Prince Caspian's Call

"This is going to be like Batman Begins, isn't it Mom?" Paul said with a deep sign as I finished my post-movie analysis this afternoon. He was referring to my obsession (a point of both embarassment and great amusement to my 12-year-old sons) with the 2005 movie that I am convinced had deeply spiritual themes. But it's not such a stretch to read a religious message within "Prince Caspian", the movie Rosa and I saw this afternoon. The movie is based on the book by C.S. Lewis who was clear that the stories were meant to be religious allegories.

But the Christian themes are much more explicit in the preceding "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (both the book and the movie). Many of the reviews I scanned on Rotten Tomatoes were pleased that in "Prince Caspian" the religious messages were more "subtle", and the emphasis was instead on telling an exciting action story. One exception is Ty Burr, reviewer for the Boston Globe, who had this analysis:

"Prince Caspian" may be effective entertainment, but Walden Media, the production company backed by Christian billionaire Philip Anschutz, has given American family audiences something they really don't need at the moment: A primer on the benefits of holy war.

I totally disagree, but I think it's fascinating that the more subtle, more complex spiritual message of this movie seems to have largely slipped by the reviewers. This is all the more odd because the characters constantly ask each other the central question: Why doesn't Aslan come and intervene when we need him? Why can't I see Aslan? Why has Aslan been absent from our world for so long? This is a very real spiritual question, and the fact that Aslan does appear in the movie doesn't mean that it has a simple answer.

I think the whole movie (and the book) is a somewhat playful exploration of the idea of "call". Now, this is such a big theme at KC that I realize I was primed to find it in the movie, but hear me out. The story starts because Prince Caspian calls Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy back to Narnia because he is in crisis. But they don't appear to him instantly, and when he finally runs into them, he's disappointed. "I thought you'd be older," he tells them, clearly surprised to encounter "saviors" who are about his own age. As the Narnians kings and queens try to help Caspian, they each do their own share of wishing they'd be rescued by someone else. When Aslan fails to appear as they had hoped or expected, they even have an encounter with some evil powers who have been waiting to be called on.

But in the end, they have to call up from themselves the bravery and ingenuity to battle their opponents. Only then does Aslan appear, but instead of arriving as the external savior they have each been calling for throughout the movie, he comes as one who calls even the sleeping trees and the water to wake up to the life which lies within them. In the end, Aslan just stands as a proud witness to a world that has come fully alive.

When you see the movie in this light, one of the most beautiful scenes becomes one of the most emblematic: early on, when Peter and his siblings have just arrived in Narnia, they explore a ruined castle, slowly realizing that a great deal of time has passed since they last visiting Narnia. They recognize a secret door, and enter into a basement chamber, well-preserved and containing four large gold chests, each under a statue. Each child opens up his or her chest and discovers there the fine clothes and armor of their Narnian selves. Lucy holds up a dress and exclaims, "I was so much taller then!"

The magical wardrobe is gone, but now these chests become the doorway to discovery. While before the children discover the cosmic powers of good and evil, now they discover their own true selves. Stepping into these selves, they become taller, braver, and wiser than those whose lives are shaped by lies and deceit and domination. The world they go on to create is therefore more expansive and free.

This message is far from a call to "holy war". In fact, it may well be its antidote.

What Music Evokes

Dan and I took a trip to Boston last night. Not literally--in truth, we only drove down to Annapolis to hear Peter Mulvey and Kris Delmhorst at the Ram's Head. But as soon as Peter started playing his guitar with the bass string tuned way down low, his finger flying, his head back and his eyes closed, as soon as he opened his mouth to sing, we were back in Boston.

As I've written before, different times of life have their soundtrack, and so do different places. Boston's melody line is sung by a band of young, folk-ish singer-songwriters who find plenty of performance spaces, not just in clubs and coffeehouses, but on the street corners in Harvard Square and on just about any subway platform. The church I served in Somerville, MA, had a coffee house the first Friday of every month. The hour before the featured performer was open mike, and if you could stand sitting through it, you could hear the next Tracy Chapman back to back with a guy who sang songs he wrote ten minutes earlier accompanied by his boom box.

