Theater Rituals Creating Community

There is no magic quite like that of an empty theater. There are smells, textures, curtains and sawdust, a million shades of black painted over a million other colors that came before. There is expectant silence, and twilight sleepiness. Saying goodbye to an empty theater is akin to tucking a child into bed in the soft glow of night lights, knowing you will leave before she wakes up.

My place of magic was The Beverly Arts Center, a theater space used by various community theater groups on the south side of Chicago. I was a chorus child, an oddball, a laughing extra in period costume and sausage curls created by a neighbor’s mom. I loved every minute of it.

A community theater would perform A Christmas Carol like clockwork every year. It’s where I learned to harmonize to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” while simultaneously learning the ins and outs of theater love, life, and lore. It was Cassie who pushed me out in the snow to do a ritualistic anti-curse when I said the name of the Scottish play without knowing any better (Dear Lord now I know). It’s where Christmas Present gave me a Jiminy Cricket good luck charm and Joe was a jolly Bob Cratchit and the stage manager let us eat the turkey prop after the show if we kids weren’t too annoying in the green room. It’s where a small group of friends bonded over silly tricks and broken hearts, stolen kisses backstage and a brother chipping off his sister’s nail polish.

It was community.

Community theater isn’t quite like any other kind of theater. There’s a switch in priorities, a love, a group bonding over something we would do for free, again and again and again. It means family, loyalty, laughter and support. It means bear hugs after the curtain goes down, story telling at a bar, and the knowledge these people will love you unconditionally as long as you don’t ever skip strike or act like a diva.

It was in this magical place where I felt loved, wanted and accepted. Religious tradition stresses the importance of breaking bread together. Surviving tech week together is a slightly more intense yet equal equivalent.

It’s been a long time since I was able to partake in this crazy Christmas tradition, but every time I hear “Carol of the Bells”, I feel a piece of the magic come back again. The bells remind me that during that special time God really did bless us, every one.

I See Hunger Everywhere

Today’s post comes from Adam Pracht, who talks about the various forms of hunger he has seen, and what it can teach us about love. Adam currently works as a chef and lives in Chicago. He also wrote our first ever guest post, Tiny Love

I see hunger everywhere. On the south side of Chicago I see people going hungry, without food, money or homes. I see kids hungry for drugs, for power, where killing is a game, and a fun one too. I see hunger for violence, or money, a willingness to hack your way to the top regardless of who gets trampled underneath. It’s an insatiable hunger that sometimes makes it too difficult to get through the news. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed.

If you look really close, though, you can see a different kind of hunger. I see love and passion coming from places, and people, where I didn’t think I’d ever find it. I’ve grown to love and respect many men who could have continued their lives as gang members, but instead decided to put the guns down and made a life for themselves out of nothing but hard work. I’ve been given mad love from whole groups of people I was meeting for the first time, for no reason. Then I can start to see a different kind of hunger, which is just a hunger for love, to be able to give and receive freely and happily.

Many days it seems like it’s a losing battle. Most days, if we’re honest; but the good thing about hunger is that it’s not a desire, it’s a need. The hungry will always be pushing back, using our desire for peace to drive us to love with abandon, using whatever skills available to give. I find the more I give, the more of myself I still have left over. There are always people in need, always more we can be doing if we keep our eyes open to the people around us. I hope someday it will be easy to find love, anywhere, and we’ll have to look hard to find the misery and violence that dominated the headlines today.


