Thursday, August 30, 2007

Feeling Blue? Or Chartreuse? Or maybe Jet Black?

Last week, I was snooping around at the Etsy shop website, and discovered that they have THE COOLEST shopping feature on there!

Click here and you can shop according to color. Any color that strikes your fancy.
Periwinkle, antique rose, sunny yellow, creamy dogwood, flame red, plain old brown...
Simply click on the color you like and Etsy's search engine will pull up all the products that match that color.

(I've already wasted a ton of time there. I'm not a shopaholic. Just a colorholic.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Esther Films

While we're on the subject of films, check out and critique these Esther films:

The 2006 flick, One Night with the King has utterly fab costumes, but don't count on the historicity. And don't think the strong romantic elements are reality-based. But enjoy it, anyway.

The classic Hollywood film version of the story is the Esther and the King (1960) starring Joan Collins (can you believe it?) and Richard Egan, and directed by Raoul Walsh.

In 1992 Hanna-Barbera produced The Greatest Adventure series, and as part of that set made a 30-minute, fully-animated video, titled Queen Esther. It features the voices of Helen Slater as Queen Esther, Dean Jones as King Ahasuerus, Werner Klemperer as Haman, and Ron Rifkin as Mordecal.

And finally, there's VeggieTales. They made an animated version of the story titled Esther: The Girl Who Became Queen, in which the girl-of-courage shows up as a young green onion. Bring the tissues.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Babette and Esther: Passions Compared

While our online group is going through Esther, I'm leading our small group, outXast, in a two week study associated with the movie Babette's Feast. I was thinking today about how the two leading ladies lived out their passion.

It might be said that the opulence and isolation of royalty caused Esther to forget from whence she came. Draped in the finest clothes and eating rich foods, how many spa days of head to toe pampering would it take for you to forget? 14? 30? How about 365? Esther adapted - maybe too quickly. At the same time she could never again return to the home she had always known or see the family and friends she loved.

Babette is forced to adapt in an entirely different way. To save her own life she flees Paris amidst the 1871 civil war where he husband and son have been killed. She becomes a refugee in the dreary cold climate of Norway where she knows no one; these are not her people. Here she trades the honorable robes of a master chef for the coarse homemade clothes of a servant. Instead of the finest French cuisine she now has the exact same meal of ale-bread soup for every meal, every day of the week.

Do both women have passion?

It’s awkward to make judgments about all the things not told to us in Esther’s story. But it doesn’t appear that she is passionate about anything because she is lead along by whatever those around her tell her to do.
  • She hangs around to be carted off to the palace (2:8).
  • She only took to the palace what Hegai the eunuch recommended (2:15).
  • She does whatever Mordecai says (2:20).
She never seems to exert her own will. Does she have any convictions? Or is she a cub who hasn’t found her teeth? It’s not until verse 4:16 that she speaks with authority and passion, telling Mordecai what to do!

Babette is nothing if not passionate. She knows food is her gift and she pursues it no matter what her circumstances. Nothing stands in her way. Even in desolate, pious Norway everyone describes what she does with food as spiritual. To know Babette is to know her passion.

So can we argue that wealth ruined Esther, hindered her, or got in the way of living passionately? I don’t think so. Esther had not yet found her passion. Living without passion is to live with fear. Passion is your secret weapon, your super power. No matter what great unknown lays infinitely ahead, the one thing you know completely and surely is your passion.

But more of us are Esthers than Babettes. And we allow a variety of things to prevent us from discovering or living our passion. Time, money, work, family, etc.

Have you found your passion? What is it? And if not, why not?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Art Movies

I'm always interested in movies that deal with the subject of the arts and artists.
But you know, I don't get out much when it comes to movies.

