What draws someone to busking?

I want to learn more about busking, but here’s one take on it. Here’s another: where busking and social media meet.

Check out the care this artist took for a drawing made of chalk. Windsor, Ontario: Chalk and Chocolate, July, 2009.

Careful artistry on a temporary surface.

Careful artistry on a temporary surface.

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Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling [Book Review]

Main Point: Making culture is the work of every Christ-follower. Given that Christ is Lord over all things, He is also Lord over culture.

Andy Crouch says just thinking correctly is not enough. World-view seminars and focused attention on developing a transforming, over-arching vision of God’s Sovereignty over all things are good but don’t go far enough. What’s needed is locomotion to propel that vision out into the world—which is the work of making culture. Crouch makes a convincing point that the total work of our lives can go far toward populating our worlds with cultural artifacts—the very things God has gifted each of us to do. When thinking turns to culture making, an outward-focus vision with the capacity to mold culture is the result. Hiding from culture achieves nothing.

But what’s a cultural artifact? Anything we do that contributes to the culture around us. Our writing. Our painting. Our art. But that’s only the beginning. Whatever work we spend ourt days on becomes a point of contribution to Culture. And each cultural artifact arises out of that vision, whether consciously or unconsciously.

We need also to contribute to culture by making cultural artifacts that reflect the fact of God’s sovereign control over all things.

The chapter on vocation was interesting but felt deficient in that Crouch implied a great joy of effectiveness in the particular place we are to make culture. I’ve not found that to be the case. Then again,  I hope it will be the case.

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Awaiting the Axe

The announcement came mid-morning: “Department meeting. Five minutes. Outside Bill’s office.” I wandered forward through the low beige cubicles with a vague sense of dread. New to this big company, I didn’t have a history with such impromptu meetings. Others took one last puff and ground out their cigarettes, took a last sip of coffee and slowly stood. Putting on blue blazers. Adjusting ties.

 

The meeting didn’t take long.

 

Bill opened his office door and cigarette smoke wafted out toward the ceiling tiles. He stood fidgety in the doorway, looking at faces then at his feet.

 

“You know the economy has been rough on us. Today we adjust. Our department is affected. I’ll be talking with everybody today about layoffs, one by one.”

 

He glanced around at the faces one more time.

 

“That’s it.”

 

And so began the steady stream of friends and colleagues marching into the corner office. In the mid-1980s when I started working, that’s the way it was: Smoking, blazers, ties and layoffs. The big company I worked for made everything from cluster bombs (Dangerous!) to thermostats (dangerous if lobbed into another cubicle). But in a down economy, neither cluster bombs nor thermostats could save you from that corner office talk. Month after relentless month, the layoffs poured out of the corner offices in that company and throughout the city. For the old timers, talk turned to retirement packages. Do I catch it this time? Or do I wait for the next one—and will that package be any sweeter? For everybody else, the primary question was “when” the axe falls, never “if.”

 

Employment as a betting game was new to me. Dad spent 35 years with IBM, so…isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? Actually, no. That loyalty was a blip on the historical radar screen of workplace relations. Of course now it makes intuitive sense that companies are loyal and have always been loyal to revenue and profit. Where employees help grow revenue and/or profit, there is a limited loyalty to them too. Maybe the hard lessons of economic downturn must be relearned by each generation. Certainly each generation comes up with new answers. Out of those sweaty rounds of layoffs, those off-kilter days of trying to work with the axe whooshing overhead, my generation learned we need to be active players in the workplace, though it’s a lesson we need to relearn every so often. Passivity draws the buzzing chainsaw toward your cubicle. We learned to keep skills portable, so they could travel from company to company, just like our 401k (wait, let’s not talk about that).

 

But one true thing to fall out of those early layoffs and most of the upturns and downturns to follow, was a sense of being alive. Maybe that sounds bombastic, overly optimistic and naive, but…not so. Some of my favorite people got the axe and eventually found themselves on their feet doing exactly what they were meant to do, which brings me to the recognition that while layoffs look, taste and smell like burning evil in the short run, they may actually do many of us a favor by pulling back the curtain to reveal someone else’s career plan for me which may or may not coincide with where my career (not to mention my life) should go. And, for better or worse, struggle is part of figuring out the true North means to us. And who wants to struggle down some narrow path when paychecks and health insurance line the broad interstate like mile markers?

 

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Is Freelance Writing a Career?

Before you say “Yes. Of course!” (with proper righteous indignation), consider that a career seems to move a person toward increasing levels of responsibility, toward tasks that require more maturity, toward more money (one can dream). Pick any company and follow the career path of say…well…how about a communication specialist? The communication specialist will write, manage projects, take care of details. They do well, so they are promoted to communication manager. In that position, they do some of the same tasks, though in lesser quantities, plus they manage people. They do well and graduate to director. In that position they have no project work, write only memos and emails, sit in meetings discussing what they’re teams are doing, aren’t doing and should be doing. And so a career proceeds until stopped at the individual’s level of incompetence.

 

This management person who was (possibly) a writer is now not writing at all and is instead directing others who carry out communication tactics. To many that is a satisfying, perfectly reasonable trajectory. And even for those who write or love to create, they can find opportunities in those positions to use their creativity to positively influence others. I’ve known some creative folks who have risen to management positions and done very well at creating imaginative and loyal teams and organizations.

 

But for others, this career path represents gradual movement away from craft, and away from the heart of what made work fun in the first place. A career presupposes that new skills are developed even as vision widens, which lands a person in a different job. But that is not quite the case for freelance writers. They often entertain dreams of, well, writing. It’s what they want to do. And so a career path for a freelance writer is less about successive positions (especially since freelancing is by definition outside typical corporate structures with their fixed paths) and more about finding work and the work itself.

 

The work itself is the career path for a freelance writer. Where there is joy in completing the work, where there is curiosity about how communication tools can fit to new situations and how those tools can resolve substantial problems—those are the milestones on the freelance writer’s career path. And over time, the writer finds herself or himself accomplishing a set of tasks with maturity and grace (one can hope). And looking back, the craft that helped accomplish tasks and assignments will have the distinct look of a career.

 

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The End Of The Affair

GM Buildings DetroitLike a forlorn ex-lover, GM/Ford/Chrysler tries to catch our eye from the other side of the courtroom. Her pleading glance begs for one more chance, a bit of money to set things right and continue on. But we know all too well the whirling vortex of buying madness she stirs in us. And we’ve moved on—we’ve matured—we see things differently. Plus, we suspect bailout money will clunk through the same financial assembly line that currently rewards the top brass with excess before the workers get their pittance. That is, after all, standard operating procedure in capitalism.

 

Mind you: let’s provide for the offspring of our affair. Let’s find a way to help the workers. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking handing over $34 billion to GM/Ford/Chysler management will either change their ways or help the workers. We already know the chances are slim on both accounts.

 

As we try to avertour eyes, we remember the good times. Yukons and Suburbans barreling across the open plains at 80 mph, pulling boats and trailers. We get a bit misty, but try not to show it. But would those days return if we forked over the money she wants? And do we really want those days to return? Remember our resolve, when gas was $4.30 a gallon, to leave the 11 miles per gallon machine in the garage and bike to the grocer? Remember how we almost started to feel good about it? We started to think, yes, there must be a better way to get around the planet—there must be a way that doesn’t cost so much and deplete the place and stink it up too.

 

We love our cars. Always have. But maybe those days are over. Not just because GM/Ford/Chrylser is quickly sinking into the mire. Not just because the price of gas will certainly go back up again, but also because it is hard to love a Prius. Maybe a pragmatician or utilitarian can feel affection for a thing of theoretical beauty only. But the days of shooting from 0 to 60 faster than a freeway entrance requires—those days may be done. Plus, maybe it is time we grew up and stopped basing our identity on how many tons of steel we’re wrapped with. The economy seems to be leading us toward a bit more practical wisdom.

 

But we’re weak. We’re starting to fold—we look up hopefully and catch our breath with the locked gaze of GM/Ford/Chrysler. Be strong! Look away. Listen to your brain on this one, not your heart. And tell our elected officials the same: They desperately want the plush good times to return, with the jobs and grinning voters. Vote with your reason, sir!

 

But it is time. Not for a bail-out, but for bankruptcy. Use the bailout money to help the workers, but don’t expect a bail-out to trickle down to anything useful through this thrashing, noisy machine.

 

It may just be the end of the affair.

 

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Critique of Chapter 3-Spirit & Gender Language: How Far Do We Follow Biblical Language?

One fear I have in entertaining different perspectives (like Johnson’s in previous blogs) is that we let go of patterns God incorporated into scripture for our benefit. Patterns we may be aware of and, in particular, those patterns we cannot see but may have profound shaping effects on our lives. I think of how seminal thinkers of the past have allowed themselves to be shaped by the words—and the concomitant ideas—of the Word. That being said, I recognize that emphases in conversation among God’s people tend to place men as examples.

 

Are words inadequate in describing God? It would seem so, though the words He does provide tend to hint at much more than they say, which is one of the marks of strong writing. God’s use of analogy (or should I say the writers of God’s words?) as described elsewhere in these six blogs are generally rich with meaning.

 

And maybe words are inadequate even in describing ourselves. We know from Romans 8.26 that words have limits to what they can express. And yet God has used them—and offered them for our use—from the beginning. Are words adequate for expressing all we need to say? Certainly they are adequate for expressing what must be said in times of duress (Matthew 10.19, Mark 13.11, Luke 12.11), which is one of the roles of the Holy Spirit: God speaking through us.

Critique of Chapter 3-Spirit & Gender Language: How Far Can Analogy Go?

In my last entry, I noted how feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson offered different and useful ways of discussing the role of the Spirit, as Cole pointed out. Cole moved forward from Johnson with a discussion about the words we use to talk about God (Cole, p.80), and how they have traditionally been inadequate in describing God. He also cited perspectives from Aquinas, Feinberg and Alston in discussing ways our words work-and don’t work-when we talk about God. If God has no body, his “actions” are unlike actions we undertake, for example). The discussion left me wondering where analogy ended and truth became compromised.

 

There are certain limits we have a humans. We can understand only so far before we stop understanding. Maybe when we talk about God we quickly find language inadequate because the topic is vast. Did the Bible writers stick to describing God as they did because that is the best any of us could do? Probably. We’re all limited to the words we use. We learn more, and our words grow to accommodate that learning. The same must be true of God, but I’m comfortable with the notion that there are large parts of God I may never understand until He opens my mind and heart beyond what I can currently apprehend.