My Resolution for 2016

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I thought I wasn’t a resolution kind of person, but I’m actually finding a way to make the New Year’s Resolution thing work for me. Last year my resolution was to doodle more and call it art. And that worked because it was something that my heart and soul needed!

Resolutions that don’t work for me are those that my inner critic “shoulds” me into. I know I should exercise more, I should get out more, I should keep my temper in check, and I should write X number of words everyday.

Oh, I should do a great many things.

Whenever I’ve based resolutions on these kinds of “shoulds,” two things generally happen: (1) I fail quickly, and (2) I feel even worse about myself when I don’t measure up.

There are always going to be the “shoulds” of life and they are relentless. Even if I successfully fulfilled one of the “shoulds,” there would be another and another and another. I could run myself ragged trying desperately to be who I think I should be and do what I think I should do.

It is an exercise in futility. And is the fast-track to burnout.

I think I’m still recovering from my burnout of 2014–that was a year with a lot of “shoulds” and I ended up dropping a lot of things by the end of that year.

I’ve tried since that year of burnout to pick back up only the things that I can’t not do. Maybe that’s a weird way to say it but it makes sense in my head. I mean, there are all kinds of influences that tell me what I should do, but there is often a still, small voice that gives me sweet inspiration. These are the things I can’t not do because if I don’t do them, then my heart and soul atrophy, and wilt.

When I follow what the “shoulds” tell me, good may come of it. But just as likely I will feel run ragged.

But when I listen to that still, small voice and do what I’m inspired by it to do, then good always comes of it. That goodness is sometimes just something that happens in my own spirit–joy, relief, energy, vision, etc. But most often that goodness radiates out to others who see or hear what I’ve done or who I interact with after having done it.

With all of this in mind, I am making my 2016 resolution as inspired by that still, small voice.

Oh, the “shoulds” clamored at me as the calendar was beginning to turn. They wanted to weigh in with their demands of how I ought to be better, smarter, kinder, more social, and so on. And they make some good points.

It was tricky, but I let those “shoulds” recede into their din.

I focused in on what my heart and soul truly need in this new year. Then I came up with something beautiful and rich and life-giving. It is so simple as almost to be ignored for its profoundness. I know now that the single, most important resolution I can make is…

Create and call it therapy.

This is somewhat of an extension of last year’s resolution, yet it is more broad to account for the various forms of creativity I enjoy. At the same time, this year’s resolution is more specific–that the purpose of creating is to be therapeutic for me.

I wrote once before about how ranging so broadly creatively has made it hard to feel like I have something to “show” for myself. But creating for the sake of therapy frees me from worry about where any of it will end up, and allows me to create whatever I need to whenever I need to.

There is part of this resolution that sounds a bit selfish. And I really don’t want to be selfish. Relationships and the connectedness of us all are very important to me. It’s just that I know that when I am creating art/music/writing, that it shifts my spirit in a way that helps me relate better.

When I let myself be dominated by my inner critic–“shoulding” all over myself–I feel worse about myself and I behave worse toward others. I sometimes shut down and withdraw altogether even in relationships that are the most important to me.

I assure you, even if this new resolution sounds selfish, it has all of our best interests at its heart.

May you too find the resolve to do that which nourishes your heart and soul in this new year!

No Crying He Makes?

Away in a Manger used to be my favorite Christmas hymn and I still think it’s a lovely tune. But I have become critical of it on account of the “no crying he makes” line.

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I mean, are we really saying that Jesus wouldn’t have cried? It’s a sign of health when a baby cries; a baby communicates his or her needs through crying!

If* the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus is real, then Jesus cried as a baby.

But this year my son noted that Away in a Manger is kinda babyish. And that prompted me to reflect some more on the lyrics and melody. I gave it some thought and I realized it’s a lullaby. So, yeah, maybe it is kinda babyish.

But also, it occurred to me that as a lullaby, its purpose is to quell cries, to calm a baby or young child.

With that, I thought maybe the line about “no crying he makes” is actually be more of a hope or vision of the lyricist. I mean, as much as we might want scream, “hey kid, knock it off with the crying already!”, that’s only gonna terrorize the infant worse. A positive, future projection of a cessation of crying all packaged in a soothing song is much more gracious.

So, maybe the songwriter never was trying to claim that the baby Jesus wasn’t a crier, rather that he was. He really cried. Because he was a real baby. And babies cry.

And would they please stop already!?

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*Of course, I believe it is.

Here, There, Everywhere, and Right Where I Belong

Lately I’ve felt like I’m all over the place and yet have little to “show” for myself. And oddly enough, I’m increasingly okay with that. Somehow the seemingly different directions I’m going are all part of what amounts to my vocation. And the “measurable” marks of vocational “success” are most often the temporal things that are not really at the core of what I’m about anyway.

I’m still writing, but a lot of my writing time lately is for projects that are months or even years from publication. And I haven’t had any new writing contracts since the work I did for Augsburg Fortress over a year ago.

Okay, I admit getting another writing contract is a “measurable” that I do covet. But in my heart of hearts, I want my writing to serve a purpose, to speak grace and love and truth and beauty to people’s hearts. If the contracts aren’t coming through to be able to do that, then I’m just gonna keep plugging away, slow and steady on projects that I believe can do that someday.

The big surprise for me this year has been how I have branched out musically. I’ve always loved to sing, but never quite found an instrument I could really make my own…until this year.

I got my first guitar when I was 14. I got it to impress a boy I liked because he played guitar. That didn’t work out very well because I wasn’t serious about the instrument and somehow boys can tell these things.

Well, I worked on guitar in fits and starts over the years and eventually had to replace my old one. I got a nice Washburn for a good price because it had a “finish flaw.” But I think my Henrietta (the guitar) is beautiful just the way she is.

I picked up Henrietta this year to play in a band at the church where I was serving as an interim minister at the time. I was just singing with them at first, but then when they found out I had a guitar, I wasn’t going to hear the end of it unless I started playing too. And since the folks at that church and in that band are some of my favorite people on this earth, it was the safest place I could imagine to try at something I wasn’t too sure about.

Two things happened with the guitar that surprised me. First, I was able to recall way more than I expected. And secondly, my coordination improved more quickly than I would’ve ever thought possible. I really can’t stress enough how much the band’s support, encouragement, and gentle advice bolstered my confidence.

But as much as I was becoming more comfortable with Henrietta…it was when I bought my first ukulele, Cornelius (named after Yukon Cornelius in Rudolf the Red-nose Reindeer), in April that this music thing got even more interesting. I learned how to play Cornelius really quickly. The band members embracing this new instrumental voice was just the encouragement I needed to really take off with the uke. Now, it’s to the point where I feel like the ukulele is practically an extension of myself. It’s pretty cool.

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Art by Jennifer Clark Tinker for day #26 of the Daisy Yellow 2015 Index-Card-A-Day challenge

With being in the band and playing my instruments and being around music so much, I also got into some songwriting. A lot of songwriting actually. I had written songs in the past, but now with my ukulele confidence, I’m actually playing songs I’ve written in public! And I’m loving every minute of that.

I’ve even brought Cornelius into the pulpit with me a few times when I’ve preached and that has been really well received. See what I mean about all these apparently diverging paths all being part of my vocation?

And then there’s the art thing. It was my New Year’s Resolution to doodle more and call it art. And I have. And it is. And it is wonderful! Having art as a regular part of my life has been really therapeutic for me in a lot of ways. The process itself has so many benefits. And the products are just getting better and better the more I practice!

My big art adventure was in June & July when I took the Index-Card-a-Day challenge hosted by Tammy Garcia of Daisy Yellow. The deal was that we were supposed to make art on an index card every day during those two months. Tammy provided daily prompts and lots of inspiration and encouragement. And I am proud to say that I met that challenge!

I’ve been posting my doodles/art on social media and I have been really surprised at how many people have told me how much they enjoy my art. Some of it has distinctively Christian themes, but some of it just happy or silly or just abstract. But it is connecting with people in ways that I would never have expected. And so somehow fulfilling that resolution has been another important component of my vocation.

So, I’m doing a lot of different things creatively and sometimes I’ve worried that I’m ranging too broadly. But somehow all of it has been meaningful, not just to me, but to others as well. Since connecting with people is my main thing, then even as all-over-the-place as I feel, somehow wherever this is that I am is exactly where I need to be.

Cat’s Game

  

Cat’s Game

An original poem by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Scratch that game

It’s a cat’s game

No one gets fame

We’re all the same

It’s a cat’s game

It’s not that we’re lame

We played a good game

But the cat got it all the same

Who invited that cat?

Can we send it back?

It’s too hard to tame

The cat that got our game

No winner is proclaimed

And the cat is to blame

Here we are stuck with another cat’s game

Are We Bound By a System?

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In Mark 6:14-29, we learn that Herod is haunted by thoughts of John the Baptist because he ordered John’s beheading despite himself. Are the forces that led to Herod making this choice that different from forces still at work in our world today?

Lectionary Thoughts for July 12, 2015
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Text: Mark 6:14-29 (Quotations here are from the NRSV)

“The king was deeply grieved” by his daughter’s request for the head of John the Baptist (v 26) because “he liked to listen to him” (v 20). Up until this point he had protected John the Baptist from his wife’s grudge against him (vs 19-20).

What changed in this incident that he would retract his favor from a man he feared, revered, protected, and liked listening to (v 20)?

“Out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her” (vs 23, 26). 

He gave his daughter a wide open promise that she could have anything she asked for (v 23). And he had witnesses to this promise he had made—for he made the promise in front of his guests. Honor was at stake.

If this happened to one of us, we’d probably clarify that we meant “anything within reason,” or “anything *you* want, not what your mother tells you to ask for.” And everyone would understand the limits implied in such a promise.

We would not have to worry about disgrace for refusing the girl’s request. But that was exactly what Herod was facing. Refusing the request would have been to disgrace himself and to disgrace his guests. How could they ever trust his word thereafter?

I imagine he got considerably more careful about the promises he made after that. But this one, he had to keep.

He just had to.

Even though Herod liked to listen to John’s teaching…

He just had to go through with it.

He was bound by the system of which he was a part. In Herod’s case it was the system of honor and shame. He would not go back on his word; the honor and shame system required him to keep his word in order to keep his honor and to maintain the honor of his guests.

Who of us can do better when we remain bound to systems that conflict with our values?

It is easy for us as outsiders looking into the honor and shame system to say we wouldn’t do that. We can see a different path because we are not bound to that system in the same way. We critique it from a safe distance.

But are we so scrupulous, so savvy about the systems to which we are bound?

Do we even recognize them?

Dylan Roof sat for an hour in Bible study. He almost didn’t go through with his plan.

But he just had to.

Even though the group was so nice…

He just had to go through with it.

He too was bound by a system—some system in which he had only one choice that made any sense to him.

That system of thought rose up among us, on our soil, in our land.

It’s harder when it’s so close to home to see ourselves as bound to a system that would extinguish life in order to preserve the system.

Do we even recognize it?