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Jeff Berryman's Blog
Updated: 3/21/07; 4:07:58 PM.


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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

    Thinking of Moving the Blog

    Check out the look over at It's easier to manage, has a little more room, and it's free. So what do you think? The only problem is that I can't move my archives with me. That bums me out, but still, I think it's time for some new digs.

    I'll let you know when (and if) I make it permanent.

    ...maybe I'll blog more...
    4:04:08 PM    comment []


    We got sunbreaks today, and after I went to the store, I stopped by the zoo, the section outside the fence directly to the south just off of Phinney and 50th. I'd been wondering what I'd find to take photos of that would stand for the arrival of spring. I've never been so aware of its arrival. Trembling, buds everywhere crane their necks toward the sun, hoping to finally put winter behind them. Daffodils clustered in bunches caught my eye as I turned onto 50th and I immediately pulled into a space on the street. I grabbed my camera, hopped out of my car and jay-walked.

    I was hoping for something besides daffodils, but then I thought, let's just pay attention to what's here. Ever noticed (I'm sure you have) how these poor flowers just can't hold their necks up? Beauty is just too heavy to manage. As buds, all floral in potential, they stretch up straight with all the hope of youth. But give them their full clothes and they can't help but lean over, stooping like sad folks at sunset. Today I got the feeling they were watching cars going by, thristy to drink in all they could before the weeks withered them.

    "Even when it[base ']s here, it[base ']s going by." That's a line from David Wilcox, and I think of it often. The Bible says our lives are like grass, like vapor. And watching the dawn of Spring both thrills and sobers me; I have seen the winter. I know these beauties are here only for a season, and yet, Solomon wasn't arrayed like one of these, either. Yes, I know Jesus talked about lilies, and I'll go find some of those for Easter, I suppose, but just now, I'll bet Solomon couldn't stand up to these either.

    ...I love yellow...
    3:50:22 PM    comment []

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

    Taking Pictures, Seeing New

    I blogged a few weeks ago about seeing the world, that the first move of the artist is to see. When Lent started, I felt the need to do something artistic that was different than writing or music, and I was also interested of seeing God in the concrete world. So I got out my little digital camera and have been taking pictures of everything under the sun. Sure enough, I'm not brooding anymore as I drive or shop or walk to Javasti's. My eyes are wide open, looking for what's going to catch my attention today. In the future, I'll share some of them, and perhaps muse a bit about why this image or that. I'm not sure what I'm doing, but it's impacting me.

    Water is elemental, necessary for life, packed with some vital something that we can break down into scientific terms, but in the end, the life force behind it--the ultimate why is mysterious. Droplets are beautiful because of the way they catch the light, reflecting it off the soft round shape. I've taken lots of flower shots over the past three and a half weeks, many of them with water droplets. The leaf seems to be offering it. A hand of God, perhaps? Maybe I'm stretching, seeing metaphor where there's not any, but then again, the whole idea of metaphor only operates in the mind. So who's to say I don't see water from God in the picture. And at the same time, when I say that, the picture diminishes for me, as if now that I'm looking at God's gift to me, I can no longer see the simple beauty of the liquid hanging out on the green smooth surface of the leaf.

    ...more to come...
    3:11:29 PM    comment []

Monday, March 12, 2007

    End of the Spear

    I read about End of the Spear when it was first released, but didn't get a chance to get to the theatre to see it. It's a famous story among Evangelicals, the martyrdom of a group of missionaries in 1956 as they tried to make contact with an native Ecaudoran people known as the Waodoni. Jim Eliot is the best-known of the missionaries who lost their lives on the sandbar that afternoon, but this story emerges through the eyes of another man, the aviator of the group with the oh-so-appropriate name Nate Saint. But the story doesn't end with the death of these men, each of them pierced by a pike wielded by these fierce and proud people--their martyrdom is a launching pad for a journey of staggering grace and change.

    Spoilers ahead

    The central journey of the film concerns a regal looking man named Mincayani, a Waodoni leader who makes the decision that these foreigners who have landed their "wood bee" (airplane) near the river must be speared. Mincayani and his men believe the missionaries to be cannibals who years before captured, killed, and ate a member of their family (a Waodoni woman still very much alive and who will eventually prove to be the bridge between the families of the slain men and their killers). After the missionaries' death, astonishingly, some of the their family members eventually make contact with the Waodoni and end up living among Mincayani's tribe for many years. Many of the Waodoni come to faith, but the real transformation is in Mincayani, who desperately tries to hang on to his understanding of life and the ways his people have always known. But as he comes to know these foreigners, he finally grasps that they come hoping for nothing but friendship and to teach these people that their God had a son who was "speared" so that they could "live well." Mincayani begins to suspect that killing is not the only way to gather strength. When the aviator's son, Steve Saint, grows up, he and Mincayani forge an unearthly friendship, in which they together face the murder of Saint's father in a dramatic scene on the very ground where Mincayani killed him, some 30 years before.

