Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The 12 Days of ECHO; Giving Back in 2020

 Hi There. 

I have missed you all. But today, I have finally something to share again. My kids and I were talking about things we were grateful for on Thanksgiving and we decided that it has actually been a pretty good year for us. We know this is not the case for most of the world, so we thought we'd do a little giving back. We saw the most wonderful 12 Days of Christmas display at the Dallas Arboretum over the holiday weekend and we thought, "What if we gave a different item each day to a food pantry?" So that's what we will be doing between today and Dec 12. 

On the First Day of ECHO my anonymous friend gave to me...

Warm Winter Stockings! 

(well, socks are a bit more practical, but didn't sound as good. You understand)

Here is a much cooler video that #2 made for her YouTube channel that explains our little plan

See, giving is fun and easy!

Here is the full list of dates and highlighted items, if you are interested. If you are not interested, this is where you can go "What a sweet idea. Next!" and move on to something more your style. I have totally had that year. 

Dec. 2 Box Drinks /Juice Boxes, Pancake Syrup, or Jelly

Dec. 3 Laundry Detergent or Dishwashing Liquid,

Dec. 4 Hand or Body Lotion

Dec. 5 New or gently used men's/boy's coats in Sm or Med sizes, or warm children's clothing

Dec. 6 Eggs and/or Margarine, or Salsa, or Other Condiments

Dec. 7 Razors and/or Shaving Cream

Dec. 8 Headphones/Earbuds or Kids Books (Gr. 3 or Higher)

Dec. 9 Canned Meat. Canned Pasta, and/or Canned Tomatoes

Dec.10 Cleaning Supplies, (ie: Disinfecting Spray, Clorox Wipes,Toilet Cleaner)

Dec.11 Rice (Boxed or bagged)

Dec. 12 Coloring Books and Colored Pencils or OTC cold/flu/pain Medication

It's not the sexiest list, but it will help people. And we wanted to keep the costs fairly low, so anyone could feel like they could participate. There were so many years when a bag of rice and a can of tomatoes was all I could afford to donate. 

If you want to play 12 Days of ECHO with us, buy something (or somethings) off the list. It doesn't matter what day. That is all just a snappy gimmick. Bring it to my front porch and stick it in the box labeled "12 Days of ECHO". Or call me and say "Hey, come get my stuff." And I will. Unless you live far from me. Then I won't. 

But you could always donate money to ECHO directly, if you are far. Or even if you are near, but don't want to leave your house this season. Here is that link. Seriously though, no pressure. 

Here is the full wish list from ECHO: This one is for kid's Christmas Toys

List Two is the more basic things. Most of our list comes from here:

We will be dropping off all the donations on Dec 14, so be sure to contact me before then if you need a pick up

Happy First Day of Christmas Y'all. 

Talk to you soon,
CM Shaw

Friday, January 11, 2019

How thinking like an artist helped a 6th grade friendship

One of the things I have been working on lately is drawing realism. This means I try to make my drawings look identical to the image I am looking at. Sometimes I do this well, and other times I do not, but one of the tricks to succeeding in this medium is the idea of drawing what you actually see, not what you think you see.

For example, if I am looking at a leaf, I need to see that the ridges that show depth are really viewed as variations in color. The deeper parts are darker colors. There is usually a lighter band that shows the crest of the ridge. The rest of the leaf is a gradient of darker to lighter color, depending on where the light source is.

This seems very straight forward, but in reality, you have to use a lot of mental control to even be able to see what is going on. Your mind always has an opinion about what it thinks it sees. You will start drawing and your mind will say "You need to make that a paisley shape." So you start drawing a paisley shape only to realize when you look at the leaf again, that it doesn't curve like a paisley or have a rounded end like a paisley, or even have a central motif like a paisley. So you sigh and get out your eraser and start over again, this time ignoring any suggestions that come from any non-visual data banks.

You would think you would only need to have this experience once. But I actually have to shut down a huge section of my brain every single time I draw anything by sight. The brain always wants to tell you what you think you see. It's like the most invasive back seat driver ever. But just like anything else, the more you practice shutting it down and starting it back up, the easier it gets to ignore.

