I Am Mountain, Literalism & the Christian Complex

I am Mountain

Obviously nobody likes to create art like this and immediately have to explain or defend it in the first 48 hours. – Chris McGrath

‘Liturgical post-rock collective’ Gungor released their third album, I Am Mountain, earlier this week. Received with intense praise, in its musical quality, I Am Mountain continues Gungor’s journey of innovation, trumping Beautiful Things and Ghosts Upon The Earth.

The album has received equally intense criticism, with some of the more common criticisms being: “It’s not ‘Christian’ enough”. “There’s too much mythological language”. “Where is the hope?”

As Michael Gungor writes on his own blog, “explaining poetry with prose can sometimes be counterproductive”. It’s not wrong of people to want answers. We all do. But I say this: not every art piece produced by Christians needs to be a comprehensive picture of the gospel of Jesus. Christian Contemporary Music has attempted that and runs the risk of being inauthentic: what, you’ve got it all figured out? Attempting to answer our own hard questions is overwhelming. Michael speaks more about that in his book The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse.

My dancer friend Kim Stevenson is quoted in WeMakeStuff Volume 01, saying: “We do not give God enough credit for how much He can work through our art without it being a literal story about winning souls. God is so real to me while creating that I know He is integrated throughout my work. We need to dive into work that is relevant, pushing boundaries and moving ahead. We need to maintain high standards in our craft, and God will do the rest”.

Even Jesus did not summarize the kingdom of God in one artistic composition. Further, he was famous for speaking metaphorically, not literally. He compared the kingdom of God to this and that, allowing the meanings to rise and connect from the deep places of his listeners’ subconscious.

My friend Steffen, a marketer, tells me that 95% of our decisions are made subconsciously rather than consciously. Art forms carry power in their ability to bypass the rational-logical conscious filters and speak to the “heart”.

The final song is a perfect example of art speaking to the heart: this track, which is an exquisite wordless symphony, could speak – without using words – the messages these critics are desirous to hear in this album. Unexpected. Ironic. The message is potentially left unreceived by people looking for literalism. Yet… “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

It’s upsetting that some self-professed “long-time fans” are upset with Gungor, as if they’ve let them down. Let me ask you, on what grounds do you support an artist? As long as they give you the right warm fuzzies? It’s okay for Gungor to put out an album that focuses on questions and even heavier material. Michael Gungor himself doesn’t see it as a heavy album (see video below), but if that’s what the band is experiencing, their art is how they process it. Shunning their material and criticizing them publicly for it is like ostracizing your friend because they are asking hard questions in their personal life. These criticisms reek of an inability to empathize. They stink of objectification and narrow-mindedness.

When we shut ourselves off the the artist’s process, and just expect them to deliver a product that we can consume, we’ve lost sight of the purpose of art. Art’s purpose is to ask the right questions, not deliver all the right answers.

Here’s a video about what Gungor say about it:

AHOY Bags: Refilling Sails with New Purpose

Ucluelet/Tofino, BC

There’s only a handful of church gatherings in Ucluelet, BC, but my friends and I ended up at one that took us out for lunch, then rescued us from a soggy disaster of a tent that night, putting us on warm beds and couches. At this lovely little gathering I met Nelly and Jens Heyduck, artisans who moved to Canada from Germany four years ago. They planned to be here for only a year, but have found a home in Ucluelet – Tofino’s less touristy but no less picturesque neighbour.

05-AHOYBAGS-Press-onlineNelly and Jens are the founders and crafters of Ahoy Bags. The bags are made from retired sailcloth donated by sailors and yacht clubs. Thanks to Jens’ skill with a heavy-duty sewing machine and Nelly’s background in design, the bags are both durable and eye-catching.

Because this couple handles all aspects of Ahoy, from design to production, to marketing, I reckoned learning these skill sets would be the source of most obstacles for them. Jens didn’t think so. Growing up in Germany, he tells me, he learned sewing and craftsmanship, and his previous ventures have taught him skills that readied him for this enterprise. Nelly agreed: “Even though it’s really different from what we’ve done in the past, everything we’ve been learning has come together in this project.”

Making bags out of sails is admittedly different, even though their art backgrounds have prepared them well. Nelly has a Diploma (equivalent to an M.A.) in Design, and has worked in graphic design and product design. Jens comes from a background of antique restoration and conservation of cultural heritage. However, it’s not just the product that’s a change-up for the Heyducks; it’s also the first major business project they are doing together as a couple. “We have our challenges, but we love what we do”, smiles Nelly. “I am privileged to work on a product that is mine. New things are happening really quickly. The first time I took our products to the market, I met tons of people.”