    A clunky synopsis to be sure, but its a story sure to haunt me. For courage and grace, and unearthly love, its hard to beat. As a film, it is much more successful than say, Facing the Giants, though from a storytelling point of view, there are still holes. But the production values were high (the musical score was a bit over the top for my taste), and the acting was seamless. The controversy over actor Chad Allen's sexuality (he is a openly gay man who many Christians resented playing one of their heroes) doesn't interest me--I was so thankful his character was so beautifully drawn. The women of the film, the Waodoni and the Americans, were especially affecting, their loss and struggle--and love--palpable and deep.

    Where the film needs work is in the story telling itself. There is something missing in Mincayani's journey. What I'm interested in is what happened in the years between the missionaries' arrival into the Waodoni life and the encounter with Steve Saint years later. Wisely, the film skirts an explicit attitude of proselytizing, presenting the gospel much as the missionaries initially did, using the language and symbols systems already present in Waodoni belief. But there's something about the soft edge of this presentation that, in my view, undermines the intended emotional impact of the film. Why does Mincayani change? We see him come to regret his action, largely because of the friendship and kindness of these Americans. But because faith in Christ is present only on the level of pre-assumption, the film becomes a testimony to what can easily been seen as something that actually transcends religious faith. In other words, it is a human story, which is its strength (and of course, that's exactly what I want it to be), but in the end, it only points the faithful to God, because we're already in on the pre-assumption. I'm not sure what I'd think if I didn't already believe in Christ. As a film audience member, I'm not satisfied that I've the final piece of Mincayani's journey. I want to see the decision that makes him decide to face his past, take Steve Saint to that sandbar, and beg for a cleansing death.

    I'm pretty sure I'm not saying what I want, but what I take away is that flawed films well done, which is how I'd classify End of the Spear, can haunt us just as much as the masterpieces.

    All that said... it.
    10:02:13 AM    comment []

Saturday, March 10, 2007

    Artists Gathering

    One bespectacled gentleman got a great deal on a drum set. A pair of married collage artists are waiting to hear back from a local artwalk show about their respective entries. A young blogger wonders whether anyone is bothering to read her stories, personal journeys culled from journals of years ago. An actor puts a brave face on his deep fatigue, weary from a week's worth of travel and performance. What might a gathered people need to say to God, a songwriter asks, sharing his constant search for a phrase or word that might spark people into dropping their inhibitions, catching fire enough to actually put their minds and hearts where they need to be in worship. Another actor celebrates a coming marriage and yet, the complextity of change fully employed, mourns the loss of old community, old safety. "Done is beautiful" describes another's process, the man chronically shouldering a titan's load of work, a man who inspires me with his grace and kindness and willingness to serve.

    These people draw girls in dresses, drum Sunday praises, write dramas and live them, too. We make leather and recordings, do graphc design and music, and blog, blog, blog. We are makers of things, sometimes for money, most times not, and what binds us is that we all agree that our making is a gift, hardly of our own volition, at least not in its orgins. The urge to shape form is a card we've been dealt, an ace in our DNA, and we can only respond by pocketing it, hoarding it, thereby lettting it die, or we can throw it out there, play it in hand after hand, hoping someday it combines with the rest our living, our other cards, to finally get a hand that does us and somebody else some good.

    We laughed, we cried, we told stories of plays and commerce and travel. We wondered how to tell the truth about our work and what to do when we would no doubt be judged and condemned. We wondered what the constants would be in our work, the palette we would continually return to, the stories we would tell over and over. We dipped chips into cowboy caviar and cheese, made faces and cringed as the host harassed folks with his camera, and we prayed. We prayed about our pride, our hunger to do good work, our desire to know what in the world God was wanting to be about in our lives, and we asked Him to please get on with it, this business of leading us, changing us.

    Finally we trickled out the door, one and two at a time, some three hours after we'd arrived, and then the house was empty, except for a wife, a husband, and a son, gathered in the kitchen, and still, the talk goes to music and dancing and auditions and the return of my daughter-actress this next week, and finally it's time for lights out and welcome sleep.