Peter Mulvey played at our coffeehouse one night, and since I lived in a parsonage right next door to the church, it was my job to open up for him in the late afternoon and help him set up his amps and speakers. Then he had time to kill, so he accepted my invitation for a bowl of chicken and parsnip soup with my family. He was good company, and thanked me for the soup by dedicating a love song to Dan and me that night. Even better, he remembered both me and that song, and when I'd see him playing in the subway later in the year, he would often play the song again. So last night, I wasn't really sitting in Annapolis listening to him play. I was standing on the Davis Square subway platform with a baby in a backpack and a toddler pulling on either arm, letting the train pass so I could hear one more song.

It's good for me to remember how music can take us back in time, often to the sweetest parts of our past lives. This coming Sunday, we're going to sing one of my all-time least favorite hymns in worship, "Rock of Ages". The lyrics of the hymn (in my humble opinion, of course) manage to be both obscure and objectionable. The song reminds me of funeral homes, but at our Worship Task Group meeting it became clear to me that it reminded Charlie, Nan and Sandy of home. Rock of Ages isn't about being "saved from wrath" for them--the words don't really say what this song is about. It's really about church suppers with covered dishes and sheet cakes. It's about picnics at the lake and the closeness of families sitting in pews in country churches.

But what if I don't have the same associations with a song that someone else does? Sometimes, the song just has to be abandoned, no matter how sweet the memories. Sometimes we can keep the tune and "fix" or change the words. But another thing we can do is share the story behind the song--not so much the story of its author, but the story of where the song takes you, the scene where you find yourself in your memory as you hear the song played. Then, we're not just sharing a song with each other. We're sharing our lives, and claiming a piece of our history as nourishment for today.

Music has such power--if only we were wiser about how to use it to build community! I'm reading an incredible book right now, The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. It tells the story of a British doctor's work to build peace in nineteenth century colonial Burma. The story is told that this officer and his party were once ambushed in the jungle by bandits. Instead of running from the arrows being shot at him, the doctor stood still and took out a flute, and then played a simple Burmese tune. The ambush stopped, and the bandits then travelled with the party as protectors.

"What was the song?" the piano tuner asks when he hears the story. The teller responds, "a Shan love ditty. When a Shan boy courts his sweetheart, he always plays the same song. It's nothing, rather simple, but it worked like a miracle. Carroll later told the soldier who told me the story that no man could kill one who played a song that reminded him of the first time he had fallen in love."

Songs Nobody Knows

There are few phrases in the English language that make me more tense than "Here's a song everyone knows!" As soon as I hear that, I am prepared to feel like a nobody because I don't know the song that everyone is about to join in on.

I had that experience, most vividly, at the party that followed my installation as Minister at Kittamaqundi. There were a couple of "special guests" at the party, a female vocalist and a pianist, brought in to provide some entertainment. They did a quite respectable job on a few jazz standards, and then the singer said, "Here's a song everyone knows, so please feel free to join in!" She then started in on a song that I had never heard of before but it seemed like every single person in the room knew. It was "Don't Fence Me In", which, I found out later, Roy Rogers sang in a movie in the mid-1940's. Needless to say, I wasn't born then, and as I sat in that room of singing people, I really felt the generational divide between me and the KC community. (I'm happy to say that community looks a bit different two and a half years later.)

But to my great surprise, the opposite thing happened at the Second Saturday show at KC this past Saturday. Ron Holloway brought up Meritxell Negre, a singer from Barcelona, Spain, together they performed a couple of Negre's original compositions (beautiful, by the way). Then the singer said, "Here's a song everyone knows. Absolutely everyone knows this one!" I braced myself, but then immediately recognized the opening chords to "Give Me One Reason" by Tracy Chapman. It's on Chapman's album "New Beginning", released in 1995, the year my twins were born, a year when we spent a lot of time inside, listening to music. I remember the song well and Dan and I sang our hearts out Saturday night.

When the song was over, I could hear people at the tables behind us and across from us asking each other, "What song was that? Who wrote it? Tracy who?" Funny, I thought everyone knew it.

Music is so generationally identified in our culture that it is very hard to find songs that "everyone knows" in a group that has even a little bit of an age mix. This is probably even more true in churches today than ever. Songs that people my age sang in summer camp or at Intervarsity meetings in college are considered "new" to people who grew up singing traditional hymns, but they seem so dated to me it's hard to muster the energy to fight for the inclusion of these "new" songs. But if we sing only music written 50 years ago or earlier, worship starts to feel a bit musty and nostalgic to me.

