Perspective

Giving, getting and The Black Panther

by Steve Brock on June 25, 2018

Black Panther poster

I recently (finally) saw the film, “Black Panther,” arguably one of the best of the Marvel superhero movies. At the heart of the film lies this question: “What if you value the richness of all that you own but are afraid to share it for fear that you will lose all that you have and stand for in the process?”

In the film’s case, the fictional African land of Wakanda sits on a reserve of vibranium, a metal from a meteorite that hit the land in the distant past. From this powerful and strong metal, the people of Wakanda have developed advanced technology and a way of life where everyone flourishes. They protect their secret from the outside world until a crisis causes the king and others to question if withholding their knowledge and riches is a good thing.

I’ll let you watch the movie to see how they resolve the question. But for us in our daily lives, we must wrestle with similar dilemmas.

We have a tendency, or at least I do, to hold on to and not share things I think matter most to me. It’s a natural response and seems justifiable until we delve deeper to ask why. On the surface, it seems we’re merely wanting to protect that which we value: creative ideas, material goods, relationships, our platform, reputation or connections or even our faith and core beliefs. But further reflection reveals that all too often, we don’t share because we’re fearful of what others will think or say. We don’t open up because we’re not sure what others may find. And those walls we put up keep us from the very relationships that would share in our joys and foster a greater appreciation of the treasures we hold. Thus, a downward spiral ensues.

The situation in Wakanda isn’t that different. It too reflects an unwillingness to open up or to share. It too stems from fear of loss.

We’ll have to wait for the next Black Panther movie to know how their situation plays out. But personally, here’s what I’ve seen and experienced.

When we step beyond our insecurities and fear and we share — our lives, our faith, our resources, our dreams — we run the risk of being misunderstood, mocked or abused. But if we don’t, we never experience the paradox of giving away that which we most value: We don’t lose it. We gain more of it.

I love this quote by Annie Dillard. I believe it applies to more than just writing:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now . . . Some more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

Instead of hoarding and finding ashes, we can give and find something, new, something more and surprising. What we gain may not look the same as what we gave. And, as in anything related to love, we do risk pain. But the very thing we strive to protect by holding on and not sharing, that almost always withers. Only in giving it away does it blossom and grow to become more than we ever envisioned.

The only way you learn at the heart level about all that you get by releasing and sharing is to practice it. It isn’t easy. It’s not always immediately rewarding. But over time, the results can be stunning.

And you don’t even have to be a superhero to do it.

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Not seeing in order to see

by Steve Brock on September 7, 2017

The sign outside read “Public Convenience.” Leave it to the British, I thought, to come up with such a polite euphemism. It’s actually more accurate than our term, “Restrooms.” After all, people don’t actually rest in there, do they? But convenient, especially after a few too many cups of tea? Indeed.

Equally convenient are the wavy glass panes used for the window of this particular public restroom, er, convenience, in Chipping Camden, England. The wavy glass lets the light in, but provides privacy to those, uh, convening, or resting or using the loo or whatever phrase you care to choose. That same wavy glass also provides (or at least it did for me), a lovely object lesson.

Take a look at what I saw from inside the Public Convenience.

It looks like the world we know, but not quite. Everything is familiar, yet distorted. If I hadn’t told you it was a wavy glass window, would you know what this picture was? You might think I’d messed about in Photoshop or otherwise distorted the image.

But encountering this view in real life forced me to look at it again. And again. And that’s the whole point.

We never (or rarely) do that.

We are loathe to take the second look because, let’s face it: why bother? There’s no time. Or no reason. We have plenty of new things to see. Why pause and re-examine what we just looked at?

Because what we just looked at, we didn’t really see.

Quick. Don’t cheat and glance up. But tell me, how many doors are on the house in the photo? How many chimneys? Windows? What color is the bicycle? How many panes are there in the window?

You might be able to recall the building was yellow and that there was a bicyclist in it. Did you recall any of the other details?

You’re in good company. Only when I re-examined the photo did I see any of that. And why did I re-examine this photo? Because it intrigued me. Something about the distortion of reality made me want to see reality better.

Let’s go deeper (cue the woo-woo music).

I think God throws variations like this window at us all the time. God gets our attention with something curious. We then have a choice: Pursue it or ignore it. The pursuit, however, requires us to pause and take notice, to yield to the hint, the glimmer, the still small voice, which then reveals so much more. For example, one of the most delightful things I encountered in the myriad English gardens on this trip were the diverse types of bees humming about. The bumblebees there (24 species, to be exact) don’t look like the ones where I live. So I noticed them.

