Scrubbing Off the Rust

I am spending today on a series of trains.  As always, this makes me want to stretch my creative muscles, write and take pictures.  See the pictures on Instagram or Twitter.  For the writing, check back here in a few hours.

Oh, ps- did you notice that “here” has changed? New blog address: singingintothedark.com!

Brokenness and Presence

I am meditating on brokenness today.

Mostly, I am not feeling so broken myself these days. This is a nice change of pace. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself whole and thriving and totally peachy keen, but I’m honestly well. I am tired, because I have two jobs now, in addition to my volunteer work and my life, but I find that working with my hands is feeding me. I am calm, and I believe my life is okay and heading places I want it to go.

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Blogging is hard for me sometimes, because I have not always been okay. I have been so broken that I ran the risk of metaphorically cutting myself – and worse! others – on all my jagged edges. I started a blog because I love to write, because I was so interested in the warm & loving communities I encountered on this Internet, and because I believe I have insights and articulations worth sharing with others. I have a thoroughly developed self-censor. I didn’t mean for this blog to be therapy, and I am aware of an audience’s interests. I didn’t (and still don’t) want to inappropriately burden others, especially strangers, with my wild emotions. If every post I wrote was “Today was wretched, and I am so hurt and lonely, and I am afraid that I have failed in life and that things will never get better,” well, it may have been authentic, but I was pretty sure it wouldn’t have done much good for my readers.

This morning, I am reconsidering.

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A lot has been said about The Facebook Effect, the curious way we all feel worse about ourselves in the midst of all the happy posts and photos and life achievements of other people. My own personal Facebook experiences are a bear, and grist for another post of its own, but I think the problem is not the site, but what we expect of it. Facebook is a muddle of photo albums, the local newspaper’s announcement section, and the overheard conversation of someone across the street. It has functions by which we can communicate, but it’s not a community. It’s not supposed to be where we have our communication. From its earliest days, through all of its many variations, and even now (despite what it might try to tell you), Facebook is meant to be only a door, not a room. It is a way to get a glimpse of someone, to help you make the leap to build relationships, but it won’t sustain relationships on its own.

People have always struggled with loneliness, and fear, and isolation, and depression, and worry about all manner of things. When we genuinely encounter people, we encounter, sometimes by chance, their struggles right along with their joys.

photo credit to James Souder

photo credit to James Souder

 

The people in my Facebook pictures are some of my favorite people in the world. We have been through so much together, that whenever we meet up, it as though we have never been apart, and I say they are as dear to me as when we spent all of our time together.

I am devastated that they are so far away, and I fixate on that. I see pictures of what they do now, who they are with, when they see each other without me, and I am lonely. I am jealous of their success and popularity and joy, and then, when we meet up, I am surprised when I encounter their struggles. I realize how much I depend on Facebook and memories instead of phone calls and letters and actual human contact to sustain these friendships, and I see it is no wonder I am lonely.

I wonder this morning, who knows more of my brokenness, these people I claim as my dearest, or the coworkers I never see outside of work, the acquaintances at Mass who see me cry through the Gloria, the people I wouldn’t say I truly know, but who do happen to be around to experience the wholeness of my experience.

I think we as people need more opportunities to experience each others’ brokenness, not to wallow in it, but to see that it is universal. The more we see our dear people and our just-happen-to-be-there people as complex, struggling fighters, the less lonely our own brokenness will seem. This means we need to be better about finding ways to encounter the friends we have chosen, even though they are far, and actually being friends with the people we may not have chosen, but who have blessed us with these encounters.

In the meantime, I blog. Now that I am feeling less broken, I find I can articulate this yearning for community, for shared brokenness and awesomeness and somewhere-in-the-middleness. Please take my brokenness, and know that I am still okay, and that you probably will be too.

building

I built this yesterday.

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My dad and I worked on this project together. It was my idea, and I pleaded and persuaded, and suddenly we were at Home Depot trying to figure out how many pavers could fit in the car before it was too heavy to safely drive.

Dad is the engineer of the family. It’s his job, but more than that, it’s the way he thinks and sees things. He helped me carry all of the stone pavers and sand to our backyard, and then told me how to build the fire pit.

I knelt on the ground, and with my own two hands, I built a thing.

And check it out: it even works!

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Well, okay, tonight is the night I figure out that building a fire may actually be harder than building a pit to contain it, but I am filled with satisfaction. I had a few s’mores, sat by the fire with my mom and proved that this structure isn’t about to fall down. I sit here now, my feet propped on the stone lip, typing away in the very limited light of a fire that won’t rage, but won’t quit either. It’s refreshing to take a pause from words written, customers served, miles logged, and see something tangible that I have done.

I have built this thing, and there is more to come.

