Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Over-accessorized, Under-exercised

The area of the rugged and barren Plaza zone known as "the horse fountain."

Beat this. Saturday morning I was headed to the gym for my weekly hoops dose. When I paused momentarily at a stop sign, I saw something amusing. A small column of chubby, salon-tanned girls were power walking their way toward the Plaza, Kansas City’s (only) historic, ritzy shopping district. The last adventurer in this plucky band had a Camelbak hydration system strapped to her back, presumably to keep her cool and wet in the arid wilds of the Plaza. Uh, Ashley…like, wait. Help me…crawl to the nearest GAP.

Is that symptomatic of our culture or what?

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Against Busy-ness

When It's Time To Recapture Time

The tyranny of the urgent is a dictatorship I refuse to acknowledge. At least I try not to. At times, though, the makeshift nature of this approach becomes obvious. After all, the only way to elude things that presently must be done is to get to them beforehand, meet them on your own terms.

The truth at the heart of time's tyranny is that anything becomes urgent if you leave it alone for long enough. Mowing the lawn...the end-of-semester paper...changing the oil...all have latent despotic tendencies. These tendencies must be carefully repressed by punctual attention.

This sounds great in theory. And it works well in practice, too, up to a certain point. My "non-urgent" approach to life falls apart when the quantity of tasks (potential tyrants) outweighs my available time. It's at that moment that I become a pathetic vassal, rushing from one feudal project to another.

It's also at this point that I begin to question whether my life really justifies such busy-ness. I tend to think not. If I'm too overwhelmed to stop, reflect, prioritize, my life is out of balance and something must be jettisoned. More and more, I wince when I ask someone "How's life?" and they respond, "Oh, I'm so busy!" as if frenzied activity is a fundamental virtue.

Not to me. Busy-ness subjugates a dozen essential dimensions of healthy living. A life governed by King Urgent is a fate to be avoided at all costs.

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Monday, September 27, 2004

Gift Or Giver?

Oceanic generosity: Christ the ocean, his gifts the streams.

If you’d like to hear a statement with devastating implications, I’m about to make one. At the same time, I’ll be acknowledging the ability of our culture to trivialize the truly consequential. Ready? Here we go.

I am a friend of God. (Responses of: "Oh, good for you." "How nice." "You've found religion," etc. But this particular phenomenon justifies another post.)

Back to my main point: So, I am a friend of God. Incidentally, this does have some ramifications. One of them being:

As I am a Christ-friend, Jesus himself is my central advantage—my pleasure, my pursuit, my high-dividend investment. But even the “fringe benefits” of this divine relationship are worth dying for. Such gifts, which I don't directly label “Christ,” are nonetheless generated by his friendship. For example, if you felt…

…an inner sense of purpose, of unique mission, of selection. You sense that you’re designed for a distinctive calling in this life, one, in fact, that only you can fulfill. Lacking a relationship to Jesus, you would be forced to struggle, flail, scratch wildly at a bare existential hillside, but instead, your personality finds traction in the rich soil saturated by Christ’s blood…

In other words, human personality (a hot topic here of late) is actuated through a divine relationship—God imparts purpose. (I think this sense of “calling” is rare enough in our cultural climate to be considered atypical, even "miraculous" or "na├»ve," depending on who you ask.)

A knowledge of your own created purpose is a great gift. But amazingly, it’s only that. Jesus is a generous master—he deluges his followers with such gifts, subsidiaries of oceanic personal wealth. Streams, rivers, rain; they soothe us, amaze us, refresh us. Without fresh water, life would be a dustbowl. But I would be a fool to turn my back on ocean breakers, wildly beautiful storms, the haunting cries of gulls...and splash exclusively in a convenient stream.

The gifts that rise from knowing Christ are sweet indeed. But don't make the archetypal mistake. If you've been fortunate enough to find divine favor, don’t exchange the Giver for the gift.

