Beauty

Beauty Worth Writing Twice About: Thoughts on the Beginning of a New School Year

It is the end of the summer semester, and the fall one begins soon, and the sunrise-sunset nature of it all always gets me thinking (seems appropriate for a professor). I have been involved now in the education of college students for about a decade, and most of that has been spent in some way with Faith Formation or Campus Ministry. All this wistful nostalgia prompts a question: why do I stick with it? My all-too-easy answer: because it is important. But that of course is not really an answer, because one would immediately ask: why is it important? Let me make a feeble attempt to explain.

The truth of the matter is this: I wrote a version of this essay much earlier in my career, promoted by an assignment asking the same question be answered for a newspaper article, directed my way by my boss at the time.

It was summarily rejected.

Various reasons were given, but the main gist was that it was weird, and not the answer folks would expect. You can decide for yourself if that is indeed the case. And with more years under my belt, I understand that philosophical musings are not the best draw when raising money and awareness is involved (this is obvious to everyone but we philosophy majors). But as this essay is not now expected to raise a dime, I can freely admit: I still feel the same way, and hope to feel so for many years to come.

For you see, the importance of a thing rests not in what it does, but what it is for. So a great amount of money spent on some frivolous thing is worthless compared to the momentous giving of the widow’s mite. While what a school or a ministry IS depends largely on what it does, why they are important depends on WHOM these things are done for.

And who are all these classes and programs and formation opportunities for? The easy answer would seem to be the many college students served by a host of staff and volunteers. College ministries are important then because the students they minister to are important.  All this is true enough in its own way, but I think it confuses the issue, and does a disservice both to the staff and students of the various ministries throughout the Church.

First of all, in putting the students “first,” we are prone to set the dynamic of ministry squarely in the consumer-based model of our work-a-day world. Thus, staff members become customer service representatives that provide student-clients with a product. If the clients are not satisfied with this product, then they will take their “business” elsewhere.

This is unfair to both parties. First of all, the Ministerial staff will never outdo the allure of the modern entertainment juggernaut. Nor did they sign up to put on a show—they signed up to be a part of an Apostolate. Secondly, it is unfair to the students as well—this model does not challenge them, does not treat them like adults, nor does it act like they have anything positive to contribute to the aforementioned Apostolate.

In fact, the fundamental “problem” with how we conceive of Young Adult Ministry rests in this fact: we deal with this group like it is a problem,  a riddle within the Church to be solved! We throw ministries at them because they are a “lost generation,” or because they are “addicted to the modern world,’ or because “the future of the Church is bleak without them,” etc., etc.

But we who work with Young Adults can attest to a different reality, that the real reason we choose to work with this group is not because they are a problem to be solved. We choose to work with Young Adults because they are beautiful. (This is where the weird, unpopular part of the essay really picks up steam!)

Look, young Children are beautiful too, but in their own way: their heads-too-big-for-their-bodies, wide eyes, and silly smiles are cute in precisely the same manner a fat, fuzzy caterpillar is cute—not so much like the beauty of a butterfly per se! Similarly, we “Non-Young” Adults are beautiful in our own way as well, but in a way more like the Grand Canyon: “look how time has eroded the rocks to show the majestic, weathered layers underneath!”

But Young Adults, they are beautiful in the proper and fullest sense, like the first flowers that bloom in Springtime. They are pleasant to observe, wonderful to talk to, fun to listen to, and refreshing to be around. They may give us “old folks” our fair share of grey hair, but they make us feel young all the same.

They are, in a word, beautiful.

By now you can see how this answer does not strike a fundraising note, nor even an easily digestible introduction to a ministry. It is undoubtedly off-kilter, and easy to misunderstand. To be blunt, I am saying much more than the simple fact that most of us wish we looked like our 20-something selves. (This is also a stinging commentary on our paltry sense of the word "beauty," but I digress). However, without such an answer, I do not know how to explain my commitment to this wonderful, blessed calling.

Why is college ministry important? Because beautiful things warrant that we should attend to them, that they should not be left to mere chance. We tend gardens, we curate museums, and we, too, should have places for Young Adults to grow. It is the glory of Christendom that Universities took root in the soil of its culture, and the happy lot of all ministers to young adults that we are grafted onto this every-growing vine.

And ultimately, we do this not for the students, the future, or even ourselves. We do this for the sake of God, who deserves to be praised with an offering most beautiful, a bouquet of our best and brightest. God deserves our Young Adults to fill His Choirs, and we owe it to God to offer as many Young People up to His throne as possible. Certainly He deserves them more than the world or the devil. This, and this only, is the true reason that working in college ministry is important. And it has been worth every moment.

It is even worth writing this essay twice!

 

10 Artists You Should Be Listening to If You Aren't Already

Looking for new music? Look no further.

This isn't comprehensive, and it's pretty much all in the indie-folk genre, but if here are some bands and singer-songwriters who will inspire you with their sound and lyrics.
 

1.     Tow’rs
If you don’t know this band, you need to be listening to them. Now. Not only do they have a beautiful sound (despite a 7-track album, we can forgive them that), but "Belly of the Deepest Love" in particular has a sophisticated and subtle beauty. Also, it’s actually about Good Friday.

“Do you remember back on that day/ When the trees swayed in the same way/ How the clouds hung low over kings and thieves/ How your mother stayed by your side/ Watch the curtain tear in your eyes/ All the heavy hearts could have cracked the ground/…Like the flowers on a dogwood tree/ blush with blame you took for me/ oh, how you wish to be with me/”
 

Click the link to listen on Spotify:
Tow'rs

2.     Roo Panes
His lyrics are poetry. His arrangements are beautiful. This is one of those rare artists that few people know about, but when you discover him, it’s life-changing. Every song has a profoundly deep meaning with layers applying to so many situations of life. He doesn’t know Jesus, but his songs are definitely about Him. This song in particular shows the beauty of how God sees us.

 “Well you know me with that ancient gaze, strip me down with yesterday’s eyes/ You know me as I was, you see me as I will be/ And I still had a lot of growing when you took me and you shaped me with those hands/ You know me better than myself, make me better than I am/…When I think upon my past, I see I loved you many years before you came/ …And you saw what I could be, please teach me how to be what I was made to be/”

 

3.     Jose Gonzalez
Not quite as profound as Roo Panes, but hey, Jose is solid. He has a hopeful tone (“See old tracks lead you out from the dark/ See old tracks lead you up to the stars”) and — if the mountains had a voice, they would sound like him. (Don’t ask me why, it’s just great mountain music.)

 

4.     James Bay 
His soulful sound and upbeat tunes are irresistible. This song in particular is about getting to know someone deeply.

 

5.     Brooke Fraser 
Fraser said, “Someone once told me truth is often two opposing things held in tension…and with [my new album] I’m exploring those opposites and everything in-between, both lyrically and sonically.” Her album is about “the poetry in trauma. The beauty in banality. The necessity of both the wrestle and the embrace.”
Fraser’s sound is refreshing in it’s sunshine-y tone, as well as the depth of her lyrics. This is an older song, but definitely still a goodie.


6.     Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors
With a little bit of folk, a bit of bluegrass, and a bit of soul, this band is a well-rounded listen.

 

7.     Stu Larsen
He's one of those Christian artists that isn't your typical Christian artist. His music is actually good. (Sorry for the dig.)

8.     Sufjan Stevens' new album, Carrie & Lowell 
Lots of people are already listening to Sufjan, but his new album is a return to his original folk sound, and this song is pure gold.


9.     The Oh Hellos 
Again, one of those bands that lots of people are listening to already, but they’re the kind of artist that never gets old — both in their sound and in the profound meaning to their songs. Like, this one: on one level, about Adam and Eve. On another, about romantic love. On another, the Eucharist.

“I was sleeping in the garden when I saw you first/ He'd put me deep, deep under so that he could work/ And like the dawn, you broke the dark and my whole earth shook/…At last, at last/ Bones of my bones and flesh of my flesh, at last/ …And like the dawn, you woke the world inside of me/…And you will surely be the death of me/ But how could I have known?”


10. Seryn 
Seryn is a recent discovery for me. Still up the folk alley, but I was impressed with their harmonies and upbeat sound — on top of that sound, the lyrics in this song about change speak to trying to change our culture.

“We can shape but can't control/ These possibilities to grow/ Weeds amongst the push and pull/ Waiting on the wind to take us/ We can write with ink and pen/ But we will sew with seeds instead/ Starting with words we've said/ And we will all be changed”

 


Any other suggestions? Leave a comment!

The Key to Contentment: Just One Little Tweak...

I think a massively huge portion of our twenty-something years is marked with discontentment.  

This may or may not include plaguing thoughts of “What am I supposed to do with my life? Shouldn’t I know this by now? People started asking me what I wanted to be by the time I was, like, nine…” or “I know what I want in life, but it hasn’t happened yet, what the heck.

Maybe it’s the instant gratification culture. Maybe the problem’s us. Probably both.

But I know that when I say most of my days are spent grappling with contentment, I know I’m not alone.

So what can you do about it? 

Ask yourself: What do you want to make of your life?

I know I want to make something beautiful.

I mentioned in another article that gratitude and living in the present moment are huge keys to finding joy — this goes for contentment, too.

I’d like to add another item to the list of things that bring contentment: doing something that calls you outside yourself.  

Doing something beautiful…as in, something that turns me outside myself and points to others.

So all of us binge-watching Netflix six out of the seven nights a week (okay, it’s sometimes all seven…), spending an embarrassingly large amount of time on social media checking to see who likes our stuff, or retweets our attempts to be funny — yeah, I don’t think I need to point out that this isn’t helping our struggle. 

Here’s a challenge to myself, and to you.

Make your life a song. An act of worship to the One who created you, using your gifts, your talents, your vocation, your daily duties.

It’s really simple. My life can be an act of worship, a masterpiece, simply by intentionally seeking the Heart of my Maker in everything I do: whether that’s cleaning the house, meetings at work, volunteering on a weekend, using my current single vocation to pursue deep relationships with others, using my artistic gifts to point others to Beauty. 

It’s not rocket science. It doesn’t mean flying to Africa for a week for a helicopter missionary experience (drop in, drop out).

It just means living your daily life with new intentionality. Doing little things for a deeper purpose. Why do you do what you do? Are you doing it for yourself?

All of my daily life, if I do it in pursuit of His Heart, seeking to find Him in all things — then my life becomes a song of worship.

My favorite quote of all time is, “Beauty will save the world.”

But it’s so true. If we are all pursuing Beauty, pursuing God in every area of our life, making Him the top priority, and doing things for the purpose of loving Him and others, it will overflow for others to see, and we will find contentment in today. Our joy, our hope in the midst of difficulties, cannot be hidden. 

So go out and let your heart be moved by the extraordinariness of your ordinary life. Look with wonder on the goodness about you.

In the midst of that ordinariness, soak in little things: chirping birds, sparkling stars. Smiles from friends. Read and watch things that shape you and inspire you, and share them with others. 

Get out of yourself. Create something and don’t be afraid to show the world that piece of your soul. Serve others in little ways, in whatever ways. Be creative. Whatever you do, do it for someone other than yourself.

Do something with your young adulthood you’d be proud of and make your life a masterpiece.  

We probably won’t even notice how contentment crept into the dark spaces in our hearts, because we’ll be too busy smiling.

My Passion, the Creation of Truth

Mea culpa, my friends, for missing my posting a couple weeks back. Last time you read from me was before a joyous Christmas break. On my birthday I did drop my phone four stories down an elevator shaft, but that’s a story for another time. Today, I would like to talk about a few thoughts on a great passion of mine.

Like many students at Benedictine last week, I was not on campus. But unlike most, I was not on the annual 27 (22 in record time, I hear this year) hour bus ride to Capitol Hill for the March for Life. Instead, I spent my week in the Twin Cities for the 47th Annual Region V Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

KCACTF is a remarkable gathering of wonderfully dedicated collegiate thespians and stage artists. Some of the most well respected academics and very talented active professionals come to impart advice and experience to students and exchange ideas with their peers. The festival features a scholarship acting competition with nominees from works performed around the region throughout the previous year. Regional winners move on to nationals to compete for a nice sum of money. Various other events such as invited scenes, productions, showcases, exhibitions, competitions, and workshops fill the daily schedule.

“Cool beans, Stanton. But why were you even there?”

An excellent question. Since I can remember I’ve always enjoyed performing. When I finally learned to speak properly I never really stopped talking. I enjoyed being filmed for a class project, giving a speech for FBLA, performing as John Paul II in a biographical study, and leading the marching band as the drum major. I love the stage. It may be why I’m so greatly attracted to politics. The grand purpose of statecraft is service to the people and betterment of society, which is why I find a vocation in politics. But within politics is a narrative, a constructed story used to convince people of a certain idea. I love this part of politics more than I do in-depth policy talk. I’ve got a thing for the campaign trail, the strategizing, and the fashioning of the story. None of this, though, is quite like the stage. And before college I had never actually acted in the theatre setting.

So, freshman year I auditioned for the first production that semester, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I’ve never liked this play, but I thought, “I’m in college - might as well try something new.” I was cast as Balthasar and Capulet’s cousin: fairly minor roles. I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience, so I put theatre aside and decided it wasn’t for me. I still went to every play throughout the year, and I always found a good time in the Mabee Theatre.

In the early part of the second semester, a senior who was directing the final show of the season - Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman - approached me about participating in the production. What was cool about this show is that the majority of the play occurs in a pool: a man-made construction built on stage and filled with water. The actors performed in the pool. I reluctantly agreed, but this time I enjoyed myself immensely, even if I was sopping wet.

The bug had returned. Sophomore year I was determined to be more involved in the department. I auditioned in the early fall for the play Come Back, Little Sheba by William Inge. I was hoping for more than a minor role, but expecting no more than a supporting role. When the cast list was posted my name was listed as the male lead.

I was stunned. I am not a theatre major, nor a minor—I was a very green enthusiast. But, thanks to a phenomenal director, cast, and the overbearing fear to not disappoint in my first role, it became one of the most exciting experiences of my life. It was an opening to explore the theatre in a deeper way. I’ve since participated in student directed scenes, one-act plays, a debut of an original piece, and two theatre festivals. I’m actually currently working on my fourth main stage.

This is my passion. The theatrical process that I have discovered is my passion. But why? That’s the overbearing question you’ve been asking, isn’t it? What facet of this art is so compelling that it consumes my limited time and grips my interest? Here it is: through the theatre, more than in politics, I can create and reveal truth.

The best political narratives require some basis of truth in order to be believable enough and drive home the vote-winning message. The theatre, too, has truth. The difference is this: while politics is better with truth, the theatre is nothing without truth. The beauty and art of the stage can only exist as truth. It does not simply require truth to exist; the theatre is married to the truth.

Political narrators may sometimes find the truth as a roadblock to their objective. (It’s not that they dislike the truth or would rather go without it; to their credit, most love truth and justice, and would much rather live in a world with it and it alone.) The theatre, however, cannot go without the truth unless it seeks to lose the very core of its existence.  A theatre divorced from truth is at best a venue of cheap entertainment, and at worst a lie on a barren stage, no matter how many lights and musical numbers you try to attach.

Politics is like my vehicle to a vocational destination. I like the drive, the feel of the seats, the way the car handles. But theatre is my coffee—if I didn’t have it I couldn’t keep driving. It allows me the privilege of an intimate and very real creation. What makes the theatre such a remarkable and almost spiritual experience is that no show is the same as the one before or after it. Every single showing of the same play by the same exact cast in the same exact venue is still different and completely unique. Actors are human, and they can be susceptible to a missed line, a different emotion for a scene, or have a different level of energy depending on how receptive the audience is to the play.

This is not the making of an elaborate fabrication for an ulterior purpose. When I’m on stage, and you’re in the audience, we are sharing the same moment, right now, in this present time, which is unique to us and to no one else. No matter how many hands I may get to shake on a campaign trail, or heart-warming or heart-wrenching stories I get to hear or tell, or the promise that, “Yes, ma’am, I’m gonna do everything I can to get your husband’s job back,” I will never have the chance to peel back the layers of reality and show you the essence of life in politics. Not like on stage. Not like in the theatre.

I don’t seek the applause at the end, or the affirmation of others. I do theatre because I love the community among actors and stage crews, because I love the intimacy of participating in my own creation, because I love the truth I can help reveal. The theatre is alive and vibrant and human in an oft-time mundane world. We go about our daily lives, enduring the grind of work and the stress of the current times. Sometimes this seemingly boring existence is too much, and we put ourselves on autopilot, turning off our purposes, dreams, and desires so that we can live with the (false) assumption that we amount to nothing more than onlookers on this rotating rock we call Earth. I partake in the theatre because it is here to tell you that you and the world are more than that. That you were made for something beyond “just getting by.” You were made for love, beauty, and truth.

“We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness…You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts!”  ~Charlie Chaplin, The Dictator

 

I'm a Mess and I'm Okay with It. Here's Why.

Hi, everyone, my name is Therese.

*Hi, Therese.*

And I’m a recovering perfectionist.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a mess. I don’t have it all together. I like to appear like I do, but I don’t. I can’t seem to do the things I want to do, I do what I don’t want to do, I’m insecure, I’m at constant war with myself…you get the idea.

Being a perfectionist doesn’t mesh with being human very well.

And fact is, you’re like that too. Some of us struggle more than others, but underneath the bundle of flesh and bones, there’s a soul inside that’s scarred and wounded.

It’s ugly. But it’s also beautiful.

 “I see their ugly and their beauty and wonder how the same thing can be both.”

These words come from one of my favorite books, The Book Thief. I’ve been reflecting on my battle with perfectionism over the past year, and I’ve been especially struck by the paradox that is humankind.

Here’s what I mean.

I’m an artist, so I like to draw things sometimes. Faces are hands-down the most fascinating and challenging subject. Finding the full range of emotions captured in their eyes, their wrinkles…everything that makes up their beauty and their imperfections, I love drawing all of it. It’s what makes them who they are. It’s their character.

It hit me: when I look at people, I look at them with the eyes of an artist. I see their whole person, the beautiful and the ugly. The human form, as well as the impression I get of their soul. I see all of it, and I’m left in awe — God wasn’t kidding when He said mankind is the crown of creation. In all of our complexity, we are beautiful creatures.

So why can’t I look at myself the way I look at others as an artist? With eyes of curious delight in everything that makes them human, both the good and the bad. Why can’t I look at my soul the way the Divine Artist does — with sheer joy at His creation, loving her in spite of, and even because of, her weaknesses?

That’s what true humility is, actually. It’s the ability to see God for who He is, others for what they are, and ourselves the way God sees us. He recognizes the good. He also sees the not so good, but He sees a soul He redeemed, a victory over a heart that has been claimed by Him.

He sees us the way a parent looks at their child. If the child falls all the time, does the parent get upset with it? No. It’s a child.

Same with us. The fact is, I’m human. And it’s messy and ugly sometimes, and it’s also wonderful and bright. And the paradox is that sometimes the things that are ugly and the things that are beautiful are the same things.

And peace within ourselves is achieved when we embrace that fact.

This doesn’t just apply to our souls. This also applies to our relationships. (And events, too.) For example, the times where my friends and I let go of the idea that we had to have it all together with each other, and were real about what we were actually going through (aka we were all struggling), are the times that we actually became real friends. It was in the darkest struggles that intimacy formed between us.

The same has been true between God and me. When I let down my walls in prayer and actually tell God how I’m doing (which is sometimes, “I’m not okay”), that’s where the relationship with Him deepens.

Being vulnerable with ourselves, with God, with others — casting off perfectionism, recognizing the fact that we’re a mess and that it’s okay is scary and feels a lot like being naked. (Most people think that’s uncomfortable.)

But God lowered Himself to our level. He went through all the same emotions, struggles, wounds. He gets it.

To prove my point, STORY TIME.

In prayer once, I imagined myself in a field of wheat and weeds. It was my soul, filled with good wheat and with bad weeds. I knew Jesus was coming to visit me, so I frantically began pulling out the weeds to get myself ready for Him.

I pulled and pulled. My knuckles turned white. I broke into a sweat.

I was pulling and pulling, and it wasn’t enough. I was becoming exhausted.

Jesus arrived and walked toward me slowly. I noticed that He walked through the weeds, as if on purpose. He put His hand through them, as if caressing the weeds.

I was a little confused, but I kept pulling frantically.

Finally, He made it to me and sat down next to me.

“What are you doing?” He asked gently.

Out of breath, I could barely speak.

I began to sob. He took me in His arms and just held me.

“Jesus…” I said. “Look at all my wounds.”

He paused and looked into my eyes.

“I know. Look at all of Mine.”

And for the first time since He arrived, I actually looked at Him. He was covered with wounds. Wounds that He was bearing for me, on my behalf. He was hurting so badly, but here He was, comforting me and looking into my eyes with pure love.

All He wanted to do was be wounded with me.  

So moral of the story, be real. With yourself, with God and with others. You’re a mess and it’s okay. Of course this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to become better at the things you struggle with, but be okay with not getting there right away.

Here’s a toast for trying our hardest and it not being enough.

And not being enough is enough for God. So it should be for you, too.

WANDERLUST

WANDERLUST

n the past I have not understood what the definition of this word was. Wanderlust sounds hipster, artsy, fanciful. It evokes a mental image of worn leather boots and a rucksack. Of a free spirit who packs up the few essentials he needs and takes off into the wild blue yonder to see the world, without any kind of plan. In a way, I think this idea of wanderlust is fascinating...

Forget Yourself

Forget Yourself

“You don't know you're beautiful / That's what makes you beautiful . . .” Anyone with a radio is familiar with these lyrics, and many grasp their irony. The girl in the song has an appeal precisely because she doesn't know her appeal. Taking the lyrics literally means that if the girl listens to the song, believes its lyrics, and realizes she's beautiful, she would then cease to be lovely. Smirking aside, that concept probes at a deeper truth. . .