Why Caricatures Look More Like me than I Do

Why Caricatures Look More Like me than I Do

“I don’t paint things. I only paint the difference between things.” Henri Matisse

When I would draw as a kid, the picture never lived up to my imagination. Optimus Prime’s arms would look weird, or the colors would be bland, or the lines would just be too damn SQUIGGLY. But that never kept me from drawing until my little fingers were sore. I could still look at the pictures I had made, and enjoy this version of something I loved. Even if it looked like Sherlock Homles was blowing bubbles instead of smoke out of his calabash. Something about it was just exciting.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized that drawing wasn’t just about making Optimus Prime look like Optimus Prime. It is about that too, of course. But there was some magic in the look of a drawing that had passed through the fun-house-mirror of the mind, composed of the familiar but replete with imperfections, twisted and unique, and always so SQUIGGLY. Or even an idea that began in the mind, reflecting nothing that existed yet, but coming to life through the bones of the hand and the wet ink, becoming some wonky code of imagination. That always felt special. And fresh.

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So what is it about the reproduction that’s so juicy? We humans do seem to appreciate the process of artistic creation, and the honing of skill and precision that can make it really rich or lifelike. but maybe we’re also wired to see it in some special way. Maybe our brains are uniquely receptive to representations of things, symbols that strip away reality but are still composed of some fundamental essence.  

It turns out, we are built to enjoy this type of difference. For instance, the neurons that fire in our brain when recognizing faces actually fire faster and more frequently in response to variations in facial features, than they do for real life facial compositions![1] It’s why we sometimes find caricatures to be more expressive than actual photos of the people they’re depicting, or why simplistic drawings of real objects can feel somehow more exact, or true. Our brains want to find those deviations, constantly searching for patterns and information. Because that’s what change really is when it comes down to it: data.

So maybe when Matisse is painting an impressionist sunset, or Kubrick is lighting Barry Linden, or I’m sketching pictures of Optimus Prime on Saturday afternoon under the kitchen table in my underwear (I was 6), there is some common creative ancestor guiding us all. Our shared penchant for variation.

We’re cooking up ways to prime ourselves for input, to watch the things we know take shape in new ways, and to make novel again the world, that it might always stay fresh in our minds. No matter how squiggly it may be.

[1] Livingstone, 2014



The Purpose Paradox

The Purpose Paradox

And so Ada sat

And she sat

And she sat

And she thought about science and stew and the cat

And how her experiments made such a big mess.

“Does it have to be so? Is that part of success?

Are messes a problem?” And while she was thinking…

What WAS the source of that terrible stinking?

Ada Marie did what scientists do:

She asked a small question, and then she asked two.

And each of those led her to three questions more,

And some of those questions resulted in four.

As Ada got thinking, she really dug in.

She scribbled her questions and tapped on her chin.

She started at Why? and then What? How? and When?

At the end of the hall she reached Why? once again.

—Excerpt from the book, Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty,*

I listen to big ideas every time I am hired to graphic record a conference. It can’t be true, but sometimes it seems like every other big idea is from Simon Synek’s TED talk, Start with Why.

Synek’s whole talk turns on the phrase “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” He says it twice, for emphasis. Twice. He suggests we say WHY we do something and communicate from the inside out - that we should talk to the behavior part (the limbic part) of the brain, where people make “gut” decisions. It’s a persuasive talk, teaching how to be persuasive.

That’s all great, but it’s become enmeshed in something I’ve heard called the purpose movement: speakers, writers, business and life coaches building a case that knowing your purpose will lead to more productivity, less depression, less anxiety, better sales, you name it. While these claims hold some truth, it has become almost cultish. When I see it in corporate marketing conferences and tied to self-help personality tests, I sense the dark side: brands are purpose-washing their products or services just to fit with the trend. Now if someone asks me what my WHY is, I throw up in my mouth a little.

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So it has become my purpose to upend the purpose movement. And therein lies my paradox.

The Challenge

I’m paid to pay attention, and it’s good for me. I’m often challenged by our clients to open my mind and heart, to broaden my point of view. And so I dug in. I played purpose games, read purpose books, and met the purpose challenge presented by my clients.