I had this same principle apply in the most random way last month.

My youngest is in 6th grade this year. And she was talking about her new "trans" friend. What? You have a friend who is transgender in 6th grade? I have to admit. I flipped out a bit. I try to be a very open minded person, but transgender is HARD for me. Fortunately I have been practicing not expressing my opinions the second I have them for several years now, and have gotten very good at keeping things to myself, at least until I can get to a safe location to vent.

So I smiled and in my best fake happy mommy voice said "That's nice honey" and walked upstairs before I let the tidal wave of thoughts cloud my judgement. I went through the expected "How can a child know these things in 6th grade?" and "What is wrong with this kid's parents?" I think it was about the thought, "Why has everything gotten so crazy?" when I realized I was being a total jerk. And massively overreacting.

A couple of days later, when my kid was talking about her friend again I said, "Sweetie can I talk to you for a sec?" My kid eyed me dubiously for a minute, then walked slowly towards me. Once she sat down I started with, "I want to talk to you about your friend." She looked a bit nervous and slightly nauseous. I continued, "I haven't quite come to terms with how to deal with people being transgender yet." She was now looking very concerned and fully nauseous. "I think it is amazing that you are comfortable being this person's friend, even though you guys are different. I think you should be friends. That said, I may be a little weird when you talk about them. So I just wanted to be clear. I think this friendship is a good idea. Please continue, even if I am giving off really strange vibes." She looked at me super relieved and said, "Mom, I am so relieved! I thought you were gonna tell me I couldn't be friends with her." This was the point when I realized I needed to start seeing what was there instead of what I thought I was seeing.

Over the next week, I watched my daughter as she video chatted over shared homework with this child. I reminded myself to look with curiosity, rather than judgement. And as I practiced withholding my own bias, something interesting happened. As I looked at the screen, I saw a child who did indeed have some problems. But I also saw a child laughing and having fun with my daughter. I saw two children interacting like children should, telling jokes and gossiping about what happened at school and discussing Sponge Bob and occasionally focusing on their homework.  And it hit me like a brick. I don't need to make sense of the world's problems. I just need to help MY world be a better place. And right now my daughter is doing just that, by being a fun friend for this child. That's all most of us want. For someone to accept us and be nice to us as we are right now.

It was the most powerful lesson I learned in 2018. To see what is actually in front of me instead of what I think is in front of me. I had no idea that it would make me a better person as well as a better artist.

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Fear as a Marker

I had something fascinating happen last night. I had to drive a bit to take one of my kids to cotillion in another part of town. And it was far enough, that I decided to just wait in some nearby shop until the class was over. About 2 blocks away, I found a Whole Foods with a coffee shop. Perfect! I don't drink coffee, but I do eat chocolate croissants and Whole Foods has those. So I got my croissant and settled in to write in my journal for the hour and a half I had to wait. Not a shabby way to go.

After about 10 or 15 minutes, I noticed a young man sitting near me drawing on a napkin. This wasn't just any old doodle. It was a fully developed piece with lots of detail, shading, complex forms and depth. So, being me (I am the girl who talks to you if you sit next to me on the plane for the whole flight, if the conversation is good. #sorrynotsorry), I started a conversation with him about art. 

Guys, it turned out to be magical! This kid, or rather, young man (he told me he was 27), has already seen so much more of the hard side of life than I have, but he had this deep quiet passion and desire about him that made me want to explore it a little bit. . So we talked about what it takes to be an artist, in both public and private ways. We talked about places to gain skills online. We talked about how to choose what kind of art life you want and how to get there. We talked about keeping your art as a secret for yourself to relax vs. making it a career and a gift to the world. We talked about how to thicken your skin and change your mindset, so you can  actually bear the vulnerability that comes with putting your creations out into the world. And we talked about a hundred other things that would make this post way too long, so you all will just have to wonder and be jealous you weren't there. 

But there was one thing that resonated, as I talked with this young man perched on the edge of his life, something I have been meaning to share with you guys for a long time. The idea of "Fear being a marker."

"CM, what are you talking about?" You say. "Fear? How can fear be useful? I hate fear. It makes me feel incapable and inadequate. It makes me avoid things and people and experiences. It makes me not want to do things I really want to do."

Yes. Fear does wreak havoc on inspiration and aspiration. It does creep in and undermine what you are trying to become. It unlaces your sense of well being, so you find yourself tripping all over something you thought you were comfortable with. Oh yes, Fear is the Great Inhibitor. But have you ever wondered where it comes from? This horrifying preoccupation with all the dark outcomes of our ambition?

Oh, and just for clarification's sake, I am not talking about the kind of fear you feel when you are in a dangerous situation. Fear that you are going to be trapped in a landslid is a survival mechanism that needs to be obeyed. If you feel like you are actually unsafe, get the heck out of there! 

Now before we get into all the feelings, we need to talk about something else. This is where things get a little tricky. To follow this part, it helps if you believe that there really are good and bad forces playing out somehow in the world. Since we cannot see these powers directly, only their influence, it safe to assume that they are functioning in some other realm or dimension or whatever. It must take a lot of energy to influence us here. 

Now I want you to remember the last time you were preparing to do something your soul wanted, like choosing a college or a profession or a spouse. Or even just making the decision to make a positive change or add something you really love to your life. Do you remember being pounded with doubts and fears about that thing? Did you have a massive amount of backlash emotionally about your hoped-for choice?

About 10 years ago, I really wanted to learn to belly dance. I had to fight off so much fear! As I was driving to the first class...the most basic class they offered at the studio...I was crying because I was so afraid that all the other people in the class would be 23 yr old hard bodies. And that they would look at my 38 yr old post pardem body and make me feel horrible about myself. I had to listen to "Are We Humans or Are We Dancers?" by the Killers on repeat the whole way there to ward off a panic attack. It was crazy. I am a super positive, not easily intimidated, self assured person and I was terrified to walk into that class by the time I got there. Those feelings were intense. And not of me. They must have cost an enormous amount of energy from somewhere. 

This is the kind of experience I am talking about. You deal with it regularly when you are an artist, which is why I brought it up with my new friend. But it haunts all of us. It is a huge part of the human condition, this intense, debilitating fear and self doubt showing up as we make the choices that will light our souls and determine who we become. And all that energy and influence is coming from somewhere. It costs someone (or something) handsomely.

So, if these feelings or fear and inadequacy are darkness trying to prevent you from achieving all the good things, (growth, peace, service, wonder, delight, freedom, knowledge, love, etc) and if these fearful feelings intensify the closer you get to walking the path you most want to be on, doesn't it make you wonder why darkness is trying so hard? 

Darkness is working so hard, because you being happy and fulfilled is the opposite of what it wants! It wants you to fail, to miss opportunities to become more, to always believe that you are not capable or talented or lovable. Darkness cultivates despair. It is truly the opposite of joy and light.

So what do you do when these intense feelings start to pound you? You simply turn the tables and use the power of darkness against itself. Turn the fear on its head by recognizing that something nasty thinks that this would be a great experience for you and is expending enormous amounts of energy to prevent it from happening. Look at your fears, this obscuring of what you want, as a giant arrow pointing in the exact direction you should run in. RUN! Not walk, run! If fear wants you to stop, then you should push with everything you have straight towards whatever all this negative energy is trying to obscure. And then hold on for all you're worth. Both to your positive mindset and your desired objective. 

Fear does not stop just because you made one decision. Fear stays there, lingering in the shadows, hoping you'll embrace it again. It waits for the day you are tired or sad. Darkness never gives up. It must become a habit to push through it. You must keep doing the thing you love, creating a meaningful life, fighting against these dark thoughts and feelings. Over and over and over again. If you cave to the fear one day, get some sleep and pound against it the next time. It never takes less effort, but gradually, you get better at seeing through the fear to what you love.  The more times you push through the fear, and the more times you use use that "arrow," the less terrifying it becomes. Refuse to let fear make your choices and determine your destiny. 

And one day Fear will come at you with it's worst, and you won't be afraid. You will walk straight towards it with no hesitation, brushing it aside like a curtain across a doorway.  And as you cross that threshold, you might even discover a strange sense of gratitude that Fear made the best path to follow so much easier to see. 

And that, my friend, is a powerful way to live.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Art and Nature in Colored Pencil

So this week, I started yet another art adventure. I signed up for a class online through JeanneOliver.com . The one I am taking is called "Art and Nature in Colored Pencil" and it is taught by Kelly Hoernig. So far I am pretty impressed. There is an interactive Facebook board for the students to post what they are working on for critic, instructor input, etc. It is such an easy to use interface. And I love having a built in excuse to go walking to look for leaves and then to be able to justify spend the next two hours drawing them. I started with this still life, before I read any of the directions:

My youngest added the feather after I finished drawing for the day. 
Here is my version of this vignette:

I love the clam shell. I am on the fence about the marbles. I like the veining on the leaf a lot. I hate the shadows and the key. But I figure, it's not too bad considering I hadn't used these pencils before, I had no direction, and I hadn't drawn photo-realism in 5 months.

So after this point, the course directions opened and I actually watched the video tutorials provided by the instructor. She encourages a layered approach, letting soft layers of color build up. Very funny, if you know me. I go all bold all the time. So I suppose I will learn a lot. Here is attempt #1 at subtle color layering. The leaf was lighter colored when it was fresh. I promise I am not that lame.: 

Here's a better view. Sorry about the weird angle.

I love how the shadows play such a subtle but powerful role in the whole piece. For some reason, it has never occurred to me to pay attention to shadows before. I was also pretty happy with the color layering. I wish I could figure out how to make the color a little more intense. 

Our next lesson asked us to add an artistic implement to our leaf composition. The hard texture was harder for me to render, for some reason:

I am pretty happy with the results. But things are still a bit paler than I am comfortable with. And I need to spend a bit more time drawing smooth, hard shiny things. I think using a straight edge to draw my pencil sides may also be a major improvement.

Anyway, that's what I've been doing artistically this week. What are you all up to? 
Taking any classes or learning any new mediums?

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Thursday, October 25, 2018

A Return to Fine Art

I have a bit of a confession to make.  I have been sneaking around a bit behind your backs. I promise it was totally unintentional, but it happened nonetheless. I have been making art and not sharing it with you all. I know, I know.  I wanted to share it, I swear! But there was just no time during the 2017-2018 school year. I was psyched that I could squeeze in time to create at all. And shooting pictures and writing blog posts actually takes quite a bit of time. Especially if you are as anal as I can be. Sigh. 

In any case, I have decided to "come clean" and share with you all the things I have been doing to keep my creative soul alive. (Besides getting all the crap out of my studio and paint other people's cabinets. Those don't count.)

In February this year, I had a bit of a meltdown. I had been telling myself for the last 4 years that I would go back to art once the house was done. When I started this conversation with myself, I thought all the projects I had in mind would take 6 mos. Haaahhaaahahahaa!!! So naive and optimistic...

4 years later, much further along, but not done yet, I kinda flipped out. I called a friend who has known me for a long time and cried on the phone until she asked, "Well is there something arty you could do now? Maybe something small and not too involved?" and this made me think for a sec. I remembered a thought I been kicking around in my Morning Pages recently. I wanted to copy Miss Mustard Seed's idea of painting 100 meadows. But I wanted to draw, not paint. And I had been trying to think of what I would be interested enough to do 100 studies of. 

I remembered when I used to draw as a child, I would always draw horses. And while I had looked at anatomical sketches of horses now and again, there were many details in my horses that could use a lot of work. So I got off the phone, pulled out my sadly abandoned sketchbook, and started drawing. I drew for an hour, from 2-3pm 5 days a week, from February until June. And then life took over again. But I got through 20 studies, most based off photos, so I could work on my realism. 

Here's a few of the better ones, I think they are in chronological order:

They are all on Instagram, if you want to read my thoughts about the experience and ideas I gained from each piece. And I think I have most of the inspiration pictures plus the sketches here on Pinterest. (I just looked and it seems that my baby has been adding a few things as well. She shares my account. The squirrel "dancing to Thriller" comes to mind) It was so cool how much I learned. I have every intention of going back and finishing out the remaining 80 horses, but I may switch mediums to do it. And I may draw the same horse several times, because I have two bigger finished pieces I want to do, a large painting and a light-on-dark pastel, both working from other inspiration pieces I have been meaning to get to for years. 

Since returning home from my adventures this summer, I haven't gone back to drawing horses, but I have started another project I have wanted to do for many years. One perk of having DK work for Congress is a free parking spot downtown, a block from the National Mall. And one perk of having your oldest child go to college is a bunch of free time and mental space. So I have been going to the National Gallery of Art every Wednesday and doing Master's Studies. I mostly do compositional studies in 3 weights of graphite, but this week I started a color study using colored pencil as well. 

And since I am a complete novice at this, I looked up "How to do Master's Studies" on Google and found this really great 2 hr. video tutorial by Noah Bradly. Here is the link. (I watched the video in early September, but didn't think to question my source until I looked him up yesterday. Apparently the guy is this major fantasy artist for Dungeons and Dragons and Magic the Gathering. He doesn't come across in the tutorial as a fantasy artist at all. I was actually kinda shocked.) It was the perfect thing to get me started. But it is really long. I actually watched the first hour on compositional studies, then went back weeks later to watch the rest on color studies. 

It has completely blown my mind how much I have learned by doing this. It's like I start to draw and then I see things that make me feel like the artist is whispering things into my ear. Tricks he played on his patron. Statements he wanted to make, but couldn't be open about. Secrets he left to see if anyone was really paying attention. It is freaking magical. Every week I walk out full of wonder.

Here are a few of my studies and links to the inspiration pieces. 

Week 1: "The Sacrament of the Last Supper" by Salvador Dali and "Entablature" by Roy Lichtenstein

(Sorry, this one is to a Pinterest link, because the other options were so annoying)

If you want my insights, you're gonna have to email me or ping me below or on Facebook with questions about a specific piece, because each week I go down there is just super loaded with info. And there is just too much to share all of it with you in this one post. Maybe I will talk about it in posts to come, but frankly, I feel like each week tells me what that weeks' post is supposed to be about and I just do that. At this point, I am just really happy to be able to post weekly again. I missed it so badly. 

Anyway, sorry I didn't tell you before, But now you know. Plus, it gave me something totally different to talk about today than basements and missionaries and church and being nice. So yay for that too. 

Do you guys have any happy secrets in your back pocket? You can tell me in the comments below. I'd love to hear how you are keeping your creative soul alive in spite of all the commotion of life.

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Thursday, October 18, 2018

How To Overcome Your Own Judgments

Today I want to play a little game. Pretend for a moment that you and I are neighbors. Now pretend that a new family just moved into the neighborhood and I am describing one of our new neighbors. Apparently he speaks fluent Spanish, loves the "Dark Knight" Batman movies, thinks Tom Hardy is the greatest actor ever, loves rice, dislikes classical music and isn't a fan of dogs. 
Poor Harper.

Do you have an image in your head of what he looks like? How he dresses? What he talks about? Do you want to get to know him?

What if I told you he also likes to run and is quite good at tennis. And that he was on the Ultimate Frisbee team at his high school. Does he look the same in your mind? 

Picture him. I promise there is a point to this. 

What if I added that he graduated from the hardest public high school in the country last year and started as a Junior at a really good college due to the amount of AP credits he rocked? We are talking 5's in everything. And then I told you that he's already been accepted to a top tier medical school.

Does that change the way he looks in your mind? Or the way you think about him? 

Picture him again. What does he look like? Is it different than before? How different? Just a little? Completely? Do you want to be his friend more before or after I told you how smart and successful he is? Does med school make him more or less attractive?

And what if I continued by sharing that I have known him for 4 years and each year he has grown kinder and wiser? Especially during a period in life when most people become more selfish and short sighted. Does that change who you expect him to be? How he looks?

Would you like to see a picture of our "new neighbor"?

Does he look like you expected? Is he the age you expected? The ethnicity you thought? Can you see the qualities I described in him? 

All of them are actually true. 

Were you surprised? 
Were you expecting someone Indian? 
Did your mental picture of the person I was talking about shift as I added different details? 

Why do think this happens?

The answer is simple. We all judge people. 

Shocking, I know! I used the "J" word! Gasp! For shame, right? 

Actually, judgement is hardwired into us. You can't help it. When you see something, anything, your brain brings forward previous experiences with that kind of thing. It shows you things you've read and heard and seen. Judging the people and circumstances around us helps us adapt to our world. I am sure there are a bunch of studies out there showing some primal connection between survival and judging the things in our environment. As humans, we can't help it. 

That's why it is ridiculous to expect people to not judge each other. It's inevitable.

What we need to do instead, is to realize that we will judge, and then teach ourselves to pull that judgement back, take in more current information, and then reevaluate our opinion. 

Does that sound like a lot of work? Well, I'll be honest with you. At first it takes some effort. But keep reading if you want to learn how to do it. With a little practice, you can get really fast. And what do you get for your effort? I can't answer exactly for you, because I don't know your life, where you live, who you interact with, etc. But learning how to retract my own judgment has given me a ton of new friendships, and deeper friendships than I could have had before I started doing it. It has brought me more peace, as I learned to read the people around me, rather than relying on the "stock" information my brain provided. This helps me to relax and feel more comfortable with people who aren't "like me." It has made me curious instead of afraid. It has made me less fearful and more open. And that alone, I think, is worth the effort in this age of fear and distrust.

So...after all that talking, we're going to practice. 

I can feel your enthusiasm. 
Come on! It's more like a game, than a tooth extraction,
I promise. Just try it.

So I'm going to show you two more pictures. I want you to look at each picture and pay attention to the thoughts your brain hands you about each person. You can take a second and go get a paper to write down your thoughts, if you want. Or not. We'll wait. 

OK, everybody ready? Here's the first picture.: 

What are your first thoughts as you look at this picture? 
What is his temperament?
Is he like someone you know? 
Would you feel comfortable sitting next to him on an airplane...or would you talk to him, if you are like me and actually enjoy talking to the people who sit next to you? (Yes, I am totally that girl.)
Does his age affect whether or not you would talk to him?
Could you be friends with this person?
Would you want him to be your neighbor? 

OK, what did you think? Were you surprised by any of your thoughts or answers? 

Those thoughts were your brain judging this man. All of your thoughts about him (unless you know him personally) were from your past experience, bias, education, media exposure and assumptions coming forward from the data banks of your brain. You have no way of determining if any of it is fact or fiction. Which is fine, actually. The important thing is to practice recognizing that these kinds of thoughts always show up. They are especially binding and powerful during a first impression.

In truth, he is a stranger. You have never met him. You know nothing about him or what he is like. And what you do think you know, could be completely inaccurate. 

OK, let's try it again. Look at him again. But this time, ignore your judgement opinions and just look at him until all those things are gone, and all you see is a person in front of you.

Look until you don't see a white man, or an old man, or a nice man. Look until you see just a man. This might take a sec. 

Ok, now you are ready to let HIM tell you who he is.

Well you would be if we were on the street somewhere or at school or my house or something. Actually, I am going to tell you who he is, in a sec, because I know him and you don't. But when you meet someone new, or talk to someone you don't know very well, it's important to hold back your thoughts until THEY give you a context to work in. Assume you like them or that you have something in common with them until they prove you wrong. Assume they are interesting and that they are a good person, regardless of what they look like or what they are wearing, until they say or do something that conflicts with that. And you might even consider giving them the benefit of the doubt more than once, because I am a much different person when I get up than I am later in the day. Most people like me much better after 9 am. 

If you always start with the assumption that the person you are interacting with or sharing space with is a good person, you will be right most of the time. 

(There are, sadly, always exceptions to this, so if you are worried that someone may hurt you, then trust that. I am not talking about laughing in the face of danger, here. Rather, I am suggesting you step out of your comfort zone. But if you seriously think that white van may pull over and kidnap you, then run away, please! Quickly!) 

OK, so here's the skinny on the man in the above picture:

  • He's 76 this year. 
  • He had a stroke in January.
  • He is still a practicing doctor with a specialty in Radiation Oncology. 
  • He paid for medical school partly by working summers as a wilderness ranger on horseback in the Grand Tetons and partly by selling Fuller brushes door to door.
  • He pays for the groceries of the person behind him in the check out line. 
  • He "collects" sleeping bags. At one time, he had about 30. Seriously. 
  • He has major issues with authority. 
  • He is the only person in his neighborhood with a golf cart sporting seat belts. (This has to do with the the trait above. It's a great story. Ask me sometime.)
  • He is loud. 
  • He will buy your drink at 7-11 any day and is on a first name basis with most of the cashiers at most of the Circle-K's and 7-11s in the city he lives in because he drinks so much soda. And because he likes people. 
  • He is insanely organized. Insanely. 
  • He is fun.
  • He is impatient.
  • He can fix just about anything.
  • He can be rude and overbearing.
  • He talks as much as I do.
  • He needs a hearing aid, but doesn't like to wear his.
  • He has been everywhere. 
  • He loves the Hallmark Channel. I am not lying about this.
  • He is my dad. 

OK that was fun. Let's try it again. Here's another picture. And yes, this one is a new picture. Now remember, let your ideas about this person come forward. OK, Go!

What is your first impression? And remember to be honest here. It's ok. This is practice.
Who is she? 
What is she like? 
Do you want to sit next to her on a plane? 
Do you want to be her neighbor?
Do you want to be her friend?

Once again, your answers will be massively affected by your previous experience, other people you have known, things you've read and seen on TV and online, for good or ill. Get them all to the front. 

OK, now forget them all and look again, until you see a person, a young woman:

Once again, she is a stranger. You have never met her. You have no idea what she's like. Get yourself to a place where you are curious what she will reveal about herself, if she were to start talking to you. 

Are you there? Shall I tell you about my cute friend? Actually, she and her mother came up with a list of things they wanted you all to know about her.

  • She directs the music at the beginning and ending of our church women's meeting.
  • She keeps her room tidy, because she prefers it that way.
  • She takes fashion very seriously.
  • She sets her outfit for the next day out every night before she goes to bed.
  • She helps her mother run an in-home daycare.
  • She is almost always happy.
  • She loves to color in adult coloring books.
  • She sees the good in everything.
  • She loves movies and older TV shows like "I Love Lucy", "Facts of Life", "Brady Bunch", and "the Golden Girls".
  • She can be stubborn. Especially regarding her Diet Coke. 
  • She is a very loyal friend.
  • She graduated from one of the larger, more rigorous high schools in the area. 
  • She is 33 yrs old. Apparently she's found the Fountain of Youth.  
  • She has played baseball for 27 yrs and is currently on a young adult team.
  • She is very organized. 
  • She loves to dance to oldies as well as the latest popular music.
  • She is deeply devoted to her faith and loves to see her "Church Family" each Sunday.
So do you guys think you can go and do this on your own? Can you recognize your own judgments, and then tell them to chill out, until the person you are dealing with has given you a little more info? I am totally sure you can do this. You just have to remember to think about it. And who knows? Maybe your new best friend will wind up being someone you didn't even know you could like! That would be the coolest, right? I would love to hear any experiences you have from trying this in real life. So please feel free to share in the comments below. 

Well that's certainly more than enough for now. 
Thanks for wading through all that with me.

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Purpose of Organized Religion-at least for me

This last week was very church-y for me. This was for a variety of reasons, involving my recent assignment to be the ward (congregation) choir director, my kids getting old enough to ask me hard questions about our faith, and it being one of the two General Conferences my church holds annually. For those who don't know a lot about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), we get to stay home and watch church on TV twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.  I highly recommend watching church in PJ's in your living room, if you can find a way to make it meaningful and keep yourself from getting too comfy and falling asleep. Anyway, there are five 2 hr sessions over the course of one weekend, during which various Church leaders each talk about a Gospel subject of their choice. It is wonderful, but that is one big mental and spiritual download, Whew! 

So with all that going on, I found myself thinking about church a lot this week. Not so much church, as in "the teachings about God through the scriptures", but rather the physical and practical church...Sunday School and Mass and Youth Groups...the human/"going to the chapel" side of Church. 

One of my kids recently asked me, "Mom, if I can connect with God when I pray, and I try to be a good person everyday, why do I have to go to church?" I have been asking myself and thinking about this question for the better part of my life. Over time, I gradually gained a variety of insights and experiences that felt like an answer and have just moved forward and kept attending with those things in mind.  But this week, I got An Answer.

Now, before all of you check out because this is a "church post" (which it is, and please feel free to bail if you are so inclined.), understand that I try to write in a way that appeals, or is at least accessible to anyone who believes in a positive force in the Universe. So while these thoughts are couched in my faith, you might keep reading and see if they can help your own journey to find the Goodness in this life. 

My Answer happened while I was sitting in a chair staring at the wall, petting my dog and not writing in the journal open in my lap. I started thinking, "Why would God council us all to go to church? What could His purpose there be?" And I tried to imagine what Church would be like without all our human stupidity coming into play, imagining what purpose an infinitely wise and kind God would have in giving that instruction to gather and worship.

When I say "my Answer happened" what I mean is one second I was asking the question, without having a clue what the answer was, and the next second I had a full, rich understanding deep in my soul of the answer, like I had known and tested this new information so thoroughly there was no point in thinking anything else. It was just wisdom.

God simply started by reminding me of the conversation between Christ and one of the many learned community leaders, where the man asks Jesus, "Master, which is the great commandment in the Law? (referring to the entire Torah)" Christ answers, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like  unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matthew 22:35-40)

These two ideas are supposed to be the absolute center of a Christian's life, to love God and love our fellow man. "Great!" I thought. "But what does that have to do with church?" 

This question is exactly why we all have the opinion we do about organized religion. 

God patiently continued by showing me that His intention is for a person to gather with other people who believe the same things about God. The point being to share the insights and experiences and enlightenment they have found in an effort to help give each other comfort, hope, and clarity. This group provides the potential to become friends and the opportunity to serve. It builds a community of people who will challenge each other and help each other and guide each other and push each other. Love your God. Love your fellow man. 

I was completely stupefied by the beauty and simplicity of this power of this idea By the accessibility of it. By the wisdom of it. By the hope and compassion and humanity it opened my mind to. I just sat and felt the elegance and truth of it coursing through me for several minutes. And I'll be honest, I was a lot humbled by it. I have gone to Church almost every week of my entire life, and this had never even occurred to me. 

If I look, I can see these two ideas, "Love god, Love your fellow man", woven into the seams and bricks of all the major religions I am familiar with. But I think it gets obscured by the "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots" that are so much easier to measure. It gets lost in our self doubt and our fears and our bad experiences. It is forgotten in our boredom, and our selfishness, and our haste to get on with things. It gets lost in shocking news stories of egregious behavior of religious leaders in this time and ages past. It gets lost in the cries of anger and pain as we forget that we are human, in our animal moments. But it is there, just the same. Waiting in the sun to be seen. 

I think there are many who do understand this connection between church worship and the Two Great Commandments. And I rejoice that I am finally among their ranks. I have always tried to look for the person sitting alone in a pew, because when I was younger, it was often me alone. I often share my spiritual ideas and experiences, because I enjoy sharing with others and because I have a hard time keeping my ideas to myself. But somehow, the fact that doing these things is the point makes it all so much more meaningful. Church becomes the place where it is easy to like our Savior. 

It is so lovely to think of a community of people acting and speaking with an eye toward the well being of each other. Oh wait. Isn't that how heaven is described? I bet, with a ton of mindfulness, we could do it here. 

Love your God, Love you neighbor. 

Maybe that's what I will start praying for next. 

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw