Chronicles in Ordinary Time 90: The Doctor

February 10, 2016

These days, I spend time, nearly every night, with The Doctor. The Doctor brings Grace to a world that knows little Grace.6 Doctors_webThe world is so crazy. Tonight the Republicans of New Hampshire nominated for President a man who will horrify the leaders of every country on the planet; perhaps with the exception of North Korea… The sort of American President so often presented by the BBC…

I was ill for a couple of days, and to keep my mind from spending too much time thinking about my belly, I did a Torchwood marathon. The creator of Torchwood commented that the production company wanted to create ‘an adult science fiction story with more sex and violence than is usually seen on British television.’ I haven’t figured out why; but I’m not yet done with the series. Maybe I’ll figure it out. However, from what I’ve seen in life, ‘office affairs’ always screw up the working of the organization involved; and I guess the violence is the part of the ‘logical progression’ of our aggressive societies. I think what surprises me most is the notion that the same production company produces both Doctor Who and Torchwood. To me the two series are nearly the opposite of each other in terms of ‘guiding philosophies’. In Torchwood, at least in the first two series, the end of life is darkness. While there are glimmers of hope, that hope is that maybe luck will turn.

To me, Doctor Who is a story about Faith, and The Doctor is a ‘type’ of a Christ figure.
[Type—a: a person or thing believed to foreshadow another]
[            b: one having qualities of a higher category: model]

Not that The Doctor has any real similarity to the Incarnation of the The Creator into time and space. However, The Doctor was at the Incarnation—as David Tennant’s Doctor comments in one episode:
Astrid: This Christmas thing? What’s it about?
The Doctor: Long story. I should know. I was there. I got the last room.
Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned (2007)

As near as I can tell, neither Russell T. Davies nor Steven Moffat would consider themselves as persons of faith; I suppose that means that the two creators of the series are brilliant writers—they write about something they really don’t understand…

I’m not talking about religion; I rarely talk about religion except when I’m with religious people. Faith is about believing that there is some order in the Universe, even when all we see is chaos. Faith is about believing in ideas like redemption and forgiveness. I believe there is a Creator of all life; I believe the Creator loves everything [He] has created. Much like I ‘love’ every illustration I’ve ever created. They are labors of love, and every detail has a purpose. Not all of my illustrations reflect my original intent—I sometimes reach beyond my grasp and I fall short. But I still love the work, even when it flops.

The most common objection to the concept of the love the Creator has for us is, ‘if God loves us so much, why is there so much shit in the world?’ We cause most of the shit. We don’t like to admit it; we like to blame it on other people—shifting the blame doesn’t usually shift the truth. We cause most of the shit.

Earthquakes, typhoons, tornadoes… we each live on a large chunk of rock, floating on molten lava, grinding against other chunks of rock; spinning at 1,000 miles per hour and rotating around the Sun at a speed of 67,000 miles per hour. Shit happens. Thank God we don’t ever come to a stop. We live in a closed environment into which we have been pumping pollutants and radiation for most of the 20th and 21st Centuries. Why would we imagine that there might be negative consequences for such stupidity? There are a lot of children in Flint, Michigan who will never have a ‘normal’ life because some politicians made some disastrous decisions about water. They can’t be fixed. Thousands of children today will never live a normal life because a virus is being spread across the world by mosquitoes. They can’t be fixed either.

We want the world to operate like a simple mechanical engine. We want every doctor to have the technology we see in Star Trek—Dr. McCoy runs a tricorder over us and can diagnose every medical problem we’ve ever had. Instead, we live in a world where all life starts with two cells; those two cells start dividing and subdividing and multiplying as needed, to form bones, organs, eye balls and the brain. Sometimes the cells forget to stop multiplying. The two cells create creatures who don’t even have a recognizable brain and yet have information programmed into them that we can’t even understand. One of our greatest flaws as humans is that we fail to recognize our shortcomings, our lack of understanding.

Enter The Doctor—
“I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the Constellation of Kasterborous. I’m 903 years old and I’m the man who is gonna save your lives and all 6 billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?”

10 th Doctor_bust_webThe Doctor brings Grace to the world; and he offers forgiveness. Rather than automatically killing his enemies, he offers them the opportunity to stop the evil they are doing. He offers them the possibility of a different life.

Clara Oswald: You’re going to help me?
The Doctor: Well, why wouldn’t I help you?
Clara Oswald: Because of what I just did, I just…
The Doctor: You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust. You betrayed our friendship. You betrayed everything… you let me down!
Clara Oswald: Then why are you helping me?
The Doctor: Why? Do you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?

12th Doctor_col2_bust_szdI would like to think that The Doctor learned this from the Creator.

I recently ‘discovered’ Brennan Manning; priest, alcoholic, author of the Ragamuffin Gospel, mentor to Rich Mullins and thousands of others. Brennan wrote:
“Some have labeled my message one of “cheap grace.” In my younger days, their accusations were a gauntlet thrown down, a challenge. But I’m an old man now and I don’t care. My friend Mike Yaconelli used the phrase unfair grace, and I like that, but I have come across another I would like to leave you with. I believe Mike would like it; I know I do. I found it in the writings of the Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon. He calls it vulgar grace.”
“In Jesus, God has put up a “Gone Fishing” sign on the religion shop. He has done the whole job in Jesus once and for all and simply invited us to believe it-to trust the bizarre, unprovable proposition that in Him, every last person on earth is already home free without a single religious exertion: no fasting till your knees fold, no prayers you have to get right or else, no standing on your head with your right thumb in your left ear and reciting the correct creed-no nothing….
“The entire show has been set to rights in the Mystery of Christ-even though nobody can see a single improvement. Yes, it’s crazy. And yes, it’s wild, and outrageous, and vulgar. And any God who would do such a thing is a God who has no taste. And worst of all, it doesn’t sell worth beans. But it is Good News-the only permanently good news there is-and therefore I find it absolutely captivating.”

“I am truly convinced that when each of us stands before the Lord, He will ask us one thing, and one thing only: ‘Did you trust me when I told you that I love you?”

