Rich in color, taste and aroma, the dance has been well rehearsed; the curtain lifts, the bell rings.
Red. Slowly aged to perfection; from beginning to end, it's master has meticulously attended to every detail. From the ground in which the seedlings sprout to the measure of sunlight and water, the foundation has been laid. An artisan knows his craft. Whether aged in Oak or artificially manipulated, authenticity is tasted, not seen. Poured into hand-made crystal, the connoisseur makes the distinction with a circular motion. It's color is a deep red. It's scent preludes it's taste. The quality is evaluated in one sip.
I was given a nice red bottle of wine at Christmas. Seeing the label, a friend commented on how good the wine was and to make sure I saved it for a special occasion. Only two weeks later, an invitation to a New Year's eve party arrived through what looked like a hand-made invitation delivered through the internet. We were asked to bring a bottle of wine to share with guests. Dressed in a black cocktail dress, heals and my sterling silver necklace, I headed toward the door stopping for just a moment.
The wine was given as a gift for the detail I had shown for their children. As I left on the heels of Christmas to ring in the new year, I thought of bringing a cheaper, less valuable bottle of wine to share but in hesitation, reached instead for the deep extravagant red bottle of wine.
Heart... beats... fast... The colors are blurred. The scent is a mixture of hunger, sweat and determination. Eyes are fixed and bloodshot. The will is weary and challenged. The deep, rich red blood trickles down his chiseled cheekbones. A clenched jaw, fists dropped in surrender.
As a little girl, I didn't read books with my dad but sometimes watched boxing matches when the big fights were aired on national television. Recently watching an ESPN 30 for 30 episode of Sugar Ray Leonard verses Roberto Duran II, I thought of childhood dialogs.
With precision timing and a quick step glide across the arena, boxing is like a well-rehearsed dance. The footwork is light and rapid; the blows to the head and torso are swift and the anticipation of the opponents moves are calculated and studied. Like a deer in tall brown brush, the shot is taken amid experience and luck.
Humiliation rampant, opponents are stripped of titles leaving men hungry for the prize of fame. Knock-out fights, a window of matches, the taste of victory is a blood-qunched thirst to be among the best. Muhammad Ali had been stripped of his title; Foreman had stripped Frazier of his undefeated title. Ali, now hoping to play a game of "chicken" had the intention of knocking George Foreman off his game in what was called "The Rumble in the jungle". The fight was held in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) on October 30, 1974. Muhammad Ali won by a knock-out putting Foreman down in the eighth round. Speed and skill (Ali) against strength and power (Foreman).
Dance ... steps ... slow... The colors are crimson red in a tattered music box; ballerina spinning in place. As I question whether my raw emotion is a good quality, I watched two movies this month: Amy, a story about Amy Winehouse and Straight Out of Compton, a story about rappers. Gritty and edgy, the people represented in both movies demonstrated raw emotion, talent and a voice uniquely their own; vulnerability skewed with flashing lights - red ... of lives spinning out of control.
Barbed wire in place, I loosened my skeptical metal exterior and accepted an invitation to have a play-date with a girlfriend; we were maybe eight or nine years old. I thought I was going over to spend time with a friend. She had a different plan. She was supposed to be cleaning her room and knowing of my organizational skills, invited me over to help clean - all day. Never wanting to disappoint those around me, even as a little girl, I obediently and graciously responded. A clean room was the prize. The dust left behind, however, were sediments of mis-trust.
I spent this past weekend near Compton; bars on windows, street art, security guard at the grocery store. A lot has happened in the last twenty five years since I stood on the grounds of UCSB listening to the verdict of the Rodney King case amid controversy. I was visibly pregnant as I walked to class through picket signs for planned parenthood, discussing glass ceilings in the work place for women, judgment and racial profiling based on color and sexual orientation. Hilary Clinton spoke in the UCEN (student center) during a rally I attended during lunch. Pursuing my degree in Sociology, I was urged by my professors to continue classes in Chicano studies under the infamous Cesar Chavez. I faced resistance in my Asian studies class as I supported my faith in a sea of unbelievers. Dialog was commonplace as we discussed the United States's involvement in the Gulf war while taking classes about Jerusalem by professors who had first hand experience of the Gaza strip. Voices of oppression in every corner of the ring, my head was spinning as the pendulum swung.
