East Of Eden

"A curious mix of the relevant and reverential"


Some Sunday Stuff: March 30th

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April and Gary, happy new owners of "Gown Girl"

 

 

Good Sunday to you. I'm glad to report that my first two art commissions are residing with their owners. Above, you can see the lovely April and the handsome Gary after just unpacking "Gown Girl". Since I haven't written before where I came up with the inspiration for it, I wanted to take the time here. When April and I spoke about what she wanted before I began the project, she gave me free reign. No time limit, either. I still had Ken Burns' wonderful "Jazz" documentary in my mind, so I immediately got the idea to do something jazzy. But I wanted it to be structured, too, pretty modern. I looked up old 1920s photos and some pretty awesome Vogue covers from the time. I decided my girl would have a simple cartoon appearance with a long fitted dress and cropped hair, a la Josephine Baker. I gave her deep, dark chocolate skin after seeing Lupita Nyong'o burning up every red carpet she stepped foot on. I'm drawn to bright colors and it always comes out in my paintings, but I wanted to keep it more toned down, so I went with gray, blue, white and red. The brightness came through in the v-shaped rainbow that held Gown Girl.

 

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Forget the painting- isn't their dining room set gorgeous?

 

 

Although pretty simple, this was a bit of a challenge. First, thanks to having CIDP, somethines it is extremely hard to steady my hand to paint straight. This disease messes with my coordination, so there are times when it takes me a long time to paint semi-straight. I found myself correcting my mistakes A LOT. Second, I added the wrong finish and destroyed the Gown Girl's face and dress. To my credit, I didn't freak out, just got back to work the following day to salvage her. Third, I had the hospital stay and the nearly completed work sat for over a week collecting dust. Throughout all this, I realized how much work is actually involved with painting, and to stop bashing my stuff. Well, at least try to not bash it.

 

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 My other painting, "Studio Music" is now with owner Daba Kaye and will be hung in his newly opened music recording studio. It was also inspired by Jazz, but it's later, eclectic, free style form. It's pretty wild, lol. Definitely abstract.

 

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I started my third commission a couple of days ago. I'm doing the painting for Jennifer who asked for something like  Daba's but with a singer and microphone. I'm having some fun with this one, making it pretty funky. It reminds me of street art, like murals on the sides of buildings in inner cities. And I like that.

 

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So let's get on with the links. The big story in the Christian blogosphere was World Vision's announcement that they would hire people in same sex marriages. After a whole lot of Evangelical backlash, the company reversed course. Unfortunately, by then thousands of people had dropped their sponsorships, meaning lots of little kids around the world suddenly lost the money they needed to eat, get medical help and go to school. From Religion News Service:

 

After announcing earlier this week that it would no longer define marriage as between a man and a woman in its employee conduct manual, Christian relief organization World Vision reversed course Wednesday (March 26) and said it would no longer recognize the same-sex marriages of its employees.

 

Heavy criticism from evangelicals may have prompted the reversal. Soon after the earlier groundbreaking decision, the Assemblies of God urged members to consider dropping their support.

The loss of child sponsorships may have also been at play.

 

Ryan Reed tweeted on Wednesday: “My wife works for WV. In today’s staff meeting Stearns announced that so far 2,000 kids dropped.”

 

World Vision’s child sponsorships are $35 a month, which means the organization could have lost at least $840,000 in annual revenue over the long term.

 

About $567 million of World Vision’s $1 billion budget comes from private contributions, according to the 2012 annual report, Christianity Today reported.

 

“We’ve listened,” World Vision president Rich Stearns told reporters. “We believe we made a mistake. We’re asking them to forgive and understand our poor judgment in the original decision.”

 

Since its founding, World Vision has always been a Christian organization, said Stearns. “The decision we’ve made is based on biblical principles.”

 

Supporters made it clear that same-sex marriage was not consistent with  the organization’s views of the Bible.

 

“World Vision has been committed to the authority of the Bible … and we believe what Scripture says about marriage,” he said.

 

He noted how divisive the change has become in the past few days.

 

“What we found was we created more division instead of more unity, and that was not the intent of the board or myself.”

 

The board voted overwhelmingly for the initial decision and voted overwhelmingly to reverse itself, Stearns said.

 

“We hadn’t vetted this issue with people who could’ve given us really valuable input at the beginning. In retrospect, I can see why this was so controversial for many of our supporters and partners around the country. If I could have a do-over, it would’ve been that I would’ve done more consultation with Christian leaders.”