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Sunday, September 26, 2004

A Relevant Thought

Wow, those people at Relevant Magazine* (Online) sure work fast! I sent an article their way just last week, and it's already up on the site. If you like, go ahead and hit up Cynicism Criticism. (And just to clarify, the accompanying banner photo is not me. :) Tell me what ya think.

*The Disclaimer
A word on Relevant: by posting on their site, I'm not implying that I endorse all the ideas communicated by their writers. (I don't.) Moreover, I'm not suggesting that Relevant is the final word on how to interact with our culture. (They're not.) But savvy thinkers will be able to sort content for themselves, and do a little mental wrestling if need be.

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Hike This

Another text post is on the way. In the meantime, here's a quick photo. (Great Sand Dunes National Monument.)

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Friday, September 24, 2004

Coffee Shop In Time

This is "Toto's Coffee Shop," the site of a weekly Worldview discussion group I help host here in Kansas City. The picture also ties in rather nicely with the post below.)

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Stuck In Time

Once Again, BitterSweetness Asserts Itself

I admit it and I’m sorry.

I haven’t been blogging any too faithfully this week, but I’ve had my reasons, the main one being my first graduate-level paper. Last week I regaled you with a photo-documentary of my first graduate-level exam. That’s old hat now.

Comparatively, The Paper has been a harsh taskmaster, jealous of my time and energy, keeping me up late, devouring my discretionary hours, draining away my creativity, turning me into an abject slave. (In other words, it’s harder.)

And sadly, paper-writing doesn’t have the same potential for dramatic exploitation that an exam does. (“Contemplative, I sit at my desk. Upbeat music is playing in the background, but with no apparent effect. The computer screen flickers momentarily, then a screensaver comes on…”) But whatever its effects on my blogging habit, this academic rigor has given me more to think about.

Studying has raised my awareness of BitterSweetness to a new level recently. Actually, the process took place in a way that many of us have experienced. It happens like this:

1) You find a subject, topic, pastime that you like.

2) You take a closer look at it.
3) You sadly realize that it will take several lifetimes to master.

Tolkien’s Trilogy makes a convenient illustration. Let’s say you led an extremely sheltered life, away from the heady delights of great literature. Nonetheless, you walked into a theatre one night and encountered The Fellowship of the Ring. Intrigued, you embarked on a great literary journey, and bought the book.

Completing the initial volume compelled you to drive wildly to Border’s and buy the next two (impulsively, and at exorbitant prices because you couldn’t wait to have them shipped to you). Now you’ve completed the trilogy, watched all the movies several times, extended editions included (except the DVD finale, coming soon) and have begun eyeing The Silmarillion.

But at some point in this adventure, you have realized something unnerving. There is another Tolkien set, a ten-volume work, compiled by his nephew Chris, elaborating on everything you’ve encountered so far. Not to mention that it would be nice to learn Elvish.

With superhuman acumen, you master Elvish over a couple weekends and read Christopher Tolkien’s exhaustive editions over your fall break. Then you discover that Tolkien based much of his philological study and epic writing style on Scandinavian legends (Beowulf) and dialects…

You get the picture. There’s a similar cycle at work when I play basketball, and realize, I could spend hours and hours—my life!—on this, and still find new juke moves I’d want to add to my repertoire. Playing pickup once a week just isn’t cutting it.

Apply this sequence to pastime x, hobby y, fascination z, and a pattern emerges. It’s an elemental problem of life. So many loves, so little time. I want to explore, I want to learn, I want to enjoy and master...instead I get up, go to work, and try to content myself in window-shopping, skimming surfaces. But it's not enough!

Bittersweet? Indeed. Somehow, I suspect heaven will address this problem.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Hidden Father

I haven't posted a poem for awhile. Here's the latest. (Not about my dad.)

“Further up and further in”
is the motto of my father’s kin,
a father whose face I’ve never seen
though his voice still haunts me in my dreams.

