I’m hardly the first person to point out that the semantic confusion between “worship” and “music” has been damaging to both “worship” and “music.” This is not to say that the relationship between the two must be severed. On the contrary, I believe worship and the arts are linked in essential ways. But I also believe a third idea must be introduced in order for us to come to a fuller understanding of that relationship. That idea is “Justice.”
Emma Sleeth has left dorm life to move back in with her parents. Though she’s living in the basement, Emma is concerned that her ecological footprint is bigger now than it was at college: “It’s not like I’ve suddenly started throwing Styrofoam in streams or anything. I still recycle, dry my clothes on a rack, and use compact fluorescent lights. We even compost at home, which my cafeteria at college did not do.”

Nurturing the Ties that Bind

A few years ago, I had a hankering to gather my grown children and grandchildren to our home for a meal. The busyness of all our lives, along with the frequent company of houseguests, makes time with just our family a rarity. In this particular season, I had my head most often in books and academic deadlines while I worked on a master's degree, so moving everything else aside for few days in order to pour myself into the elaborate creation of a meal was a true pleasure. Creativity in the kitchen was good medicine.

A Walking Contradiction, Part Two

I have a friend who wryly describes herself as a bad Buddhist. This makes me smile. I think of Dustin Hoffman’s character in the film Little Big Man and the many vocations he pursued over a lifetime: Caucasian Cherokee, drunk, gunslinger, muleskinner, liar, and more. With each one he describes his performance as horribly lacking. Can you hear the actor’s voice? I was a horrible drunk. I was a horrible liar. Well, I was a horrible Zen Buddhist.

We stayed like that, just sitting in the tropical moonlight, for a long time. I couldn’t help but compare the peacefulness of the night air with the busyness of our lives back home. So rarely did we have time to stop and think, to discuss the big questions of life. Our conversation rambled from art and music, to books we were reading, to the state of the world.

And then I asked two questions that would change our lives forever.

The Epistemology of Love

The dreams and debates of modernity, cascading as they are into postmodernity, are always at the heart of the human condition. It cannot be otherwise, as we are never more and never less than sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. So we take our place as folks who long to love and to be loved. Percy understood that with an unusual eye: historically, philosophically, psychologically, politically, and, yes, theologically, seeing the complexity for Everyman and Everywoman. We want love, yet we also know how hard it is to love and to be loved.

Whenever I walk towards the austere building, I’m struck anew by the genius of its placement in a cozy neighborhood where people live, the true life of a city. The idea of sanctuary comes alive between the quiet streets. I’m soothed under the shade of old, twisting oak trees. I take refuge from the sweltering Texas sun by snagging a bench under the high, undulating awnings outside, or by opening a tall glass door to the Menil itself, flowing with cool air and natural light filtered by means of louvers, skylights, and massive windows.

A Walking Contradiction, Part One

My parents raised me for fourteen years. No more, no less. That may seem like an odd thing to say but it’s true. Some kids don’t get that much time. All you have to do is go to the grocery store or a fast food place to find out what I mean. Shifty eyes, mumbled grunts, manners in retreat, unclean hands, inability to count change. I’m grateful for the fourteen good years of proper parenting I had. Then Jack Kerouac took over. He was a lousy parent. As suburban shamans go, you couldn’t do better. Jack Kerouac, writer and former football star, was a game-changer.

It was a gala affair, not only because we’d been gone for so many weeks and reunions were in order, but because it was the October birthday celebration of both of the wives of our triumvirate of couples. With my husband’s gracious permission and assistance, I went all out: a champagne toast; artichokes with lemon-thyme butter for a first course; the loveliest cut of tenderloin; the ripest, richest Bordeaux; the most jubilantly-English flavors of Stilton and Cheshire for the cheese course; and a silver compote of succulent dried apricots and dates to follow it ‘round the table. 

And the pièce de résistance: an absolutely decadent steamed ginger pudding that had been simmering maddeningly away on the back burner all afternoon in a little antique mold. If I’ve ever been proud of anything in my life, it was that pudding.

