Life in Black and White

Someone once wrote that if life were meant to be lived out in black and white, then we would all be piano players.

While it may be a tempting title to write about ones theological perspectives, or even racial views, I won’t venture in that direction.  Instead, when I think about black and white recently it is in the viewing of films and television shows that were before Technicolour.

I suppose on the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, I can remember hours of sitting (too close!) to a tv screen, a black and white tv screen.  A smallish, by todays standards, tv which had a pair of needle-nose pliers that sat nearby that was use to change the channel.  The tv came with ‘rabbit ear’ antenna which one person would have to manipulate to the shouts of encouragement, or dissatisfaction from those in the room who could still see the screen and the quality of the picture. When watching a show alone it might be that out of sheer frustration that you would put up with a slowly moving picture frame as it jumped up vertically over and over again.

Then came a colour tv and the world, at least the small world on tv changed.  It was mind-blowing.  I can remember being absolutely shocked that my favourite tv character had red hair.  It was like reading a book, and then watching the movie.  Somehow the pictures on the screen are never as vivid as the pictures in our imaginations.

We now have satellite television, which means that we have about 300 plus channels of absolute rubbish tv.  A vast array of teleshopping and infomercials.  The bottom of the barrel North American tv shows only slightly dubbed over so that there is always a conflicting noise of some backwood bootlegger twang, with a Bavarian interpretation that seems to miss the nuance of the language.  I become picky in watching any television.  Soccer, (or Fussball) is rarely on tv as they want you to subscribe to a special channel, but the highlights often show men slapping one another, and then both falling down on the pitch rolling in theatrical pain.  The hockey is not much better as it is a sanitized game with little to no contact and the underdog is usually the team without any Canadian playing on it.  Watching a hockey game can be painful as the camera operator struggles to find the puck and a goalie is pulled out with 16 minutes left in the game…why not when you are 7 points behind!  While it is not all as bad as I can sometimes make it out to be, there are many gems to watch.

I’ve found that there are some really interesting older films being shown on the ARTE channel and that I am immediately drawn towards the old Black and White films.  It is fascinating to watch, as there is much more of a dramatic feel in the cinematography.  At least that is what my inexperienced eye tells me. The story lines are also much more ‘real-life’ as opposed to a Hollywood Happy Ending.  I find that leaving the colour out brings out a different way of storytelling and a different drama.  Either that or I am just being sentimental, pining away for an old glass tube screen television set that weighed about as much as three people, and which we would sit too close watching old shows together that we planned to watch and set aside the time to do so.  Now we are likely as a family to be all in our separate rooms, sitting even closer to the screen (of a laptop, iPad, iPod, iPhone) as we stream on-demand Netflix shows, binge-watching at any place, day, or hour.

Meanwhile on the silver screen – having gone to the cinema in town to watch the newest release of the Thor series in blazing colour and 3D glasses, I have to say, I enjoyed it a great deal even with the dubbed over German.  It is entertainment.  Even though, there is a different quality of experience when we, as a family, sat in a tiny movie theatre to watch a rerun of a Charlie Chaplin film in glorious black and white, with the only sound being a twangy piano soundtrack to play enhance the experience of action, sorrow, or adventure; and the flickering hum of a projector.  People munching snacks, slurping drinks, and at the quietest moments, the sound of a theatre full of people breathing.

While I am certainly glad for life in colour, I have become more aware of black & white, the range of greys. The silhouettes, and the drama of 3D.  And of utter silence.

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Wander

Where does walking get you in Freiburg? Actually, you can go quite a distance if you are determined, or you can go in circles and dig deeper and deeper like a spiritual wandering.

As I travel mostly by train I get to meet such a wide variety of God’s people.  If I was to simply watch over the Anglican flock in Freiburg it would mean visiting people as far away as Basel, and as close as ‘just around the corner’.  I walk through the streets on my way to visit people and I often wave to familiar faces on the Straßenbahn, or stop to greet someone who has just come out of a shop.

There is a great many people with very interesting lives, some of which I have the pleasure of meeting, and others I just scratch the surface of knowing.  Today I was struck by my desire for ‘thick skin’.  Emotionally, thick skin where problems, conflicts, even the daily bumps and bruises seem a bit more tolerable when one has thick skin.  At least that has been my ideal, or my perception.  Just today, a couple of people opened up to me the idea of seeing vulnerability as something of a gift.  One of these people was a young woman who describes the stigma of being ‘sensitive’ and the case for being a sensitive person. Four Thought, Sensitive Souls

On the Straßenbahn ride into the city centre today I sat opposite a young man who by all appearances had thick skin.  He just seemed to be wearing a chip on his shoulder.  On a very full streetcar, nobody seemed prepared to sit across from this young guy…so I did.  His hands, or rather his knuckles, were heavily tattooed with words that intrigued me, they said, “LIVE” and “HOPE”.  I guess I was staring, (it is hard not to when you sit toe to toe) and he seemed like he was needing to test to see how long I would sit near him.  He opened his bag and a thick fragrance of marijuana started to fill the air.  People started to stare, and more backed away as the guy began to grind up large chucks of pot.  “Nicht besorgt?”, said the young guy.  What I took to mean, ‘Not concerned?’.