What's the solution? How can we find music to sing together as a community? Well, last night, KC began a 12-week experiment with a possible solution. Jason Reed, our new Walden B. Howard Musician in Residence, says that he is going to help us write our own music--words, vocals, accompaniment, the whole thing. About ten of us (ranging in age from 70's to 8 years old) gathered in Iris' dining room last night with three guitars, one bassoon, one violin, one piano, a hand drum and two maracas. Believe it or not, we composed a song. It was hard to believe it would work, but it kind of did. It's a process that I think we'll get better at as time goes on (if Jason has the fortitude to do this again).

I'm hopeful that somehow in all the racket we made, we stepped into a new future for our church, singing our own songs, songs that until now, nobody knew.

Puzzle Masters Needed

Over winter vacation, I managed to avoid seeing "Alvin and the Chipmunks" but I did see just about every other kid movie that is currently out. In fact, I've seen probably 75% of all kids movies released over the past 4 or 5 years. I'm not whining about this either, although some of them have been truly terrible. I do occasionally look around the theater at these movies and wonder at the adults who seem to have willinging gone to a kids' movie without any kids with them. But who knows, I may be one of them in a few years, because even when these movies have weak plots and mediocre acting, they often address important personal and social issues in creative, accessible ways.

I've been impressed, in particular, by how many of these movies deal with questions around the use of force and the potential for creative problem solving. I was absolutely entralled with the Fantasic Four sequel out this past summer, Rise of the Silver Surfer, and talked about it to anyone who would listen to the great embarrassment of my kids (who still haven't forgiven me for asking the people near me in the theater if they wanted to talk about the theological questions raised by Batman Begins ). Over Christmas break I completely enjoyed "National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets" in large part because of the message it communicated about our failed strategy in Iraq.

Okay, I know this sounds like a stretch. But hear me out. Throughout this movie, Nicholas Cage is trying to solve a puzzle in order to prove to the world that his grandfather was not involved with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In the course of following a series of really obscure clues which only he could trace, he realizes that he is being followed by a bad guy who wants the treasure at the end of his search. The bad guy has a gun, unlike Nicholas Cage, and whenever things get confusing or difficult, he resorts to violence or the treat of violence to solve the problem. But in this movie, violence only ever gets in the way of solving the problem. In fact, in ends up causing many more problems. Why? Because the problem is, in the end, a puzzle, and puzzles can't be solved with a gun. Threats don't help solve them, and fear gets in the way. A puzzle-solver has no use for violence.

I thought of this lesson again this morining as I was listening to another segment of NPR's series on the troop surge in Iraq, one year later. Today's story included interviews with U.S. army officers who are trying to untangle the political puzzle in Iraq. One officer was trying to open three hospitals, and he sounded almost on the verge of tears as he described his fruitless efforts to meet with an Iraqi health administrator. My heart went out to this man who knows better than most of us the limits of what can be solved with force and the threat of violence.

Clearly, what Iraq needs is a Nicolas Cage-style puzzle solver--someone who has the depth of knowledge of history and relationships and the personal delicacy and the doggedness it takes to solve a really complex puzzles. My guess is that person would be an Iraqi, but perhaps he or she would benefit from a partnership with an international team of puzzle solvers. Maybe there are kids now who will grow up to be those puzzle masters--but they will need a lot more nudges, a lot more coaching than one entertaining movie can provide.

Baptism of Jesus

This second week of Epiphany week we remember the Baptism of Jesus. It is difficult (maybe impossible) to try and apply any sort of chronological coherence to the lectionary readings—last week Jesus was a toddler and in three weeks he begins his journey toward Jerusalem and his crucifixion! Nevertheless, this week we find John Baptizing Jesus.

Now, you don’t need us to emphasize that this is an Important Moment. As we read the scripture in Matthew (and even if we compare it to how the story unfolds in the other gospels) we can see that this is the event that propels Jesus in to his official public ministry. Before this all we really know of him through the scripture is that (assuming you were listening to Heather’s Story for All Ages last Sunday) Jesus was growing up and had been found in the temple impressing rabbis. His Baptism is the moment that it all begins. Before there was a lot of rumor and assumption and conjecture, but this is where Jesus is Affirmed and Named and Ordained by God.