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1 mile per year and .2 to grow on

Those of you who have been reading me for a while will know that I have slowly become a runner.

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It was an accident, but somehow, I went from struggling to run a mile to running an entire marathon.  I transformed from the picture on the left to the picture on the right over a three and a half year period.

 

In thirteen days, I am doing it again. I will be celebrating my 26th birthday by running 26 miles – and .2 to grow on – in the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 4.

When I ran the Detroit Marathon last fall, I was doing it for me. I wanted to give myself a goal, to prove that whatever else was going sideways in my life, I could still be successful. Now, though, I’m running for a cause.

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The Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience was the reason I moved to Pittsburgh after I graduated from Notre Dame. I spent my year with PULSE volunteering with a non profit organization dedicated to meeting the basic needs of Pittsburgh’s East End. PULSE provided regular personal and professional development for myself and the other participants. We lived in an intentional community, sharing household duties and spiritual journeys. The seven women I lived with that year have become some of my dearest friends. One of them, Laura, is a huge part of my inspiration to run. The PULSE community has been so supportive of my journey into the running lifestyle.

It seems right, somehow, that I should run in support of them.

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community

I would like to invite you to support my marathon run and my favorite service organization by donating to PULSE right here through my marathon support page. My goal is to convince thirteen of you to donate at least $10.

I had an idea of writing out 26 reasons why you should donate to PULSE, but that would take a while and I value your time. Here are just a few of my favorite reasons and a bribe:

  1. PULSE actively seeks peace through a focus on community. Participants are encouraged to build community with each other and with the people in their neighborhood. One result of this is the Kincaid Street Community Gardens.
  2. PULSE believes art is a service to the community. Participants are given a cultural funds allowance, which can be used to attend events or purchase supplies for a project. Some participants even spend part of their placement developing their own artistic projects.
  3. This is the perfect birthday gift for me! What better way to celebrate my life than to support an organization that played such a role in shaping me?
  4. The first thirteen people to donate $10 or more in support of my marathon run will receive a thank you note on a hand-painted card, personally designed for you. All donors will receive hand-written notes, but I’m only promising to paint something for the first thirteen. All others will be handled on a case by case basis.

Every little bit helps PULSE on their mission to cultivate a community of young servant leaders.  Donate here on the website, or make out a check to PULSE and mail it to 5615 Stanton Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15206. I am grateful for every bit of help you can give…

…and I’d appreciate all the prayers and pep talks you can send for me as well.

7 Quick Takes: Welcome to Lent

Once again, kind readers, we join Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes.

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Welcome to Lent!  I started off the season like a true millenial by taking a Buzzfeed quiz that asked what I should give up for Lent.  I got meat, which is what I had already decided to give up.  I promise I wasn’t aiming for that specific answer.  If anything, I was aiming for Coke, which is what I decided to give up as well, in case the marathon training and meatlessness don’t mix well and I start eating meat again.

The Coke is probably going to be harder for me to avoid than the meat.  So much for a secondary fast.

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Another Lenten discipline I am tackling is the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge hosted over at White House Black Shutters.

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I took part in this last year, but I never really had much organization or focus, and what little I had went out the window when I knew I was moving partway through Lent.  Packing has usually been the death of purging for me.  I hit a point when shoveling stuff into boxes and bins becomes far more important (and urgent) than sorting through and deciding what I actually need.  As I have lived in four dorm rooms, two houses and two apartments since 2006, I have done a lot of moving.  The boxes of unsorted junk have piled up.  Since I’m back at my parents’ house regrouping, it is definitely time to get rid of a lot of things and simplify my life.

There’s not enough room here for all my crap, anyway.

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I joined a Living the Eucharist Lenten study group at my parish.  We had our first group meeting yesterday.  It’s early, but I think it’s going to be a good thing.  I’ve been missing having a solid faith-sharing group in my life.

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I’m about a week into the #100HappyDays challenge.  I am posting a picture of something that makes me happy for 100 straight days on my Instagram account.  I was looking at my collection last night, and I realized that 5 out of 6 photos so far feature food.  This is all on a spectrum from coffee (which barely counts as food) to the Blessed Sacrament (the best, most nourishing food of all).  I have never considered myself much of a food person, but apparently, eating well (or eating in good company, or feeding myself spiritually, etc.) brings me happiness.

To be fair, who WOULDN'T be happy with a paczek and hot chocolate?

To be fair, who WOULDN’T be happy with a paczek and hot chocolate?

Still, I am determined that today’s post not involve food of any variety.

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I went to see Winter’s Tale last night.  I almost didn’t go, because so many people said the movie was so awful.  Still, it sounded like the sort of thing I’d like, so I went to the very last showtime it had in our theater.