    What happened last night means the world to me. How do we grasp the kindness of this God who masks so much in seeming darkness, in impenetrable mystery? Creation, the making of a thing, the shaping of a form that somehow captures my heart in that elegant move of thought we call is nothing but the gift of God.

    In the end, what we said to each other in our gathering was simple.

    ...make something...
    8:45:22 AM    comment []

Friday, March 9, 2007

    Coffee, Resurrection

    It's Friday morning. I'm sitting at my coffee shop, Javasti's on 5th Ave. NE, enjoying the noisy banter of the morning crowd. Someone stole their newspapers this morning, and I've heard they're giving free scones to people who ate one yesterday, something about dumping salt into the batter with predictable results. Too bad I didn't get one yesterday--I'd been enjoying a freebie today.

    Mark the day. It was on this day 2007 that the birds in Maple Leaf decided they'd had enough of Winter quiet. As I sat in my office starting my bleary meditation, I heard them talking--the birds, that is--speaking their foreign language, testing throats too long silent. Spring's here, I guess, and as I walked up the dark street toward Javasti's, they sang me right along. Where were the crows? Still in bed, I guess.

    Lent is a challenge, but life for me is in such flux, it seems pretty normal. On Wednesday, I saw Tsotsi, a gorgeous gem of a movie about a South African hoodlum who wakes up via one of the great waker-uppers in the world--a baby. The final image of Tsotsi, his hands held high in a haunting image of yielding, has stuck with me. Then there was the episode of Heroes I missed Monday night, and watched Wednesday as well. Peter Petrelli getting his head carved up, screaming, and I know, there we are. Yet, I just know Silar is the Evil guy, so he just can't win. The interesting thing is not whether the world will be saved--it's how.

    The people involved in the Arts Ministry at the Northwest are going to gather at my house tonight. What will we do? I'm not sure, really, but we're going to look each other in the eye and ask what we're up to, and we're going to care about it. Beauty is arriving in the world even as I write this, and our assumption is that God has drafted us, either explicitly or implicitly, to join the team responsible for various assignments in the necessary midwivery.

    Nikki and I talked yesterday of frames, empty and filled, and that perhaps we are to be nothing more than frames into which God can pour Himself and the resultant images, love, and life. Makes sense to me. Truth is, I'm moving through one of those periods where life is alternately transcendent and frightening. It's a bracing thing, to walk a street, to write a word, to take a picture, and think God is here on the tip of my breath, waiting for a single word of permission to release resurrection into the world through this moment, this very one.

    Abstract? Sure. But I believe the concrete finds its origin in an idea, an image, a way of seeing the world. The concrete reveals us to our selves, our world, and our God. You reading this is concrete, as is Your mulling of where resurrection is inside you, and if you will give that word of permission or not.

    What if Jesus had refused?

    ...let third days be our daily bread...
    7:04:05 AM    comment []

Saturday, February 24, 2007

    Facing the Giants

    Nothing good could come of it, but I did it anyway: I finally watched Facing the Giants. If I hated it, I'd have guilt to deal with, because any film this front and center about wanting to bring God glory ought to be something we laud and applaud, right? On the other hand, if I liked it, I'd be faced with the proposition of going up against people I respect that have, by and large, trounced the film. Either way, it was going to be a tough experience.

    Warning: spoilers ahead

    Facing the Giants is a $100,000 movie written and produced by Sherwood Pictures, brainchild of Alex and Stephen Kendrick, associate pastors of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. The story (which has grossed over $10M so far) of a down-and-out football team from a southern Christian High School, Facing the Giants is a David-and-Goliath feel-good story in which a coach on the brink of being fired turns to God and receives a series of direct answers to his prayers. Lackluster attitude morphs into gut-busting motivation, a barely-drivable car gets replaced by a Texas sized pick-up truck, a weak-legged kicker "gives his best for God" and comes up with a 50+ yard field goal, and scientifically declared infertility melts in the face of a near-miraculous pregnancy.

    Maybe that sounds cynical--here's a different way to say it.

    In this inspirational story, a team of apathetic, high school football players gets challenged by a spiritual coach to give their best for God, and they do. That coach puts his faith in God in that most rare of film moments, the sincere evangelical prayer, and God answers that prayer in ways that frankly, many believers have both witnessed and experienced. Far-fetched? Maybe, but even with the bad acting, the bad writing, and my cynicism perched proudly on my shoulder like a preening cockatoo, there were moments when it was hard not to be moved.

