Lilias Trotter: Extraordinary Artist, Devoted Missionary—Have You Not Heard of Her Either?

July 7, 2016 § Leave a comment

A few months ago, I came across the trailer for the documentary Many Beautiful Things and was introduced to the life of Lilias Trotter. My first thought was “What rock have I been living under to have never heard about her before?” I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad since I’m not the only one who’s been in the dark when it comes to Miss Trotter. Though she’s gained much admiration for her artistic ability and missionary endeavors, hers has certainly not become a household name in either field.

One person who is in the know concerning Trotter is Miriam Rockness, author of the biography A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter and A Blossom in the Desert: Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter. But she says herself concerning Trotter’s artistry, “If she’s as good as I think she is, why has nobody else heard of her?”

What is there to hear about? Well, Trotter’s is quite a story. Born in London in 1853, she grew up simultaneously developing her devotion to God and practicing her skills in watercolor painting. When her mother sent some of her paintings to John Ruskin, the leading art critic of the time, he recognized her talent and took her under his wing. He was so impressed with her abilities, that he said that with his help (as Trotter wrote to a friend), “she would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be Immortal.”

But in order to reach this greatness, this immortality, said Ruskin, she would need to devote herself fully to her art, as he believed that her work at the YWCA was detracting from her devotion to painting. Unwilling to give up her ministry endeavors, Trotter made her choice—serving the downtrodden women in London.

At the age of 33, she was introduced to the idea of missions in North Africa and felt God’s call to go to Algeria. Then, after being turned down by the North African Mission, she, along with two other single women, traveled to Algeria on their own. In time, she founded and led the Algiers Mission Band. Trotter’s mission work ended a full 40 years later, with her death in Algiers.

It’s quite a story, but one that without the efforts of Rockness would rarely be told. (Most of the information above comes from Rockness’s blog, where she continues to write about Trotter.)

Rockness first heard about Trotter from “two elderly sisters” who were spending the winter in Lake Wales, Florida, where Rockness lived. The sisters told the story of Trotter’s life and shared that they had a collection of devotional books that she had written. Wanting to find a good home for the books, the two ladies sent their library to Rockness over the course of several years, one volume at a time. Much traveling and investigating later, Rockness had become a Trotter expert.

Now, the story is on video with the release of Many Beautiful Things late last year—available on DVD at the movie website. The film features the voice talents of Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings) as Trotter and Ruskin, respectively.

In an interview with Christianity Today, the film’s director, Laura Waters Hinson, tells how she was also one of those who had never heard of Trotter . . . until she got an email from Rockness. After learning more about the artist/missionary for the project, Waters Hinson understands why she has stayed so obscure:

Partly because she lived in Algeria for 40 years, until she died. A lot of her work did get smuggled back bit by bit to England by missionaries, so some of it’s preserved. But some of it was lost. The Algiers Mission Band of hers disbanded when things got politically tense in Algeria, and they pushed all the missionaries out. Even though she was a contemporary or an influence like Elisabeth Elliot and Amy Carmichael, she just didn’t gain the prominence of these other famous female missionaries. She had written books, but they didn’t catch on; she also came earlier.

While many Christians don’t know her name, many know a hymn inspired by Trotter’s writings: “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus.” As referenced by Rockness, the prolific hymn writer Helen Howarth Lemmel—who was born in England but moved to the US at the age of 12—penned the song after reading the following passage from “Focussed,” a devotional pamphlet authored by Trotter:

Turn full your soul’s vision to Jesus and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him, and the Divine “attract” by which God’s saints are made, even in this 20th century, will lay hold of you.  For “He is worthy” to have all there is to be had in the heart that He has died to win.

There are plenty of reasons for why Trotter should be famous, and there are reasons for why she has become relatively forgotten, as well. But Waters Hinson states what is probably most responsible for her lack of fame: It’s that “she was really content with full-blown obscurity.”