There is a lot of potency in this moment.

Even within this scene of Baptism expectation continues to mount as the water rushes by John and Jesus (and whomever else might be standing around).

John had been publicly talking and dreaming about Jesus. He had been laying the path for Jesus--Preparing the Way. Today the Eastern Orthodox Church still refers to John as St. John the Forerunner  —he was the one who came before the One who was to come. We do not know from this text if Jesus and John knew one another before hand. It is fun to assume that they did since their mothers were relatives and both boys were the result of some Divine Intervetion. It is fun to assume they grew up together and learned Torah together and knew which one ran the fastest and which one sung the best.

But when Jesus shows up at the Jordan where crowds from Jerusalem have gathered for Baptism John protests. John is Baptizing for Repentance, an important concept in the return to covenant relationship with Yahweh. John seems to believe he is not worthy to Baptize Jesus or that Jesus does not need this Baptism of Repentence. He seems to believe there is something in Jesus that is more holy or more worthy or more important than he is and he (John) should not participate and need not facilitate it. 

Why would he think this? What was he expecting? Well, as we look at the passages this week in Isaiah and the Psalm we are reminded of the high standards and expectations folks had for what qualities and abilities the messiah would possess.

In Isaiah, we see described a leader that brings justice to the nations, has great endurance to accomplish these tasks, and is gentle and humble as he accomplishes these things.

In response to John’s protest, Jesus even answers, “Let it be so for now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness (NRSV).” Isaiah describes a just leader, one whom God has called in righteousness.

And what else is special about this moment in the river? After the Baptism the Heavens Opened and the Spirit of God descended on him and a Voice from Heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Again, this is not a Small Moment.

In our culture it is easy for us to become calloused to hearing accounts of people with whom God has spoken. Any of us can quickly find a book or a television show where someone relates a personal interaction with God. And this causes a primary difficulty in our understanding of scripture today. In our view, we have become too familiar and friendly and flippant about God and our possible interaction with the Creator of All that Is.

In Matthew it says the Spirit of God descended on Jesus and a Voice from Heaven claimed Jesus as The Beloved.


Look at the respect for God that is shown in Isaiah. Look at the respect for God shown in the Psalm this week. We see the Lord described as powerful and glorious and full of majesty and ruling over the waters and breaking the cedars and flashing forth fire and shaking the wilderness and stripping the forest bare and ruling over the flood and ruling as king forever. Throughout the Hebrew scripture and the New Testament, God’s appearances are accompanied by lighting, thunder, wind, and earthquakes. 

This is no Small God.

The Acts passage reinforces the importance of God’s presence and intention in Jesus’ ministry. Because God ordained Jesus, because God chose certain people to witness the resurrection, those people are charged with going and teaching about Jesus’ purpose, “that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” This sort of turns John’s Baptism of Repentance on its ear…forgiveness is through Jesus and his teachings and is available to anyone (not just the Jews) who believe in him--covenant is recovered and restored and made whole through Jesus.

Those who stood in the river and witnessed this Baptism Witnessed a Sea Change.

Jesus was called, responded, was baptized, was blessed / ordained, and then went forward with his ministry from that place. To our knowledge, he did not have to finish a class or fill out a workbook to qualify to be Baptized. To our knowledge, he did not have to fill out any sort of form guaranteeing what he would accomplish after his Baptism. He was Called and he Responded.

At his response he was affirmed in who he was and what he was doing. Then he launched out in to the world to do the work that he felt called to do. Did he know that after this he would be sent in to the wilderness and tempted? Did he know at this time that it would all end up in brutal death and crucifixion? According to scripture there is no way we can be certain. However, we do know that he felt a Calling on his life, he Responded, and his Response was met with Love and Affirmation.

+As Ada asked us in worship this past Sunday, what event or moment in time did you know you were Loved by God?

+What call has God placed on your life? How have you received that call?

+Where are you met with love and affirmation? How do you respond?

“MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

- Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"
© Abbey of Gethsemani


        When the song of the angels is stilled,
        When the star in the sky is gone,
        When the kings and princes are home,
        When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
        The work of Christmas begins:

                    To find the lost,
                    To heal the broken,
                    To feed the hungry,
                    To release the prisoner,
                    To rebuild the nations,
                    To bring peace among brothers,
                    To make music in the heart.

from a Poem by Howard Thurman Submitted by Allan Lohaus

The Soundtrack of Life, the Soundtrack of Worship

I went to hear one of my favorite bands in concert last night--Cake, in concert with four other bands traveling together on something called the Unlimited Sunshine tour. Cake was in concert even more bitter than they are in their recordings, and while I enjoyed them in a kind of schadenfreude sort of way, the band I loved most was one I had never heard of before--King City from San Francisco.

King City came on twice, serving almost as a filler in between the other bands. Their music was all-instrumental and at one point they introduced it as "cartoon music". The band consisted of an upright bass, an acoustic guitar, and electric guitar, a trumpeter and two guys playing percussion of all sorts--drums and spoons and lots of other stuff. They were having so much fun playing together that I wanted to run up on stage and join the band. At the very end of their second set, the drummer stood up on his chair to hit his cymbals with a final flourish and fell over backwards off the side of the stage. The audience just stood and cheered.

I realized as I was looking for King City's music on the web today why it hit such a chord with me. I think it could be the soundtrack to my life. I can imagine a documentary about my day today with some of their music running in the background, and suddenly my life has a kind of crazy momentum, a quirky but sweet flow.

One of the things I've learned this year at KC is that even worship can benefit from having a musical soundtrack, a "signature". We started to realize this by about the third or fourth time Rick LaRocca played for our Candlelight Evening Prayer service which we began last Fall. We put together the service and then looked for a musician who would accompany the songs we had picked, but Rick brought so much more to the service that musical accompaniment. He brought his own distinctive voice, his own guitar style, and even his own music, some of it composed specifically for the service. It's his music, more than anything else, that gives that service its "sense of self".

When we began another evening service this fall ("Evensong: Worship in Words and Silence" on the fourth Sunday of each month) the design team decided that we did not want people to have to sing during the service. At first, we thought we'd just use recorded music to soften our entrance and exit, but then decided to experiment on using live music as a introduction to the silent meditation period at the heart of the service. When Jason Reed played the Japanese koto at our last service, we knew we had found our musical "signature" for that service. I have a feeling that the koto will become as integral to that service as Rick's music is to Candlelight Evening Prayers.

In some ways, the idea of letting music "brand" a service is a shift for me. For years, I've led churches and religious groups where the variety of musical taste is broad, and so we vary music constantly to give everyone at least a little of what they like over time. So, at any given worship service, we might have 3 or four different kinds of music.

In contrast to this, the new churches that I've enjoyed most over the past years definitely have a musical signature. One church I love plays all old Americana music, another plays all jazz. They've chosen this music not because its everyone's favorite, but because it facilitates the kind of worship they want to lead, sets a mood, a tone. And, perhaps just as importantly, it gives the service a soundtrack, a sense of itself that is consistent from one Sunday to the next. As a result, the church feels like something in particular instead of like something in general.

This is something to think about as we move forward musically at KC. What, for you, is the soundtrack of your life? What's the soundtrack of your worship life? Are they similar--or very distinct?

The Grace of Emmanuel Pahud

Last night, Dan and I went into to DC to hear a concert by "one of the world's greatest flutists" (according to the program), Emmanuel Pahud. The concert was in the music hall of the Phillip's Collection, so The Repentant St. Peter hung behind the pianist (Eric LeSage) and the works of great French impressionist painters hung all around. Add to that a stop at Teaism for tea and a salty oatmeal cookie both before and after the concert and needless to say it was a wonderful night.

Pahud is a brilliant player, even better in person than on the recordings I've heard. He was technically perfect and his pitch was impecable in every register (not an easy thing on the flute). When he played low, his flute sounded as resonant as a cello, and his highest notes were still rich and full. My flute teacher, Carrie Rose, put it this way: "Everything had a color, everything had an idea. The entire night was riveting."

But what stayed with me all day today was the experience of hearing and seeing someone do something very difficult with so much grace and mastery that it looks easy.

Watching him play reminded me of the time I watched the Boston Marathon at the top of heartbreak hill. The people at the front--the people who were going to finish the race in two hours and change--looked relaxed and smooth as they ran past. Three hours later, there were still people running past, but those people looked like they were exerting themselves to the point of near death.