I have added some creative movies to my Netflix queue, but I'd like a little help rounding it out. Have you got a recommendation?

photo of Modigliani,
Visual Artists:
Pollock- Jackson Pollock
The Agony and the Ecstasy- Michelangelo
Lust For Life- Vincent Van Gogh
Girl With a Pearl Earring- Jan Vermeer
Camille Claudel- Camille Claudel
Basquait- Jean Michel Basquait
Modigliani- Amedeo Modigliani

photo of Amadeus,
Amadeus- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Immortal Beloved- Beethoven
Magic Bow- Paganini
A Song to Remember- Frederic Chopin
Walk the Line- Johnny Cash

The Hours
The Hours- Virginia Woolf
Shadowlands- C.S. Lewis


Isadora- Isadora Duncan
The Hidden Soul of Harmony- Mark Morris
Le Mystere Babilee- Jean Babilee

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Invisible Star

If you're a female, when you were a child, did you ever spin around in a long dress pretending to be Cinderella? Perhaps you watched Cinderella on TV or video. Was it a cartoon version? Maybe a parent or sibling read it to you. Or perhaps you saw Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1965 production starring Lesley Ann Warren. Maybe you watched the 1997 show with Brandy, Paola Montalban, and Whitney Houston. If you’re a big Cinderella fan, perhaps you saw and read all of these and more.

What about My Fair Lady—did you ever imitate Eliza Dolittle singing about the rain in Spain (or the rine in spine)? Did you mentally protest against Henry Higgins when he asked “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”?

Many cultures have their rags-to-riches stories like Cinderella and My Fair Lady. The details differ, but the general plotline is the same: a poor, plain girl of questionable pedigree rises from poverty to become rich and beautiful, perhaps even the queen of a vast empire.

The Book of Esther is like a Hebrew Cinderella story. Yet some significant differences set this drama apart from fictional stories such as those mentioned above. For one thing, Esther’s story actually happened. The book begins with the same Hebrew word (“wyhy”) that introduces the historical books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, Ezekiel, and Jonah. We are supposed to read Esther as fact, not fancy.

Another key difference is that in Esther, the villain (Haman) is far worse than any evil stepmother or chauvinistic linguistics coach. Haman is out to commit genocide, and the king approves his plan without hesitation.

Yet there’s an even more significant difference: the main character in this Cinderella story is someone other than the woman at the center of the drama. In fact this story’s main character is never explicitly mentioned by name, nor does He appear. An accurate Playbill for this drama would have to have an empty space next to the photo of the one playing the lead. He is invisible, yet we trace His hand through every turn in the plot as the seeming coincidences add up.

William Temple, the ninety-eighth archbishop of Canterbury, was known to have said, “When I pray, coincidences happen; and when I don’t pray, they don’t happen.” The author of the Book of Esther stacks together a long string of “coincidences,” while never mentioning anything religious such as the temple, prayer, or even God’s name. Yet readers without being told know better than to think all the events in the book merely happened due to chance. We are left instead with one conclusion: The only way all these “coincidences” could have happened is if God directed every last detail.

Consider some of the “coincidences” in Esther’s story:

. The king wants his wife to appear, which just happens to set in motion events that will lead to the survival of an entire people group.
. The queen refuses, which just happens to provide the opportunity for Esther to become queen.
. Esther just happens to be beautiful enough to enter (and win) the king’s beauty contest.
. Esther just happens to be received favorably, both by the eunuch over the harem and by the king himself.
. Mordecai just happens to be in a position in the palace that allows him both access to Esther and to overhear a plot to kill the king.
. Mordecai’s revelation of the plot is recorded in the king’s annals (which just happen to be read on the most opportune night some years later).
. The dice or “lots” thrown to determine when the Jews are to be killed just happen to indicate the twelfth month, allowing eleven months for the Jews to seek a means of deliverance.
. Esther’s unexplained delay in having a second banquet just happens to allow the king a chance to have the insomnia that will motivate him to listen to his chronicles.
. The section read to him just happens to be the part about how Mordecai saved his life.
. Haman just happens to arrive at the palace with Mordecai on his mind at the very moment when the king is thinking about how to honor Mordecai.
. The very “gallows” (or pole) Haman installed for having Mordecai impaled (they would “spike” people after killing them) just happens to be the means of Haman’s own destruction.
. The king’s entry into Esther’s room at the exact moment when Haman falls on her couch just happens to make him misinterpret events, resulting in Haman’s death.
. Not one Jew is listed as killed while 75,800 of their enemies just happen to be destroyed—on the very day when the Jews were to face destruction.

This Cinderella story has ramifications that far exceed an “if the shoe fits” scenario. Much more is at stake than a glass slipper and love that ends “happily ever after.” Ultimately, Esther just happens to be in the right place at the right time and of the right nationality to intervene for hundreds of thousands if not millions of people and save them from certain genocide. God uses Esther to make a way, to keep His promise, to triumph over evil in one grand reversal.