This is what I learned.

I can’t go looking for a purpose. I need to develop a purpose mindset - assume I have a purpose already. It’s not under a rock. It must be unlocked. My purpose slips away because I haven’t pondered it hard enough or given it enough time. Or pondered it recently enough if it's changed. 

And then, at the gym, while listening to a purpose audiobook, mid-stride on the elliptical, I discovered the reason I’m so infuriated by this movement. It’s acutely redundant for me. Because I’m obsessed with purpose. I have always asked WHY. It’s a privilege to have lived this life. A middle-class childhood with supportive parents, sheltered from violence, sexism and racism by the happenstance of being white and male in the suburban midwest.

Buy WHY do people like me - people of so much privilege, at the head of businesses - need a movement to ask themselves if they have a purpose? Why has it taken so long?


My purpose has always been to make the more beautiful world my heart knows is possible.**

My purpose isn’t a brand. It’s not a strategy. It’s not to make art. It’s not meant to drive more productivity or raise the bottom line. Of course, it is also all of these, I suppose—it’s a paradox. But really it’s the foundation of all I’ve ever tried to do or make in my life. I do want to say thank you to this movement for pushing me to say it aloud.

But all of this is representative of a much bigger problem...

This movement is symptomatic of a group of people playing catch up on fundamental questions they have ignored out of privilege. We have movements like BLACK LIVES MATTER or ME TOO or ALL ARE WELCOME HERE. They’re beautiful and I’m deeply moved by the inspiring work they do. But what they are asking us to do should already be obvious: to care for and to notice each other and ourselves. That is fundamental compassion. That is the response to suffering we have always been capable of.

The great video artist, Bill Viola, hinted at what I believe is an understory of truth and goodness we are blind to, despite having access to it everyday, when he said simply,

“There is an invisible world, and we’re living in it.”  

So unlock your purpose. I get it. I’m in. But what’s long overdue is our belief in the invisible, beautiful world. It’s there! We just have to ask why.



*Illustrated by the peerless David Roberts

**The More Beautiful World My Heart Knows is Possible, by Charles Eisenstein (read it)


Timothy Foss

Is the President of More Belief and continues to seek out the boundary waters of where art and leadership converge.

More Belief Blog

Behind the Mind of More Belief

What to do about the Dark

What to do about the Dark

Healing Night.  Illustration by the author

Healing Night. Illustration by the author

Last night, my son woke up at 1230 and clicked on our light. Did you have a bad dream? No. Do you need help? No. So I get out of bed and walk him back to his room careful not to click off the light in the hall before he reaches his room. I must resolve his sleep to return to mine.

In the preface to his book, Healing Night,  Dr. Rubin R. Naiman, says,

Healing Night, is also about healing our days. If we allow ourselves an honest and sober encounter with darkness, we will begin to see sleeping, dreaming, and waking in a whole new way. In fact, we could begin to see in a whole new way.

I rub my son’s back, but he is frustrated. He needs another pillow. It doesn’t help. I lie on his floor while he dozes, but when I leave, he calls me back: 1 am.

As January began, I tried to fight the dark. I spent the first week clearing out storage and excess from our basement, carving out a workshop, giving away things on Craigslist. I bought a sauna that I fixed up, met with body-workers, started a yoga class. 

But even with the sunlamps, the Vitamin D drops, coffee, beer, and friends, nothing can clear away the dark. Minnesota in the winter is cold, yes. But it is very dark. Or to put it better, it is usually dark. 

Most of the day is nighttime. 

I return to my son’s room with a pillow to lie on. I’m not comfortable. As he dozes off, I begin doubting all of my daylight decisions. I question my productivity, my confidence, and feel the melancholy seep in.

Then something shifts. I realize I’m tired of this self-doubt. But instead of trying to erase it, I let myself really feel it. I sink into it like my missing blanket, encouraging it to wrap around me. I take comfort in it. The familiar ache of my daytime stress. I belong in these feelings. They come in the night and push me to find softness for them. 

I feel my true nature as a creature of organs and muscle, battling demons in my mind, forgiving my spirit. A truly sober encounter with the night.

Dr. Naiman continues,

Night is home to a delicate spirituality…there is a lovely, sacred, and mythic dimension to our night consciousness. Our challenge is to appreciate the mechanisms of sleep, dreams, and awakening without sacrificing their essential spiritual qualities.

I have ruled out everything else. Winter is sobering. Facing the dark, releasing the day. Allowing for the feelings that darkness inevitably brings. Making space for slower movement, longing hearts, softer smiles. Naiman's book is permission to experience this as it comes.

130 am. I take a chance. I sneak out. Return to my bed. When I wake up, it will be dark. My son has a hard morning involving a straw dilemma. He feels the dark too. I sneak out to yoga for a rare escape from morning chaos. The sun finally begins to shine as the class ends. This is how to live in Minnesota. It is worth being in the night of winter to find our way back to summer's day.

Conquering Fear like it's a Mean Frog

Conquering Fear like it's a Mean Frog


The Mean Frog is the Meanest Frog: Drawing by Author's Son


In response to the title of the film, Muppets Most Wanted, my son says, "It's not wanted by me! It should be the Muppets Most Non-Wanted!"

He means Constantine, specifically, the Russian doppleganger of Kermit—master criminal with an incriminating mole. He has haunted my son since our attempt to see the movie in a theater last winter. 

For all the years he can remember, my son has been the friend of an imaginary frog, named FROG. We used to have a frog-head puppet (looked like Kermit), but lost it. It’s just my wife and I now. Acting frog. At times I acted frog constantly. Asking at the end of the day if I could just be Papa for once. At a point of saturation, I thought we should let Frog go, but my son cried like death had come. It was horrible. Redo! He’s not around as much as before, but Frog is still recognized as a little brother, naive best friend, co-pirate, conspirator, and savior in times of crisis. He is my son's proof that the world is safe and he has mastered it. We all love him.  

So when the movie opened to the Kermit double, Constantine, escaping in a storm of ninja kicks, shadows, and detonations from a Russian Gülag, I was concerned. My son withered. By the time Kermit got jumped, framed next to the wanted poster of Constantine (EVILEN FROGGEN!), blindfolded, abducted by German police, and tossed into a van squealing off to prison, my son had melted into a puddle of tears. We scurried out of the theater. “Why?!” he cried. “Why was Froggy like that?!!” He couldn't separate the two frogs in his mind. He was caving in.

Two weeks of nightmares. After that, a looming fear that the frog was still out there. "It's just a puppet," I told him. “There's a puppeteer that operates him.” “He doesn't actually exist.” “It wasn’t actually Kermit. Just a bad frog that looked like Kermit.” Nothing helped. We even wrote a letter to Disney telling them to never show this movie to anyone (unless they lived in the very far north of Minnesota). Disney didn’t write back. I spoke with the Russian accent of Constantine to try to make amends. Eventually about a month later, sealed by a new dream-catcher on the wall, we got past it.

Last week, out of nowhere, my son got interested in Constantine again. He began asking if he could see the movie. He drew a diagram (above) to clarify the images taking over his mind. We found the Muppets encyclopedia that pictured Constantine. My son needed details: Constantine’s neck spikes are shorter than Kermit’s, black-and-white photos can be made to look darker and meaner on purpose. Wanted posters are used to find bad guys. Sometimes they don’t work. Sometimes police officers get confused. Constantine and Kermit are in the last scene together, but they’re not friends. Constantine was abandoned by his mother, and grew up at a bomb-factory, that’s why he’s so evil. Heavy stuff.

We checked the DVD out of the library, but also a CD of the soundtrack. I played the soundtrack for days with him (Ty Burrell kills it!) and he especially paid attention to the tracks where Constantine sang about being the number one criminal in the world, (we’re criminals at large, but I’m at larger than you!). We partied and danced with my one-year old. He explained over and over to his friend, Frog (played by me and his mother), that Constantine tricked the police into arresting Kermit by sticking a prop mole on his face, and disguising his own mole with green makeup. The low-down…

One morning, he walked into the kitchen and said, “Mom” and then pointed to the open page with Constantine, “HIM.” We understood what he meant. He was obsessed. For the good of all of us, he would beat this.

The second night, he stated, “It’s like I feel he’s here in my body, but I’m not scared of him anymore because I know he’s not actually here.” 

To watch him parse out all the layers of his fears! To see him turn this bone-chilling fear into curiosity! He still hasn’t watched the movie (it’s too hard to follow anyway), but I watched it for him and he keeps asking me to fill him in. He’s building his own version of the story from the music, pictures, and my explanations. It’s elegant. He’s breaking it down, or open. He’s healing. His way. 

I never did this as a child. Or if I did, I’ve forgotten how. To take a fear so forceful, and turn it into something almost pleasurable as I mastered it. I’m inspired to try this. There are so many fears, I hardly notice how I am ruled by them. I challenge anyone to take even one fear apart this way. To not abandon it. To point to your Evillen Froggen and say, “HIM.” 

How to run a business like it's a 1941 Ford Super Deluxe

Drawing by the author

Spent the other evening talking to my dad about his relationship with his dad and found a fun analogy in imagining my business as my dad's first car. He inherited it from his own dad, and his dad inherited it from his dad. Drove it up from Florida in 1956 before there were freeways. My dad repainted it in the garage and wrenched in a Chevy V-8 engine from his brother's wreck. Add a couple corvette parts and he had a hot-rod. Didn't look like much, but it was a lot of fun.

I've inherited a lot of those scrap-together values. Here's the drawn tribute.

Thanks dad!

My tribute to Eric Garner—the illustrated words of Hank Johnson

Skethchnotes by the author

To the community of Black Americans and to activists globally, working tirelessly to offer voices to the oppressed, I had to create something of content in the midst of my life of great privilege. Yesterday I was again overcome with the agony of it all as I read tweets and facebook posts filled with the incredible black response to these insanely unjust court rulings. I finally chose to watch the footage of Eric Garner's death. My heart collapsed.

Then I move to the video content being created, read about the marches, the die-ins. Look at images of these demonstrations. It is how change will happen. I still ascribe to the truth as it is told by Howard Zinn. That history is created by the people. I also recognize that my privilege can be used to create change. And I do. I work everyday to live values that put compassion above all other spiritual or revolutionary impulses. As the Dalai Lama said, "Compassion is the new revolution." In the form of restraint, compassion is what I see on the streets. Walking the high road.

Hank Johnson finished his speech by saying that it is economics that divide us. Race is simply another symptom of what poverty offers by way of keeping us alienated. These conclusions were also made by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X right before their assassinations. I think each of us as humans knows better than to assume skin color and cultural differences are really all that scary. But when faced with our constant fear of survival due to ubiquitous economic hardship among the 99%, our fears spread easily. It is in our history.

We are victims of our own colonial heritage. To move outside and beyond that heritage requires first an acknowledgement of what horrors have transpired, then grieving, then reparations. Shifting Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day in Minneapolis and Seattle is a gesture in that direction. Black History Month is crucial. But I will say honesty that real economic reparations are what are really needed for the people that gave their lives, families, and souls away. This Atlantic Article by Ta Nehisi-Coates forms an extremely eloquent argument, spelling out even how the latest economic crisis was built on the exploitation of black hardship—how it is merely the latest entry to the list of this kind of institutional oppression.

And if we are legislatively too blind to offer reparations to a cultural group specifically, then let's seek radical economic change that values life, compassion, and the planet from where we all originate. Models exist. And they are coming. Groups like Shareable are in open-source conversation about alternatives. Thought-leaders about sacred economics like Charles Eisentstein offer practical methods of phasing in a new kind of money system. See the film, Money and Life. The edge-consciousness community inspired by the work of Daniel Pinchbeck: Reality Sandwich tethers our economics to compassion. There are countless others. We can engage in this movement.

I offer this image as another way of feeling the truth of what has happened to Eric Garner. How it effects his family, and what it means for the soul of Black Americans. I offer it as a tribute to the media savviness of this movement as it creates empowering hashtags out of these martyrs like #Icantbreath and #blacklives matter. The incredible restraint being shown on the streets, and as a way for me to continue breathing while my own heavy heart pulls me into anguish. Share this image with anyone who needs to hear the story this way. It's just another way to tell the same truth over and again.

Thank you Black America. Thank you all compassionate people fighting to overcome oppression.

Choosing where to be dead.

Unsealed Grave. Painted by the author.

My wife and I finally made up our wills. I had surgery on Tuesday for something very minor, but I was under anesthesia, and my doctor nudged me to make up my will beforehand (not the surgeon, mind you).

I have very little to pass on besides my boxes of stored art, but it seemed significant to know who would care for my children if my wife and I both died. But then up popped this question (we were filling out a quick and dirty online will at Rocket Lawyer). What would I like done with my remains?

I'd always assumed I'd like my ashes scattered, but then I read somewhere that I deny the Earth the nourishment that comes from my decaying body if I just leave it my burnt ashes. It's a rip-off. So I checked into whether I could just be buried in a pine box—something biodegradable, unsealed, un-vaulted. Get me as close to that Earth as possible. I thought: That's got to be illegal. 

It turns out it's legal! In fact, I can be buried on my own land (if I owned any). There's a lot written about it. Some vaults in the ground are bottomless, they just prevent the unsightly effect of the ground sinking above you, but the worms are free to enter. Good to avoid embalming too, so you're fully recyclable.

By the end of the day, I felt sort of giddy from the decision. I want to know my body is returning to this place—the Earth—that has given me so much. When I'm lying on my death bed, I wonder if it won't be a solace. Meanwhile, the surgery went fine, and I am immensely grateful for this family I live with.

The chimp in charge of EVERYTHING

A quick time lapse drawing to a story I recently told my son at bedtime. Enjoy!

There once was a chimp in charge of EVERYTHING.

He believed in breaking windows, chopping stuff up, and shouting all the time.

And EVERYONE loved him. They spent all day breaking, chopping, and shouting. And they were happy.

Until one day, a little dog said, "Mr. Chimpanzee, I have broken glass in my paws." And a mouse came along and said, "I have chopped off all my whiskers!"

And as the chimpanzee tried to help them, a hippo hobbled up and shouted, "MISTER CHIMPANZEE, THERE'S TOO MUCH SHOUTING! I'M GOING TO LOSE MY HEARING! CAN SOMEONE ELSE BE IN CHARGE?!!"

So, since chimpanzee didn't want ANYONE to get hurt, he decided to only be in charge of breaking eggs, and chopping only wood, and only shouting when the little ones needed to come home.

And after that, NO ONE was in charge of EVERYTHING ever again.

-told to my son on the way to bed tonight. 

Graphic Recording as a new way of seeing. At 1 Million Cups!

Why do I love Graphic Recording so much? I explain it all in this video!

First I Graphic Recorded the presentation of Catherine Gillis for her product Mobile Composer. Well done. 

Then at 24:55, I get to explain why I care so much about Graphic Recording, why it adds so much value to group conversations. How people get to SEE what they MEAN. Listen to my story of Eli's amazing discovery of the night sky, and why I remember all the podcasts I listen to while drawing. Stay tuned for all the inner discoveries I make while hearing the feedback from the amazing fellow entrepreneurs that attend 1 Million Cups, St. Paul every Wednesday Morning at the James J. Hill library

See you there next week!

Sketchnotes of 1 Million cups. I'll be presenting there next week!

I'll be presenting next week at 1 Million Cups, St. Paul on Wednesday at 9am. To get a taste of what's happening down there, I had the pleasure of watching some great presenters. I couldn't help but make sketchnotes about their work. First of sisters, Lisa Lynch and Kristy Lynch from Lynch Strategies, So impressed by their work as a full-service marketing agency. Just two people with such talent, exuberance, and humility! 

Also a fantastic presentation by Jeff Stone of Picture Time! He is truly called to create visual storytelling to non-profits. Anyone with a passion for visual stories has me hooked. 

sketchnotes of Jeff Stone's presentation about Picture Time

Sketchnotes: Nathan Schneider on God and Anarchy

In this brilliant interview at On Being with Krista Tippet, I was drawn to Nathan Schneider's ability to find the compassion so crucial in our work to pro-actively evolve as humans. My experiences as an activist led me down so many roads that ultimately ended in anger. Nathan sees beyond that. He sees a world where the rhetorical dead ends are really openings to bigger heart. Here are my sketchnotes that attempt to capture his young brilliant mind.

On Branding, Cattle, Tattoos, and overcoming a fear of labels.

In my post, I am not a Brand, I share my beef with branding. But I forgot to mention:

Branding began with cattle.

That says it all. If the purpose of branding cattle is to make a living thing into a permanent, fixed property, Why would I want to do this to myself?

I don't even want a tattoo. I'm evolving, fluid, free. A cow is inherently wild. 

There is a cultural double-standard:

We crave a title, yet we admire people who defy genre.

I'm discovering that my brand is not a label applied to property. It's a rich story with innuendos and subtleties as layered as any relationship. I like tattoos that are iconic—a circle on a wrist—clear, simple, mysterious. When a tattoo is obvious or derivative (spidermen, butterflies, hearts) I'm less interested.

How will I overcome this fear of labels? For me, it started with a name. I didn't even know what I would do. But the name had a mystery and a familiarity all at the same time. Then, I took a leap of faith. I sacrificed the freedom of being unidentifiable for the power of a name.

MORE BELIEF is familiar. We all seek to believe in something more than we do—usually ourselves. But a friend recently noticed that it has the word REBEL in the middle. I like that. The power in the name keeps informing me.

The label actually gave me more freedom than I could have imagined. Creating a limit also provides an opportunity to expand.

Did I offend you yet?

I have a fear of accidentally offending people. Every word I write—every blog, facebook update, email, tweet, IM—each present another opportunity to piss somebody off.  As a child of the 70s and 80s I could only anger someone when I encountered them in person or on the phone. Not anymore.

I'm not constantly dripping sweat, but a lingering paranoia follows me around, and no amount of coffee, exercise, meditation, therapy, (or alcohol) will shoo it away.

This social density has forced me to break down my understanding of fear. It's not an abstract fear of toppling over someone's block tower, it's a fear that since I toppled over someone's block tower, they can now PROVE that I'm an ASSHOLE UNWORTHY OF LOVE.

The only cure is for someone to actually call me out when I offend them. I end up feeling the real pain, and I get the opportunity to sit with that pain a bit—feel it in my throat. Sure, I want to fight back, I want to kick over an extra couple stacks of blocks. Prove that THEY'RE THE ASSHOLE! 

Or, I could just stay with that lump in my throat. Take a break. Find the blocks. Pick them up and stack them again. Maybe better. And then I see that the fear is just that. It's fear. It's a normal state of life. Without it, I wouldn't get to feel myself gain the courage I need to grow.

Not ready to move on? Just heave the past along with you.


Not ready to move on? Just heave the past along with you.

Today, when my 5-year old son didn't want to leave the Mississippi river banks to go home for his grilled cheese, he chose to insist on carrying home the log he was playing with by the river. Being who we are, and considering who he is, my wife and I have learned to just go ahead and let him try. It's rarely worth trying to convince him to leave it. 

In this case, he really did carry a log up the 50 foot river bank in mud and leaves, slipping and falling and crying for the first 20 feet, but slowly smiling at himself as he cleared the low brush and crested the hill to the trail. Everyone started to cheer up in fact as we realized he'd managed to pull off this ridiculous feat of 5-year old strength, and by the time he reached the final stairway to ascend to the city street 3 blocks from home, we were more than happy to lift the far end when he asked for a little help. Till then, he'd refused the slightest bit of assistance.

The moral? Who knows. But maybe it's something like this. When you're so convinced that what you're doing is so vital that you can't leave it behind when life forces you to move on. Maybe just heave your past along for a bit until you're ready to be in the place you are going next. It might be more work, sure—the anti-zen—but perhaps it's the best and most hilarious way to move on.

How to host a farm dinner. Chickens and Chamber Music?

MORE BELIEF is in process with Monica Walch from Dinner on the Farm to enhance the flow at her events. Her guests currently engage in a gentle, laid back dinner cooked by a local culinary star, and are served food grown right on the land where they've spread their picnic blanket. Having recently enjoyed a friend's birthday party at one of these meals (See photo above), I have to say, there's not much one could do to make that experience any better.

What inspires me about her dinners, though, is how close they come to really calling food and the community that gathers around it, a sacred experience. How could that sacredness be felt on a more transcendent level?  Some of my brainstorms are below.

But now you can join Monica and Ben Weaver's most recent collaboration where some of this kind of more transcendent thinking is already being experimented with. See this City Pages interview with them to find out about their October 4th event called WonderGather. I'll be there. If you want to be, Email Dinneronthefarm@gmail.com to join the ride to the farm that will leave from Angry Catfish Saturday morning. 

Dear Secular-humanist-artist-types. Welcome to Art Church.

Janaki Ranpura hosted a cabaret this past Sunday morning in the same humble garage venue where she staged her fabulous puppet show, UBUBU, this past spring. She invited a talented, intimate group of theater makers—Molly Van Avery, Rachel Jendrzejewski, Sarah Myers, Sarah Saltwick, and Theo Goodell—to share works in progress, ramblings, or small pieces and share a breakfast together. I joined with the hopes of testing my impulse to evangelize MORE BELIEF's secular sacred agenda in this kind of community.

After a few conversations with Janaki, where I described my odd obsession to live out my post-adolescent dream to become a pastor, and thanks to Molly Van Avery's clever title, Art Church  was born. Cabaret style.

As the other participants were all well-acquainted, and had agreed to a masochistic all night work party, my social anxiety piqued, so I seized the opportunity to provide them breakfast the next morning. I showed up at 8 am dressed in a 60s Sear-Sucker suit, carrying groceries. Then Molly, Sarah Saltwick, and I whipped up fritattas with Collards from my garden (fritatas can be flipped!). 

When we sat down, I asked if I could bless the meal. I stood up, shaking from coffee, and gurgled out this odd semblance of a secular prayer of gratitude:

This is our breakfast. It is specific. It is these eggs from these chickens. These collards, this bit of butter. This picked fruit. It is unique, miraculous, and thankless.
Until now. Because we are grateful. This is all of us being grateful right now.
Let’s eat this food and use it for some good. Can I get a Hot damn?!

During the blessing, I watched the uncomfortable awkward smiles (are we praying right now? YIKES!) slowly relax as the sentimentality—the ultimate sin of us artist-types—was effectively forgiven, and the genuine feeling of gratitude pervaded. 

Still acting the minister, I asked everyone to introduce themselves by saying what they believe in. We talked about pleasure, heartbreak, wedding planning, moving for love, loss and how it all leads to compassion. The Last Unicorn came up, if you’re looking for a reference point.

photo of the Congregation by Rachel Jendrzejewski

We reconvened in the garage theater. I set the tone for Art Church Cabaret with a short homily about using earplugs to practice clair-audience (see my post about clair-audience here) The performers moved from the nostalgia for real dictionaries, to spontaneous typing with call-and-response accompaniment, to the draft of a play read with a flashlight as the central character. Janaki closed by assembling us as salmon to her fishing story. She hooked us with her masterful storytelling, only to release us back into the noisy light of midday, liberated by our willingness to be touched. (oooh. my description sounds sentimental. It's my fault not hers. Forgive me, fellow artists, for I have sinned.)

Regardless of my flawed nature (or because of it?), MORE BELIEF is committed to more Sunday morning Art Church to come. Stay tuned.

You are all welcome. Please bow your heads. Fold your hands.

Now let us play.