    All that said, Facing the Giants, and the debate it creates, is fascinating. I have no doubt that Christians of a particular ilk weep when they see this film, not once, but several times. Maybe it's just that they've endured so much filth on screen, that to see their own lifestyle and belief so explicitly--if not completely honestly--represented, is as close as they will come to experiencing the miraculous. And conversely, many other-ilked disciples can barely sit through it, their stomachs churning in dismay at this picture of a God who always comes through. In their experience, that's not how it works at all.

    On the up side, there are things to like about this film. It looks much better than $100,000, and I am frankly amazed that a church was able to pull it off. There are moments in the film that won legitimate laughs in my living room, and that's not easy for film to do, at least not with me. The story has possibilities; Alex Kendrick has the right idea, and though he mishandles all sorts of things--exposition, structure, reveals and reversals--the bones of what he's getting at are there. I suspect those of us moved by the film aren't being moved by the film at all, but rather we are seeing through to what we wish the film were. And talking about acting--I work with non-actors all the time, and it's not easy to get them to just relax and speak, which Kendrick has done pretty well. That doesn't mean they're acting--in most cases, they're not even close--but they could have been much, much worse. Not much consolation, true, but I'll give them what credit they're due.

    To get more insight into Alex Kendrick, the man who made it all happen, here's a pretty insightful interview at

    Go read Barbara Nicolosi or Dick Staub (also here and here) or any number of others if you want to read the downside of Facing the Giants, and just know that I agree with most of what's said. But I kept thinking of Barbara as I watched, and about her vehemence about this film. I know she believes God answers prayer, and I know she believes in taking whatever there is in life to Him, so theologically, it's not that she thinks God doesn't work in people's lives, delivering all sorts of blessings that we can choose to attribute to him or not. I guess to state it most simply, Facing the Giants falls far short as a work of filmic art. And because of the power of cinema in culture to create images of reality, the life of God portrayed in film is important. Our vision of God and the life of Christ is largely a function of imagination, and by that, I don't mean fanciful thinking. We image a life of Christ both internally and externally, the latter being somewhat dependent on the former. And how we construct those Kingdom of God images will impact everything we do.

    Is there a film in which an authentic, modern or post-modern evangelical journey is portrayed? A journey towards faith in God, with the particular trappings of the evangelical environment, with all its calls to faith and piety, yet balanced by the inevitable disappointments and confusions that lead to doubt, distrust, rebellion, and perhaps, repentance and reconciliation, all of it done without a hint of dishonest proselytizing?

    If you know of one, let me know.

    ...That's a film I'd like to see...
    9:07:30 PM    comment []

    Home Sick, Thinking about Women

    Yesterday--Thursday--the fogged rolled in. I've always been afraid of taking drugs recreationally, fearing I'd like them too much, but days like yesterday convince me that's not the case. Cold medicines, especially the ones with the "p.m." label, invariably make me loopy in some fashion, and I'm too much of a control freak to enjoy it. But yesterday, I took some "p.m." thing, hoping to sleep. The result was brain fog.

    So I read and watched films, along with pushing forward on a few plans for various meetings coming up. It turned out to be an interesting day. First there was the short story by Katherine Anne Porter called Maria Conception. Porter is an mid 20th Century writer I'd not heard of, but I started doing research on the town of Kyle, Texas, which is going to have some significance in Cyrus Manning's life (of Leaving Ruin fame), and I discovered that Porter, who won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1966, was from Kyle, and that many of her stories were set in the surrounding countryside. So I ordered up The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter and yesterday read the first story in the collection. Maria Conception is the story of an eighteen-year-old Mexican girl whose young husband betrays her. Porter's telling of Maria's story is a glorious ushering into a world far removed from ours: Maria headed to market with half a dozen living fowls slung over her shoulder; her barefoot discovery of her husband with the fifteen-year-old beekeeper (Maria Rosa) among the cactus-bristles; the subtle camaraderie among the villagers when Maria Rosa turns up dead. No moralizing here, just an objective eye piercing the heart of a woman determined to have justice and the life she wants.

    Then there was the piece from the latest issue of Image. The title of the essay by Jill Patterson intrigued me: When Marriage is a Tomb Where Silence Dwells. Her story is of a marriage gone bad, two English professors whose careers end up with different degrees of success, the woman's outstripping the man's. The woman takes a break from the marriage, retreating to a corner variety store in small town Colorado, and rediscovers the simpler joys of life, and in the end, finds that sometimes, divorce can be the face of grace.

