meaning

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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The mystery beyond

by Steve Brock on March 27, 2016

Mystery stepsLately, I’ve been curious about curiosity. I’ve wondered about different types of curiosity and how to (and why one would want to) enhance your curiosity. But I’ll be honest. Curiosity, while critical to learning, innovation and discovery, has always felt like the superficial cousin to the deeper concept of mystery.

A curiosity, like the right response on Jeopardy, may be fun to know. But mystery invites us in on a deeper level.

When I travel, I am relentlessly curious. I want to know more about the people, places and cultures I visit. On most trips, my desire to learn remains at the curiosity level. Where I regularly cross over into the world of the mysterious isn’t when I’m exploring some ancient ruin or a dark forest. It’s when I return from my trip.

The greatest mysteries of travel tend to occur after we get home when we’re trying to figure out what the whole trip meant. It is in the return when I have to confront the bigger questions: How have I changed? What do those changes mean for my life moving forward? What have I become and what am I becoming as a result of this trip?

These questions can lead to others (and even, occasionally some answers) that both make complete sense even as they don’t.

Which leads me to today. I write this on Easter morning. I used to see this day not as one of mystery, but of revelation. Mystery was wrapped up in the darkness of the Cross on Good Friday. Resurrection Sunday, in my mind, has always been the bright day when all the answers become clear.

Now, I’m not so sure. As with travel and coming home to confront all that we have learned and are becoming, I think the mystery is just beginning. We’re given enough to grasp the basic story of death, resurrection, the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life as a result. But for me, what lies beyond the Resurrection now holds the deeper mystery. Not on a cosmic or theological level so much as on a personal one.

Simply put, what does it mean to live in light of the Resurrection?

Easter reminds me that just like returning from a trip, I have to be curious enough to engage the mystery. I have to wrestle with the tension of not knowing. I have to keep pursuing answers even when the questions themselves aren’t clear and to realize that the few answers I do get may be as uncomfortable as they are ultimately satisfying.

So why do I do this? Why pursue the mystery that lies beyond the trip or beyond the empty tomb? Because in the journey, in the struggle through the mystery itself, is where we find life. It’s become almost bumper-sticker trite to say that the value of the trip is found not in the destination but in the journey. But I think the Resurrection reveals to us an added and often missing dimension.

The deeper value is not in the journey on the trip and nor in the destination, but in the journey after the destination. The stone rolled away from that tomb reveals both the completion of one story and the beginning of an entirely new one. The mystery of both travel and the Resurrection is that the journey we thought we were wrapping up is only just now starting. We have entered a place of closure only to find a doorway to a brand new adventure.

It’s a mystery we’re not meant to solve. Instead, it’s one we’re invited to celebrate, be part of, discover – and live.

 

 

 

 

 

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The way of meaning

by Steve Brock on September 25, 2014

Artist Tools

A quick trip over to dictionary.com gave me two definitions of the word, “meaning:”

1)     That which is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated.

2)   The end, purpose or significance of something.

Both apply when we talk about meaningful travel. And interestingly, neither imply that for travel to be meaningful, you have to travel far.

Case in point: This last weekend, my wife and I headed up to Edmonds, WA, about 15 minutes north of Seattle. It’s far enough away not to seem overly familiar yet close enough to reach without concerns of it being a “big trip.”

Why go? Because that weekend 23 different artists’ studios were open to the public. This, we found out from one of the artists we visited, is the 9th year they’ve done the tours of the studios. I’d call them more open houses than tours, but why get picky about terms? The result was that we were able to meet dozens of artists (some studios hosted multiple artists), see their works and get to know the art scene there better.

We also had a wonderful lunch, wandered the extensive farmer’s market in downtown Edmonds, visited some favorite stores and overall had a great day on the last (and glorious) day of summer.

All well and good, you might say, but why was it meaningful?

Let’s go back to the second definition of “meaning,” “the end, purpose or significance of something.” What was the purpose of our trip? To visit artist’s studios and see art. But here’s the real question: What was the significance of it?

That’s harder to answer, yet more important. Significance is often not something that is readily explained.

Think about the people or experiences that have mattered most to you. Can you summarize quickly and succinctly why they matter? Chances are, you have to think about it, reflect on it and even then, your answers may feel either overblown or inadequate, like trying to describe the color yellow or the smell of a rose.

Often what matters most to us is what is hardest to express to others. Meaning isn’t always translatable.

Regarding our trip this weekend the short answer – at least for now – is that our time was meaningful because it reminded us of how important art is in our lives. Not just individually, but to us as a couple:

  • Our first date was to an art museum. Make that three museums. In one day.
  • I knew on our third date – in the garden of another art museum – that this was the woman I was going to marry. The fact that we were surrounded by the beauty of nature and art didn’t lead me to that realization. Or maybe it did in ways I’m only now understanding.
  • Our oldest son is a graphic design major in college. He called last night to talk about how to balance a passion for art with ministry and serving others. Our words to him? Whoever said they weren’t or couldn’t be the same thing?
  • As I passed my youngest son’s room a few minutes ago, I see that he is deeply engaged in his latest art project.

So why was our mini-trip to visit artists’ studios so meaningful? I can’t tell you more than I just did. But perhaps, as is the way of meaning, that’s enough.

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Forgetting what you love

by Steve Brock April 25, 2014

Do you ever have moments when you’re reminded of the things that matter most to you and how, maybe, you’re not spending the time you should with them?

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There is room

by Steve Brock December 27, 2013

A holiday trip reminds me that Christmas comes and goes. We forget what it means because we make no room for such things in our busy lives. But can we?

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The five P’s of a good story

by Steve Brock March 22, 2013

Follow these five principles or elements of a good story and those travel tales you tell after a trip will definitely be better

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Messages along the way

by Steve Brock May 16, 2012

God often speaks to us in subtle ways. On trips, however, sometimes he’s not so subtle. A quick weekend trip to Leavenworth, WA and some graffiti on an old bridge raise questions about how – and what – we discover when we travel.

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