Dad, I’ve never met you.
How long will you hide?
I’ve seen your smile in the sunrise,
I’ve heard your laughter in the tide.

Reading stories in a book,
I’ve wondered if I have your looks,
Do I breathe like you when I’m at rest,
and does your heart beat in my chest?

Dad, I’ve never met you.
How long will you hide?
I’ve felt your presence in the twilight,
I’ve sensed you walking by my side.

I feel I’m wandering a wasteland,
“Further up and further in.”
Is there someone holding my hand?
“Further up and further in.”

These words will never leave me:
“Further up and further in.”
I’ll keep searching till you find me,
and take on custody again.

I feel I’m walking in a desert,
I feel I’m traveling alone,
but I remember why I’m walking –
each step is one step nearer home.

These words will never leave me:
“Further up and further in.”
I’ll keep searching till you find me,
and take on custody again.

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Monday, September 20, 2004

The Mystery of Personality

Sorting Yourself Out

A couple days ago, a subliminal message left by ninjanun led me to the Keirsey Temperment Sorter. Upon arrival, I was easily persuaded to take a quick online test to determine my personality type, and the resulting ENFJ profile did make some sense. But as gratifying as it was to learn about my genius-potential, it seems the experience inadvertantly begs a deeper question. Why is self-knowledge so highly valued?

You may as well admit that if you haven’t yet, you are sorely tempted to hit the above link and discover “what” you are. (If not, you display an extraordinary degree of restraint and we all applaud you. Either that or you're jaded. ;)

But why are we so easily fixated with the question of personality? And why does the question exist? Apparently we are a people who do not know ourselves. When we sincerely try to “self-monitor,” we often flounder. Occasional self-revelations are never the final word. And much of the time we prefer to disguise what exploration could reveal.

It’s strange that self-knowledge is so elusive. I know people in their fifties who are still discovering new things about themselves, and I suspect this is by no means unusual. The secret of personality seems to be one we can never quite unravel, a veil we can never fully pull aside.

Of course, forward strides are made. We meet someone who understands us, shows us a deeper side of ourselves. We go through a defining experience, and emerge enlightened. We take a helpful test, and gain some insight. Yet always there are other facets undiscovered, reactions we didn’t expect, inclinations we don’t understand.

Confusing it all is the issue of life purpose in relation to personality—How does who I am pertain to what I ought to be doing? And what if I’m not doing it? Does personality shape my calling, or does my profession take precedent?

Then there's the gulf between "ideal" and "real." How do I explain the contrarieties of my own nature, and the constant war between my cherished self-image and the workaday version I’m forced to live with? Which is really me? We might (mis)apply Hegel’s dialectic here, with dizzying effect: My ideal (thesis) clashes with my experience (antithesis), forcing a confused meeting (synthesis), and what emerges is fully neither. Who am I?

Frost’s poem seems to fit:

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

The fiber of our souls is so thick it seems to defy penetration. Nonetheless, honest self-appraisal is something we humans long for. And we can’t help it. Why?

I suggest it's because personality is a gift, not a random molecular formula. And a mysterious gift at that, “woven” into us by the Creator, who "sees all our days when as yet there are none of them" (Psalm 139). We enter the world as crafted persons, our natures linked inextricably to our purpose in life. Such a gifts entail a depth of knowledge we simply don't possess. But we wish we did.

Revelation states that in The End, Christ will present his followers with “a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.” This image is symbolical, and explicitly-assigned meanings are elusive, but it does conjure a picture in my mind.

I "see," or rather "hear" Jesus saying these words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” he says, and that affirmation is enough to justify a life. But then he goes on: “Now I will show you who you are, in relation to myself…” Like a stream of clear sunlight, the mystery of a lifetime is illuminated in an instant. To a strikingly defined man, eternity brims with promise.