It is a truly interesting feeling to walk through a town and know the places, to see familiar faces, and also to look beyond the ‘chip on the shoulder’ to see that someone seems to want to express so much across their knuckles, and yet devise ways to guard their heart.  Maybe that is what I do too, with a blog that acts as words across my knuckles, I’m just glad for the chance to walk the city with those who feel vulnerable.

At the end of the day, walking and talking, it is possible to cover a large area of Freiburg. It is not a pilgrimage getting from A to B, but much a kin to digging deeper and deeper in a labyrinth where after much plodding, we find ourselves at the centre with God.  Who, I think might also have the words LIVE and HOPE tattooed across knuckles.

 

Untittled

I am still discerning why it is I have not written on the Blog for a while.  Having had a regular discipline of writing it just seemed that after a short family holiday in Ireland that I needed a pause in this pattern of creativity.  I know of many people who like to post a lot of their life and daily events on Facebook or Instagram, and then for their various reasons announce that they have ‘had enough…’ and that they are ‘taking a break’ from Facebook.  It seems that there is some kind of abuse, a rant, or perhaps an overwhelming negative presence that they pick-up on Facebook which they feel some distance is required.  Many felt this way after Trump was elected in the USA and the online commentary seemed to become more and more vitriolic.  I don’t think it is for this reason that I stopped writing.  I was not flooded by ‘trolls’ or personally attacked.  It felt more seasonal, like a field gone fallow.

There were a couple false starts, that to this day, still sit in the draft box of the blog which will likely never see the light of day.  I went through a phase of feeling very guilty that I had not bashed out some writing. I’m still figuring that one out, as guilt is a very strange beast that I share with a great many people.

I suppose I feel that I am entering into a new phase: artists can have their ‘blue phase’, or an ‘expressionistic phase’.  While I am not sure how to name the feeling, or the ‘phase’, it does feel significant.  The things to which I strongly felt attached and committed have shifted.  The closest I can think of for some similar experience is when I first became more attuned to my religious and spiritual life.  In this reflective manner, I often feel that things are repeating themselves, but that I have a bit more distance between the ‘things’, be they emotions, or events.  I have the sense that I have been here before, that it is a well worn path, but that I am a different person able to see the path as repetitive, but able to appreciate new things along it.  Living in Germany I might make the comparison of having driven down the same road many times, but now, instead of zooming along at 200 km/hr the car has broken down and I am walking at a rate of about 5 km/hr.  The route or path is familiar, now there is far more detail to be observed.  In a sense I feel like I am letting go of things and appreciating the gifts that present themselves.

I’m sounding a bit philosophical I suppose.

There are many things on that Autobahn that I just don’t think I need to carry anymore.  As the speeding and achieving give way to the slowing and appreciating the pause in writing and reflecting will likely take a different tone as well.  One of the areas that I think motivated my behaviours that increased my speed, my push, and my resolve to achieve stems from a self-contmept.  It sounds terrible, and it is even difficult to see it typed out on a screen let alone think that others might read it.  Honestly, the focus on the unattainable, the high self-expectations, the need to be different, to be liked, to be defined by my feelings… these all seem to be on the road, yet again, but instead of them fuelling my ‘reason for being’ I just can’t carry them along the road anymore.  I’ve dropped them.  I’m sure that I will see them on the side of the road again, like I do now, but I just don’t think I need to pick them up; and if I do, I don’t think I will have the same attachment to them.

Several times in the last few weeks I have been reminded of a particular part of Thomas Merton’s ‘Seven Storey Mountain’.  In seemingly random conversations this book keeps being mentioned and I am glad for the prompting to recall the read, which for me, was fundamental and foundational.

I should first say in context, the Seven Storey Mountain was one of the first books I read in what I could describe a spiritual journey. Merton’s book sat alongside, the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.  There is a moment in the book where I thought, “finally someone else understands”.  I cannot quote chapter and verse, but there is a part of the story in which Thomas Merton describes a holy moment as he stands on a busy New York street corner and knows in an instant that everybody, everything, and himself is with God.  It sounds really simple, but for me it was the moment that I felt listened to and understood.  I felt both alive and dead at the same time.  Then it was gone.  I have not felt like chasing this moment so as to repeat it as I know that it has and will be, always with me.  The problem is that I’ve started going too fast, picking up unwanted ‘stuff’ and letting many of the ‘things/emotions/expectations’ that are flung at me, to stick.  Rather than standing on the street corner with some kind of mystical experience I have slowly, gradually, turned myself somehow into a street performer juggling balls which all the passersby and onlookers have thrown another ball out and I have thought it vital to my being to make sure I catch the ball and add it too my act.

I suppose something had to happen as one can only juggle so much before all concentration is lost.

The ‘balls’ are starting to drop and they lay about my feet, and yet again I feel that I have found myself at the street corner, where everybody, everything, is simply in God.  I don’t need to impress God with my juggling, and I don’t need to impress myself.  I really don’t care what people think of me even though I struggle with this constantly, and I suppose I am learning to use these experiences not as tactics of shame and inadequacy, but to acknowledge there presence, to treat myself more gently, and choose to act in ways that are transformative, redemptive and beautiful.

My day to day tasks seem to take on a different light, and I am far less interested in propping up an institutional presence, or persona that speeds along aggressively achieving only so as to hide feelings of shame and inadequacy.

Now I walk a little slower and more intentionally; focused on the here and now, rather than on dwelling on what should been, or could be.