots of pictures of Mary,” Sean tapped his head with a forefinger, “in my head. We went to school together. One year, when we were maybe nine or ten, we had a school picnic. We did three-legged races and potato sack races and all the usual. At the end, the teachers handed out containers of ice cream. You know the ones that came with a little wooden stick?”
“Well, Mary and I were the last two kids in line and there was only one container left. The teacher was about to give it to Mary because she was the girl and that’s what you did in those days, but Mary told the teacher that I could have it. That’s one picture that I have of Mary. I have plenty more. Plenty.” He paused, looked down and cleared his throat. “And you know, you could cut me up into a trillion little pieces, separate all my protons and electrons and chemicals and you would never be able to find evidence of those pictures. But they’re there.”
He picked up the eye shadow and the brush from the table. “Something doesn’t have to be present to be here.”
He bent low and blended shadow over the lid of my right eye up into the brow. “That’s why I do this. When people come to see Mary they’ll make a memory picture of her. They’ll carry that with them and that way Mary will still be here. And they’ll lean on me for comfort—something solid and reliable at a time when their world is turned upside down. They’ll smile at me, through their tears. They’ll be happy to see me. They’ll carry that with them, too. People remember comfort long after they’ve forgotten laughter.” He straightened and leaned toward Kirk. “People remember my performances for a long time too, you know.”
As Kirk and Sean stared into each other’s eyes over my dead body, an intangible flash of energy crackled out of my solar plexus and radiated through the embalming room. A cone of gentle humming and buzzing settled around Kirk. The hair on his arms stood on end. A knowing, a new consciousness of exactly what he needed to do permeated his being. The dead touch the living in mysterious ways.
Sean shook his head. “OK, right.” He gave his head another little shake. “Yes, right.” He reached into the make-up case. “Now for lipstick.” He picked up two tubes. “What do you think? Café Grande?” He turned the second tube around in his hand. “Or . . .” He cocked his head. “Ruby Slippers?”
Their eyes met.
“Ruby Slippers,” Kirk said.
A prophecy from the South American First Nations peoples, as shared by Lynne Twist in The Soul of Money:
At the beginning of time, earth’s people separated from oneness into two distinct groups: the intellectual and scientific people of the Eagle, and the intuitive people of the Condor.
The people of the Eagle would follow the path of the intellect. They would develop cognitive and technological abilities at a high level. They would discover and build, expand their knowledge and amass wealth.
The people of the Condor, meanwhile, would tap into ancient wisdom, connect with spirits and animals, and vibrate with the rhythm of the natural world.
Each group would grow strong in their distinct realms—so strong that they would eventually feel out of balance. The knowledgeable, wealthy people of the Eagle would suffer spiritual impoverishment. The spiritually in-tune people of the Condor would lose the ability to navigate the material world. Each group would not be able to survive without the other.
At the time of the Fifth Pachakuti (cycle of 500 years) (right now), the people of the Eagle and the people of the Condor will rejoin. The people of the Condor will feed the impoverished spirits of the Eagles. The people of the Eagles will ground the Condors in knowledge.
Can you feel it happening? I can.
I feel the science, and I feel the story.