I suspect there is something else here as well, something even more inscrutable—a glimpse of divine reality. The complexity of our souls, and the tuggings we feel to explore, are a snapshot into a higher mystery. Our personalities, intricate as they are, offer the merest glimpse of a more enthralling image: God's.

As James Stewart, the Scottish theologian, wrote:

There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts which confronts us in the gospels. The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality.

But this is food for another post. Nevertheless, those who begin the "divine" exploration down here will have all eternity to continue it. (I do not say “complete” it.) And that’s a good thing; we’ll need the time.

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Philosophers Online

I was pleasantly surprised when my latest substantial post, Keeping Up Appearances, evoked some interesting discussion. What was especially enjoyable was the conversational tone maintained throughout. Those (few) involved were thoughtful and direct, but polite and appreciative nonetheless. In my experience, nicely modulated discussion over weighty topics is rare, despite the fact that it's the only road to meaningful "worldview" talk. Too often, knee-jerk reactions rule the day, a flame-throwing session ensues, and everyone goes home in disgust. But not in this case. Anyway, a hearty THANKS to all involved. The precedent for discussion has been set on BitterSweetLife.

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Thursday, September 16, 2004

Keeping Up Appearances

What If You Looked Like Yourself?

Here’s a strange thought. Suppose our inner condition, our psyche, our moral fiber, was reflected by our outward appearance. What if sex appeal mirrored soul?

Here and now, they obviously don’t correspond. There’s no question of “if” or “to what degree” a person’s body matches her heart—or at least we don’t ask such questions out loud. But what if we did?

Sometimes I think we expect (or at least wish for) a correlation. We have a hazy notion that inside and outside ought to match up. We talk about “wearing your heart on your sleeve,” but what we really want is the heart “clothing” the entire body.

Our physicality, for now, is merely a shell which may or may not correspond with the inner person. Beauty is imparted with a free hand, and we are hard put to explain why. But just the same, we can’t sever the relationship between spirit and body. Far from it. Only consider: We get wrapped up in someone’s beauty, and no superlative soars high enough to express our appreciation! It’s only later that we remark, “Now I know who he really is.” Surprise, surprise. Misled by beauty.

We love beauty. In some ways, we think like Greeks: To be beautiful is to be good; forget the rest. But as much as we idolize the “great bodies” of our day, we can’t entirely divorce the soul connection. What? You’re telling me she sleeps around? Surprise, surprise. Misled by beauty again.

Most of us have seen “plain” people with an inexplicable, radiating beauty. And by the same token, we all know about physical beauty “cheapened.” For now, appearances are misleading and our eyes can trick us. Only experience and exploration, as with Jane Austen's infamous Mr. Darcey, reveal who a person really is. Someday it would be a thrill to meet someone and realize, I seethis is who you are.

All this brings up a question: What would it feel like to be really “integrated?” Some of us will find out. In the words of that ancient theologian, Job:

After my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I will see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes shall see, and not another. – Job 19:26-27

Job implies that a connection between spirit and body will continue, even—or especially—after death. And in fact, this is a fundamental aspect of Christ’s message. One day, people with live spirits will receive the “resurrection” bodies Jesus will finally confer. By that time our souls will be renovated, brought to their intended glory by the great Artisan. At last our spirits will project a physical “mirror” we won’t be afraid to look at.

In the meantime, I tend to think it’s the mercy of God that flesh doesn’t reflect soul. Can you picture the simultaneous crumpling and withering of a million faces…?

The Picture of Dorian Grey, by Oscar Wilde, conveys this frightening picture. At the story’s end, Grey destroys his mystical portrait, the substitute that has been absorbing the effects of his wanton lifestyle. He has remained strikingly beautiful, but the once-mesmerizing portrait has become hideous. Grey stabs it with a dagger, and the disease and disfigurement absorbed by the portrait rush into Grey… Servants rush in, hearing a scream, and stand horrified over a gruesome, unrecognizable corpse.