And He is still sovereign over every event of our lives today.

Excerpted from Espresso with Esther.

Monday, August 13, 2007

SPS Card Tip

the back of my Closed card
When you make your SPS cards, be sure to write on it somewhere how the card came about.
  • What does it mean?
  • Why did you pick those images?
  • What scripture was involved?
  • What's the story?
  • Was there a song involved?

The back of my Closed card.

I typically like my cards to be image driven so there aren't a lot of words involved. Because of this I write on the back of the card any scripture or songs that were an inspiration for the card. Alternately, I might describe what the card meant to me at the time I created it.

the back of my Unseen cardWith the card from the second week of Esther, I was inspired by the idea of God working unseen in my life everyday. The outside of the card has images that represent different days of my life. Open the door behind these days and see God's hand providing: sunshine, rain, coffee, milk, chocolate, dogs, computers, etc. On the back of the card I wrote what this means to me.

A couple of amazing things happen when people look at each other's cards. Most of the time, the artist teaches the viewer a new way of looking at an idea or scripture. At other times, the view interprets the card to mean something very relevant but entirely different than what the artist intended and the artist learns something new. Both of these are thrilling experiences.

Want a bigger surprise?

Look at your card six months or more from now. You might be surprised by the words you wrote. They may reveal how much you have incorporated this insight into your life. With the distance of time, you may see more clearly where you were at the time you made the card. You also may gain a whole new meaning from the card that even you didn't see the first time.

Isn't this a lot like scripture itself?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Give and Take of Art

A few nights ago, I was reading the CD insert for my Seal CD and came upon this wonderful sentiment:
One of the most popular questions people seem to ask is, "Why don't you print your lyrics on the album?" Well, the answer to that is that quite often, my songs mean one thing to me and another to the listener. But that's OK because I think it's the general vibe of what I'm saying that is important and not the exact literal translation. How many times have you fallen in love with a lyric that you thought went, "Show me a day with Hilda Ogden and I'll despair," only to find that it went "Show me a way to solve your problems and I'll be there." I guess what I'm saying is that the song is always larger in the listeners mind because with it they attach imagery which is relative to their own personal experience. So it is your perception of what I'm saying rather than what I actually say that is the key.

You give something.
I give something different.

I take something.
You take something different.

That is the beauty of art. That is the beauty of life.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Miss Persia Pageant

All the girls in my extended family love to get together for movie night when we can watch Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality. The plot goes something like this: Clumsy FBI agent with scary eyebrows and nasty hair undergoes metamorphosis to work undercover as beauty pageant contestant. Subplot: The main character starts out thinking pageants reduce females to their various parts (bad) but ends up believing pageants are positive exercises that emphasize the whole woman—including brains and talent (good).

What do you think of beauty pageants? Do you lean toward the agent’s “before” or “after” assessments?

What you think of beauty pageants might have some bearing on how you interpret the first chapter of Esther. Esther is the heroine of the pro-pageant group; Vashti is the heroine of the anti-pageant group.

The Esther group tends to see a great example of the need for wifely submission. Vashti’s husband wants her to appear wearing the crown, but Vashti refuses. So she gets what’s coming to her: she is deposed and the process of replacing her is set in motion. Bo-o-o, Vashti! Esther later competes in the pageant, wins, and everyone lives happily ever after. Ye-e-ah, Esther!

The Vashti group tends to champion women’s rights. They see Vashti’s actions as good in refusing to allow her husband to degrade her. Some scholars do believe the king wanted her to appear wearing only her crown—a crown which, incidentally, probably signified his sovereignty. And historians sometimes point out that, judging by the date in which the event happened, Vashti may have been nine months’ pregnant, though others think this was the royals’ wedding banquet. The text links the king’s demand with an over-abundance of alcohol (1:10) and Ahasuerus later seems to show a hint of remorse (2:1), so the text is tipped a wee bit in Vashti’s favor. Some in this camp see Esther as a negative example because she goes along with the status quo.