 

 

GRAND OPENING!

January 30, 2016

MJ Arts announces the opening of its retail store!

https://society6.com/mjartscom

Marty has dug through the image vaults from his 30 year illustration history, and combined his efforts with Society 6. Wearable art in various sizes and formats.

Mobile Device Cases & Skins / Stationery Cards / T-Shirts / V-Necks / Tank Tops / Long Sleeve / Biker Tanks / Hoodies / All Over Print Shirts / Throw Pillows / Tote Bags / Shower Curtains / Duvet Covers / Rugs / Wall Clocks / Mugs, Travel Mugs / Laptop & iPad Skins / iPad mini Cases / Laptop Sleeves / Rectangular Pillows / Wall Tapestries / Throw Blankets

MJ Arts Store

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 89: A Renaissance of Civility

January 26, 2016

Last week the British Parliament debated the question of whether or not the leading GOP candidate for President of the United States should be banned from entering the UK because of his hate-speech. Today I watched a video from a 13-year old who said that he did not want to grow up in a country that elected this kind of person as President. ‘Adults—you are better than this.’

I would ask the question, ‘Do you really want Donald to have nuclear launch codes? What if he decides to do some nuclear testing, like the ruler of North Korea decides to do, when he feels like flexing his muscles?’

I don’t know if the UK could ban the President of the United States from setting foot in their country; it would make for some very awkward discussions regarding foreign policy. Does anyone remember how the GOP ruined the Dixie Chicks’ career for disrespecting George W? Congress disrespects President Obama every day he’s in office. The voting public can destroy Congress’ career, if they so choose…

A scene from outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Perhaps the beginning of the modern political environment.

1968 Demo_ConvI was in high school in 1968; it was another two years before the attitude above became ‘up close and personal’ in my life. I was raised to respect authority. My generation championed disrespect for authority.

My generation also championed peace, love and hope. And drugs…

I don’t remember us planning a world where we get our kicks from ridiculing others. Lifting ourselves by tearing others down.

I also don’t remember any of my contemporaries suggesting they go to Wall Street and rip off the 98% by taking pension money they didn’t own, and gambling it on the stock market, and betting they would lose, and making money off the loss. All done ‘legally’ because some of my contemporaries entered politics, and Congress, and voted away the provisions incorporated by earlier, wiser politicians to protect the 98%… Somewhere along the line our country threw out ethics.

I’d use the word, ‘morality,’ but that word has become something far beyond the simpler word, ethics. ‘Is it right?’ NOT, ‘can we get away with it?’

We are born knowing right from wrong. Birds don’t get taught how to build nests, it’s pre-programmed. Salmon are programmed to return to the water of their birth, after a lifetime of swimming in other waters, in order to spawn. Horses can walk around, minutes after they are born.

Why is it so difficult to believe that we can be pre-programmed with the knowledge of right and wrong? Sure, it gets refined as we grow—babies can’t understand adult concepts. We know when life isn’t fair to us…I was astounded at finding out how quickly our baby girl learned the concept of ‘not fair’ and ‘I really don’t want to do that.’

I’d even suggest that this knowledge is part of what it means that we are created in our Creator’s image. In the Biblical story, the Creator wasn’t surprised or outraged that Adam and Eve screwed up. The Creator knew from the moment of Creation that Adam and Eve would screw up. It’s not in the Biblical passage, but Adam and Eve had to watch an animal being killed and skinned in order for them to have clothing—they had discovered that they were naked, and knew shame; their behavior led to the first death. I don’t think the shame was from being naked; they were ashamed because they were fully aware that they broke the One Rule that they were given. I don’t believe that one can truly understand Grace and Forgiveness until one has become fully aware and fully ashamed of their behavior; behavior that we know is wrong, and we can see how much damage occurs as a result.

 

I watched the last three episodes of The Newsroom the other night, while I should have been sleeping. In the final episode Don Quixote is mentioned frequently—the old man with dementia who believed that by pretending to be a knight, he could bring civility to the world…

I shall impersonate a man. His name is Alonso Quijana, a country squire no longer young. Being retired, he has much time for books. He studies them from morn till night and often through the night and morn again, and all he reads oppresses him; fills him with indignation at man’s murderous ways toward man. He ponders the problem of how to make better a world where evil brings profit and virtue none at all; where fraud and deceit are mingled with truth and sincerity. He broods and broods and broods and broods and finally his brains dry up. He lays down the melancholy burden of sanity and conceives the strangest project ever imagined—to become a knight-errant, and sally forth into the world in search of adventures; to mount a crusade; to raise up the weak and those in need. No longer will he be plain Alonso Quijana, but a dauntless knight known as Don Quixote de La Mancha!

“…I’ve been a soldier and a slave. I’ve seen my comrades fall in battle or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I’ve held them in my arms at the final moment. These were men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no brave last words, only their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning “Why?” I don’t think they were wondering why they were dying, but why they had ever lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? To surrender dreams—this may be madness; to seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all—to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

Dale Wasserman

We could be better.

The story of Don Quixote is probably the most important story in my life; important because it led to all of the other Important Stories in my life, including The Most Important Story—the story of the Innocent Man Who Died because human beings screw up all the time. He took my shame, and told me that I don’t have to worry about it anymore; the debt I owe the world has already been paid, and I don’t deserve the gift; and that is okay.

The only thing He asked is that I be kind to other people, even when I don’t want to. And I am unkind more times than I like to count; and it’s okay, for I am still a child, and I’m still learning how to walk…

We could be better.

Summer KingThe Summer King” from
Stephen Lawhead’s Arthur

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 88: The Other Story

January 8, 2016

I write these posts as a way of processing the world as I see it—the view from an introverted, INTJ, ‘stranger in a strange land’ perspective. There is much in human behavior that I have never comprehended.

Sometimes I write because I want to cause you who are reading this to examine your world.

Those of you who’ve read these posts in the past are aware that Faith is the most important component of my life. Being an asocial personality who prefers the life of a recluse to having a social life; if I’m honest, I only care about the people that I know, the people who have some impact on my life. I comprehend that as a person of Faith, my scope of caring is supposed to be wider; I’ve been working on this concept for 40 years. I still have a distance to go.