The Strength to Survive with Grace

Today’s post is again about the strength of mothers. Sharon Thomas, who has been a church planter and pastor for many years throughout Chicago and the Midwest writes about her mother’s strength to survive, to endure, and to do it all with grace. According to Sharon, this where she gets her strength from…

Bertha Zielke Cornish

Sharon’s mother as a young woman

In honor of my mother who went to be with Jesus when she was only 44 years old. I wrote this several years ago for a college composition class. Mom I love you. . . .
 There are many ways to measure success. I doubt my mom would have considered herself successful, no matter how you measured it. My mom’s success can only be measured in intangible ways, like her unselfish devotion to her family and her godly character that she knowingly or unknowingly passed down to me.
 Mom would have thought of herself as rather ordinary looking, but now when I look at the old black and white photographs of her, I can’t help but notice how pretty she was. She was quite tall and rather large boned. She had a strong, slender body and long, lanky arms and legs. Her face had a pure, clean look, like she had just scrubbed it with fresh, cold water. When I was going through adolescence, my mom diligently instructed me to never pick my pimples, because doing so would cause unsightly, permanent scars, and since she had none of these unsightly scars, I figured she knew what she was talking about. She also urge me to sit up straight. I never did that as well as she did. She sat with her long, slender back straight and her shoulders up as if she had just seen her date arrive at the senior prom.
 A person could not tell by the way she carried herself that she had a hard, difficult life, and that she was raising eight children with none of the modern conveniences enjoyed by most people during the ’50’s and ’60’s. The only tell-tale sign of her hard life was her rough, calloused hands. I can see her now as she would go out the back porch to hang up the heavy, wet laundry with the cold, north wind howling around her like invisible arms trying to whirl her around and her ungloved hands fumbling to get the clothes pins in place. Several hours later, she would hurry out again to take the now frozen clothes off the line. They were freeze dried and looked like they could walk in by themselves, and I could not help but notice her red, chapped hands.
 In the late evening after the dishes were washed and put away, mom would sit on the worn, faded couch between my sister and me with an old, frayed hymn book in those rough, cracked hands, and we would sing up a storm. The singing and laughter filled the house like the aroma of mom’s fresh baked bread, and it made us feel warm and secure. The memories I have of her bringing in laundry, kneading her bread dough or rubbing Vick’s mentholatem on my chest when I had a chest cold instilled in me the knowledge that her hands were an extension of her heart.
 A difficult life seems to have a way of making us bitter or better. Mom was successful at focusing her life on what she could change and not on what she could not. Her inner strength and joyful spirit enabled her to live above her circumstances and thankfully she passed that strength and spirit down to me. It was her nature to think the best of every situation, so I have learned how to respond to unsettling and difficult situations in my life by watching my mother. Mom was successful because she lived her life for something that would outlast it.

Beginning My Life as a Christian Writer

Today’s post comes from Emily Hornburg, a Chicago native who moved down to small town Missouri to work as a youth minister. Her post talks about how she began writing about her spiritualty, and how she began to see writing, even creating, in a new way. You can read more of her writing on her website, Love Woke Me Up This Morning, or  follow her on Twitter @LoveWokeMeUp 

When I was in high school, I gathered up the guts to show a friend of mine my writing. (Who in fact, is one of the founders of this site.) I hate showing people my writing because I never know how it’s going to go over. Receiving criticism from a stranger is much better than from a friend whom you see every single day.

She handed it back to me and said she liked it. However… whenever I talked about faith it was stiff.

It was fake.


It just wasn’t good.

I knew this about my story long before I showed it to her. It was a truth I didn’t want to face. But wasn’t that what I was supposed to do? I was a good Christian girl and I was given the gift for writing. Therefore, I had to talk about God and Jesus in my stories!

Then my friend told me something, which has stuck with me ever since… and it’s nearly ten years later. I don’ t have to mention God in my writing for people to see where my heart is. Who I am and what I stand for and believe will shine through without having to mention the name or word “God.” That was a new beginning for me.

From then on, I’ve noticed this in all that I create. Whether it’s writing a story or a blog post, singing a song, or performing a role on stage. Because here’s the thing:  creating in itself is an innately holy act.

The very first words of the Bible are that “God created.” The beginnings of our world came to be because God was creative. He made something. He made it beautiful and honest and true.

Which is really what creating is about. It’s about being true and sharing the story.  Even if it’s just our side. It’s about reflecting who we are, and by reflecting who we are we are also showing who God is. Because he is the one who created us and gave us these minds with those ideas and these hands with those skills and that voice with that heart.

