What the artists are doing in isolation and how you can support them.

From online concerts to midday doodling workshops, artists around the world are getting creative with ways to continue offering their gifts to society in a time when the curtains are forced to close. When I say “artists,” I’m speaking broadly. I mean everything from the visual arts to the performing arts to the comedians, jugglers, and magicians. Artists, are, of course labeled “non-essential” in a time like this. After all, drawing or singing or juggling won’t heal coronavirus. So we (I happen to be a juggler) support and applaud all the “essential” vocations out there. This is an important time where the rest of us need to go into hiding while the medical staff, first responders, and other essentials do their good work to help those who need them most.

The rest of us in our hiding holes, though, have found ourselves in a unique time in history where many of us around the world have the technology to continue connecting with one another. And it has been remarkable to see how the artists are coping so far.

First of all, artists are stewarding their talents for benefits and the raising of funds for a whole variety of worthy causes that help fight the fight against Covid-19. Secondly, the artists are rising to the occasion by providing healing for the souls and sanity of the people of the world. Just a few nights ago, a small band of musicians socially distanced themselves from one another on a front yard in my neighborhood and serenaded the small units of passing humans out for their evening exercise walk. Thirdly, and I think most importantly, many artists are simply doing whatever they can right now to keep doing their art. Why? Because it is in us.

For many of us, serving the good of society through our varied forms of art is a calling that we feel has been placed upon us. You cannot make us stop loving our art and loving the world through it. If the government shuts down our ability to perform at live events, we will juggle or play the piano or walk on a tightrope in our homes all alone with a small device in front of us that says “recording” and then post it for you to see. In fact, we still do it even when none of you are watching. But we want you to see because it is our gift to you. And we hope it brings joy, laughter, distraction, sanity, and healing to your soul.

So here is the part where I ask for your help on behalf of the artists of the world. I have had a number of friends approach me and ask how they can help, knowing that the starving artists and jugglers like me are getting a “time out” from our usual live shows and hence, streams of income. I’d like to list some answers to that question for you, and some of them don’t even involve money, because it’s really not about the money. But first, a word about the priorities here….

There are others with much greater needs, like the people and their families who are dying and suffering from this pandemic. We all need to help them first. Then there are the first responders who need all the support they can get right now, part of which comes in the form of the rest of us just cooping up for a while. But while we support these people first, I humbly ask for the ears of those who have the extra means right now (which is not everybody): Let us not forget about the artists and the other “non-essentials.” We have families to feed and water bills to pay. For many of us, our flow of income has either dropped significantly or vanished altogether. And we want to keep doing what we do in service to the world both now and when things get back to some normalcy.

Here are five ways you can help your local artists during the coronavirus crisis:

  1. Words of encouragement. I can attest that the greatest gift my friends have given me during this time is just reaching out and saying, “Thinking of you…how are you doing?” Artists are humans too. And we need that same touch that everyone needs – to know that we are loved and that our work still matters in this world.
  2. Sign up for our online classes. Many of us are teaching our art online, or otherwise putting our art out there in the virtual universe for the love of art. We want to share what we do and teach others the joy of our art. This is a special time where many people want to take up that hobby they’ve always put aside learning. We’re ready for you. Sign up for our classes, whether free or paid.
  3. Watch our art and tell us what it means to you and why. We don’t get to have art shows or live in-person audiences right now. Those are the times we hear from you and interact with you about what we made for you. Watch our online programs and send us messages and comments about your experience with the art. If you really liked what you saw, throw some money in the hats known as PayPal and Venmo. We’d be happy to give you our email address.
  4. Purchase vouchers for future shows. This makes you a “patron saint.” We will personally call the Pope and ask him to add you to the list. We don’t really want a hand-out of cash (though I’ve never met an artist that would turn that down, myself included). We will be able to do our show for you someday, so please give us the gift of your support and your trust by buying full show vouchers or gift certificates towards the partial cost of a show for a far-off future date. We pretty much lost our shows for half of March, all of April, all of May, and who knows how much longer. Call us and we can talk about the details. This is more than a gift of money. You are giving us the gift of the dignity to serve you when the time for it comes.
  5. Buy our merchandise. Many of us sell merch (or the very art we make) whether it be music albums, postcards, or juggling props. The supply chains are still open, folks. Support your local artist by scooping up some swag and early Christmas gifts. Most of us can sell over the internet with ease.