Frankly, both approaches miss the mark. Esther 1 is not about marriage. Nor is it making a case for feminism. The story is not even about beauty pageants. These subjects are “rabbit trails.” The text doesn’t focus on any of these aspects, and neither should we. If we take such approaches to “applying” Esther, we miss the point.

Here’s why I think it happens. The inductive Bible Study method is a good and popular approach to studying God’s word. It emphasizes considering a biblical text first by observing what it says, then interpreting what it means, and finally by making application. This is a particularly fine approach to studying New Testament epistles.

Yet our method must change a bit when we approach Esther and other narratives (stories): we must consider larger blocks of text at one time to find the application the author intended.
If we take the same approach with Esther that we do with the epistles, we might mistakenly “try to apply chapter one” when the entire message doesn’t appear unless we look at the entire story from all ten chapters.
When studying narratives we need to see the whole story put together before we can see the point or points the author is making. The approach (observation, interpretation, application) is good in both cases; yet what changes is the size of the sections we consider at one time.
Think about what would happen if we drew conclusions about the Three Little Pigs before we knew that the brick house stood despite endless huffing and puffing. Drawing application after the first piggy’s house crashes is possible (“wolves can kill you; watch out for them”), but chances are slim that the application we’d take away would be the one actually intended by the author.

A faulty interpretation of Esther, then, is to look at a king giving orders to his wife and her refusal to comply, and then to make any sort of application from that information. The author doesn’t tell us whether the king was wrong or whether his wife was wrong. And it’s probably for good reason: that’s not the point. Such information is background information that lays the groundwork for telling us how Esther got where she did.
So what are the main points of Esther’s story? They’re not stated in a handy summary. But after we read the entire Book of Esther we see them: The God of Israel shows loyal love time and again to His covenant people; the Almighty Lord is sovereign in all His dealings; and the Lord of providence kindly cares for His people despite their disobedience.
And all that is still true of Him today.

He loves you. He is in control. And He cares about you, no matter what you’ve done.
Excerpted from Espresso with Esther.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Esther, Part 1: Coincidence?

For SaleHindsight is 20/20, right? Not always. How many times do we chalk things up to coincidence instead of recognizing that maybe God had a hand in it?

As MyGeek approached his graduation, we discussed what we wanted to do afterwards. Did we want to stay in NC? We made a huge decision to move to TN. I have felt for years that God wanted me to move back there and the time seemed to have presented itself. We packed up a lot of our current household stuff, stored it in TN, and put our house on the market.

Six months later, MyGeek graduates. No offers had been made on the house or on the job front but I wasn't really worried. I knew it would take at least six months to "get into the system". But things were going to start hopping now, right?

Nine months pass. There were no offers on the house and not a single interview or rejection letter! Have we done something wrong? Did I not "read" this right? And other strange things were happening. We met and became close to several new friends and helped start a very exciting, new small group. The longer we stayed, the less we wanted to leave. We had to make a decision. The listing agreement on our house ended in June. If the house was not sold or there were no job offers by then, we'd stay in NC.

Twelve months later. June. The week before our listing agreement runs out, MyGeek gets four phones calls about potential jobs — in NC. Four calls in one day. He said, "Isn't this a weird coincidence?" I don't think it is. Looking back, we had questioned and doubted our decision so much and wanted to know what to do. As clear as a situation like this can be, it appears that God lent a hand in keeping us in NC. Am I happy about it? Sure. Do I know why? No, but I’m o.k. with that.

Please, don't misunderstand. I don't see God's will as a series of signs and coincidences you decipher on a daily basis. If I get up in the morning and see a commercial for McDonald's mini-melts, I don't read that as a sign that I'm suppose to go to McDonald's (although those mini-melts are really good). If I hear a missionary speak and he happens to be from the same hometown as my grandmother, I don't see that as a sign I should be a missionary.

I do believe that God answers prayers and, above all, that He has a long-term plan — a plan for His Kingdom. I am in His long-term plan; I am not His long-term plan. I believe God's will, more often than not, means doing the right thing or, in cases where there's no right or wrong, simply doing something! I will exhaust myself, spinning in place, trying to figure out whether it's God's will for me to work with the youth, write music, or start my own business. Can God be glorified in all of these? Yes. Then glorify Him in whatever you do.

I highly recommend Chuck Swindoll's The Mystery of God's Will if you want to read more on this subject.