And I loved it.  Sure, it was a flawed movie, and I could tell that the source material was broader and deeper than the film could cope with, but it was exactly the right tone and it inspired me to come home and write.  I now have the beginnings of a story idea, and I’m excited about it.

The moral of the story?  I know what I like in films and literature, even if it’s not objectively well done, and I shouldn’t listen to other people instead of myself.

Also, I really need to read the book by Mark Helprin now.

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I’m starting to get into marathon training.  I had a really rough start, and I’m behind, but I’m fighting to catch up.  I’ll be ready by May 4 (so God help me)!  It is so much easier to train when the weather is nice and I can run on the paths by my house.  In the meantime, I joined a local recreation center so I can use the track.  I have new running shoes that help my knees.  My legs are changing shape and I’m definitely getting into shape.

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It’s definitely the time of year for Irish music.  This is one I heard for the first time just the other day.  Enjoy!

Evangelization at the Movies

Here is that post I was teasing last night.  It actually works out a lot better to write this tonight.  Father talked about evangelization at Mass tonight, and now I’m watching the Oscars.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the intersection of these topics, mostly because I have a theology degree and work in a movie theater.

Oh yes… and because we’re currently showing Son of God in my theater.

Confession time: I really dislike the weekends when we’re showing “religious” films.  Is that bad?  Should I be happy that we have a movie about Jesus showing in one or two of our twenty auditoriums?  Does my disgruntled attitude betray a lack of priority (maybe) or a lack of charity (probably)?

As a creative person, I love the idea of using art to evangelize, and I do consider movies to be art.  I think we need to reach people using the languages they speak, and film is such a common language these days.

I am perhaps disappointed in the quality of most of the current offerings, and I am suspicious of the motives of most people involved.  This video review by the critic “MovieBob” Chipman sums up my feelings rather accurately and amusingly (note: this video carries a language & attitude warning.  If you don’t want to watch, the key phrases to note are “bad, boring and laughable,” “blatant, cynical cash grab,” and “just read the book”.).  Church groups buy out entire showtimes for Son of God and similar offerings, but they don’t necessarily fill the seats.  That’s more money for everybody up the supply chain.  

The majority of the customers who attend the show are polite, kind, cheerful people, but there are some who act as though a Christian has never walked through the doors of the theater before.  Some of these people, it seems, are attempting to inflict God upon me, as though He is a weapon.  One such customer pointed out to me that the soft drink cups advertising the next big release should, instead, have Jesus on them.  I did not reply with what I was thinking.  I am all for making God more visible, but I can think of better ways to treat my Savior than slapping His face on a disposable pop container.

When it comes to evangelization, these efforts seem to be failing.  They target an audience who is already so in love with God that they are willing to pay weekend theater prices to watch a bland film they have probably already watched on television.  They aren’t reaching anyone who hasn’t already heard the message.

Why, instead, don’t we spend our money and our creative energy on truly imaginative efforts?  Let’s tell stories that are deep and beautiful and charged with the grandeur of God.  Let’s be true and honest and heart-breakingly open and reflective of grace.  Let’s not just spout out, again and again, the verses we all have memorized, but let’s find surprising moments of sacrament and faith.  Let’s be like Darlene Love belting out a hymn in Oscar acceptance speeches.  Let’s be like Sr. Helena Burns pointing out authentic love in movies.  Let’s challenge our own preconceptions and sneak that message out to the audience that least expects it.

The movie theater is definitely a place for evangelization, but it doesn’t happen because you buy a ticket.  It happens when I’ve been smiling at customers for six hours straight and am so tired, but one man says to me, “I can tell you care about people.  Keep loving!” and I am inspired.  It happens when a lady asks an employee to exchange her ticket for a different movie, because she walks out of any show that takes the Lord’s name in vain three times, and that employee himself starts making the effort to choose different words.  It happens when employees start talking among themselves behind the stand about where they worship and how they pray.

Evangelization happens when people make an authentic connection and notice that God is in their midst.  Whatever facilitates that connection is necessarily a good thing.  I just think there are better ways to do this than we currently have up on the big screen.

I almost chose against it

It has been a long and crazy day, and when I got home at midnight from my parish’s school fundraiser, I was not really thinking bloggy thoughts.  I was thinking snowy thoughts, and gnarly thoughts, and tired thoughts, but I was not in the mood for writing.

I have an idea for a post, but it needs some actual thought and reflection and careful wording, so maybe you’ll see it tomorrow.

There’s really not much substance to this post now, but I wanted to post to say I did it.  I wanted to win.  I wanted to prove that I can post seven nights in a row, that I can meet my commitments, that I can dig deep and come up with something.

I’ve been writing poetry again, guys, and composing song lyrics in my head.

But for now, tonight, I am just going to leave you with this song by Priscilla Ahn.

I almost chose against posting, but I followed through.