Creating, by simply being itself, is the beginning of something holy.

The Top 10 Tradition

We would be remiss to end this month of exploring tradition without addressing the “Top Ten” tradition. As 2013 comes to an end we all want to look back at what the year has held. We have selected ten posts, not because they are the best, or the most popular, but because they have represented some important moments from 2013. Even though we have only selected ten, (hey! it’s tradition!), the top thing to remember from 2013 that everyone’s journey is special and filled with wisdom, love …and lint.

  1. A Crazy World — A beautiful post about life and loss in war-torn Syria
  2. Mosaic — An artistic representation of the beauty and the diversity of humanity
  3. Eating our Values — A post about living one’s values through what one chooses to eat
  4. Creating Spirituality — A poignant post about religion, creativity and spiritual experiences
  5. In Defense of Prayer — A story about grief, confusion, prayer and atheism
  6. Doomsday for DOMA — A post that marks the end of the Defense of Marriage Act in the United States
  7. Heifer International and My Brother’s Gifts —  A sweet post about keeping a loved one’s spirit alive
  8. Manu Temple — A post from Jenni Taylor about a beautiful exchange in India
  9. Strangers and Angels — a post from Autumn Elizabeth about a beautiful exchange in Chicago
  10. The Proverbial Women —  the post that started it all…

Espresso Faith

Today’s post comes from Emily Hornburg, a Chicago native who moved down to small town Missouri to work as a youth minister. Her post links our November theme of Food with our December theme of Traditions, as she talks about traditions she has made surrounding faith and coffee. You can read more of her writing on her website, Love Woke Me Up This Morning, or  follow her on Twitter @LoveWokeMeUp. And now…take a sip of your own coffee and enjoy Emily’s caffeine-enhanced wisdom.

For some reason, I associate coffee with faith.

Maybe it’s because in high school my friends and I were all coffee addicts and we named our Bible study “Espresso.”

Maybe it’s because in college the guy I had a crush on lived at the coffee shop and convinced all of his “fan-girls” it was the best place to have a deep discussion about life and faith. Even after he graduated, and my overly-romantic heart had found another guy, I still had weekly coffee dates with friends so we would talk about the Bible and pray together. Searching for Sophia together if you will.

Maybe it’s because whenever I lead chapel at a local school I have to run by Starbucks on my way. Now, the students say when they go for a Starbucks run before class it’s called “pulling an Emily.”

If you were to look at my old Bibles, you would probably find multiple coffee stains splattered on the pages. But still now, years after high school and college, you’ll still find me sitting at a café with a warm cup of steaming caffeine goodness, a Bible somewhere nearby (even if it’s on my iPad where it can’t get stained), and a good friend sitting across from me.

I think though, it’s because in our world today, or at least in my world, it’s the equivalent of breaking bread in the Bible. In Jesus’ day, when people broke bread together, it was a sign of community. A sign of friendship and family and being together. Being able to break bread together was something special and holy.

In my world, it’s coffee. If I ask you to share a coffee date with me, it’s holy. It’s taking a moment to take a breath from the world and enjoy someone’s company. To share life together. To share faith together. Even if you’re drinking tea or hot chocolate while I have my coffee fix. While it’s not quite the same as the Eucharist, it’s still community. It’s still holy.

I think today, if Jesus were to walk up to me, he wouldn’t invite me somewhere to break bread. I think he would invite me to coffee.

Something about Sin

In today’s guest post,  E.E. Slinger gives us some thoughts  on sin, wisdom and love.  E.E. Slinger is a student of counseling and theology and lives in Chicago, IL.

During the last lectures of my theology class, we talked about the “riddle of sin”–that is, the mystery of it, and over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading Cornelius Plantinga’s Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Once again, a paradigm has shifted.

Last year, I came to the (what I thought to be somewhat-stable) conclusion that God allowed sin to enter the world, because that is the only way we would be able to recognize and know His love. In a sense, I likened His love to light, which I argued can only be seen and understood as such if one also knows darkness. At the time, this answer brought much relief, because I had, in some way, solved the riddle of sin. Sin (and all consequent suffering) is the “price,” per say, of truly knowing the love of God.

