Friday, March 18, 2005



The phone rings. I know who it is; at 1915 it can't be anyone else. I let it ring three times and then finally decide to answer it, just ahead of the voice mail system.
"Hey, it's Nathan, man. What about tonight? How are you?"
"I'm, um, OK." My voice gives me away; I don't have the energy to cover up."
"Hey, man, you OK?"
"More or less." The Snark-O-Meter (TM) is through the roof.
"You want to go, or just chillin'?"
"I'll pass."
"OK. We'll..." The voice fades. I can hear background noise, and then Debbie's on the line.
"Are you all right, Larry?"
"Yah. Just... worn out. Various other things." There's not enough time to get started right now.

So, she comes by the next day and we head for lunch. I offered Souplantation, she counteroffered with Mexican, and we agreed on Casa Blanca. I hope I'm not a charity case.
"We got our condominium."
"216?" We'd talked about this a few days back.
She looks at me, smiling, while thick traffic on Lincoln streams past. "Yes. It was amazing. The man ahead of us got discouraged and signed up for a different unit, so he was removed from the list for the one we wanted. Then the woman buying 216 backed out. We got it!"
"Sounds as if God wanted you to have that one."
"Yes! It was totally God. We'd given up. We don't deserve it."
"Of course you don't. None of us deserves anything, but God does nice things for us."
"I don't know why."
"Love." Of a kind none of us knows much about.

Inside the restaurant it's quiet. The lunch rush is mostly over. Outside grey clouds press. Rain is predicted, rendering tomorrow's planned sculpture doubtful.

Debbie sits across from me, sipping sangria. "So, what's going on?"
"Well... I finally wrote about it this morning. Have you read your Email?"
"Relationships. I keep being surprised by how serious God is about this. He's going for complete reconstruction. I keep expecting the minimum, as if a human being were running things. He has an idea of how he wants me to be and won't quit until that's done. No matter how much it costs him."
"Yeah. Wow."
"It's a message that churches don't seem to get. They're always in a hurry. God seems to take all the time necessary. I think he'll take 20 years to get someone right in order for them to have a year of doing something powerful. All these young people get saved and get pushed out to do things before they're ready, and they blow up like Lu's group did in Cyprus. No experience."
"Yes. The life group last night was like that. We got a lecture on service, while Jenny and Joe were working on serving this fantastic dinner they'd spent the week preparing. And Nate and I have hosted the life group. But it's never enough."
"Don't you think God is big enough, and mature enough, to get his ideas across to people?"
She smiles. "Service is part of it. I think you can't have the whole life without it, but..."
"There are many ways to do it. And time to learn it. Babies can't walk. They just lie there and wave their arms; you'd think they could never learn. They roll over, figure out how to scoot with motions that a little less than random, and then they start to get it. But it takes years before they're good at walking in the real world. They have to learn to look before they drop the clutch. There are walls and holes. Somehow the church expects everyone to be instant interchangeable Christian units. It doesn't work. We need a more human approach."
"Everyone's afraid of that. It's too soft."

"It's like any other creative process," I say, after some silence. "You go through plateaus. Everything goes well and then, suddenly, you can't do anything right. A few good sculptures, and then dead ones. It takes time to get through that. Part of the creative process. You have to fail, try things, fail."
"I've lost that. I used to go out and draw, and be very free. I'd sketch a building and it would be there. Now I look at the piece of paper and I'm afraid to make a mark. I don't want it to be wrong."
"That sometimes happens to me on the beach. I'm facing a pile of sand and have no idea what to carve. So, I just take a stroke and start."
"I do that, but the next stroke is just as hard."
"I don't have that problem. Once that first mark is made it's almost like sliding downhill. You know, what you need is more practice. Do it more often. Come on. I'll set up an easel, right now, and you can draw."
"I don't have to be home immediately."

The easel is improvised from scrap lumber, quick clamps and my big Gitzo camera tripod. A sheet of plexiglas supports the paper.
"Did you just come up with that, or have you had it?"
"I made it last year, for art forays at Mosaic. It was pretty funny. Lynn and I didn't know that we were supposed to create in a certain way, to fit some overall idea. My big sheets of paper just didn't fit. Do you want white paper, or black?"
"Oh, I don't..."
"OK, black it is." I get a sheet out of the flat-file drawer and tape it to the Plex. Then I get the boxes of pastels out of their parking place. "Here you go. Knock yourself out."
"OK." And she starts telling herself not to think.

That was the whole idea. If she gets too much time to think about this she'll become judgmental and the whole thing will die. Keep her off-balance. I start a CD by the Roches, from 1979, their voices filling the room, and Debbie takes a few tentative strokes on the paper. I say nothing. I don't even look, but bustle around getting out a sketch tablet and some oil pastels.

The music plays. I do my usual dramatic, highly colored style of chalk, but try some more subtle moves in a few places. What works on a driveway isn't so good here, where movements have to be more controlled, and end up looking controlled. I need experience. At this, I'm a beginner.

Deb isn't. She brings out subtle hints of poppies on the black sheet, using related colors and a deft touch to evoke the flowers.
"Are there any poppies that are pinky-purple?"
"Now there are."
"You're right."

Poppies are subtle, and delicate. Her drawing brings this out, quick little marks that show the translucency of the petals.

Outside, rain drips from the eaves. The promised storm has made landfall.

"That's it. I'm done."
I put the drawing in her car.
"Thank you, Larry, for the encouragement. This has been fun."
"You're welcome. I'm glad you had fun."

Who am I to tell God what he's allowed to condone as service? When the current system doesn't work very well, it's time to try experiments.

2005 March 18

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