I wasn’t raised with faith; I was raised without a presence of God in my life. During my third year of college I discovered Faith, I was led to Faith. I assumed that my parents had never heard the Good News of Jesus; I soon learned that they didn’t want to hear anything I had to say; they’d heard it before… Evangelism has never been one of my strengths; on the other hand I really can’t comprehend how people who have seen what I’ve seen and heard what I’ve heard can’t understand what I understand. Maybe they haven’t seen and heard…I so often wish I could download Faith into someone’s brain as easily as one downloads an app…

Courtesy of Facebook, I recently read an article that implied that the contemporary Church’s acceptance of people with ‘alternative lifestyles’ is the cause of much of the chaos present in the world today; and presented a photo that implied that tattooed, pierced people were symptomatic of the problem. Probably an implication of one of my favorite saints, Pastrix Nadia of House for All in Denver, Colorado… To be honest, I couldn’t get through the entire online article; apologies if I misunderstood.

Canticle detailNot often seen detail from one of my favorite works,
Wooden Boat [Canticle of the Sea]

To be honest, I don’t comprehend the desire to tattoo oneself, particularly in places where one will never see the ink. I don’t object, I simply don’t comprehend. At least two of my three kids [3 of 5?] have ink, and I admire the art. I have yet to find an image I wouldn’t tire of, or more recently, wouldn’t grow out of…

So, the Church as become too accepting of people who live non-traditional lives… The author of that article has probably have never really understood Jesus.

A digression, hopefully the implication will be understood…

Genesis 18: 20-21, 23-25, 32
Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
…Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”
He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

Ezekiel 16:1-2, 48-50
“The word of the Lord came to me:
“Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices…
“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done.
“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”

Jesus said,
“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” [Mt 10:14,15]

There is something specifically missing from the above quotations about Sodom; something many in the Church seem unable to see. “Arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. Haughty.” Sounds a lot like contemporary America.

No specific reference to sexual practice. It happened. That wasn’t why.

we shall remainhttp://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/weshallremain/

Tonight I finished watching “We Shall Remain”—the mostly-untaught story of America.

“In 2008, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly released a survey on how Americans view their country’s relationship to God: “Sixty-one percent agree that America is a nation specially blessed by God,” it revealed, “and 59 percent believe the United States should be a model Christian nation to the world.”
“Ever since Europeans came to America, the idea of the United States as a land of special blessings has animated America’s soul. John Winthrop, the Puritan governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, famously drew upon the Bible to describe the early New England settlers: “We shall be as a City upon a hill, the eyes of all people upon us.
“Subsequent generations have voiced similar themes to propel America’s narrative: their country was thought to have a “manifest destiny;” to represent “an empire of liberty;” to offer the “last best hope on earth;” and above all, to embody “American exceptionalism.”
by William Doino Jr.
http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2012/08/is-america-blessed-by-god

“The Master of Life has appointed this place for us to light our fires, and here we shall remain.” -Tecumseh (Shawnee)

Tecumseh to Governor Harrison (August 1810)
Brother, I wish you to give me close attention, because I think you do not clearly understand. I want to speak to you about promises that the Americans have made.
You recall the time when the Jesus Indians of the Delawares lived near the Americans, and had confidence in their promises of friendship, and thought they were secure, yet the Americans murdered all the men, women, and children, even as they prayed to Jesus?
The being within me hears the voice of the ages, which tells me that once, always, and until lately, there were no white men on all this island, that it then belonged to the red men, children of the same parents, placed on it by the Great Good Spirit who made them, to keep it, to traverse it, to enjoy its yield, and to people it with the same race. Once they were a happy race! Now they are made miserable by the white people, who are never contented but are always coming in! You do this always, after promising not to anyone, yet you ask us to have confidence in your promises. How can we have confidence in the white people? When Jesus Christ came upon the earth, you killed him, the son of your own God, you nailed him up! You thought he was dead, but you were mistaken. And only after you thought you killed him did you worship him, and start killing those who would not worship him. What kind of a people is this for us to trust?

Tecumseh to the Osages (1811)
Brothers, when the white men first set foot on our grounds, they were hungry; they had no place on which to spread their blankets, or to kindle their fires. They were feeble; they could do nothing for themselves. Our fathers commiserated their distress, and shared freely with them whatever the Great Spirit had given his red children. They gave them food when hungry, medicine when sick, spread skins for them to sleep on, and gave them grounds, that they might hunt and raise corn. Brothers, the white people are like poisonous serpents: when chilled, they are feeble and harmless; but invigorate them with warmth, and they sting their benefactors to death. The white people came among us feeble; and now that we have made them strong, they wish to kill us, or drive us back, as they would wolves and panthers.
Brothers, the white men are not friends to the Indians: at first, they only asked for land sufficient for a wigwam; now, nothing will satisfy them but the whole of our hunting grounds, from the rising to the setting sun. Brothers, the white men want more than our hunting grounds; they wish to kill our old men, women, and little ones. Brothers, many winters ago there was no land; the sun did not rise and set; all was darkness.

America, the “City upon a hill, the eyes of all people upon us.” We, who slaughtered the Nations who lived here before us; we who enslaved the African population who were brought here by force; we who placed the Japanese-American citizens of this country in internment camps, stealing their property. We who have a leading candidate for President who wants to remove all of the Muslim citizens of this country simply because they honor the Qur’an.

As an aside, the 93rd verse of chapter 4 (sūrat l-nisāa), of the Noble Qur’an states:

ومن يقتل مؤمنا متعمدا فجزاؤه جهنم خالدا فيها وغضب الله عليه ولعنه واعد له عذابا عظيما

“But whoever kills a believer intentionally – his recompense is Hell, wherein he will abide eternally, and Allah has become angry with him and has cursed him and has prepared for him a great punishment.”

Most of the people killed by the suicide bombers of ISIS and others, are Muslim. Those in ISIS apparently don’t read their Book anymore carefully than we do.

In the days of the Prophets of Israel, they understood that sometimes the land had been cursed, due to the behavior of the people. God was often silent for centuries…

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 87: The Doctor Who makes house calls…

December 29, 2015

There aren’t a lot of doctors who still make house calls. My dentist, Dr. Kenneth Chung [http://www.comfortcare.net/], makes house calls for patients in need…such as my sister who needed dental work during her time of chemo. But such doctors are rare in today’s urban world. Maybe it’s different in rural America…

I don’t often participate in ‘pop cultural events,’ but I’m doing so twice this week. In a few days we’ll use 8 of the $1 Billion worth of tickets that have been purchased for the new Star Wars movie. J.J. Abrams gets the credit, but the reality is that George Lucas expanded our minds back in the 70s and 80s, and the expansion continues.

Last night, we were part of BBC Worldwide’s first showing of a Doctor Who Christmas Special in American theaters. Big crowd. Not as many costumes as I expected, but it’s bleak and rainy here in Portland this winter. Some Tardis-light hats, some sonic screwdrivers; but no costumes that I could see, and no bow ties…

matt_smith_doctorSketch for an upcoming Doctor Who image

I’m not a Whovian; I’m merely an enthusiast. Tom Baker was my first Doctor; and I’m not even sure where I found him. Long before BBC America. Probably in one of the video stores I haunted during my Christmas vacations. I just discovered in the last week or so that I never watched any of the episodes in the rebooted First Series, with the 9th Doctor. I watched the 9th Doctor over the last weeks, and it was all new.

I’m asking myself why am I working on a Doctor Who image at this time [I have other projects to work on]; and why I watch the Doctor nearly every night, these days. The only conclusion I can come up with is my need for Hope. The Doctor is ever hopeful. The heart of the Gospel is Hope, although if one checks the media very often, it’s hard to see this. We are in a time of religious war, as well as our path of endless war. In the real world, Hope seems far away. Hope is closer in the Doctor’s worlds…

This is one of the more difficult Christmas seasons I’ve had. Christmas in America is never something I enjoy, now that my kids are grown and on their own. The fact that my Mom died on Christmas Eve probably has something to do with it; although her death was a relief from her circumstances brought on by strokes. Since I tend to think about her death on Christmas Eve each time we attend a Christmas Eve service, there’s probably a grieving that I don’t really experience consciously. People at the church we attended then were surprised that we would come to church hours after she died. Our perspective was, where else would we come, but to be with our church family at such a time?

There is so much anger in the media; many of my friends ignore it. I have trouble doing that. Something in our country is broken, and I want to fix it. Christmas in America seems to have largely become a shopping time; and I suppose a throwback to its original roots—a Solstice Celebration. Which is probably why people who have no interest in Jesus have Christmas trees in their houses. Christmas trees have nothing to do with the Jesus story. In a Doctor/Christmas episode of a few years back, there is a comment that this winter celebration is one of ‘having made it half-way through the dark…’ Religious people complain that Solstice-type celebration has overtaken the birth of the Messiah; my preference would that they be two separate events.

Writers and Illustrators, by nature tend to be asocial; not anti-social, in wanting to avoid contact with others, but asocial—not needing contact with others. In order to lock oneself in a room by oneself for days, weeks, months at a time, we don’t have much of a need for human interaction. I’ve had an ideal Illustrator’s Life for almost 18 years. My wife works and lives on day shift; I live on night shift. We interact in the evenings for a few hours, and she snuggles up next to me when I come to bed. Most of my days are my own time, even when clients ‘interrupt’.

This year has been different in that I’ve made a conscious effort to become involved in other people’s lives—part of my semi-retirement. I don’t need to work as much, now that I get ‘paid for breathing’… Being involved in other people’s lives reminds me that I can’t fix people. I am by nature a Rescuer; my deteriorating body makes rescuing people more difficult, from a physical standpoint. But I can listen. I can send email. For the most part, I’m fairly ‘normal’ sitting down at the keyboard; until it’s time to move, and then life becomes very uncomfortable for a relatively short period of time.

There are people in my life who need fixing; and I keep wanting to find the words of faith that will create some ‘spiritual magic’ in their lives. A hope that something in my life will spark curiosity and questions; and will lead them along the path that I followed in college. A cynical skeptic who encountered Grace. When people have spent decades running from the Creator, for all sorts of reasons, many of which are totally valid from their point of view, it’s hard to see a need for change. People with physical problems that have brought them up against the fact that their physical problems really aren’t the problems that bother them the most. A couple of guys who have made a mess of their family lives for decades; now when they need the comfort of family love, there’s none there; only anger. It is so easy to mess up a life; it really takes very little effort to do. That’s the problem: making very little effort is an easy thing to accomplish. Undoing the years of inattention is hard to overcome. It takes courage to change; for me, that courage could only be supplied by my Creator.

So, here I am in the first week of Christmas, according to the Roman Catholic tradition that I often admire, but don’t participate with; and I find joy and hope in a blue box called the TARDIS; and the man who has lived for a thousand years in 13 different bodies [mustn’t forget the War Doctor]. As far as I can tell the writers aren’t necessarily people of faith; and yet they write so much about Faith. I captured a recent clip with the 12th Doctor—one of the best examples of Grace that I’ve seen in secular media:

http://mjarts.com/samples/Dr%20Who.m4v

Last Thursday evening during the Christmas Eve service, watching images of stables and shepherds and mangers projected on the wall, I found myself imagining a blue box in a corner of the stable; unobtrusive because of its Perception Filter… or out in the fields with the shepherds and the Doctor keeping watch at night. In my world of faith, the Doctor would of course visit the incident upon which the Western world bases its calendar. Perhaps in walking with Jesus, the War Doctor would find healing and forgiveness…

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 86: Gifts

December 7, 2015

coverThe Gift of the Magi Kindle Edition
by O. Henry (Author), Marty Jones (Illustrator)
www.amazon.com/dp/B0167QVMH0
UK Edition
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0167QVMH0

“The Gift of the Magi” is an illustrated short story originally written by O. Henry; it tells the story of a young married couple named Jim and Della and how they deal with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other when they have more love than money.
Featuring hand-drawn graphite images that have been digitally-manipulated, “The Gift of the Magi” has been 20 years in the making. The original project used acrylic paintings; and then the computer came along.

The story of an illustrator with more work to do for other people than time for himself to pursue a personal project…

 

This is always an awkward time of year for me, and is best represented by this image from A Charlie Brown Christmas:

tree

I have a real problem with Christmas in the 21st Century. I felt the same about it in the latter part of the previous century, when dinosaurs ruled the earth…

I’m not one of those people who start decorating for Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t participate in Black Friday, nor Cyber Monday. I consider the commercialization of Christmas to be an affront to the Creator of us all.

And I am aware of the hypocrisy of advertising my new book at the beginning of this particular post. It’s a Christmas story that may provide some enjoyment in someone’s life. I don’t expect it to be a ‘best-seller’—it’s simply the completion of one of my dreams. The Kindle version is about the cost of a cup of designer coffee from that coffee place that has gotten so much airplay on Facebook for their holiday practice.

 

Christmas is supposed to be about the Creator of the Universe deciding to enter time and space in the form of a human baby… Sort of sounds like science fiction. Earth is a flyspeck in the volume of the Universe—how arrogant it seems of us to believe that the Creator would spend time thinking about this world that prefers war to peace. A people who are destroying Creation simply because we can; where people whose heads are in a place where the sun doesn’t shine, people who say that the destruction of our planet has nothing to do with us.

Why would the Creator care?

Love. Compassion. Grace. Concepts that are hard to grasp.

For me the idea that makes sense is an image that came to me twenty or so years ago. If you pick up a rock from the garden, on the underside you will see a small world of wriggling, squiggly, crawly things.

When thinking about the nature of the Creator, the entire Universe is in some respects small—in the same way that my 2000sf house is small in my mind—I realize there is simply a difference of scale. The property below is much larger than I am; I’m half the size of the red dot. I designed our house for my parents, while I was in college.

I_Live_in_ForestI live in a forest.

To some of my neighbors’ regret, my forest is located in a suburban neighborhood of Portland, near houses where people mow their lawns and plant gardens and pull weeds…Things I refuse to do. I decided a long time ago that I did not want to invest the time that is my life in the domestication of foliage that grows without my aid. I’d rather use the time to make stories.

However, my parents had a totally different idea, and most of the trees and shrubs that surround our house were selected and planted by me. Because I hadn’t set aside the topsoil when the foundation was excavated, all of the soil around the house is clay. I had to dig individual ‘pots’ with filled with potting soil for each tree and bush.

I designed the house, drew the plans, secured the Building Permits, and built-by-hand most of the house. Most of the drywall was installed by subcontractors; and a plumber and an electrician installed most of the plumbing and wiring. The rest was done by me, and some friends who worked for me.

Every part of the house was at one time in my brain. In that sense, my house is ‘small’ to me.

The same concept occurs with the Creator of the Universe; the Universe is, in some sense small. To the Creator, what would ‘small’ look like? Small may include the blue marble rotating around our sun.

Back to the rock in the yard…

If I imagine that I cared about the squiggly things crawling around, and wanted to help them to understand the purpose of their lives, the only way I could do it would be to become one of those squiggly, crawly things. It seems to me that the best way to be accepted by those crawly things is to enter their lives as a ‘child’; my guess is that even a centipede has some hardwired knowledge that the next generation needs care, in order for the race to survive.

As difficult to believe as it is for me to think that I might become a bug, in order to relate to bugs, it would be several orders of magnitude more for the Creator of the Universe to become a human.

The Creator of the Universe became a squiggly, crawly thing that was given the name Jesus. He was born in a barn because his parents were refugees. Magi—wise men from the East—went to King Herod the Great and Nasty and asked directions to where the new King had been born. They had learned from their study of the Universe that a new King had been born, One who would save mankind from itself. After they’d left, King Herod the Great and Nasty ordered the death of all male children in Israel, aged two years or younger, in hopes of killing the new King. The Slaughter of the Innocents.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus, by this time, had sought asylum in Egypt; refugees in fear for the life of their child.

While traditions vary, “the East” is generally thought to be Persia; more commonly known today as the Islamic Republic of Iran…Isn’t it interesting how history keeps repeating in strange ways…Perhaps because we fail to learn.

nativity

I’m a fan of Doctor Who—I find my admiration for the show growing all the time. A Hero who does not rely on weapons to fight his battles; he instead uses a sonic screwdriver which works on nearly everything except wood…

A Christmas Special with Matt Smith’s “Doctor” tells of a tradition that the Winter Solstice is a time of congratulations for our having made it ‘half-way through the dark’. There is so much darkness in the world today. I would like to think we are half-way through. I fear that we aren’t.

Winter Solstice celebrations were preempted in the Middle Ages and turned to a celebration of the birth of Jesus, even though He was likely born in the Spring. And so ‘pagan’ Christmas Trees somehow enter the story of the miraculous birth. Tradition teaches that the practice of Christmas gift-giving is a tribute to Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, who was known for secretly giving gifts to the poor he served. When the subject of gift-giving came up when my children were young, I talked about Saint Nicholas rather than the guy with the red suit and the white beard. I don’t like the notion that Christmas in America is about gifts—the only thing that seems important to the American economy.

St.Nicholas

And then there are the gifts given by those Magi.

We give gifts as a sign of love. Sadly, we seem to think that love can be bought.

The Babe came to show us that Love cannot be bought.

 

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 85: Rest

November 21, 2015

Magi_p7

“…if we see rest as something that we deserve, then we just get trapped into trying to become worthy of deserving it. But if what Jesus and the Psalmist are talking about is sacred rest that comes, not from our deservingness but from God, then I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like employee benefits do where you earn a certain number of Sabbath days for every hour you work.
“See, if there is true rest in the presence of our loving God, (and there is) then we’re not on the clock. Because there is no clock. That’s why it’s called Grace and not reward.
“The rest of the Shepherd who makes you lay down in green pastures is not about time off from work, it’s about time off from all forms of worthiness. Resting in the sacred is a blessed break from the “You deserve a break today” deep-fried culture of the self-obsessed. Sacred rest is a break from the am-I-productive-enough, lovable enough, safe enough, thin enough, rich enough, strong enough-worthiness system we live under. The sacred rest that is yours never comes from being worthy. It never comes through adopting the right kind and the right amount and the right quality of spiritual practices (although if those bring you a sense of well-being then by all means don’t set them aside) the rest that is yours and mine comes from the promise of the Gospel: that Jesus came to save sinners, that Jesus came to heal and love and save the sin-sick and the over-functioning, that Jesus came to give rest to the weary, and the restless, to give rest to harried housewives and overworked social workers and mildly depressed executives.”

Nadia Bolz-Weber

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2015/07/a-sermon-on-no-time-to-rest-and-also-no-jetpacks/?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=nadiabolzweber_072015UTC040719_daily&utm_content=&spMailingID=49138571&spUserID=Nzg4MDU4MDc2MzkS1&spJobID=722569057&spReportId=NzIyNTY5MDU3S0

 

“Child, lift up your eyes ’cause mercy remembers your name
And those tears you’ve been holding back, let ’em fall down like rain
‘Cause today is the day, yeah today is the day
Oh, the healing has begun
“There’s a world full of people dying from broken hearts
Holding on to the guilt, thinking they fell too far
So don’t be afraid to show ’em your beautiful scars
‘Cause they’re the proof, yeah you’re the proof
Oh, the healing has begun”

Matthew West, The Healing Has Begun

There are so many people in my life right now that are plagued by brokenness that I cannot fix. I am by nature a ‘rescuer;’ a ‘fix it’ kind of guy. And I am powerless to fix other people’s problems. I can’t really even fix my own problems on my own.

When I get stuck I turn to a group of friends for prayer. I don’t specify what kind of prayer I want. I usually explain what my concerns are. In my own prayers, I don’t tell the Creator what I think needs to be done; I simply ‘lift up’ the person by name, as if I was holding them up the way it happens in the Lion King… The Creator knows all of our needs; and is never surprised by the events that surprise us.

People tell us that there is a ‘plan’ for everything; I think the ‘plan’ is the foreknowledge of the Creator plus the Creator’s constant love for us; and the reality that 90 years of pain here will be an eyeblink in the span of Eternity. Nothing happens in our life that the Creator doesn’t mend. It may not be mended in the time frame we want; it may not be mended in our lifetime on this planet; but this lifetime is such a small portion of our Eternal lives…

When I get overwhelmed I watch Hero movies. In Chinese Hero movies, the Hero usually dies; this is how we know that his journey had an element of sacredness in it. I watched 4 episodes of Matt Smith’s “The Doctor” last night and another 3 episodes tonight. Hero stories remind me that there are possibilities that I can’t imagine happening; they remind me that my vision is too limited, and that I focus on the problems too much.

The answer is rest. Resting in the knowledge that in the end it will all work out well. If it’s not working out well, it means that this isn’t the end yet.

I wish I could download faith into people’s hearts and minds, like I can download software and data into my computer. Download the right software, and a file that couldn’t be opened can now be opened.

The faith I’m talking about isn’t some sort of Pollyanna-ish notion that things will work out if I think happy-thoughts. It’s a faith based on the fact that I am loved by my Creator; and that nothing happens in my life outside of [His] knowledge. It’s a faith that comes from 40 years of experience and a lot of reading. If the world were fair, I could make this faith available as a download from my website. The world isn’t fair.

It begins by acknowledging that you can’t do it on your own; and that you need help from however you see your Creator. Or the hope that maybe there is a Creator who loves you.

I know a guy who can’t believe in a God that would allow him to endure cancer. What he doesn’t see is that cancer is the least of his problems. He thinks the world is supposed to revolve around him, and the way he thinks. His life is filled with broken relationships.

Faith isn’t religion, although sometimes religion can help.

Faith is believing that nothing can separate you from the love of your Creator; even if you’ve made a mess of your life.

Faith is trusting that we aren’t alone when we feel like we’re alone.

Faith is realizing that you are a miracle.

Some scientist may be able to explain everything about you by biology, or genetics, or neurology, or psychology. Science can come up with brilliant explanations for nearly everything except the one, tiny, inescapable piece of the puzzle: Life. And the next inescapable piece of the puzzle: our imagination.

Most everything on this planet, as far as we are able to determine, does not have life—the oceans, the mountains, the dirt and concrete under our feet. Life may exist within those elements of our world; but their presence doesn’t make the water alive. Most of that which makes up the Earth does not have an imagination; the ability to see things that don’t yet exist as if they already do. As far as we know, only humans have that ability; and the systems of this world do their very best to make sure we forget the miracles we are. Here in America, the world system tells us that we can buy a new thing that will make us happy. And it never does.

There may be billions of us on this planet; but we still are a very small portion of all that exists here. And then, there’s the universe. The possibilities are endless.

n6914mcquillan

 

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 84: The Nothing

November 15, 2015

angel.grief_mj 2This isn’t an original creation

Being a dinosaur, it’s still amazing to me—how powerful the Internet has become. Both for good and evil intent. We can watch the bullets and explosions as they happen. Thanks to social media we can see what others think, translated into words and images. Sometimes I’d rather not know…

There are images of Uncle Sam rolling up his sleeves and calling for all-out war with ISIL; in the heat of battle, it’s easy to forget that for every drone that bombs a village from half-a-world away another terrorist is born, as the non-combatant children and mothers are killed as collateral damage.
Am I suggesting that nothing should be done in retaliation, that ISIL should not be stopped? No. I don’t have an answer. More bloodshed isn’t the answer.

There’s an 80’s movie called “The Neverending Story;” in the story, the Villain is the Nothing—it disappears parts of the world of Fantasia. G’mork is a wolf that has been sent to kill Atreyu, the hero who can save Fantasia…

G’mork: Foolish boy. Don’t you know anything about Fantasia? It’s the world of human fantasy. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind. Therefore, it has no boundaries.
Atreyu: But why is Fantasia dying, then?
G’mork: Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger.
Atreyu: What is the Nothing?
G’mork: It’s the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it.
Atreyu: But why?
G’mork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control; and whoever has the control… has the power!
Atreyu: Who are you, really?
G’mork: I am the servant of the power behind the Nothing. I was sent to kill the only one who could have stopped the Nothing

We suffer the attacks of The Nothing—the killer of hopes and dreams. The Nothing is nearly everywhere one looks; and one has to make a special effort to see that The Nothing hasn’t killed off all of the hopes and dreams.

One has to look for the hope.

The high school girl who invented a flashlight powered by the heat of one’s hand…towers in the desert that will one day be filled with water, sucked out of the air…the earth is also teeming with dreams that can come true, if they are allowed to flourish.

The 17 year old who created a simple test to detect pancreatic cancer when he was only 15.

The teenaged girl who set out to create, in her words, “a portable device that purifies wastewater while generating electricity sustainably and affordably.” Her final product, the H2prO, skirts the need for a power source and instead uses titanium dioxide and light to spur a photocatalytic reaction that both sterilizes wastewater and generates electricity from hydrogen.

Dreamers surround us…

 

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 83: The Search for Meaning, Part Two

October 25, 2015

I meant to send this out later in the week; I just watched a movie that changed my mind.

Della's BrainDella’s Brain

We can change the way we think.

The flashes of light in the above image represent the electro-chemical signals that cross between connections in our neurons. The flashes of light represent thoughts in Della’s mind. What those thoughts are, are known only to Della…

Our brains contain thousands of neurons, and tens of thousands of connections between those neurons. Dr. Eagleman, quoted in Chronicles in Ordinary Time 82, comments that about twice as many connections are created in our brains in the first two years of life than we normally use as adults. I don’t think these connections disintegrate, they simply stop being used. The fading of memory isn’t due to degradation of the nerve cells that make the connections; it’s simply due to the fact that we aren’t using those connections very often. The pattern, the map, between those connections and our conscious mind is still there; it just takes a while for the connections to be made.

We have the ability to make new connections between the neurons that register ideas, and we have the ability to think in new ways. During the teenage years we start questioning our parents’ beliefs; we can choose to follow them, or not. We can make new connections between our ‘stockpile’ of past experiences and sensations, and come to new conclusions. These new conclusions can change our lives.

We can change the way we think.

Prejudice starts in the mind.

Hatred starts in the mind.

Healing starts in the mind.

My appendix ruptured in 1988, and I came close to dying from peritonitis—an infection of the membranes that hold our internal organs in place. The docs pumped me full with antibiotics, and killed my immune system while killing off the bacteria. A ‘napalm process’—while killing off the bacteria that was damaging my body, the bacteria that aids my body was killed off as well. For the first few months, I caught every germ that entered the Portland Building.

I did a lot of research during the 6 months it took me to fully recover; I discovered that adult-onset appendicitis was frequently a result of stress that had occurred in the patient’s life. For most of the year before the appendicitis attack, I was heavily involved in the fund-raising for, and the care of my sister, who needed a liver transplant. I firmly believe that the circumstances around her transplant were miraculous—I perceived the working of the Creator in the events that took place, and soon the events began running ahead of us.

I realized that if Donna’s new liver was connected to the Miraculous, then my appendicitis was in some way an extension of that miracle process. I don’t believe in coincidence. I don’t believe in accidents. I gave my life to my Creator 40 years ago, and asked [Him] to direct the events of my life. Therefore, the appendicitis wasn’t a surprise to the Creator; it was only a surprise to me.

In the early weeks of recovery from the peritonitis, it became clear to me that there was a ‘connection’ between my experience of a diseased appendix and past anger that I had toward my Dad; the anger wasn’t so much about the man he was, or what he did, but the reality of the father he wasn’t; the father I had wanted. He wasn’t very good with Grace; I doubt that he’d ever experienced it. I could be wrong—we never talked.

I realized that the anger I had felt toward him was gone—the burst appendix was like a boil that had been lanced. New connections had been made while I slept for days. I believe I was Healed. The healing of my anger did not remove the patterns of behavior I had learned while protecting myself from my Dad’s loud behavior. Changing many of
those patterns became part of the work of bringing my own children into this world.

I realized that my Dad was probably very much like his father, and that family of wheat ranchers—he didn’t know how to do things differently, because he hadn’t had a different role model. I decided, with the help of a lot of books and tapes, that I could cause myself to become more like the father I had wanted. I could change my life. It required the making of a lot of new connections in my brain.

I grew up without a concept of faith. The Creator wasn’t a part of my thinking until my college years; and the change of thinking mostly came from religious people who got in my face… And then the Creator ‘hit me upside the head’ in my third year; and I started making a serious change in the direction I traveled. It was at least a 45-degree turn, maybe as much as a 90-degree turn. I began looking at the circumstances and emotions of my life, and started seeing them in a new light. This is the actual definition of the word that is translated from the Hebrew and Latin as “repent.”

“God loves you and has a plan for your life”—a phrase that usually gets heard when bad stuff happens in one’s life. Often the people who say such things don’t really think about the concept that in effect says, ‘oh, God gave you cancer so that you can learn something.’ I’ve struggled with such concepts for the last 40 years. One of the guys in my life at present is angry at the god he doesn’t believe in because that god
allows people to be tortured by pain and death. He sees his cancer-related pain as torture that keeps him from being able to do the things he wants to do with what’s left of his life.

I experience a large amount of pain each day; several neurologists have no idea why it has occurred. “Idiopathic sensory nerve disorder.” A description, rather than a diagnosis. I have pain all over, even in places that have no external sense of touch. The most likely candidate [meaning, the one that hasn’t yet been ruled out] for a cause appears to be the large amounts of analgesics and muscle relaxants I consumed while working for the City of Portland for 14 years. I got through each
day on pain meds and I possibly poisoned myself in the process. Now I work at living without pain meds, in hopes that some of the damaged neurons will heal. Instead of viewing my pain as torture, I use it to help me learn compassion for a whole lot of people who deal with much larger health challenges. It’s a matter of perspective. The pain doesn’t disappear, but the fear of pain can diminish. I learn not to react to pain.

Does God have a plan for my life? I think ‘the plan’ is that I was created with a brain that is capable of changing the way I perceive the world. I learn to make new connections in my brain when I encounter new situations. I don’t believe that anything will happen in my life that is larger than the Creator can use for [His] own purposes. Occasionally it seems as though the Creator dips a hand into the ‘river of my life,’ and alters the flow; usually this happens in a manner that I cannot prove, and it usually only has a direct effect on me. Broken cars that mysteriously come back to life without the aid of a mechanic or tools; events that come strangely together in a manner I could not predict. However, the Creator is not a genie; I can’t rub a lamp and get my wishes fulfilled.

Shit happens in my life; and good stuff happens in my life. I can change my attitude toward the rotten stuff by making a conscious decision to view life differently. I know each day that I am surrounded by the prayers of people who pray for me. Some of you who are reading these words are lifted up in prayer by me, each day. Some of you are supported in prayer by people you don’t know, because I’ve told others of your needs. I think the prayer makes it easier to make new connections in your brains; and these changes can strengthen the soul we cannot see.

I can’t download faith into anyone. I wish I could. There IS Light in the darkness; and that Light is on a wavelength that is easy to miss unless you are looking for it. Sort of like Luminol fluorescing when in the presence of ‘alternate light sources’. Or wearing 3D glasses to watch the movie—there’s a depth to life we can’t normally see, because it isn’t hardwired into our brains. We have to choose to look for it, and keep working at seeing the Light in the midst of ever-growing darkness.

Stars [1926]“Stars” Maxfield Parrish [1926]

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 82: The Search for Meaning, Part One

October 23, 2015

watson's brain2“Watson’s Brain”

I’ve long been fascinated by the human brain and perception…

If Myers-Briggs is accurate, my personality type is INTJ, and is only shared by 2% of the population. 98% of any group perceives the world with a different type of thinking. Consequently, I see things differently than most people; and most people see things differently than I do.

The “mechanics” of vision is such that no two people see a scene in exactly the same way. Light passes through the lenses in our eyes, gets flipped upside down and then is bounced off of light-sensitive cells at the back of our eyeballs to send electro-chemical messages through the optic nerve to our brains. Somehow these electro-chemical signals cause us to see the world as if we were looking through a picture screen at the front of our heads… People with color blindness and disorders like Irlen Syndrome have cells in the retina that don’t work properly; floor the color-blind person colors look differently than the colors I see. For people with Irlen Syndrome, the letters on this screen might look scrambled. I know a guy who has a ‘hole’ in his brain—parts of the brain tissue are missing, for no known reason, and as a result he has no depth perception. Looking through his eyes is the same as you looking at this monitor—my drawings have the illusion of depth, because of the way they are shaded; but they have no real depth. You really aren’t looking at a piece of paper attached to your screen…

I watched “THE BRAIN WITH DAVID EAGLEMAN” on PBS the other night…

http://video.pbs.org/video/2365587672/

Some quotations from the show:

“What makes you You? For a long time the answer was an immortal soul, or spirit; something that goes beyond mere matter and gives you your life and your identity. But the modern story of the brain tells a different story: who we are can only be understood in terms of the 3-pound organ in our heads…what makes humans unique “is the way
that the human brain can mold to fit the world around it.” Our brains come with some basic programming that allows us to learn language and facial expression; “but the remarkable thing is the degree to which our brains are
unfinished. Which leads to a period of prolonged helplessness. But the plan is that instead of hardwiring everything the way most of the animal kingdom
does, our brains are designed to let life experience wire up the rest of the brain…

“The number of brain cells in a child is the same as the number of brain cells in an adult. The secret lies in the how those cells are connected. Over the first two years of
life, the neurons begin connecting extremely rapidly; forming as many as two million new connections every second. By age two, the typical neuron has more
than 15,000 connections. That is almost twice as many as found in an adult. After the age of two, the growth is halted. The process of becoming someone is about pruning back the possibilities that are already present. You become who you are not because of what grows in your brain, but what is removed.

As we grow and learn new skills, we reduce the number of connections in our brain–in favor of focusing on a smaller number of stronger connections…the connections go from being universal to being specific. Those links you don’t’ use, you lose. Over the course of childhood, brain circuitry is wired up according to experience and interaction with the environment. But this dependence on the outside world is a gamble. The outside world won’t always provide what a brain needs…”

Eagleman doesn’t address the italicized text above—the language that speaks of design, as opposed to randomness. Most of the Animal Kingdom enters this world with built-in programming. Who does the programming? If our brains are different in that they are grown in our mother’s womb, with minimal hardwired programming, but with the ability to make connections between sounds, feelings, smells and abstract words, how does that ability come into being?

At the end of the episode, Eagleman points out that no one has figured out what the mechanism is that gives certain connections greater meaning than other connections. What defines Meaning?

I believe that Meaning is connected to that “immortal soul” that Eagleman discounts at the beginning of the episode. An integral part of the human psyche that can’t be measured. I believe that the ‘connections’ we make to the world around us as we grow, can be made in a similar manner to a ‘world’ we cannot see, feel or touch—the world of the Spirit. The association of the world of spiritual belief and the world of physical experience are similar to the concepts of ‘parallel universes’—universes that we cannot perceive, that exist next to our own universe. I believe that some of the connections that are made between the neurons of your brain can be influenced by your Creator…

We can change the way we think.

We can decide that the way we have thought in the past is not getting us to the future we desire, and that today we will begin following a different path.

We have the ability to make new connections between the neurons that register ideas, and that we don’t have to maintain the thought processes from our parents’ belief systems as we move into our teenage years of growing independence. We can make new connections between our ‘stockpile’ of past experiences and sensations, and come to new conclusions. These new conclusions can change our lives.

 


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