Of course, this makes no sense, (and answers to suffering such as “This happened for God’s glory” are rather shallow and shitty). Fyodor Dostoyevsky, I believe, recognized this in The Brothers Karamazov. Here, the atheist Ivan poses a question to his brother, Alyosha, the priest.

Answer me: Imagine that you yourself are building the edifice of human destiny with the object of making people happy in the finale, of giving them peace and rest at last, but for that you must inevitably and unavoidably torture just one tiny creature, that same child who was beating her chest with her little fist, and raise your edifice on the foundation of her unrequited tears–would you agree to be the architect on such conditions? Tell me the truth.

“No, I would not agree,” Alyosha said softly.

The truth is, within God’s will, sin is neither inevitable nor unavoidable, for it is not intrinsic to human nature–to the way God created us. Sin is not necessary, if you will. But it does exist, and that, of course, is the reason we live in constant fear, anxiety, and stress, for we cannot predict sin nor can we understand how or why it happens.
Sin is, by definition, inexplicable.

Yet we try to explain it through a myriad of theories in a sorry, fruitless attempt to mitigate our fear. To explain sin is to understand it, and I’m deeply afraid to understand it is to accept it. Or, we simply avert sin (or at least avert our minds from it) by filling our lives with constant trivial entertainment and leisure (here, I think of the terrifying irony of millions of Americans watching the Superbowl as thousands of women are exploited due to the event). To avert sin is simply to ignore it. Of course, acceptance and ignorance are two equally unacceptable responses.

The only other option is to stand in the tension and to name sin exactly what it is–sin. Of course, to name sin as it truly is leads us to the undeniable, desperate longing and need for redemption. Sometimes, that redemption is difficult (PAINFULLY DIFFICULT) to see, and sometimes there is the temptation to despair. I do not understand sin, and thinking about how there is this insoluble disease that has infected and destroyed every aspect of reality has been overwhelming, to say the least. However, I also know that the inexplicability of sin does not render me hopeless.

God is not raising His edifice on the unrequited tears of His children.

For the tears that flow from every person who experiences every suffering caused by every sin have been requited (and redeemed) by the very tears of Jesus, when He was naked on the cross and cried aloud “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The Hard Way

Today’s guest post is from Adam Pracht who has learned to love in some hard situations. His previous post on Tiny Love was our first guest post ever. So once again here’s Adam with more on love from the streets of Chicago. He currently works and lives in Chicago.

 Love is hard to explain, and the best way to describe it, in fact the only way to describe this particular love, is to tell stories of my brief encounters with it and see if you can derive its meaning for yourself.

Sitting on the front porch steps in the ghetto on the south side of Chicago, I was sharing a blunt with my close friend, both a tattoo artist and a brother to me. His very well to do, middle aged neighbor walked by with his 3 year old son. Assuming there would be a snide remark or, at the least, a complete lack of acknowledgement, I was surprised when he instead sat down and talked with us for quite some time. I played with his little boy and felt little pieces of love on the steps as we talked about the city, about the weather and the human condition and kids these days.

When conversing with someone you want to get to know better, there inevitably comes a point in the conversation where you transition from small talk and filler questions to something personal, sometimes deeply so, or a topic that you both care a great deal about. The shift is almost audible. To me it’s reminiscent of dropping something heavy and soft off the roof of a building, and your heart feels big as you begin to talk faster.

Sometimes a tricky, busted-up kind of love can be found near reservation, by holding back or abstaining from the actions of love. For instance, not kissing someone even though you’re dying to, or distancing yourself from someone because you should, not because you want to. Sometimes you can only catch this one in retrospect, but if you look really, really hard you can see a tiny love, standing free among your contained impulses.

Even the tiniest things can be love. Maybe it’s something that teaches you how to love just a little better. Rather than bestow love to you, maybe it helps your love come through a little clearer.