“A jester unemployed is nobody’s fool.”

-Danny Kaye in the The Court Jester (1955)

Your help is a gift to artists. If you patronize the arts now, you will be rewarded when the time comes for us all to gather in large groups once again. Because you know who you’re going to call to help entertain those celebratory crowds? The artists. We’re waiting in the wings. And we can’t wait to see you in person again.

Free Juggling Class – Live and Online!

This Friday morning, I will be live streaming a juggling instructional class on Facebook. It is a perfect opportunity to do something hands-on and interactive with the kids. But all ages are still welcome. I’m looking forward to the live lesson experience as I can answer comments and questions in real time. Spread the word and I’ll see you there. Here is the link to the Facebook event, which will happen on my Facebook fan page at 10am Eastern, Friday, March 20th.

https://www.facebook.com/events/209017913492888/

Buechner on Vocation

Frederick Buechner, b. 1926
Image from www.frederickbuechner.com

If you read or study about calling and vocation (which, by the way, comes from the Latin vocare, “to call”), you will most likely come across this poetic quote by Frederick Buechner:

“The place God calls you to the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (1993, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, p. 119).

In that one sentence, Buechner sums up an ocean of meaning found in the Christian idea of calling. Biblically, calling is primarily about God calling humans to himself (such as Jesus calling the disciples to follow Him). But you can also find examples of people in the Bible being called/appointed to specific roles or work (Moses, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Esther, Paul, the list goes on – even Adam and Eve were called into existence and then called upon to be fruitful gardeners).

As a juggler/performer, I am particularly drawn to the passage in Exodus 31 about two lesser known fellows named Bezalel and Oholiab:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts (Exodus 31:1-5, NIV).

The Hebrew word for “chosen” (qara) in that first sentence can also be translated “called.” Here we have an example of God calling these two people to be artists in the beautification of the tabernacle. This is also the first time in Scripture we see someone filled with the Spirit of God. Being an artist can truly be a calling (just ask any artist!). The exciting thing is that we see in Scripture that God is the one who calls the artist. He is also the one who equips the artist with skills and fills the artist with His Spirit.

May the Lord fill you with His Spirit and show you the wonderful things to which He has called you!

How to Make a Rainbow

Here’s a super easy activity that kids love. Create an instant rainbow (or at least a partial one) using just two household items. Here’s what you need:

  1. a flashlight
  2. a CD (compact disc)

Remember those ancient relics called CDs? If you were born before the year 2000, you probably have a ton of them rotting away in a closet. Here’s a fun way to use one for an alternative purpose that doesn’t damage it.

All you need to do is shine the flashlight onto the surface of the CD (the side the music is on). The light will reflect off the CD and project a rainbow onto the wall or ceiling. It’s best if you shine the light at an angle onto the CD. It also is best to do it in a dark room for the best rainbow effect. Closets and bathrooms are easy to get really dark with the doors closed and lights off. If you’re in a large room with lots of kids, just get it as dark as you possibly can for the best effect.

It’s a perfect activity to help illustrate the rainbow in the story of Noah and the Ark in Genesis 9:12-17.

Shine the flashlight at an angle towards the music side of the CD. Be careful not to shine the light or the reflection of the light into anyone’s eyes.

If you don’t see your rainbow, don’t worry. Just keep adjusting the angle of your flashlight (or the angle at which you hold the CD). And look all around the walls and ceiling to make sure you find it. It takes a little trial and error, but you’ll find it. There it is!

Who loves rainbows?

Everybody loves rainbows.

Make an instant rainbow in your own home using a flashlight and a CD (compact disc).

Circus Arts Camp 2019!

We just wrapped up our third annual youth circus arts camp in Richmond, Virginia. This is the only camp of its kind in the state of Virginia. For two weeks every August, a few dozen youth participate in a day-camp where they learn how to run away with the circus! We teach them juggling, hooping, clowning, puppetry, acting, silks, and more!

It was an honor to be one of the juggling instructors. I’m so proud of all the kids for learning things like the flower sticks, the Diabolo, the spinning plates, and basic juggling. But most importantly, the kids learn about friendship, community, and the joy of sharing our newfound skills with others. That’s one of the things I love about the circus. It is an opportunity for a group of people (the performers) to share a little joy and wonder with the public.

At the end of the two weeks, our campers did just that. They had a chance to demonstrate their newfound skills with their friends and family in the final Friday showcase. Here are some pictures….

The circle of awesomeness.
Diabolo routine.
Flying high.
Flying higher.

If you want to know more about this circus arts camp, check out the home page for it here: https://www.puppetsoffbroadstreet.org/campcarnival.html

And please let me know if you want to be in the loop about this arts camp for future years. We look forward to growing this camp into an even larger and more exciting camp in years to come!

Is Juggling a Waste of Time?

I recently got this question in an email from someone who is struggling with the way others perceive his love of juggling….

“I’ve been losing a bit of inspiration in the juggling world and could use someone with faith to support my hobby which is usually frowned upon. People just don’t welcome juggling. In my family or in the church. I see it as visual art, patterns, healthy exercise and fun. They see it as a waste of time, or…whatever they see it as.”

My response is this: God uniquely made you and gave you special gifts, talents, and abilities for the dual purpose of (1) reflecting His glory back to Him and (2) serving others. If juggling is your thing (whether amateur or professional), then do it to the glory of God, regardless of what others think. You will also find that your juggling may someday serve the good of others too, whether it be inspiring a young person or making someone smile in awe at the human endeavor of throwing things in artistic patterns.

As Ms. Swift says, the haters are gonna hate, hate, hate. But, I can assure you that there is a community of jugglers out there who will affirm and celebrate your love of juggling. I am one of them. Keep on juggling and let it bring yourself and others joy!

This whole discussion, I believe, is really a question about art in general. Juggling is a form of art. And art is something that only humans do. It is not a purely utilitarian undertaking. Animals are very utilitarian in their activities. They expend energy sparingly, enough to survive and reproduce. One could argue that art is superfluous and unnecessary to our survival. But very few humans seriously make that argument. Why? Because we all know that deep down inside all of us there is a desire to create and enjoy that creativity, even if it has no apparent purpose beyond our enjoyment. I would actually argue that art serves an incredible amount of purpose in life, not the least of which is the fact that it acts as a tool that helps us as humans reflect – which is an integral part of growth and learning in life. 

In the book of Exodus, we meet two artisans: Bezalel and Oholiab (Ex 35:30-35). We read that God gave them skills in both craftsmanship as well as teaching. Why did God give them the skills? So they could create the artistic embellishments for the tabernacle and teach others to do the same. Were their skills necessary for the survival of God’s people? Perhaps not on a surface level. But God still gifted them and commanded them to put specific artistic elements into the tabernacle. Why? I believe it is because God is a creative God and if He wants purple curtains with golden clasps, then He’s gonna get them, and they’re going to look awesome. It’s going to inspire awe and wonder in the people of God and point their hearts towards him. And that is enough.

Juggling is an art. It points our eyes and hearts heavenward. It brings me joy and if it brings you joy, then you should do it too. Should it be everyone’s full-time profession? No. We’re all gifted differently. But to whatever extent you do it, do it unto the Lord.

Keep juggling my friend. Keep looking heavenward. May others see your juggling and also point their hearts heavenward when they see it.

Side note: This individual lives local to me and we have yet to meet but we will attempt to connect at some point when I get home from my summer camps.

Serve the Work

On one of my plane rides this past month, I watched a new documentary about the late Reverend Billy Graham. The film is called Billy Graham: An Extraordinary Journey. It is a wonderful summary of the life of Graham and the prolific reach of his ministry. There was one thing in particular about the documentary that has caused me to deeply ponder the work of an evangelist (and any other work in this life, for that matter). The film made it clear that while Graham was a world famous preacher, he always focused on the message he carried. In other words, when he traveled and spoke to packed stadiums around the world, he could have exploited his celebrity status to bring attention to himself. But he didn’t. He maintained a singular focus on bringing the story of God’s love and redemption for humanity through the person of Jesus Christ.

Billy Graham served the work to which he was called. That is an idea espoused by the 20th Century British author Dorothy Sayers. In her Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine, she said,

“There is, in fact, a paradox about working to serve the community, and it is this: that to aim directly at serving the community is to falsify the work; the only way to serve the community is to forget the community and serve the work.”

Sayers is saying that whatever our work or calling, we should serve the work in a way that stewards the work and aims towards excellence in the work. By doing so we will serve the common good of others, rather than the other way around. If Graham did this out of order, he would have preached in order to tickle the ears of his audiences. Instead, he focused on being excellent at the work of staying true to the message (regardless of whether people liked it or not) and that in turn served others.

What is your work and calling? What is the message or content of your work? How does this speak to what you do?

Miracle in a Manger

I know we are a long way off from Christmas, but I want to share a resource with you that I came across recently. It is called “Miracle in a Manger.” I met the founder, Kim, who assisted me at my merchandise table for one of my juggling shows in Mississippi last month. She told me about this product that she developed. It helps families celebrate the story of Christmas using an angel doll that daily teaches the children about Christmas each day leading up to the big day. They assemble a manger using supplies provided in the kit in preparation for the baby Jesus. Click here for more info.

Check out the website to learn more about it: http://www.miracleinamanger.com/


Who Wrote the Deep and Wide Song?

There is a famous children’s song called Deep and Wide. You’re probably familiar with it. It goes…

Deep and wide, deep and wide. There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide (x2).

-Sidney Cox, early 20th Century

The song was written by Sidney Cox, a major in the Salvation Army. He wrote hundreds of songs, but this one is arguably his most well-known. According to Cox’s grandson, though the song is sung all over the world, Cox was saddened by the fact that the verses of the songs “had basically been lost to obscurity.” Below is a copy of the song as it first appeared in the Salvation Army’s publication War Cry. You can see all three verses in this document (source).

While Cox’s lyrics point to the fountain of life flowing from the wounds of Jesus, I also see the words reflecting the imagery of a lesser-known Old Testament text – that of Ezekiel 47. In that chapter, the prophet Ezekiel is having a vision. In the vision, he is being led around Jerusalem by a person (maybe an angel, a man of God, or possibly Jesus himself). The man shows Ezekiel a stream of water flowing from the base of the temple. The water flows out toward the Dead Sea. As Ezekiel and the man follow the path of the water, the water continually gets deeper and deeper, eventually bringing all sorts of life to places where there was no life. Here is some of that text….

He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”
Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh.Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.”

Ezekiel 47:6-9, New International Version

“So where the river flows, everything will live.” -Ezekiel 47:9

One of my daughters is almost two. Deep and Wide is her favorite song to sing right now. There is something about that song, both in the tune as well as in the lyrics, that provides fun and simplicity for a two-year old. She often sings it as part of a larger medley with other children’s songs.

I love the fact that her heart, soul, and mind are filled with such powerful words. These are words that remind us that the love of Jesus is far deeper and wider than any of us can imagine (Ephesians 3:17b-18). And where his fountain flows, everything will live. I want to raise my children to always thirst for that fountain (and chase after that fountain in everything I do in life as well).

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” -Ephesians 3:17b-18

Here is my daughter singing Deep and Wide (among other tunes) by the windowsill…

We caught our daughter belting out Deep and Wide in the breakfast nook!

I also found a beautifully crafted modern take on Deep and Wide, using lyrics from another hymn and blending those with the chorus from Deep and Wide. This comes from Daniel Bashta….

Deep and Wide, Harvest, by Daniel Bashta 2018

Juggling as a Calling

The word “vocation” comes to us from the Latin vocare, which means “to call.” Keller and Alsdorf point out that calling indicates a caller – and that caller is God. In their 2012 book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work To God’s Work (New York, NY: Riverhead Books), Keller and Alsdorf say that vocation is simply “God’s assignment to serve others” (p. 55). They go on to say, “We are to see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor” (p. 57).

But what if you’re just a silly little juggler? What if that happens to be the thing I love to do the most in terms of work and art? Can I actually serve God and others through the ridiculousness of tossing and catching things in the air and inviting others to watch along?

It turns out that there is an instructional tale about this very topic from the Medieval period. You see, the organized Church did not always look very highly upon jugglers. Early Church writers, leaders, and pastors would dismiss the juggler as a worthless street beggar who conjured in evil practices.

I’ll give you just one example, coming from the writings of the beloved saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who was comparing the foolishness of Christians to the real-world “foolishness” of jugglers…

“Upon the eyes of all we produce the effect of jugglers and tumblers…but our foolish game has nothing boyish in it, nothing of the spectacle at the theatre, which represents low actions and with effeminate and corrupt gestures and bendings provoke the passions.”

-Bernard of Clairvaux. Some Letters of Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux. 1904. Translated by Dr. Eales. Preface by Francis Aidan Gasquet. London, England: John Hodges, p. 107.

But the tale of the Juggler of Notre Dame tells a different story for the juggler. This story is originally found in a poem from the 13th Century and was rediscovered and brought to widespread attention by a French historian in the late 19th Century.

The story goes like this: a traveling minstrel/performer (often depicted as a juggler/tumbler in various versions of the story) goes from town to town, performing their tricks for whomever will watch. But after many years, the performer grows old and tired. They find refuge in a monastery, but feel worthless in that context because they feel they have nothing “spiritual” to offer in worship to God. All the other monks have skills and talents appropriate and suitable as an offering to the Lord (like writing manuscripts, singing worship songs, and tending to the gardens). But then the performer sneaks into a chamber of the monastery where there is a statue of the Virgin Mother holding the infant Jesus. The juggler performs and entertains for the statue, much to the disgust of the spying monks, but then the statue comes to life and offers a blessing in thanks to the performance of the juggler.

This story has come in various forms over the years, but the message is generally the same: even the “lowly” juggler has something special to offer in worship to God. The work and art of the juggler is an acceptable act of worship unto the Lord. God is pleased with the sacrifice of the minstrel.

Dumbarton Oaks in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC currently has an excellent exhibit all about this particular story and its impact in culture over the years. Below is a book I picked up that is a facsimile of an early 20th Century version of the story with notes from the curating scholar of the exhibit, Jan M. Ziolkowski of Harvard University.

As a juggler, this is such a meaningful story. I go through life having to explain to people what I do for a living and most people just look at me and say, “Oh, I’ve never met a full-time juggler before!” They have a look in their eye as if they’re trying so hard to confirm to me that what I do for a living has some sort of utilitarian value to this life. Perhaps I’m reading too much into those looks. But even I struggle with a sense of purpose and value with my work sometimes. But when I stop and remember that I really do believe God has gifted me with these abilities and that He has called me to use them to bring joy, laughter, and a message of truth to others, then I am content and grateful that this is my vocation in life.

Whatever your vocation and work may be, I pray that God would reveal to you how He is using you to serve others and bring glory to Him through that work.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:10