These days, I don’t know anyone willing to test the waters of body-soul correlation. Is anyone "ready" to have their soul projected through their body? Maybe I could find a few takers, emboldened by the hypothetical nature of the question. But there’s the rub. Today the question is hypothetical. Things will not always be this way.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A Photo Interlude

Dawn came early yesterday, with auspicious brilliance. It was the morning of my first graduate-level exam, an omen of no small significance. Knowing this would be the crucial first road marker in many subsequent years of struggle, I carefully documented the fateful hours, aided by my trusty assistant. In the heat of the day's academic battle, would I become a flourishing sunflower or a scorched lawn?

That was the question echoing, echoing, in the corridors of my mind. But the day has passed. What took place? It is this indelible record of epic struggle and perseverance you now "hold" on your screens.

Stage 1

I know it will be a pivotal day.
Opening the Book for spiritual renewal
is all the more important. Important? No. Essential.

Stage 2

With mere minutes left before departure, I engage
in The Final Cram. Breakfast and notes are inhaled
simultaneously. Then it's off to the showdown...

Time Passes.
Photos of these decisive hours are, sadly, unavailable.

Stage 3

A triumphant re-entry!"It felt like an 'A.'"
My trusty blue coffee mug helped to add
equilibrium and security throughout the
exam experience. ;)

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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Mystery of Evil

Amber Alerts & Human Psyches

As I drove down I-35 this morning, en route to my first graduate-level exam, a message lit up on Kansas City’s new Driver Alert system. The steel-framed electronic screen, mounted over the highway, was finally in use. Suddenly I was viewing my first live “Amber Alert”—breaking news of an abducted child.

The sinister message was surreal. The sun was shining. My CD player was jamming. Newly caffeinated, I was psyched for the approaching academic skirmish: my mind versus my professor’s. And then, Amber Alert. Somewhere in the city, a twisted person had taken someone’s child.

Really, it’s hard to imagine a more damnable atrocity. Theft, deception, lust, all intertwined, and at the cost of one who is truly helpless. I thought, It’s a cool, sunny morning, blue sky, cumulous clouds, light traffic…and evil waits just around the corner. Why?

Most of the time we don’t get past the trauma of it. We shake our heads, our stomachs reel, and we question no further. Wickedness, this profound moral sickness, shocks us. In the words of journalist Hannah Arendt, “the fearsome, word and thought-defying banality of evil” is wrenching. And yet it lurks so close by, perhaps on the same city block. Perhaps around the corner of a soul. Why?

The mystery of evil. May I suggest that this is a question we cannot answer without divine assistance? Consider a much older source: “If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7) Sin. Societal pressures and environmental influences can’t explain it. Family dysfunction doesn’t sum it up. Apart from God’s explanation, the breathtaking complexity—and casual regularity—of evil remains a mystery.

Even more so when honest self-examination shows us the threads and splinters of evil in our own thoughts: Envy, anger, “little” deceptions, lust—who’s to say just how insidious these impulses might become, given time and room to move… This is a grim picture. But fortunately, evil is not the only element that lingers nearby:

“He himself gives life to all things…that they might seek God, if perhaps they might feel after him and find him, thought he is not far from each one of us.” - Acts 17:27

Evil and Christ, diametrically opposed, wait at your elbow. At the end of the day, you’ll have found one or the other.

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Monday, September 13, 2004

Higher Criticism…of Cynicism

Beware of Dry Minds

There are many circumstances in life to which the proper response is cynicism—questioning disbelief. Easy examples are telemarketers, John Kerry and internet pop-ups that say “You Are a Lucky Winner.” All may be treated with justifiable suspicion.

However, it would be a mistake to conclude that cynicism is an appropriate way of life. It’s a mistake to apply it like a fix-all, a band-aid for all wounds, a good approach to every question. Unfortunately, our culture’s prevailing mood tends this way. We have a jaded tendency to superficially label things and dismiss them.