Strangers and Angels

By: Autumn Elizabeth

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Hebrews 13:2

Once on the streets of Chicago, in the dark, all alone,  I passed a women sitting on the street with her young child.  I walked past her, and right behind me, a well-dressed women passed her as well.  Then as if we both heard the same whisper of the Divine, we turned around at the same moment.

We walked back to the women and her child.  We shared our names.  My work with house-less people  taught me that many go weeks without hearing their own name. So I spoke this woman’s name, I spoke her son’s name. I let her speak my name. We named each other, three woman and one tiny boy on the streets of an unforgiving city.  I wrote her name down many times, and although I have now forgotten it, it still burns fiercely in my notebook, in another Midwest town, while I again try to find the words for everything that passed between us.

Though the well-dressed woman and I both had other places to be, we stayed on the street.  Our new friend shared her story while shielding her small son from the chilly winds of the windy city.  She told us her son never missed a day of kindergarten, but that his free school lunch was often his only meal.  I gave her the food I had with me, and then the well-dressed woman asked the words I was about to speak, “Can we pray with you?”.  We prayed, three women, three strangers in the middle of the sidewalk in downtown Chicago.

Three powerful women harmonized an Amen,  and it was clear that it was time for each of us to continue our own separate journeys.  As I stood up and began to walk away, I looked back on the woman and child still sitting on the city sidewalk.  The bible stories of my childhood swelled within me–a mother and child, no room at the inn, the last shall be first. For a brief moment, strangers had joined a mother and child, offered gifts and joined together in prayer.  Angels, strangers, sisters, brothers, friends, enemies are all one in moments of prayer.  When we prayed we became more than strangers, we became the living story of Jesus.

Tiny Love

What follows is the perfect first guest post for our little project of looking for wisdom, love …and lint.  In his post, Adam Pracht writes about the little pieces and big ideas of love. Adam is a chef  in Chicago and  is working to end violence on the south side of Chicago. With that here’s Adam with his pocket findings…

We’re all taught early on that love exists in specific categories, often based on the Greeks’ different words for love, usually utilizing some combination of affectionate, familial, sensual, and charity. After the categories of love, the next concept we are told to grasp are actions of love. We learn about giving, compassion, sex, serving one another: these are all things we do that are a result of having love for another.

These two contrived concepts –  the categories of love and the actions of love – are accurate enough, they both certainly exist and can easily be pointed out in every day situations; but lately, as I’ve been growing older and encountering more and more varieties love, I feel that these categories and actions only cover a small section of love. In doing so, they limit our ideas of love and, in fact, completely miss some of the more important, beautiful aspects. Aspects of love that, for lack of a better term, I’ll call tiny love. Not because this love has a small impact, but because if you’re not looking as hard as you can (and in fact sometimes it’s only visible in retrospect), you’ll miss it.

This love, or fragments of a concept of love, is becoming a crucial part of my view of love. Tiny love can exist independent of people (and their hearts), of time, even independent of situations themselves.  Here is a short list of my explainable encounters with this untethered, fragmented love:

Washing dishes is arguably the best way to look for little bits of love.

Chasing animals for hours with a 2 year old, shrieking the whole time and never coming close to catching any of them is an easy way to find it.

Working an overnight shift, knowing the sun will be up soon, you realize: you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, doing anything else, even if you could. Your heart gets almost imperceptibly bigger as you watch the first rays of sun filter in.

Whole pieces of tiny love can be found in carefully prepared dishes, especially the ugly ones. Cooking is one of those love languages that categorizing misses, and it’s one of the best.

I’m not even sure love is the right word for any of this. Maybe it’s just a concept, maybe it’s any situation that grows your heart a millimeter bigger.

The really truly exciting thing about the endeavor of Sophia’s Pockets is that they’re asking for everyone’s voice to collaborate with them in making something beautiful. So please, if you have one, share your story of finding some bits of a strange love when you weren’t looking for it, or if you think that love isn’t the right way to describe it, tell us what is.