(The video below is of Pentatonic beatboxer, Kevin “K.O.” Olusola, playing “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus” on the cello. Olusola was born in Kentucky to a father from Nigeria and  a mother from Grenada. He starts out on this hymn playing a fairly straightforward melody, which is impressive in its own right, but at the 1:40 mark, he really starts to get it going.)

(Miriam Rockness, “About Lilias,” and “About Miriam” Lilias Trotter; Katelyn Beaty, “When God Calls You to Leave the Art World,” Christianity Today, March 9, 2016; Miriam Rockness, “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus,” Lilias Trotter, October 26, 2012)

 

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Clocks, 2, 3, 4

April 4, 2016 § Leave a comment

“New Optical Single-Ion Clock Is Most Accurate Timepiece Ever Built”

A new optical single-ion clock in Germany has now dethroned JILA’s optical lattice atomic clock as the world’s most accurate timepiece ever built.

With an unprecedented level of accuracy, the optical single-ion clock works by measuring the vibrational frequency of ytterbium ions as they swing back and forth hundreds of trillions times per second.

The ytterbium ions are trapped within an optical “web” of laser beams that allows physicists to count the number of “ticks” per second, determining time so accurately that the single-ion clock won’t gain or lose a second in several billion years.

Alyssa Navarro, Tech Times, February 11, 2016

Yo-Yo Ma: Putting Together Sounds from the Silk Road

March 15, 2016 § 2 Comments

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“Since the very beginning,” Grammy-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma tells his Facebook audience, “the Silk Road Ensemble has been about departure and explorations, new encounters and homecomings.”

Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents, moving to New York at the age of seven. The Silk Road Ensemble, a collective of musicians and composers from over 20 countries, was born in 2000, under Ma’s direction.

A documentary on Ma and the group, The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, had its US premier at the True/False Film Festival two weeks ago in Columbia, Missouri. Since most of us will never see the film, I’ve put together several videos to give a glimpse of what we’re missing.

The first is a trailer for The Music of Strangers. “Everybody is afraid, but you make a connection with another human being, you can turn fear to joy”— Yo-Yo Ma. (Edit: I added this video to the post after the trailer came out on March 24.)

This one is an intro from the Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival), including a clip of the young Ma and his eleven-year-old sister performing on television for President Kennedy. Leonard Bernstein introduced him by saying, “Now here’s a cultural image for you to ponder as you listen: a seven-year-old Chinese cellist playing old French music for his new American compatriots.”

In the next video, Ma describes the ensemble, saying that its members see the alignment between classical and world music: “I think it’s a way of thinking about, again, who we are, who we would like to be, how we want to fit in a larger world.”

Here is another trailer for The Music of Strangers, featuring Cristina Pato from Spain, a pop star in her home country and holder of a PhD in music. She is an accomplished player of the gaita, a traditional bagpipe from Spain’s Galician region.

This one is the trailer for an earlier documentary The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma “Tanglewood Revisited.” In it, you can hear Pato’s gaita, and she says, “We are very lucky because we do some kind of art that it doesn’t need words.”

In this video, the Silk Road Ensemble is at the Kennedy Center, playing the traditional Persian folk tune, “Ascending Bird.”

Here is a performance of “Rustem,” a Roma song from Romania.

And finally, this is North Carolinian Rhiannon Giddens joining the Ensemble to sing “St. James Infirmary Blues,” from their album Sing Me Home.  Ma says,

Each piece on Sing Me Home invites listeners to explore the “music of home” through the individual experiences of Ensemble members, many of whom are immigrants. The result is a compelling collection of innovative and deeply moving tributes to the rich cultural heritage of the Balkans, China, Galicia, India, Iran, Ireland, Japan, Mali, people of the Roma, Syria, and the United States.
(“New Album: Sing Me Home” February 22, 2016)

[photo: “Silk Road Ensemble,” by rotor, used under a Creative Commons license]

Football, 2, 3, 4

February 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

“How the World Sees American Football: Foreign Students Throw the Pigskin”

The glee of Maximilian Bushe of Berlin could have been used for a billboard to advertise the clinic. He had run a pass pattern as if he were a wide receiver in the American game. He snatched the ball thrown to him and scored a make-believe touchdown. He was overjoyed, almost breathless as he stood with the ball he held out in front of him with two hands. The Georgia Tech football players—the real ones helping conduct the clinic—made a boisterous scene of cheering around him for his catch.