 

Rachel Held Evans, who wrote a few posts as the story unfolded last week, encouraged her readers to sponsor kids through World Vision to make up for the loss. After the decision was reversed, she wrote:

 

For those of you who donated, thank you. That money will be put to good use, I assure you. But I am deeply, profoundly sorry that I inadvertently rallied these fundraising efforts in response to a decision that would ultimately be reversed. Though I sincerely hope everyone who sponsored a child or made a donation will continue to support World Vision, I can see how this effort would make you feel betrayed, as though it were launched under false pretense. And I'm so, so sorry for that. I'm as surprised by all this as you are, but I take full responsibility. 

 

This whole situation has left me feeling frustrated, heartbroken, and lost. I don't think I've ever been more angry at the Church, particularly the evangelical culture in which I was raised and with which I for so long identified. I confess I had not realized the true extent of the disdain evangelicals have for our LGBT people, nor had I expected World Vision to yield to that disdain by reversing its decision under pressure. Honestly, it feels like a betrayal from every side. 

 

Something has to change. And I'm committed to being a part of that change. But not today. 

 

Today, I don't know what else to do but grieve with everyone else who feels like a religious refugee today. This sucks, and I'm so, so sorry. 

 

I hope you take some comfort in the fact that perhaps, as a result of our petty warring, some kids were sponsored today.

 

...

 

We’ve already discussed how this mass defunding reveals a pervasive problem within evangelicalism of singling out and stigmatizing gay and lesbian people, but today I want to address a common refrain I’ve been hearing from people who have chosen to cut off funding to their sponsored children: 

 

“We’ll just drop our sponsorship with World Vision and move that money to another organization that better reflects our values.” 

 

I understand the sentiment, but the truth is, redirecting funds to another organization does not change the fact that a community that was depending on that monthly gift from you will no longer receive it, and a child who once looked forward to your letters will no longer receive them. 

 

Preston Yancey articulated it well yesterday when he said, "As a World Vision sponsor, you gave your word to a child, not to the organization. That’s what is at stake here." 

 

Simply swapping out sponsored children as one would trade in an old car reveals the fact that that your sponsorship isn’t really about the child and the community your sponsorship helps; it’s about you. It’s about feeling good about the face on the refrigerator, regardless of whose face it is. 

 

Removing funds from one organization and putting them into another certainly makes a point. But it makes a point at the expense of already disadvantaged men, women, and children who were counting on that funding for basic necessities.

 

And I have to ask: Is that really worth it?

 

Honestly, I was struck at the coldness of some who protested the initial decision. Reading through the comboxes, some were saying that even with the reversal they still would no longer sponsor kids through World Vision because WV could no longer be trusted. What?!? At that point, I have to question if you're really trying to help these kids at all, or if it's just about scoring political points. Do you really want to be sore winners at the expense of actual children? Full disclosure, K and I have sponsored two kids in Africa for close to five years now through World Vision. One, Sisanda, has really touched my heart. Several times a year she writes to us and sends pictures. We've watched her grow up, get tall, lose the baby cheeks. What surprised me is how our sponsoriong her has helped her entire family, including a sweet little sister she is very proud of. So when I read that people had pulled their money just like that, I felt a flash of anger, but also deep sadness.  These kids have absolutely nothing to do with any of this. They are the ones who will suffer.

 

Over at The Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax stresses that it will be the children suffering BUT:

 

Children will suffer as evangelicals lose trust in and withdraw support from World Vision in the future. It will take time for evangelicals to start new organizations that maintain historic Christian concepts of sin, faith, and repentance.

 

In the meantime, children will suffer. Needlessly.

 

That’s why critics of the evangelical outcry toward World Vision will say, Get over it! Kids matter more than what men and women choose to do romantically!

 

Strangely enough, we agree. In fact, this is one of the main reasons we’re against redefining marriage. We believe kids matter more than gays and lesbians having romantic relationships enshrined as “marriage.”

Children are the ones who suffer when society says there’s no difference between a mom or a dad.

 

Children are the ones who suffer when a couple’s romantic interests outstrip a child’s healthy development, whether in no-fault easy divorce laws, or in the redefining of society’s central institution.

 

Children are the ones who suffer when Mom and Dad choose to live together unmarried, as if their relationship is one lengthy trial or audition, a decision that can’t provide their children with the security that comes from marriage.

 

Children are the ones who suffer when careers matter more than marriage, when romance matters more than reproduction, when sex is a commodity, when a marriage culture is undermined.

 

Children are the ones who suffer when organizations like World Vision, under the guise of neutrality, adopt policies that enshrine a false definition of marriage in the very statement that says no position will be taken.

 

Children are the ones who suffer when President Obama (rightly) mourns the rampant fatherlessness in the African-American community, while simultaneously campaigning for marriage laws that would make fathers totally unnecessary.

 

Children are the ones who suffer and die when “sexual freedom” means the right of a mother to take the life of her unborn child.

 

Sex is our god. Children are our sacrifice.

 

So, yes, we grieve for the children across the world who will be adversely affected by World Vision’s decision and the evangelical response.

 

But we also grieve for children here at home who are growing up in a culture in which sexual idolatry distorts the meaning of marriage and the beauty of God’s original design.

 

Uh... wait, I get what you're saying, really I do, but there are now thousands of kids who may be unable to eat. Drink clean water and eat nutritious food. Wax pretty much used this controversy as a proxy for all that is wrong with modern American values. I don't want to be a jerk here, but there will still be people skanking it up, gay people coupling and Obama... obamaning. Droping a sponsored kid isn't going to change that. But sponsoring her WILL make a powerful difference in a child's life. I hope people are thinking long and hard before they stop their funds. It is nothing like cancelling your subscription for Vogue now that Kimye has "graced" it.

 

Augh, such depressing stuff. I may as well stay on the subject. From Brain Pickings Weekly:

 

“Depression is a disorder of the ‘I,’ failing in your own eyes relative to your goals,” legendary psychologist Martin Seligman observed in his essential treatise on learned optimism. But such a definition of depression, while true, appears somehow insufficient, overlooking the multitude of excruciating physical and psychological realities of the disease beyond the sense of personal failure. Perhaps William Styron came closer in his haunting memoir of depression, Darkness Visible, where he wrote of “depression’s dark wood,” “its inexplicable agony,” and the grueling struggle of those afflicted by it who spend their lives trying to trudge “upward and outward out of hell’s black depths.” And yet for all their insight into its manifestations, both the poets and the psychologists have tussled rather futilely to understand depression’s complex causes and, perhaps most importantly in terms both scientific and humanistic, its cures.

 

That’s precisely what psychologist Jonathan Rottenberg sets out to do in The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic (public library) — an ambitious, rigorously researched, and illuminating journey into the abyss of the soul and back out, emerging with insights both practical and conceptual, personal and universal, that shed light on one of the least understood, most pervasive, and most crippling pandemics humanity has ever grappled with. (A sobering note to the hyperbole-wary: At any given point, 22% of the population exhibit at least one symptom of depression and the World Health Organization projects that by 2030, depression will have led to more worldwide disability and lives lost than any other affliction, including cancer, stroke, heart disease, accidents, and even war.)

 

 

Rottenberg takes a radical approach to depression based not a disease model of the mind but on the evolutionary science of mood — a proposition that flies in the face of our cultural assumptions that have rendered the very subject of depression a taboo. He puts this bind in perspective:

 

 

Because depression is so unpleasant and so impairing, it may be difficult to imagine that there might be another way of thinking about it; something this bad must be a disease. Yet the defect model causes problems of its own. Some sufferers avoid getting help because they are leery of being branded as defective. Others get help and come to believe what they are repeatedly told in our system of mental health: that they are deficient.

[…]

People still feel inclined to whisper when they talk about depression. Depression has no “Race for the Cure”; this condition rarely spawns dance marathons, car washes, or golf tournaments. Consequently, the lacerating pain of depression remains uncomfortably private.

 

 

Rather than subscribing to this broken deficiency model of depression, Rottenberg argues that affective science — the empirical study of mood — lies at the heart of understanding the condition. Defining moods as “internal signals that motivate behavior and move it in the right direction,” he argues that our bodies are “a collection of adaptations, evolutionary legacies that have helped us survive and reproduce in the face of uncertainty and risk” and paints the backdrop of understanding depression:

 

The mood system … is the great integrator. It takes in information about the external and internal worlds and summarizes what is favorable or unfavorable in terms of accomplishing key goals related to survival and reproduction.

[…]

Once a goal is embarked upon, the mood system monitors progress toward its attainment. It will redouble effort when minor obstacles arise. If progress stops entirely because of an insuperable obstacle, the mood system puts the brakes on effort.

 

Under this model, mood has an evolutionary function as a mediator of survival strategies. Rottenberg cites a number of experiments, which have indicated that negative mood incites one’s psychoemotional arsenal when a task becomes too challenging. For instance, when study participants are deliberately put in a negative mood and asked to perform a difficult task, their blood pressure spikes — a sign that the body is being mobilized for extra alertness and effort. But if the task is made insurmountably difficult, so much so that success stops being possible, the spike no longer occurs and the mood system dials down the effort. In that sense, mood — the seedbed of depression — isn’t an arbitrary state that washes over us in a whim, but a sieve that separates the goals worth pursuing from those guaranteed to end in disappointment.

 

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You can read the rest here. Continuing with sadness, from the BBC, do we prefer sad music?

 

Pharrell Williams’ Happy is shaping up as the year’s mega hit: it has already risen to number one in 23 countries. But it’s also something of a rarity – a critically acclaimed song that is light, catchy and seemingly without ‘deep’ meaning.

 

Consider that of the nine best-selling songs of all time, most brim with melancholy, if not sadness and despair. Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, Elton John’s Candle in the Wind, Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On,– to paraphrase Elton, sad songs not only say so much, they sell really, really well.  But do listeners really prefer melancholy music, and if so why? Is Williams’ hit destined to lose its lustre when, years from now, we look back on the songs that mattered most in 2014?

 

The charts suggest we love tunes that rip our hearts out. The last blockbuster song that found success across genre, gender and generation the way Happy has was Adele’s 2010 tearjerker Rolling in the Deep. Williams’ song doesn’t aspire to that sort of gravitas. Its lyrics verge on throwaway simplicity; it’s built on a command to “clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.”

 

The lingering impression left by songs that put a smile on our faces is that they lack longevity.  The past hit most immediately suggestive of Williams’ smash −  Bobby McFerrin’s  Don’t Worry Be Happy − might have sounded good in 1988, when it went to number one in the US and won three Grammy Awards, but it hasn’t aged  well because it feels dated and contrived. Will Pharrell’s song suffer the same fate?

 

Pleasure pain principle

 

A study published last year in Frontiers of Psychology suggests it might. The researchers found that that sad music has a counterintuitive appeal – it actually makes people feel better. Sad songs allow listeners to experience indirectly the emotions expressed in the lyrics and implied by the (usually) minor-key melodies. The sadness may not directly reflect the listener’s own experiences, but it triggers chemicals in our brain that can produce a cathartic response: tears, chills, an elevated heartbeat. This is not an unpleasant feeling, and may explain why listeners are inclined to buy sad songs and why artists want to write or sing them.

 

While touring last year, Emmylou Harris would introduce her version of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s heart-breaking Love Hurts by saying that it began “my love affair with really dark depressing sad songs that have no hope.” Richard Thompson has described his penchant for writing downbeat songs by saying it’s actually pleasurable: “It's fun to sing sad songs. And it's fun to listen to sad songs. Enjoyable. Satisfying.”

 

Kelly Hogan titled her 2012 album I Like to Keep Myself in Pain. On the title track, Robyn Hitchcock’s lyrics assert that suffering is actually a heightened form of consciousness. Hogan explained: “Sometimes it’s just a great feeling to wallow in that because you do feel more alive.” How else to explain the decades-long popularity of blues, gospel and country, genres built on songs about hardship and heartbreak.

 

More than a feeling

 

But is it really sadness that listeners are connecting with or something more complicated? A recent study at McGill University found that emotionally intense music – whether sad or happy - stimulates the pleasure centre in the brain, in the same way that food, sex and drugs do.  The study found that listeners respond most forcefully to emotional complexity, a depth of feeling enhanced by clever arrangements that kept throwing out surprises, and the back-and-forth between tension and release.

 

Williams’ lyrics may be pretty straightforward, but he stacks Happy with small but rewarding melodic, harmonic and rhythmic inventions. He orchestrates handclaps into a polyrhythmic groove, while his falsetto vocal swerves gracefully through a cloud of harmonies. The bass line is so buoyant it practically blows soap bubbles.  

 

Last year Pharrell played a major role in another light but indelible hit, Daft Punk’s Get Lucky.  That song echoed classic disco – Chic’s Nile Rodgers played rhythm guitar, after all – a genre of music that was once dismissed by many naysayers as trivial. But now, thanks to Daft Punk and other electronic-music innovators, it’s become the equivalent of classic rock for many listeners who came of age in the last couple of decades, a tradition that should be celebrated rather than mocked as a fad.

 

 

Okay, now I'm feeling like I need to get happy. Pharrell is hanging at number one this week on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and since I'm sure you all are getting a ton of it everywhere, here's the number two, John Legend with "All of Me". Have a great weekend.

 

 

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