When I run a race, I tend to cross the finish line red-faced, drenched in sweat, and unable to move again for the next 20 minutes or so. If I ever run a marathon, I am pretty certain I'll one of those people who look like every step is a struggle. And I'm well aware that my flute playing can have a similar feel--I squeeze my right hand hard to get the low notes to come out, and squeeze my mouth to get the high notes.

But here's the puzzling thing--in order to play like Pahud, or to run like Robert Cheruiyot, you have to be willing to exert an enormous amount of effort. You have to train, to practice, longer and harder than anyone else around you. Then, somehow, all that effort becomes invisible, and something easy and fluid emerges.

That's a miracle that I never stop wondering about. When I do something that takes a lot of effort, I want people to know about all the effort I'm putting out. I don't usually go around saying "This took me hours!" but I am deeply satisfied when people see something I've done and say, "That must have taken you hours!" I guess I figure that if my results aren't that beautiful, at least I'll "get points" for effort.

But listening to Emmanuel Pahud makes me reconsider that habit. I don't want to just be a hard worker--I want to be easy and graceful and fluid and loose. The more I've met the Holy Spirit, the more I want to live my life with openness and invitation. I want Carrie's lessons on openning my throut and relaxing my hands to be lessons for life--so that not only will I fill my flute with open, easy breath, but that God will find me to be a ready instrument, ready to be inspired.

P.S. To get a sense of Pahud's playing, check this out.

Being Brave in Santa Fe

Last week, I went to New Mexico from Tuesday through Thursday to be a part of Emergent Village's "Vision Team" which met during the Emergent Gathering in Glorieta. I've been to most states in the US thanks to my parents' fondness for car trips, but I'd never been to New Mexico. So although I knew that there was warm, welcoming, and fascinating community waiting for me at the conference center, I lingered a bit in Santa Fe on Tuesday morning after I arrived. I found a coffee shop, had lunch, and then made my way over to the Georgia O'Keeffe museum.

I wandered my way around the small collection, watched part of the introductory video, and then looked around a bit more. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself tearing up and trying not to attract attention. I was just overwhelmed by the museum's testimony to one woman's bravery. O'Keeffe was not only one of the first women to paint abstract paintings in the U.S. She was one of the first people in the U.S. to do so. A lot of people hated what she did, and it was hard to do, and hard to keep doing, but she kept at it, and her vision just became bolder and more revelatory as time went on.

But her life wasn't without complication. She fell in love with Arthur Stieglitz, who clearly understood the beauty of her soul and her body. He took some incredibly sensual photographs for her and displayed them, and from that point on, everyone saw O'Keeffe's paintings as thinly-veiled sexual iconography. It was impossible for a flower to just be a flower, and if it was something more, then it was wild and wicked and naughty. And it wasn't quite as great.

For a while, O'Keeffe retreated. She painted pears which were so simply and clearly pears that no one could accuse her of trying to imbue them with her supposedly pervasive sexuality. But she couldn't stay in retreat, because she simply didn't see the world as others did. In fact, she claimed that she painted things exactly as she saw them, and when finished, others looked at her work and called it abstraction. The paintings from the end of her life are perhaps more rooted and structural, but just as bold, just as brave as ever.

How does a woman become that brave? The last time that question struck me was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. My kids were pulling at me to move on, but I stood in front of the display of Janis Joplin's clothes and albums in absolute awe. Janis was another totally brave, totally original artist. But she flamed out much earlier than O'Keeffe, killing herself first little by little and then completely. Both women were geniuses, but one was an addict with all the lies and falsehoods that go with that, and the other allowed herself to be seen and known and loved.

I thought and talked about a lot of other things in New Mexico, but the questions that started in the O'Keeffe museum are the ones that stayed with me. Did O'Keeffe succeed because of Stieglitz or despite him? Did he make her career or almost destroy it? Those questions can't really be answered--this relationship had both a gift and a cost, like all relationships have.

Stieglitz didn't make Georgia O'Keeffe brave, but her saw her bravery and loved it, and made sure that she didn't play to an empty house. She didn't need to be known and understood by everyone, but it clearly made an enormous difference in her life (and his) that she was known and understood by someone.

We'll never step out on our own if we need to get permission from the whole world first, but in the end, we aren't ever really brave on our own. As a Christian, and as a Christian leader, that insight feels like an important one.