But I didn’t notice the one right in front of me on the window until I took a closer look at this photo. The bee is likely too small for you to see unless you click on the photo for the enlarged version. It’s near the middle about the same height up from the bottom of the photo as the bicyclist’s back. See it?

I’d never have bothered had this been a normal, clear window. It was only because of the anomaly or novelty of the wavy glass view that I made the effort to look.

I believe every day is filled with such examples. Scenes right before me that God wants me to notice for no other reason than to bring me joy. There’s nothing important about this photo. But every time I look at it now, I see something new. Something more. Something that delights. And all the distortions in it make me want to go take a look at the “real” world with new eyes. In part to appreciate it better. And in part to reconsider what is real and what is distorted and to learn the difference.

Beware of stepping into a Public Convenience. You never know what you’ll see.

 

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Who would know?

by Steve Brock on June 15, 2017

Who would know? Pathway and treesLong before we ever had cable or the Internet (yes kids, there was such a time), a local television station used to run old movies every evening at 8 p.m. One summer evening as a kid of maybe eight or nine, having apparently nothing better to do, I gave this channel a shot. I had never before paid attention to any movie older than I was. But soon I was immersed in an old Bob Hope movie, Son of Paleface, and it was more entertaining than most of the more recent movies I’d seen.

A whole new world opened to me that evening. I realized that these so-called classic movies could be, well, actually good. But another epiphany occurred that evening as well.

In the movie, Bob Hope’s character at several points says or does something funny even though no other actors are in the scene. As a kid, I didn’t make the obvious connection that he was doing that for us, the audience. At the time, what struck me was that you could make a joke or do an amusing antic that no one else would ever see. But it wouldn’t matter. You did it just for you.

Who would know? Tree stumpFlash forward to last weekend when my wife and I were hiking. On a pristine trail with few signs of human intervention other than the pathway itself, we came across an old tree stump with a new tree growing out of it. I had walked right past the tree on our way out. But on the return, I noticed something unusual.

Someone had adhered a set of googly eyes to the trunk. A closer look revealed not just one set, but many. In fact, when I began inspecting the dead tree, I realized that there were these small quarter-inch or smaller white plastic circles with black dots inside them all over the tree.

Who put them there? Why? Did they leave all these eyes at once? Or did they start with just a few and other people added to it over time?

My response to Son of Paleface came flooding back. What if someone had done this just for themselves? Or perhaps a group of friends had added the eyes just as an inside joke among them? Whatever the back story, it raised some intriguing (well, at least to me, which is part of the point here) questions:

  • Who would know? Googly eyesDoes anyone else need to ever see the work (or joke or art or whatever) that you do for it to have meaning?
  • Is there even greater value when you do something anonymously, almost as a gift to others?
  • Can random acts of kindness (or humor or creation) have halo effects and continue long beyond their original intentions?
  • How much do I do because I care what people think about me or my work? What if I did more things that no one ever knew were mine? What would happen? To them? To me?

All this reminded me of my oldest son who is a graphic designer. He periodically goes out and finds some item — a piece of broken pottery, an abandoned display case, an old sign — brings it home and paints it or adds some other media to make it into a work of art. He then returns the enhanced piece to the place he found it. Trash to treasure.

He never knows if anyone ever even sees the work. But it doesn’t matter. Or maybe it does. Maybe the fact that he doesn’t know how people respond to it is the best part of it.

Who would know? Eyes on branch

What if we did more of our work as if we didn’t care what others thought? What if we didn’t worry about the response to our efforts but simply strove to add beauty or humor or interest or hope in even the most unlikely places? What if no one knew we did any of this except for God? And what if we invited God into our secret creations and acts of beauty and good will?

What if?

 

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25 things I would do if I didn’t live by fear

by Steve Brock January 1, 2016

As we enter the new year, it helps to think about how we might live differently if fear didn’t consume us. Here are 25 thoughts on what life might look like without fear.

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In praise of the sunrise

by Steve Brock November 29, 2015

Sunsets may be more familiar, but here are several reasons why the sunrise can be the most special time of day whether you’re on a trip or at home.

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The prison of habit

by Steve Brock September 4, 2015

The worst thing about bad habits is that you don’t even know you have them. Then one day, you become aware, and everything changes…or so you hope.

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The ache of ephemeral experiences

by Steve Brock May 4, 2015

Some or the best, most meaningful moments on trips or in life are fleeting. They do not last beyond the experience itself. So what do we do with them?

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