03-AHOYBAGS-Press-onlineLocals really appreciate Ahoy’s upcycling model. Ucluelet and Tofino are low-industry towns where ecologically-sensitive living is really important. Yet, the bags have global appeal. Holidaymakers from around the world buy from Ahoy. Nelly lets me in on their secret: “When we place the templates to determine the cut, we pretty much fall in love with every corner of the sail – The patina, seams and hardware all tell a story. Our customers pick up on that dialogue. We think the best stories are yet to come, when the customers take these bags on their very own adventures. We keep in contact with a lot of our customers, especially via Facebook. We are excited to hear stories back from them.”

Jens and Nelly told me some of their adventures and mentioned that they especially love meeting fellow Germans. “We have found we can reach out to more German people here than when we were in Germany! We run a Bed & Breakfast and meet people all over the world. As we share stories and hospitality, we become really close,” shares Nelly. Nelly’s letters home “get people interested in why they are living in this rainy little place – and they are watching us”, she says. “It has opened doors.” Having no relatives nearby opens up time for the Heyducks to connect with their neighbours and visitors more, “but we miss having a community of young professionals,” they share.

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One major logistical challenge that Ahoy Bags faces is in the sails themselves. Nelly says, “some kind souls donate their old sails or scraps, but at this point, it’s word of mouth.” Sometimes the Heyducks will receive word of an available sail, but have to drive a considerable distance to pick it up. Sailing is incredibly popular in the Victoria and Vancouver areas, so sails are unknowingly tossed there all the time, but it’s a long way from Ucluelet. The Heyducks hope that as the word gets out about Ahoy’s practical, ecologically-friendly upcycling process, that sailors will see a perfect recipient for retired sails. “We’re sure some people don’t know that there is a better alternative to dumping their sails. If you give us a mainsail, you’ll receive a bag. One hand washes the other!” exclaims Jens.

Jens and Nelly have been involved in all kinds of interesting design and restoration projects, but why bags? I ask. Jens laughs. “During the long winter months, trapped inside, one comes up with all strange ideas! We actually started talking about this idea during a drive back from Port Alberni. We wanted to create classic, green yet durable bags handcrafted from decommissioned sails. For Nelly it had to be a simple yet functional design, taking all the original seams and repair patches into consideration. For me it was the nautical spirit and traditional craftsmanship associated with it that let me sign on. In general, bags break too quickly. We wanted to make something really rugged. Sail are exactly that. They can propel a ten-ton boat through the water.” Nelly adds, “We had a lot to learn. Sails are not identical. There are differences in quality, weight, size, and so on. We needed to get an industrial machine because a home sewing machine can’t handle layers of sailcloth.”

They are particularly excited when I ask them how they see their faith playing into what they do and make. Nelly shares that recently, the verse 2 Corinthians 5:17 is really significant for their trade: ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation: The old has gone, the new is here!’ “We had our old life”, she says, “with all the things we have done in the past, and when we come to Christ, he upcycles us; he renews us! Like people, these sails have a past, including scars and bruises to tell their story. When God upcycles us, we become something entirely different – and with much purpose!”

Find Ahoy Bags on Facebook and see their charm for yourself.

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Hanzane Skimboards: Custom Artistry Meets Recreation

This summer I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chris Siemens and Nick Niebuhr, the duo behind Hanzane Skimboards, based out of White Rock, BC. Their boards are handcrafted and handpainted. Each board is unique. And they sell for less than the competition . . . what’s with that?

Kyle Lynch Creative

Kyle Lynch Creative

CK: How did this all start?

Hanzane: We looked up how to create a board online! I took a piece of plywood, cut it into shape, soaked it for a couple days, clamped it and let it dry, painted and varnished it and it was good to go. That’s how Hanzane started. Our first challenge was finding a base material that was strong enough to withstand rubbing against the sand and rocks; that’s where we’ve had the most innovation and change. Now, our skimboards are a wood core with fibreglass on the bottom and sealer on top. We bought some tools and learned from others too. We’ve had this board shape for about two years now.

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CK: Do your boards differ from other companies’ boards?

Hanzane: In size, our boards are a couple inches different but the shape is fairly standard. Some people do asymmetrical shapes with a distinct nose and tail but we think having both ends symmetrical gives you a longer lasting board because you don’t wear down one end so fast. We’ve changed our shapes a little bit and this year we’re working with boards that are a little bigger so they don’t sink as easily in deep water. I’ve tried to use what I know from my own style of riding; hopefully people will like that.

CK: Starting with the art, a lot of things stand out about Hanzane.

Hanzane: Our boards are handcrafted and handpainted. The art is one thing; there’s also the process and the pricing. A pretty standard company in skimboarding will sell their stuff for about $180 plus tax. They will also make cheaper beginner boards. Our boards are $120, so we’re significantly cheaper while putting out a quality product. While established companies use more mechanization, that isn’t necessary for the quality of the board.

CK: Who does the art and how does it get onto the boards?

Hanzane: We prime and paint directly on the wood surface and finish it with a heavy-duty sealer. Each board is unique. We will also create custom designs based on the customer’s idea and preference. Chris (Siemens) does a lot of the art but we have art from Laura Klassen, Tessa Nickel, Catherine Bennington, Nick, and several others.

The artists at the We Have So Much To Give open-air showcase

The artists at the We Have So Much To Give open-air showcase

hanzane3CK: If someone wants to have you create a new original design, is that an extra charge?

Hanzane: We charge about ten bucks extra for that.

CK: So, for ten dollars I could get an original custom design, and the board is still cheaper than the competition’s?

Hanzane: Exactly, We pride ourselves in every board being different. There are a lot of companies -skateboard, skimboard, snowboard- who just do lines of standard identical boards. We do create some stencils, which are reusable, but none of them is identical.

hanzane1

CK: Your stencilled boards remind me of POGs! They’re all a little different. I want to collect them all.

Hanzane: [Laughs] That’s awesome!

CK: Do you have a website that people can buy from?

Hanzane: The majority of our boards have sold to people in the local area but we’re beginning to get request from other provinces. Our boards sell through a website called skimbc.com

We have a lot of fun doing this. It’s something we enjoy and we try to make a point to not worry too much about making a profit but in taking joy in the riding and making of skimboards and making sure that those two things never become disconnected. We don’t want to turn into a factory that cranks them out and doesn’t care about what happens afterward. We love making things by hand and doing it ourselves rather than outsourcing. We also try to make a point of connecting and communicating with each customer so the whole process is congruent. Our focus is doing skimboarding and woodworking well.

Find Hanzane on Facebook. 

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Art by Jon Janzen (Sunblind)

Managing School Stress: An Insider Perspective

This article was originally published on Libero Network. A big shout-out to my friend Lauren Bersaglio, founder. Libero is a non-profit online magazine and resource site that brings awareness to and offers support for those recovering from eating disorders, depression, addiction, anxiety & abuse.

So why is school so stressful?

I’ve been teaching for three years. Before that, I was a student, and still am. I see education from both sides: student and teacher. Let’s talk about how to manage school stress.

I have to start with a disclaimer: School is just one part of your life learning – all that information about the world that you’ve been collecting since you starting sensing stimuli in the womb. We all know learning is a good thing – I mean, kids love learning – and we love learning about things we care about, whether that’s keeping up to date with the newest music, learning some quirky fact about our best friend, or flipping through faded photo albums in grandma’s musty attic.

So why is school so stressful? Maybe because school isn’t simply learning in an way that’s always comfortable or even interesting. It can be, but it falls short.

It’s a flawed human system. Many great people did not do well in school. Thomas Edison’s teacher gave up on him and sent him home to be schooled by his mother. Albert Einstein did very poorly in high school math. Assessment isn’t always done well. Learning styles and teaching styles can differ.

I’d say three major school stressors are peers, grades, and time management. I can’t do anything about your peers (except to recommend that a casual “hi” and a smile goes a log way to say, “I’m not out to get you; you can relax around me”) so I’m going to focus on grades and time management:

1. You are not defined by your grades.

You are a person of infinite value, hidden talents, and incalculable creativity. When a teacher hands you back a piece of paper with a red mark on it, that’s not a reflection on your worth. It might be a measurement of your progress in one particular area. But it is also in the past. Whether bad or good, your assessments do not define you in the future; they provide you with a starting point from which to continue in a positive trajectory.

When a toddler falls down trying to walk, her parents don’t throw their hands up and say, “Oh! We might as well give up – she’s failed!” No. They keep encouraging the toddler to try until she can walk with confidence. Your failures will scare you less when you see that failure is not a final destination, just another learning opportunity. This is the growth mindset. For more on how your mindset might be the thing holding you back, and how to break that, read New York Times Bestseller Mindset by Carol Dweck.

Getting used to short-term failure is key to finding long-term success.

2. Ask for help when you need it.

You understand you’re not defined by your grades, but you still want to do your best in school. Great! Do you ask for help? From a young age we are taught to be independent, but really we are inter-dependent. We need each other. A good place to start is to admit that there will always be someone better than you at a particular skill.

Not asking for help can be a sign of unresolved pride. It says, “I don’t need you” to people whose expertise, wisdom, and guidance could be the exact key we need.

3. Ask for help even before you need it.

Why wait to run into trouble? The best kind of education is when we have a consistent feeling of growth. Schedule a weekly drop-in to your teachers at a convenient time for them and ask them how you can do the best you can. Make sure you understand the week’s concepts by explaining them back to your teachers and asking if you got it right.

Make a habit of studying by doing it with your friends over snacks before there’s a huge test. If you review your notes at the end of class for 5 minutes, then review them again that evening, your retention rate rockets.

4. Make the most of a calendar.

I’ve stayed up way too late finishing assignments. In university a friend gave me a good tip: on a calendar, mark the due dates of your major assignments with a D. One week (or three days, or whatever) before each is due, make an advance completion date (C or X). Then give yourself an estimate of how many days it will take you to finish it (a week, three weeks) and mark the start date S.

You can colour code your classes or figure out your own system. You will never turn in an assignment last-minute or late ever again, you will have enough time to edit all your assignments, you will feel less stress and more proud of your work.

5. Talk it out.

The worst thing is to bottle things up. If you are stressed about school, do talk to someone. Not just your friends. Griping to them might make you feel better momentarily, but it won’t help resolve the root stressor.

Talk to a teacher preferably, or a guidance counsellor, a mentor, a youth leader, or someone in your faith community. Ask them to hear you out and ask them for their advice. Ask them how you might approach the person, class, or project that is causing stress.

6. Stop trying to multitask.

The latest brain research tells us that we really misunderstand multitasking. It’s not as effective as we are led to believe. Instead focus. Say no to new distractions. Complete one task at a time. This method is less stressful and develops our powers of concentration.

7. Don’t get stuck halfway.

The worst place to be is halfway. Not fully working and not fully resting. I catch myself doing this, flipping back and forth when I need to make my mind up. Right now, decide whether you are working or resting. Then make that time clear. Are you going to watch TV for 30 minutes? Watch it guilt-free. When 30 minutes is up, be honest with yourself, turn it off, and start working until you’ve accomplished what you set out to do.

This requires discipline, and there’s only one way to achieve that. Just do it. You can. I believe in you.

40 Days of Rejection Therapy

Getting over short-term failure is key to finding long-term success. It’s on this premise that my friend Caleb Meakins is doing 40 things that will inevitably end in failure and rejection this year.

Find Caleb’s story of 40 Days of Rejection Therapy at My40Days.co.uk, and on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter with @My40Days

If you can see failure through this lens – that failure is not final, it’s just another learning opportunity – I think your failures will scare you less, and you will have more confidence and more daring.

Education Pays

seeketchum:

For all the naysayers who speak against the value of further education, it appears that having post-secondary actually does pay off. See this graphic.
For me, education is more than just the money you can make with your degree (I did study English and Social Sciences, after all), and I also find I have more options at my fingertips because of my degree.

Originally posted on Teach and Create:

A friend of mine shared this lesson idea with me, and I think it’s just fantastic, especially if you have students in your class who are inclined to doubt the value of a having a high school education/diploma…

In my friend’s class (which is in a NYC public high school), she showed her students the following chart, which indicates the median weekly earnings as well as unemployment rates in the U.S. in 2012, broken down by education degrees earned:

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She discussed and interpreted the chart with her students and asked them to identify patterns.  Then, she had her students create a monthly budget based on the average income of an individual who has less than a high school diploma.  They used this chart to create their budgets:

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 7.41.33 PM

Needless to say, the kids quickly saw something wrong with this picture.  “This isn’t enough money to live on!” many began to exclaim…

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