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April 2014

March 2014

Nike Goddesses & Monuments Men

Paper & Glam - Nike Goddesses & Monuments Men

This year I decided to read twelve of the books hitting the big screen (list here). Saturday afternoon I was reading The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History before seeing the film Saturday night and stumbled on some unlikely fitness inspiration. But before we get to the Nike goddess, let's talk about the Monuments Men.

The Monuments Men were a group of World War II heros responsible for saving innumerable cultural masterpieces. The author's note explains the grave danger of the world's art:

During their occupation of Europe, Hitler and the Nazis pulled of the greatest theft in history, seizing and transporting more than five million cultural objects to the Third Reich. The Western Allied effort, spearheaded by the Monuments Men, thus became the greatest treasure hunt in history, with all the unimaginable and bizarre stories that only war can produce. It was also a race against time, for hidden in the most incredible locations, some of which have inspired modern-day populate icons like Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland and The Sound of Music, were tens of thousands of the world's greatest artistic masterpieces, many stolen by the Nazis, including priceless paintings but Michelangelo and Donatello. And some Nazi fanatics holding them were intent on making sure that if the Third Reich couldn't have them,  the rest of the world wouldn't either.

Winged Victory of SomothrakeThe book also tells the story of Jacques Jaujard, the director of French National Museams, who moved the Louvre's incredible art collection to safety before the German occupation of Paris including the infamous Winged Victory of Samothrace pictured at the left.

The Winged Victory was discovered in 1893 on the island of Samothrace and dates back to appoximately 250 BC.

In Greek mythology, Nike is a goddess who personifing victory. She was also the Greeks perception of ideal beauty and strength.

As wikipedia and the art historian H.W. Janson put it, "Nike creates a deliberate relationship to the imaginary space around the goddess. The wind that has carried her and which she is fighting off, straining to keep steady is the invisible complement of the figure and the viewer is made to imagine it. At the same time, the wind and the sea are suggested as metaphors of struggle, destiny and divine help or grace."

In 2004, I had the privilege of viewing The Winged Victory at The Louvre. It is the most beautiful and inspiring piece of art I've ever seen. The goddess captivates the Duru staircase and commands our attention from her pedestal standing eight feet tall. Standing below her wings is a powerful experience. photo credit

If you've seen the classic fashion film Funny Face, then you remember Audrey Hepburn descending the Duru Staircase in that red Givency gown. If you haven't seen Funny Face, add it to your Netflix queue STAT. This is a film you need in your fashion inspiration repertoire.  

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face on the Daru Staircasephoto credit

2,220 years after Nike was freed from marble by a Greek artist, Nike still inspires us and led to one of the most profitable companies of all time, Nike, Inc. Nike Inc.'s idea to leverage the goddesses image is marketing genius, resulting in the world's most successful branding effort with over 99% of the world's population able to identify the Nike swoosh.

Reading Monuments Men renewed my love of Nike and her abilty to inspire us to be women of strength, grace, and victory. I'm grateful seventy years ago a handful of men took it upon themselves to rescue the great relics and masterpieces of our civilization, and I'm glad their story is being told in theaters.

Whatever these paintings may have been to men who looked at them a generation back - today they are not only works of art. Today they are symbols of the human spirit, and of the world the freedom of the human spirit made...To accept the work today is to assert the purpose of the people of America that the freedom of the human spirit and human mind which has produced the world's great art and all it's science - shall not be utterly destroyed. -President Franklin D. Roosevelt

I hope next time we see the Nike swoosh we remember the goddess Nike and the great debt we owe the men and women who risked everything, and many who gave their lives, to save her and the rest of the world's art.

Paper & Glam - Have A Strong DayIf you're hoping to make some headway towards fitness before we can say "two piece" this spring, remember goddess Nike and that whether it takes you eight minutes or fifteen, a mile is a mile and progress is progress.

May we finish this Monday one day closer to our goals.

May Nike be with us, 

[April 2014 Update: In April's issue of Vanity Fairthere is a killer article on the 1 billion dollar Nazi art stash recovered in 2010...1,280 works of art! This article reports that the work of The Monuments Men lives on today.]

March: The Glam Life

Paper & Glam - March Glam Life

March arrives, the last hurrah of winter and the first whisper of spring. Slowly our spirits reawaken, along with the natural world, from a long winter's slumber. Branches that just days ago were bare, now blossom with new growth. Deep within we feel stirrings of hope. This month we plant the seeds of simplicity. - Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance

March days remind me of what a "glam life" is really all about. At 22, I thought glamor was red carpets, palm trees, and fashion (and it is), but six years later I know it's also quiet candlelit mornings, frozen pine trees, and hot coffee. Our ideas of a glam life or the good life morphs over time and as we mature into something more natural and simple.

Over the weekend we traded an hour of our day for the promise of spring. Saturday morning snow and ice were frozen to the branches of each tree in Denver creating the "Winter Wonderland effect" that feels like magic is afoot. Waking up to this simple, natural beauty reminds me why I moved to Denver. As long as it's been, and as cold, and as lonely as Denver can be, and as much as I long for L.A., I don't know how I could leave this place of winter and spring. It's taught me too much, it's meant too much. 

On Saturday, it was winter and on Sunday it was spring. I drove around town with the windows down and when I got back home the pool looked like the 4th of July full of aviators and floral bikinis without a trace of the winter that was only moments ago. There's nothing quite like spring in Denver with forty degree temperature swings that feel like waking up to the smile of a new life.

In Southern California, it's always beautiful, but that means there is no experience of the renewal of spring and of the world waking up. After months of early bedtimes and fireside retreats, we shed layers and head outside to enjoy a communal rebirth.

The seasonal transition mirrors the death and rebirth we see in the Bible as God redeems all things and makes us new (Rev 21:5). He mirrors the grit and grace of His message with the snow and the sun of the seasons he created, and in the bitter and the sweet of life. As Shauna Niequeist reminds me, winter is bitter and summer is sweet, but we need both.

We really do need both the bitter and the sweet. A life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity.

Winter and summer, snow and sun, death and rebirth...we need both sides of the coin. 

If you're familiar with the church's liturgical calendar, then you may know that on Wednesday we entered the season of Lent. You may know also know Lent as a time when we give something up for 44 days, but as Ann Voskamp writes, "Give something up or don't: the point is, how am I giving more of myself to Jesus?"

How am I going to live today so that tomorrow I wake up a better illustration of the story of death and rebirth God wants to tell with all of our lives? This is the time of the year we reconnect with the heart of the story: life always comes from death. God's greatest gift, His greatest act of grace, came from the death of His son Jesus Christ, which means it's quite possible the same is true in our own lives. God's greatest gift to us may come from the death of a part of us or a part of our lives.

This means we must allow death to do it's work in us, trimming and pruning that which is holding us back and letting go of what we are holding too tightly. No tree in the forest and no life on earth can bloom at all times. There must be times of death and times of rebirth, times of emptiness in our lives and times of fullness and absundance. Just as the harvest comes from sowing seeds into empty dirt, the life in our lives comes from times of emptiness and reflection, soul-searching and waiting.

Is there a small way we can remind ourselves to let go and embrace this season of Lent?

Paper and Glam - Empty Lent Vases
The vases in my house are sitting empty, and they'll stay that way until Easter as a reminder to allow God to empty me so that He can fill me and my life with more of Him.

Lent is a time we remember the death that must come before rebirth. We die to ourselves, our desires and our dreams to take on the depth of something bigger and brighter...the resurrection of Jesus and the redemption of our world.

I pray that in this season of Lent we can embrace the central theme of the story, death and rebirth, and allow that cycle to do it's work in us, preparing us for the new life on the way.

A Long Obedience

Paper & Glam - A Long Obedience

The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; thereby results, have always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living. - Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good & Evil

Since we rang in the new year, I've been reading Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience. If you're new to Eugene Peterson's work, he is brilliant. Not only did he translate the Bible into contemporary language in The Message translation, he's written over 30 books including one of my favorites, Leap Over A Wall on the life of King David. The most intriguing characteristic of Peterson's writing is his ability to show us how our individual journeys are mirrored in the stories of the Bible.

In A Long Obedience, he takes The Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) and charters the journey of spiritual growth, starting with the most basic truth: life is a hard, there are no easy journeys.

The simplest and most ancient of human truths: Life is an arduous and tragic struggle that has a great deal to do with competence earned by struggling for excellence; with compassion, hard won by confronting conflict; and with modesty and patience, acquired through silence and suffering. - Thomas Szasz

This is a largely undisputed truth among spiritual teachers and psychologists. The first of the "Four Noble Truths" which Buddha taught was "life is suffering" and Scott Peck put it plainly yet eloquently in The Road Less Traveled:

Life is a series of problems. Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult - once we truly understand and accept it - then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

But why is life so difficult? It forces us to persevere, seek to know God and ourselves, and ultimately, to grow.

In January, I met Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. Gretchen shared that her research showed that the greatest determinants of happiness are novelty, challenge, and self-knowledge.

If we want to be happy we must challenge ourselves, seek to know ourselves, and change.

This truth is especially interesting in the context of spiritual journey and the odyssey of the twenty-something years. The spiritual journey is a quest for knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of God. When we embark on the path of growth we become students of our own human experience as predicated by our experiences with God.

Paper & Glam - Catalina Hike

As we climb up towards heaven we are challenged, and the by-products of that challenge is self-knowledge, and ultimately change. 

Let's climb the mountain of God. He'll show us the way he works so we can live the way we're made. - Isaiah 2:3, The Message

The mountain climb allegorizes the spiritual journey, just as the quest for the Holy Grail allegorized an inner spiritual search.

There is only one journey. Going inside yourself. - Rainer Maria Rilke

Imagine you are on a hike in the woods and you kept passing what appeared to be the same tree, over and over again. You would start to wonder if you were making any progress right? Inwardly, you know you're growing stronger and maturing, but outwardly, you're at the same place on the trail, stuck like we're waiting to catch a bus down the mountain, wondering if the bus is coming, and if it is coming, where is it taking you next?

This is the "long obedience."

How do we persevere on this mountain climb of life full of potholes, steep inclines, and winding roads?

I only know one way to cope: trust God when He says, "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11). 

The other thing we can remember in these times of treading water in life, is that God knows it's easy for us to lose our perspective and our compassion when all is going swimmingly. Without periods of perseverance, we can't "learn to be content in whatever state we find ourselves" (Philippians 4:11) and trust that "whatever happens, we know God has permitted it to take place to teach us and to perfect us for His service" (Billy Graham). 

God didn't promise that obedience will be easy, or glamorous, or romantic, but He promised a hope and a future. 

Paper & Glam - A Long Obedience and Spring

My encouragement today if you're in a trying season, or a slow season, or a long winter in life is to keep pressing on in the same direction. It's March, light the candles, Spring is coming.