‘AT WAR’ film

September 28, 2008

I’m not big on war films, but I do admire David Leeson. For those who may not be familiar with Leeson’s work, this photojournalist/ videographer won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for his photos from Iraq where he served as an embedded journalist with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. He is also a primary reason I studied journalism in college. 

An ACU alumnus, Leeson came to Abilene my freshman year as part of the university’s speaking series where I  listened to the long-time journalist talk about the importance of story telling. Gripped by Leeson’s recollections  of Iraq, of Congo, of Inner city New York, his images tell haunting tales of war-torn countries and grief-stricken lives. 

And now Leeson is expanding his audience by collaborating with director/photographer Scott Kesterson in the soon-to-be released documentary AT WAR. “AT WAR is the story of one journalist’s journey into the chaotic structure of war,” www.atwarfilm.com stated. “It presents war as a dichotomy of human existence; love and hate, joy and sorrow, victory and defeat. It leads us to a greater understanding of the futility of war and our human nature.”

I can’t wait to see how this visual story teller portrays the brutality and perhaps necessity of war. With the moving music of Sarah Jaffe, an indie songwriter from Denton, intertwined with clips from the documentary, the trailer alone is watch-worthy. Regardless of what you think about the war, about the Middle East, or about 24-hour news media, I hope Leeson’s work impacts your thinking and perspective as much as it has mine. 

Watching my world converge

September 26, 2008

In the midst of celebrating the marriage of my long-time chum, who will become Mrs. Rebecca Ardender on Saturday at 11 a.m., I looked up and felt my heart swell at the sight of a handful of my oldest, most faithful friends huddled around what seemed to be an ancient photo album, laughing at dated hairstyles and saying things like, “Remember the time Ben stole Shane Barnard’s guitar pick to give to Kristine,” or “I can’t believe I let Emily die my hair red.” 

Steph was smart to bring the albums to the pre-wedding festivity, as if to converge the last 12 years with today. Looking at the photos, (most of which were taken with disposable cameras because digital cameras were not yet affordable) it was strange to think that I’ve spent the last chunk of my life without these girls daily by my side, and we can’t relive track practices or snack breaks in the main hall at Liberty Christian School where we wore our “closed-toed, closed-healed, brown or black only” uniform shoes with indignation.

Weddings are a funny thing; really they are. We go through all these rituals, many of which I don’t think we have reason for except that “it’s the way things have always been done,”  and this logic never made much sense to me. But in most regards I love weddings because regardless of how they are approached they distinctly mark a change in the world, as if to remind everyone involved that life isn’t stagnant, and we can’t do anything to stop it from moving.

And someday not too long from now I’ll help entertain tiny little people who look like a wonderful mix of my old friends Becca and Greg Arender, and I’ll tell the children how much they’ve grown since the last time I saw saw them as we make up for lost memories. And eventually I’ll stand next to the other girls whose faces fill that photo album as they change their last names, and I’ll be reminded once more how life so quickly changes. And my heart will swell, I’m sure of it.

Reflections on Donald Miller

September 23, 2008

I find myself referencing this excerpt more frequently as I get closer to moving. I hope you enjoy Miller’s words as much as I have.

Life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath:

I’ll tell you how the sun rose

A ribbon at a time…

It’s a living book, this life; it folds out in a million settings, cast with a billion beautiful characters, and it is almost over for you. It doesn’t matter how old you are; it is coming to a close  quickly, and soon the credits will roll and all your friends will fold out of your funeral and drive back to their homes in the cold and stil and silence. And they will make a fire and pour some wine and think about how you once were… and feel a kind of sickness at the idea you never again will be.

So soon you will be in that part of the book where you are holding the bulk of the pages in your left hand, and only a thin wisp in your right. You will know by the page count, not by the narrative, that the Author is wrapping things up. You begin to mourn its ending, and want to pace yourself slowly toward its closure, knowing the last lines will speak of something beautiful, of the end of something long and earned, and you hope the thing closes out like last breaths, like whispers about how much and who the characters have come to love, and how authentic the sentiments feel when they have earned a hundred pages of qualification. 

And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children to play. My hope is your story will be about changing, and getting something beautiful born inside of you, about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving your self around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting, the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it? 

It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.

I want to repeat one word for you:


Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed. 

-Donald Miller, “Through Painted Deserts”

I acquired an antique turquoise bicycle from an old art teacher several years ago that I absolutely love, and after adding a basket and a bell that says “I heart my bike”, I would choose riding my “souped” up bike over driving my Honda whenever possible.  Except that my bike is one-speed, which makes riding even in the flattest locations a bit of a challenge. And driving sure is quicker and warmer/cooler, depending on the climate.

Speaking of climate, I read this week in my Economist about the Inuit people who live near the Arctic circle and who are now using air conditioners for the first time. Air conditioners! The ice is melting, creating more than one problem for a culture built around cold weather. What do you do when your igloo melts, or the ground beneath you collapses as you are trying to hunt dinner for your family. 

I want to believe that this case study is evidence enough to convince whoever believes global warming is a myth that perhaps they have been misinformed, and perhaps it is time for them to pull their heads out of the sands of unreality. 

Some activists argue this issue – aloofly increasing the size of our carbon footprint to the point of causing danger to people in various locations around the world, many of whom we may be unaware- should be classified as a human rights violation to which the United States would have to answer guilty. 

 I know most readers are aware of these realities. Most of us don’t live in the sand but rather in communities where we are exposed to such injustices, where we talk and deal with these issues. We’ve heard the Inuit people’s story, we ‘ve watched the documentary that garnered so much attention. But my worry is that we aren’t letting these truths impact us enough to change our lifestyles if that change forces us into any sort of discomfort. Or maybe that’s just me. Because I like my cute bike, but I also like my Honda’s stereo, and I like getting from Point A to Point B as quickly and as painlessly as possible. 

Global warming is happening faster than expected and it’s hurting the poorest of the poor, the people with the smallest footprints on the earth. It’s eroding their coastlines and spreading pests and water- born disease. It’s producing more erratic weather patterns and impacting their most needed resources: dry-land agriculture, subsistence fishing, tropical rain forests. And the hardest thing to stomach about the whole situation is that the people who are being hurt the most are the most unable to defend themselves. 

I read these stories, and my soul hurts to know I have unconsciously been a part of this destruction, all in the name of modernization. I sit in traffic and stare at the oversized SUV in front of me touting its “God Bless America” bumper sticker, as if we don’t have the best educational system, the most modern medical facilities, not to mention the most wealth in the world. And I wonder how we became so  ungrateful as to ask God for more when the very vehicle that carries our message forces our brothers and sisters into greater hardship. 

So instead of standing on my soap box, on which I fully realize I spend too much time, I am resolved to act — a hip yet promising trend of my generation. I’m committed to riding my bike to work one day a week for my last month in the States. The pledge is small in most respects, large in others (remember my bike is a one-speed, beach cruiser). Still I feel a need to do something.

My Auntie Em religiously listens to NPR, a habit I have picked up from her since I went to college. Several years ago she became so distraught by the war in Iraq that she chose to outwardly groan every time she heard one of the stories reported, as though to grieve with the creation over the falleness of the world when she felt helpless to do anything else. 

And so I think my morning bike rides will be a similar sort of grieving mechanism, and I invite you to join me. I’m not presuming that a five-mile bike ride one day a week will end global warming or will even spark action from others. In fact, at this stage in the game environmentalist say the damage has been done. Still I prefer action to apathy and will choose fresh air to air conditioning, if only to reconcile a bit of the frustration this issue brings me.  Feel free to ride as well. The fresh air will do you good.

Come quickly, Sept. 29

September 19, 2008

Ten days until I get to see the Swell Season in  concert! Man, I love these folks, broken guitar and all.

While many people my age would justifiably place themselves in the same category, I am of the type who tends to be a little music obsessive, as in I listen to music when I write, when I study, when I ride my bike, when I cook, when I read, when I make art, when I am having an intimate conversation with a friend, when I take long road trips, when I drink coffee, when I watch the sun set. You get the picture. I’m constantly trying out new music, hoping to find a memorable sound to accompany the events of my day. And though I have listened to many musicians, the following three albums have served as companions to my recent adult life, providing a melody for the most delightful and sinister of life’s circumstances. 

1. Sufjan Stevens – Come on Feel the Illinoise!

If any musician could undertake such a task as creating an entire album for each state in the Continental United Sates it would be none other than our beloved Sufjan Stevens. Come on Feel the Illinoise serves as the second installment in Stevens’s lofty project and leaves listeners eagerly awaiting the arrival of installment number three with his anti-folk folk music, orchestrated interludes and one-of-a-kind song titles. The album contains a collection of short stories set to music, all of which pertain to the state of Illinois. As evidenced by his meticulously researched histories, Stevens’ subject matter veers from the folklore of Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL to the intensely personal histories of The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out to Get Us!” and “Casimir Pulaski Day”. 

 I discovered Illinoise on a crowded bus in Shanghai and garnered several turned Chinese heads toward my “toe tapping, head bobbing” self as I silently but not so discreetly jammed to” Decatur, Or, Round Of Applause For Your Stepmother!” in my headphones, and it’s been true love ever since. A unique combination of whimsy and contemplative thought, Illinoise provides a song for every mood, not to mention a rather challenging sing-along. 

2. Rachael Yamagata – Happenstance

Every girl needs a female musician to idolize, and not in a “hit me baby one more time” sort of way. Rather names like Torri Amos, Fiona Apple and Leslie Feist surface among the growing collective of talented women singer/song writers, a grouping that would be incomplete without the husky vocals and melancholy lyrics of Ms. Rachael Yamagata. In her first full-length album, Happenstance, Yamagata retells stories of love and loss, and while her approach to these issues isn’t necessarily new, her sometimes-raspy, sometimes-smoky voice, which is reminiscent of a modern-day Billie Holiday, carries the album to completion, as she  wrestles with the realities of longing, loss, dislocation and unrequited love.

Happenstance kept me company for the long train ride across the Chinese countryside, and I can attest that she plays to her listeners’ emotions when she sings, “I know she needs you more than I do, and I wouldn’t win this fight,” in “Ode To…,” or “I will head out alone and hope for the best; we will hang our heads down as we skip the goodbyes,” in “Reasons Why.” I choked back tears and marveled at the same time as to how impeccably Yamagata seemed to heighten the sense of beauty in my surroundings. Fusing grace with grit and passion with pathos, Happenstance is best listened to with a tissue box close at hand. 

3. Iron & Wine– The Shepherd’s Dog

Composer Aaron Copeland argued that listeners take in music on three levels: the contextual, the experiential and the critical. Iron & Wine’s most recent album, The Shepherd’s Dog, successfully appeals to all three. With an organic, bare-bones sound, Samuel Beam, under the musical name Iron & Wine, successfully serenaded his crowds into his favor with a raspy voice, finger-picking style and poetic lyrics. After first listen, I wasn’t immediately sold on Shepherd’s Dog. The album seemed to veer from Beam’s first full-length album, Our Endless Numbered Days, with its West African sound and experimental voice layering. Shepherd’s Dog requires time for adjustment, but I eventually found myself in awe of Beam’s sheer brilliance. While bands like Coldplay have been criticized for its stagnant sound, and Death Cab for Cutie for the awkward changes on the band’s latest album, Narrow Stairs, Iron & WIne gracefully evolves into a more progressive, more diverse album.

I was given a copy of Shepherd’s Dog, somewhat unexpectedly, from a college acquaintance who I often chatted with at local shows. One morning, without anything else to listen to in my car and a cup of coffee awaiting me at a local coffee shop across town, I half-heartedly placed Shepherd’s Dog back into my stereo for the drive. And that’s when I fell in love. Captured by the subdued reggae in “Wolves (Song of the Shepherd’s Dog)” and the mesmerizing harmony of Sarah, Beam’s sister, in “House by the Sea,” I drove until I had listened to the entire album, first track to last. 









Other notable albums that I love and that you should love too!

1. The Arcade Fire: Neon Bible

2. Bowerbirds: Hyms of a Dark Horse

3. Regina Spektor: Soviet Kitsch (don’t be fooled; her old stuff is way less poppy than her latest album)

4. Andrew Bird: Soldier On

5. East Village Opera Company: La Donna

6. Okkervil River: The Stage Names

7. The Swell Season: The Swell Season

8. Jens Lekman: Oh You’re So Silent Jens

9. Broken Social Scene: Broken Social Scene

10. Beirut: The Flying Club Cup

I love the diversity of life, the constant comings and goings, meeting new people, experiencing new things. But I was reminded tonight eating pizza with a 3-year old I recently met and her mother, who I have known since my junior high wilderness trip where she taught me how to pitch my own tent (and not the pop-up kind), that consistency is a really beautiful thing and that sometimes old friends are the perfect prescription for a life full of transition.

Trish worked at the high school I attended, and she was notorious for placing printed scriptures about Jesus’s love for his people in all the girls’ lockers on Valentine’s Day and making tasty treats like fondu at her house for Monday night Bible study. One time I was asked to share an experience I had on a Spring- break mission trip in front of the entire student body, and because I was bit terrified of speaking in public, Trish stood at the back of the audience and just smiled at me as I spoke as if to communicate that I was doing a great job, that this was no different than coming in her office and having a heart-to-heart, one-on-one conversation. 

Life has changed a lot since I last saw Trish. She got married and had three children while I moved to West Texas and I guess you could say kind of grew up. But even tonight, as I attempted to win the hearts of her kids I didn’t know and studied old photos of her experiences that I had missed, she still hugged me like she did when I was 16, she still used the same old examples to remind me of the same important truths, and she sill, most apparently, wanted me to remember the eternal love of God.

Trish and I talked about everything tonight from boys, the Bible, college to being overly emotional.  A cool similarity I share with Trish is a love for travel. Having traveled to Kenya in the past, she encouraged me to buy something from the Africans while I am there to remind me of the Lord’s provision for those people. I soaked up every word of our conversation and wanted to cry and laugh and pray and marvel all at the same time. 

I try to steer clear of gushing about my emotions in my blog ( it’s the journalist in me), but I confess that this season of transition, while it has been a blessing, has been hard. It’s a strange and often lonely feeling to leave everything you have known as normal life for four years, be looking forward to a new stage full of unknown variables, and to somehow feel stuck somewhere in the middle.

But lucky for me, Trish is intuitive and no-nonsense enough to ask the hard questions. And as has always been the case, she can’t help but preach about the kindness of God. Tonight I needed to hear just that; I needed to hear that God loved me. Over and over again Trish reminded me of this truth. And though it’s the same message she’s been preaching to me for almost 10 years now, her words meant something so different to me than they did when six-week exams and Homecoming dates consumed my world. It felt so much deeper and much more imperative.

I came home still pondering my evening with Trish and found on the kitchen table a package, not just a letter, with my name on the front, printed in green ink. I instantly recognized the handwriting and the name on the return; Hannah sent me a package. 

Hannah is one of my dearest friends from college who recently returned from a trip to Zambia. Inside the package was a handmade bracelet she brought me from Africa  because she said it reminded her of me and a collage she made that read “may you experience the love of Christ.” 

And in that moment I couldn’t help but feel my soul ache to do just that, as though God were elbowing me and whispering in my ear, “Experience my love, Lauren, I want this for you”

I pray that everyone gets a Trish in their life, a person who will repetitively speak of God’s love. And I hope you have a Hannah who will mail you a reminder of that truth, a message that will long outlast the hot-glued beads, which will eventually fall off the construction paper. 

I’m going to wear my African bracelet daily and not only think of God’s love for the people of Africa but also of his love for me. Because if God can spend an entire evening using unlikely means to convince me of this truth, I think it’s a truth worthy of believing. 

Scarving up peace

September 11, 2008

Lately I’m crazy, crazy, crazy about Peace Treaty scarves, so I’m shamelessly plugging this unique line. Who knew what an an amazing product could be created when a Pakistani Muslim and a Libyan Jew joined forces to produce beautiful textiles and employ artisans working in places of socio-political strife? Maybe one day I’ll be able to afford one. Read more at www.apeacetreaty.com

A sad day for Sally Quinn

September 11, 2008

The less vocal of my two Republican parents, my father has begun nightly watching The O’Reilly Factor. One time I attended a thematic university social event labeled “Your Worst Nightmare” where my date and I went as Bill O’Reilly and the No-Spin Zone, if this gives you any indication as to how I feel about the man. But in my house all views are listened to, each party respected, and so my dad and I watch The O’Reilly Factor together but with much eye rolling and many unhelpful comments from his eldest daughter. 

Last week, in the midst the Sarah Palin mania that swept our nation, O’Reilly interviewed Sally Quinn, a columnist for The Washington Post who basically said the newly appointed vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party was unqualified to run and couldn’t efficiently balance the duties of vice president and mother/wife. Providing irresistible Fox News material, O’Reilly promptly interviewed Quinn about the column.

I sat in my living room listening to Quinn in disbelief, slapping my forehead in frustration. 

Most likely looking for a venue to redeem herself, Quinn did little but shove her leftist foot further down her throat. She attempted defending herself by arguing that Sen. John McCain is old, could possibly die while in office, and Palin couldn’t handle the demands of the presidency with young children in the picture. And I kept thinking about the endless hours spent in Editorial Writing class as my professor relentlessly drilled his weary students to build opinions with substance. Well, that day Dr. Marler would have ripped Quinn to shreds. 

What a lame response. The ironic thing about Quinn’s entire column is that I’m sure when she was young and burning her bra for women’s equality, she was fighting for the Sarah Palins of the world, only to later inform the American public that such women are ill-equipped to meet the expectations of this high-demand job. 

I’m saddened by the lack of enthusiasm Palin has received from feminists and more liberally minded women  and perplexed by the empty logic in which this politician is often criticized, as Quinn so gracelessly demonstrated. 

As a woman and an active member of my society, I’m proud of Sarah Palin. Whether or not she has the “right” politics to garner the approval of the great American public, she is a hero, an example of what a strong, forward-thinking woman can achieve. If there were Sarah Palin bumper-stickers manufactured without John McCain’s name next to hers, I would put one on my car.

Dream on

July 29, 2008

At times I wonder what life would look like if we got to live out each of the dreams we conjured. What if we really did become world-class musicians or found ourselves one day digging up ancient artifacts in places like Rome or Egypt or Israel? 

I don’t have an answer to this question, and my short span of life on Earth has taught me that more often than not our greatest dreams don’t materialize; plans fall through, something lesser grabs our attention, we feel that our dreams are too big for our reality, and for some reason or another life takes a different shape than the one we originally longed for when we finger painted as though we were Rembrant or jumped in our backyard swimming pools convinced as we were that sunken treasure lie somewhere near the bottom.

 But every now and again, whether by fate or mere determination, we find ourselves living in the middle of one of those dreams, wondering how we made it to that point, in awe of how the stars seemingly aligned in our favor. At barely 23 years of age, I find myself doing just that.

A wanderer by nature, I’ve long desired to travel the world, to drink tea in England, to ride a camel, to let African children braid my hair, and to in some way give back what little I have to a world that has offered me such immense opportunity. And this hope, this dream I have for so long seen in arm’s reach but could never quite grasp has at last grabbed me.