Then Bushe did what any good American football player would do. He did an end zone celebration, a little dance.

“I am just surprised I caught the football,” he said, smiling wide. “A little bit is OK, right?” he asked about celebrating. No, not really. In the NCAA, what he did would earn a yellow flag and 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration.

. . . . . .

“Back home, they think it’s boring, and that’s totally wrong,” Bushe said. “We don’t know anything about it in Germany. We just see it in the movies—somebody has the ball, and 20 people jump on him and pile up in a big, big tower. Once you get the whole game, it gets really interesting. You watch the game and cheer for your team, and it’s awesome.”

Ray Glier, Aljazeera America, April 25, 2015

Cross-Cultural AT&T: Opa! and True Dat

January 7, 2016 § Leave a comment

I stumbled upon these two commercials from AT&T. I’m not sure what demographic they’re going for, but they got my attention.

The first one shows us a fun (but possibly expensive) custom from Greece. The second lets us hear that girl-next-door Lily Adams speak Russian. Turns out that the actress who plays Lily, Milana Vayntrub, was born in Uzbekistan, moving to California at age three.

Tiny Doors, Big Story

December 8, 2015 § 1 Comment

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The first handcrafted “fairy door” appeared in the Wayford Woods near Crewkerne, England, around the year 2000. But later, what had begun as a quaint novelty grew into a headache for the locals, with over 200 doors installed on tree trunks and too many visitors coming to have a look. So a few months ago, the trustees of the charity that owns the woods stepped in and removed all the doors. Like Love Locks in France, when small gestures go viral, their days often become numbered.

In Overland Park, Kansas, much closer to my home, another fairy-door story has unfolded with less attention—at least until now. Maybe you’ve seen the recent link at CNN.com: a photo of a tiny door with the title “A great big beautiful act of kindness.”

If you follow the link, it will take you to The Gnomist, a video made by Great Big Stories and CNN Films. To save you some time I’ve embedded it below.

It’s a story about much more than little doors. It’s about transitions, home, dreams, loss, grief, compassion, anger, endings, and beginnings. Are you familiar with any of these?

Grab a cup of tea or coffee and drink this in.

You can visit the blog The Firefly Forest for updates on the gnome community in Overland Park and to read the story of the blogger shown in the video.

(Steven Morris, “Wayford Woods Closes Its Fairy Doors after Attracting Too Many Visitors,” The Guardian, August 21)

[photo: “Otley Chevin,” by Alice Hutchinson, used under a Creative Commons license]

Islands 2, 3, 4

December 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

“A Grim Military Past on Japan’s Cuddly ‘Rabbit Island'”

The pretty little island of Okunoshima is known for two things: It was there that the Japanese military once cooked up chemical weapons, a mission so guarded that the spot did not exist on official World War II-era maps. And it is totally overrun by fluffy bunny rabbits.

. . . .

For animal lovers, this sounds downright precious, and it is. But on a gray day, with a chill in the air, it also feels something like the establishing scenes of a Hitchcock movie, before things go so horrifically wrong.

Wander past enough English signs labeled “Remains of the poison gas storehouse” and you can’t help wondering whether the two things that make this island so unusual are, in fact, grimly linked. In 1997, the former director of the poison gas museum told Tokyo journalists that the rabbits now on the island had nothing to do with lab animals in bygone weapons tests. Instead, the story goes, rabbits were left on the island decades ago by schoolchildren — and did what rabbits do so well.

Emily Alpert, Los Angeles Times, July 7, 2013

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