Fast forward. Music loud, I ride through streets with a challenge to go more public with my writing. Where voices are a dime a dozen in the sea of social media, I question the vulnerability of raw emotions against the backdrop of consumerism. Rather wanting to live with eyes closed, I am forced to see my faith through the next generation. The bell rings, the clock ticks, blood dripping as punches are thrown and taken to the gut and torso. I am mad. I am mad that in my repertoire of experience is the mid-night shift of taking care of patients who had been shot, trampled or forgotten. I am mad. Mad at the stories that propel me and mad at the clenched fists in which I hold my words. I have been obedient in baby steps of writing and exercising intellect and heart but sometimes I would rather stuff my feelings into the music box, spinning in place, not allowing dance steps to seep in. My writing requires raw emotion, tall tales of inspiration and humble, simple faith and I am scared.
Vulnerability, deep feelings and a Cinderella story, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) takes on Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in the 1976 movie, Rocky. A small town boxer from Philadelphia, Rocky had given up hope until he stumbles upon the unlikely ring of the bell and turn of events; shy, clumsy Adrianna and fighting the reigning heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Armed with determination and love, Rocky entered the ring with passion and fight ready to make the winning punches. Filmed on a budget and shot in 28 days, the movie won three oscar awards (best movie) and a string of movies to follow. (Rocky II - 1979, Rocky III - 1982, Rocky IV - 1985, Rocky V - 1990, Rocky Balboa - 2006, Creed - 2015).
" I was not athletically inclined. I was very quiet, introverted, non-confrontational. My three older brothers were athletes - basketball, football - but I was kind of a momma's boy. Then one day, my brother Roger encouraged me to go to the boxing gym with him. I tried the gloves on, and it just felt so natural" Sugar Ray Leonard
I've thought about leaving the Christian Club Card on the pew. Throwing back the translucent veil, white gloves and hat of purpled ribbons. Imagining my quicken steps passed the wooden confessional box separated by a metal screen but among my shouting tongue and the ringing bells, something changes my mind. My pace slows not because of words spoken but because of the faint scent in the air. It is a mixture of frankincense and candles; it is the texture of anointing oils on scarred clenched hands. It is the burden of carrying a wooden cross upon the shoulders of a man whose humble heart has been trampled by the burdens of this world. My beating heart matching the chiming bells; tears flow like sweat in a boxing ring.
In the wringing hands of gossip, a remark trickled through words; prayers for an 18 year-old girl that what happened to my daughter doesn't happen to her when she goes to college. What? What has happened? My daughter has embraced people of all colors, sexual orientation and political ideologies. She has immersed herself in popping the bubble of white privilege and instead embraced a holy God. She has upset the tables of the faith community in which she grew up, taking off her shoes of judgement to sit at the feet of people crying... not crying but begging to be heard through the noise of clanging cymbals and ringing voices.
For twenty-five years, I have seen non-Christians tense up at the mention of my Christian affiliation; the conversation stopped, the door closes as if to an impenetrable vault; deep rooted hurts about the church and the people who represent it. There is a fog in the air. It drifts into chamber walls through fear, prejudice and expectation. The confessional walls become thicker as the ringing of bells inside the vault tick to the sound of a clock. People wonder why clenched fists are swinging. Taking blows to the head and gut, the weary power of a broken spirit is taking it’s toll.
Texture: silky, light and soft. Where sweat once trickled, the touch of fabric across my hands is luxurious and flowing as I walk to my prayer spot this week. Still intentional and on a time-line, my pace is hurried and measured but my new short dress flairs out from my waist causing fabric to lightly brush back and forth along dropped hands to my side; the touch of femininity and fragility is a welcomed diversion off my beaten path. Enjoying the feel of the fabric across my skin, I revel in the touch.
In a culture of strong women, I am appreciative of the example of a strong father. Where my father could crush his opponents with his clenched hands and strong arms, he would wait patiently for hours in his big truck for my mother. Truly content, I always got a sense he knew he had a second chance on life and tended to that belief as affectionately as to holding in his hand an egg not yet cracked. Maybe he always knew the clock ticked. Through my eyes, his strength was not seen in his power but in his patience, humility and love.