    Then I watched a film called The Shape of Things. Still more groggy than I wanted to be, I sat down to this film in hopes of helping my daughter with a scene she's working on from the stage play on which the film is based. Another interesting female character drives this film, played fairly by Rachel Weisz. "Evelyn" is a graduate student in art at Mercy College (interesting choice) whose Master's thesis project consists of manipulating an unsuspecting nerd into changing everything about himself. He, of course, thinks its for love, and that Evelyn's subtle suggestions for change have only his good in mind. The reveal at the end of the film is a cruel one, but has strong things to say for how we determine who we are, and the value we place on physical beauty, and more telling yet, the way personalities change when beauty is substantially enhanced, a la the now so common "makeover."

    And finally, the last viewing of the day: Babel, which I will blog about later, but needless to say, the journeys of the three women that are the anchors of the film are all compelling and heart breaking.

    At the end of the day, I couldn't help but reflect again on how difficult women have had it over the centuries, in cultures all over the world. Men have been dominant brutes so often, and women have suffered so terribly. Certainly we[base ']ve all suffered under the brutish reality of sin, but I can't help but see my wife and daughter and pray to God that we do what we can to nudge our parts of the world closer to the compassion and concern of Jesus. He dealt with women so counter-culturally. So should we.

    ...they deserve better...
    10:04:26 AM    comment []

Thursday, February 22, 2007

    Lent: Hoping to See

    Lent has arrived. It didn't sneak up me. I've been watching its approach the way we used to watch storm fronts come rolling in. "Dread" may be too strong a word, but my anticipation of "giving something up" has been shadowy. Fasting has not gone well the past twelve months, and doubt about my ability to keep the simplest vow to God made me wonder if I wouldn't abandon Lent altogether this year. Then yesterday afternoon, like the first blast of cold air ahead of the front, my throat started tickling, and by nightfall, I felt lousy enough to head to bed early, nursing my achy body and stuffy head.

    But this morning, still feeling lousy, I rolled out of bed knowing that I was embracing the Lenten season after all. This year's sacrifice is one of my staples, and suddenly, as I start to write this, Jesus[base '] warning about secrecy insinuates itself into my head, and I think I'll just keep it to myself. The point is, Lent is one of the more challenging times of the year, especially if there's much to repent. Nonetheless, I'm thankful for it, thankful that these six weeks roll around each year to call me to a deeper place. This year, I hope to answer.

    I've appropriated a story of Jesus over the past couple of days. Toward the end of Matthew 10, a blind man makes a lot of noise hoping to catch Jesus' attention. Jesus calls the man to come to him, and then asks the famous question, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man's reply is just what you'd expect: "I want to see."

    For an artist, there is nothing more important than this: to see. Our work begins with our contact with the tangible world through our five senses, "see" here being an analog for all five senses. Beginning with sensory contact, art grows out of the synergy created as we reach out and touch the world alive to our sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell. As we encounter these sense impressions, we then bring the experience inside our skin, where it is delivered via the imagination to our thinking faculties, where such experience is transformed into idea and image, memory and hope, creativity and warning. Such thinking then informs our next encounter with the sensory world, which then folds back into our unseen selves, only to be spun out again and again in a never-ending process called consciousness.

    But along the way, something akin to erosion sets in. Our experience dulls down, sense impressions are felt as if through a thick glove so that nothing has the edge of freshness. We've seen it all, felt it all, done it all. The highs of yesterday goad us into upping the ante for tomorrow, and soon we are bloated on empty stimulation, wondering why favorite foods don't taste as good, favorite stories don't move us anymore, and favorite intimacies hold little interest. Meaning gets lost, and pretty soon, we're just hanging on until the ride's over.

    Simply put: we go blind, sometimes even in our hearts.

    When books about creativity are pitched at adults it's usually in the context of this learned blindness. The recovery/rediscovery of sight (read creative living) is not something for artists--it strikes me as a core need for all of us. Something has gone missing from our lives. The old Wordsworth poem says "The things which I have seen, I now can see no more."

    During Lent, as I go about the daily task, I"m hoping to spend lots of time talking to God. And when He asks what I"m there for, and what I want him to do for me, I know what my answer's going to be.

    ...I want to see...
    7:55:06 AM    comment []

© Copyright 2007 Jeff Berryman .

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