“I prefer to go through life bashing anything I don’t understand.”

The old straw man approach, the ad hominem attack, is a favorite in the arsenal of modern man: Merely deride your opponent, and then you won’t have to deal with his arguments. (I have to admit, it is fun sometimes.) As a good friend of mine once said,tongue-in-cheek, “I prefer to go through life bashing anything I don’t understand.” I guess there is a certain confidence that comes from knowing that whatever confusion you may encounter, you are “prepared.”

Nonetheless, becoming a default cynic will not make you a man for all seasons. Rather, it will make you a person incapable of enjoying any of them. We all know that some things in life are not what they seem. But that doesn’t mean that nothing will deliver. There are sources of joy that don’t disappoint (the overarching theme of BitterSweetLife), and we trivialize them at our peril.

Skeptics, deconstructionists, and dry thinkers may chalk up a lot of verbal points, but they are often bankrupt in the joy category. As Darwin wrote for his children, near the end of his life:

Up to the age of 30 or beyond it, poetry of many kinds…gave me great pleasure…formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure a line of poetry… I have also lost any taste for pictures or music… My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive… The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness…

This is a sad reduction of life. And unlike many of us, Darwin (so far as I know) did not pursue cynicism for its own sake, either as a trend or a medication.

So exert cynicism wisely. Apply it when necessary—as a safeguard—not as a modus operandi. Some assertions may as well be believed, or at least entertained, until proven false. There’s an old adage, based roughly on Paul’s words (1 Corinthians 13:7), that seems fitting here: “Believe the best.” I don’t mean it superficially. Look carefully for the highest promises revealed in life. What, if true, might pay the highest dividends?

Sometimes the best things are also true.

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Sunday, September 12, 2004

Song of an Anguished Artist

Reading blogs can be depressing.

Sometimes when blog-surfing I think, "Please tell me you are making this up to add pathos."

It's scary when the revelation of someone's "inner life" (a primary purpose of blogging, right?) causes you to wince and then say, "Hey! ...have you tried prozac?"

Now I’m not talking about those who are really suffering (i.e. a modern-day Job or Nietzsche). Most of us struggle with very painful issues and dehabilitating problems from time to time, and these things shouldn't be swept under the carpet. Far from it. (And may I suggest, prozac is probably not the solution.) There's no point in selling suffering short.

But at the same time, the self-conflicted nature of some people is truly dizzying. Life's hard enough, why prod yourself into introverted martyrdom? Does self-absorption pay dividends? Is there a hidden pay-off for mental masochism? What am I missing?

Whatever the attraction, many have succumbed. To honor (eh, acknowledge) those poor souls, and to ensure that I never succumb to this mysterious nemesis of cheerful bloggers, I wrote this:

(Read it and weep.)

Song of an Anguished Artist

Alas, alack, I’m so conflicted,
should I cut my ear off
or just nick it?
Please pity me
I am so young,
so sensitive
and yet so numb.
Please weep for all
my genius wasted,
I would like success
If I could taste it.
Unfortunately I’m preoccupied
with torturing my anxious mind.
Too self-involved to step outside,
I think I’ll just sit here and cry.


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Saturday, September 11, 2004

Great Expectations

The plan unfolds.

I visited an old friend’s blog recently and was amused to read his stated purpose, namely to take over the world via cyberspace. Aw, C’MON! Talk about impractical and unrealistic. In order not to strain the credulity of my readers or overload my own determined optimism, my goal is simply to subvert North America and a couple of my favorite continents…

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For Discerning Readers

I don't really have time to post today. The demands of life--a canoe trip, dinner in Lawrence, KS, an exam, my wife--have swamped me. But I'd hate to leave you with nothing to read... So if you haven't already, give this crucial post a once-over. And tell me what ya think.