“I read a book that I think you would really like,” a friend said while I cut his hair.

“Oh yeah? What's it called?” I asked.

“[mumble, mumble, something] Little League,” he said, or at least that's what I heard him say.

“What?” I asked, wondering why he thought I would ever enjoy a book about baseball (I’m not exactly Sporty Spice).

Little Bee,” he clarified.

I need more than just the impromptu ambush of art to learn rest. I need Sabbath rhythms that provide a planned departure from the world of cacophony and aggression. As of late, one of my best teachers of this practice has been cooking recipes in which time is the main ingredient. In any given week, this could be the ever-hungry Amish sourdough starter I was feeding and constantly baking in the spring, or my always unpredictable batches of ginger beer, which once exploded from over-fermentation but more recently went straight to mold-growing due to some undetermined problem with the yeast. This last weekend, it was the Indian stew I spent four hours making on Friday night, then left in the fridge until friends came for lunch on Sunday.
I first heard of Mary Karr four years ago in Stephen King’s book, On Writing. Within the opening pages he said, “I was stunned by Mary Karr’s memoir, The Liars’ Club. Not just by its ferocity, its beauty, and by her delightful grasp of the vernacular — but by its totality — she is a woman who remembers everything about her early years.” Wanting to soak up every bit of writing wisdom I could, I immediately ran out, bought the memoir, read the first twenty pages or so, and then hastily put it away.
In recent years, institutional kidnappings and "show" trials of American citizens by anti-Washington governments, such as the Andrew Berends matter in Nigeria, the Euna Lee and Laura Ling case in North Korea, the Roxana Saberi case in Iran, and my case in Nicaragua have either become more common, or news desks have simply started reporting them with increasing frequency. As each of our cases played out, we were referred to as "criminal defendants" by the host country's government, but in reality, we were hostages — valuable leverage chips in the eyes of our captors.
Every morning, I flip on the lights to my upstairs writing room, open the window blinds, and crank up some music on iTunes to rev up my brain for writing. I sing along to hymns, Radiohead, Johnny Cash, The Shins, Emmylou Harris, and all manner of songs, as if to prepare this space artistically for our children one day. I will gladly give up this room for a kid when the time comes, so it’s like I’m painting the walls in song in preparation, which of course includes silly jazz songs, too — like the Coal Train Railroad record.

Creative Community for the Common Good

A few weeks back I was privileged to sit with trustworthy friends and wrestle, yet again, to find the smallest, most potent words to describe what Art House means. This kind of exercise has played out many times in the last twenty years. We’ve been trying to put our vision into words since we first imagined the place and purpose that became The Art House home in Nashville, and our non-profit, Art House America. As we like to say, the name Art House designates place, while Art House America is an organizational title.

Creating Shelter

Three summers ago, Chuck and I were visiting family in our hometown of Yuba City, California. Whenever we’re there, we spend a lot of time on our bikes. The terrain is flat and bike lanes are everywhere, very unlike our Nashville suburb with its hills and narrow two-lane roads. On this particular visit, we set off to tour the important landmarks of our youth — Chuck’s grammar school, his old neighborhood, the high school parking lot where we’d met in marching band rehearsals our freshman year, and finally, to the site of my grandparents' house, where they’d lived until the time of their death in the last half of the 70s.

Hope in Haiti

In our little town of Nashville, the photographer Jeremy Cowart is something of a rock star.  I suspect his renown is growing all around the world.  When you consider that he’s made pictures of Sting, Imogen Heap, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Courtney Cox, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ryan Seacrest, and traveled with Britney Spears in 2009 as her tour photographer, some fame and name recognition makes sense. 

My favorite project that Jeremy envisioned is one called Help Portrait.  Help Portrait is a world-wide movement stirring the hearts and hands of photographers to find someone in need, take their portrait, print it, and give it to them for free.