Where a boxer’s agility and footwork is seen in his ability to take, duck and deliver punches, the dance is a hurried pace of experience, timing and luck. I once watched a dance performed on television to this song. The man dressed in a tuxedo, the woman in a flowing floor-length blue dress. Where one spin on the dance floor sent fabric flowing from east to west, north to south in the circular motion of a compass spinning freely, the levity was seen not touched. I close my eyes and see the dance.
Texture is overlooked. In the recent movie, Cinderella, there is a scene where she and prince charming leave the dance floor; the crowds of expectation and speculation stand in stark contrast to the large, ominous room in which they stand alone - the conversation is light and cordial but the non-verbal cues are deep and loving. Cinderella sways, her dress moving ever so softly swishing back and forth; her hands behind her back feel it’s touch.
As I was thinking about my red bottle of wine, I began looking at articles about wine aged in Oak. I learned that Oak barrels are expensive. Costing anywhere between $600- $1800 per barrel for wine that may take 12-18 months to age. Depending on whether the oak was purchased from France or the U.S., the wood-soaked liquid goes through many steps before it reaches the consumers taste buds. Ingredients such as the quality and structure of the grapes, the climate as well as the location, each and every detail has an affect on it's taste. I learned about oak chips and oak flavoring as substitutes for the real thing.
Back where I began, I forgot about the red bottle of wine I brought. My extravagant red sat upon the counter with other reds and whites, maybe equally as expensive, I do not know. Liquid poured into glasses; conversation flowing. Swift punches to the ego, I wondered if maybe I was over-dressed as quick glances eroded my confidence. Was my dress too short, my heals too high? As an introvert, light "chit-chat" does not flow easily from my bottle but as the hands of the clock ticked, I moved to the corner of the ring for a quick respite; the cool, damp washcloth across my forehead through social media. People I love celebrating the new year. With a snapshot, I re-entered the ring with a lightness and agility as the forceful blow of sound rang.
On the drive home, I learned the winemaker in the room poured himself two tall glasses of my red wine; he must of known of it's value among other equally pleasing to the eye bottles of grape-fermented liquid. The passing thought of my ignorance of it's value flashed back to a little girl whose teeth were so crooked that I couldn't properly close my mouth. After four years of braces, i wore teeth protection (called a positioner) that looked more like a boxer's mouth piece than a delicately designed metal retainer. Sensitive to looking foolish in a crowd, I reveled in the aged old wine fermented thought of the extravagance of faith.
Men and women have grown skeptical of the church. In a fist fight of dialog, crowds holler for victory. The rounds are ushered in at the sound of the bell. The mental agility eroded as punches of judgment, expectation and self-preservation are thrown and taken to the head and torso. In 2000 years, not much has changed because people are all the same. We are flawed, fragile beings that perfect our appearance through the world's measure of success. Christ has chosen men and women to enter the ring armed with the hope of eternal life where the wine is extravagantly crafted through His people. The disciples watch their friends take the punches of life offering the cool, damp washcloth in the form of words: I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus - Phillippians 3:14. He has given us each other to love as a reminder of His love.
My teammates also hint of their desire to leave the Christian Club Card on the pew but they too stop at the fragrance of hope and re-enter the ring. And, what about the punches and blows amid fabric and wine? As a woman of faith, I notice only a handful of woman are mentioned by name in the bible. Does that mean they hold less value? In my humble, uneducated opinion, they are the same women of the early church: women willing to be on their hands and knees in prayer and prophetic wisdom but willing to get into the ring and fight. Men fall forward, women fall backwards but together, they love, weep and get back up swinging until their final bell rings. And my challenge to go more public with my writing? Some things, like a good red wine aged in oak takes time. Writing is a business; I have the luxury of not having any agenda but sprinkling seeds for the next chapter to be written. In the meantime, I am covered with big, strong prayers.
The bride awaits her bridegroom; the extravagant bottle of red wine aged in the wood of a cross whose weight is across the shoulders of humility and doubt but whose footsteps walk forward. Will you be one to offer a cool, damp washcloth? Don't look to people of the church but to the holy spirit that guides it. I am like you; weary and weak and willing to throw the card and stones but stop at the fragrance of love and as the words in the song sing: am i part of the cure or part of the disease? Only one man was willing to accept the blows for you and me. Will you hear the ring? The deep red liquid flows.
Pictures provided by either myself or Fotolia. Seek I-Tunes for the purchase of songs, YouTube for video reference and Wikipedia for reference.
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.