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Thursday, September 09, 2004

Bitter Culture, Sweet News

© 2004 Arielinds Photography

I keep hearing people moaning about our general cultural decline, and lamenting the moral deficiencies of our children, our politicians, our nation, etc. My reaction to America’s cultural slide—and it’s not intended cynically, or as a political modus operandi—is a little different: What do you expect?

One reason for our current Christian subculture is a misunderstanding of bittersweetness as applied to society. As Christ observed, the setting for life, thus ministry, is the “wicked and perverse generation” in which we find ourselves, and of which perhaps we are a part (Matthew 17:17). After making his assessment, Christ did not retreat from the moral morass, horrified at the sinners around him. He did not say, “Peter, John, James…let’s build our own city, boys.”

He did say, “How long must I be with you?” (a thoroughly bittersweet response), but implicit in this question is the reality that Jesus would be with these people as long as he was on earth. Being in a wicked culture and subverting its inhabitants for Christ is a mission as exhilarating as it is imposing. Too bad so few Christians are up to it.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2004

A Revelatory Medium?

© 2004 Ariel Vanderhorst

More proof for "Cumulous Apologetic" below.

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Cumulous Apologetic

Saw this driving home.

So how about clouds?

How do you react to a suspended bank of vapor, perforated with light, washed amber or gold on the skyline? For me, such sights are always an ethereal experience. The wonder—even awe—that descends on me is difficult to explicate.*

Care to explain me to myself? What would you say? Well, H20, in its vaporized form, undergoing a degree of solar illumination, triggers a biological reaction in our bodies…


Give me a better clue. Maybe something like:

As golden light comes from the north,
so a terrible beauty streams from God.
- Job 37:22 (ASV/MSG)

Is there a revelatory quality in clouds and skies? I’d argue to that end...

At any rate, in explaining some phenomena, chemical formulas don’t cut it.

* Explicate. A formal version of “explain.” While you might explicate a phenomena, you would never explicate a joke. Synonyms include: interpret, spell out, expound, construe. This word appeared in association with The Vocabulary Reclamation Project.

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Saturday, September 04, 2004

Horizon Access

One of my favs, taken at National Sand Dune Monument, CO.

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Friday, September 03, 2004

A Very Old, Very Classic Book

Cause' you talk of freedom, don't you see
The only freedom that you'll ever really know
Is written in books from long ago...
- Belle & Sebastian, "If You Find Yourself Caught In Love"

Generally speaking, so I have come to believe, old books are better than new ones. (As C.S. Lewis wrote, "You should at least read one old one to every three new ones.") Therefore it should come as no surprise that one of our most ancient books is the best thing we have going. And this particular title, my title, spans multiple genres. Plato was all right, but my manuscript is not pure philosophizing. Hammurabi had some things going for him, but my book isn't merely a law codex. "How to" textbooks were popular even in the Middle Ages, but my volume is no textbook.

It's sometimes mistaken for a textbook, though. Textbooks: those perennial doorstops, collegiate paperweights, whose mere acquisition has already ripped you off. (Unless you shop at Amazon...) It is puzzling to consider why people place my title in this category. How many of you have had your lives "changed" by a textbook?

For personal growth, let alone change, something more is needed from a book. A three-step dialectic or seven-step approach is unnecessary and actually insulting to the really good stuff. Good content calls for a little exploration, demands effort from the explorer--and gets it--on its own merit. So when we encounter such quality, we shouldn't expect easy "methodical comprehension." That's kid stuff. That's textbook stuff. Great authors don't write Cliff Notes. You can't summarize Tolkien's trilogy in three bullet points.

This is not to say that my classic does not inform the mind. It does. But in a thoroughly organic manner, through saturation and story, not categorization. And one could say its power is, in fact, greater than mere education. A truly great work, my classic has the ability not only to enlighten the reader, but change him.

The author's scope is ambitious. Staggeringly ambitious. He aims to obliterate self-deception, "take us from behind ourselves and place us in front of ourselves."

Yes, my favorite is "strong" enough to positively alter a reader, but not through blunt trauma, verbal blows to the head. Forget the ancient Greek shockers, Ovid's Metamorphoses, The Golden Ass, and their ilk. We're in a different category. Rather, think organic change--slow and (therefore) lasting, soul-outward, subtle and subversive. This is master craftsmanship.

And fittingly so, because the author's scope is ambitious. Staggeringly ambitious. He aims to obliterate self-deception, "take us from behind ourselves and place us in front of ourselves" (Augustine). And if we conceal a delusion of grandeur in our hearts, "even there will he rake for it" (Shakespeare, Henry V). He aims for a sounding of the soul, and in the end, a massive reversal of moral and motive.

To this end, my classic melds story with psychology, sociology with theophany, poetry with philosophy, songs with war accounts. The book defies trite categorization. Law and liberty mingle, heroism clashes with devilish intent. The historical narratives, mythic-stories, landscapes and exposition in my title are striking, but their fundamental meanings must often be searched for, and often, to search for in this context is to be changed.

This is no cryptic spell book. And this is no textbook. This is a book that demands attention. This is a book that must be read.

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Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Skyward Tendency

This is a good companion piece for Heaven Recurrence (below).

Filed in:

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Heaven's Wasted Artistry

Recently I spent considerable time writing several sets of song lyrics. (See a somewhat less-than-serious invention here.) The idea was that a friend of mine would put my words to music—a little creative collaboration. Unfortunately, as often happens with partnerships, one of the partners retracted. (It wasn’t me.)

Musing on these circumstances gave me another excuse to think about heaven—one of my favorite topics. (See Heaven Recurrence below.) I feel a certain sense of regret over my “wasted” lyrics. Obviously, all artists have an affinity for what they create, even if the results aren’t what we’d call amazing. The feeling is unavoidable. But consider the pathos if the “wasted” work was actually incredible. And there’s the analogy.

My unused lyrics raise questions. Like Why did I bother? And mainly… Why weren’t they used? God deals with such questions on an infinitely higher (and infinitely less trivial) scale. He looks at many of us with a similar feeling of query:

Why are you wasting what I gave you to use? Why do my words—my notes, my choreography, my blueprint—lie dormant? Where’s the song? Where’s the story, the dance, the building? There is no flesh on your spirit-bones!

And we, like preoccupied musicians, ignore the lyrics Christ has given us to set to music. He’s given us the essential plot of a story, but we don’t have time to read…much less enter.

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Mob Errand Boy, On Reporting Back to the Boss

See post above for an explanation of this apparent non sequitor.

When I gave him your summons
Over breakfast in bed
He said he’d get to it
But read Dilbert instead.
When he was reminded,
“A life’s a sad thing to waste,”
He stood on his mattress
And laughed in my face:

“The monogrammed rolodex
Was a really nice perk
And my wife, so she says,
Loves her new gator purse.
The Bentley you gave us
Is still running fine,
So is the French poodle
With better bloodlines than mine.
Thanks for pouring our champagne
Over diamonds in ice
And I’ve always liked Armani,
So the gift card was nice.

Thanks for all of the presents,
You silly, middle-aged clown,
But I’m skipping your meeting
And then I’m skipping town.
I know when the law finds me
There’ll be taxes to pay,
But taxes aren’t the certainty
I’m escaping today.

We both have been bloodstained,
We’ve both made our hits,
But remember your Dante,
A road leaves the abyss.
When there’s a debt to be paid off,
There’s a precedent for blood,
But not one drop was wasted,
And it was innocent blood.

I hope that you miss me,
I hope you age well,
If you start climbing now,
You might just get out of—”

Boss: “Did he really say all that?”
Jimmy: “Well, his lips were moving…and it sounded like his voice…”

Liked those lyrics? To see a slightly less flippant song, click here.
© 2004 Ariel Vanderhorst

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Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife