Monday, November 29, 2004


A path over a hillside,
a bridge over a stream,
I’m dreaming of freedom,
is it only a dream?

The world collects in puddles after rain;
maybe if I kneel and drink
nothing will remain the same.
I’ve heard you send us living water
and I’m thirsty for a change.

An upper window,
a hidden rhyme,
I’m searching for mystery,
is it all in my mind?

When a light came on
in my empty room
there was never much to see.

But You took my arm

in the growing gloom
and walked away with me.

Now I’m walking
through eternity, a world of light—
Enough to see.
Enough to fight.

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The Real World

Ultimate Reality Asserts Itself

Lately I've been struck by the persistent interest people have in the secret, the mysterious, even the "magical." There's no denying that for many, knowledge need only be labeled "secret" or "arcane" for it to become really fascinating.

If this preoccupation is merely a diversion - say, reading a horoscope now and then - we smile and call it a hobby. But when it approaches the level of compulsion, or begins to actually influence a person's life...the smiles fade.

After all, there's no place for superstition in the modern world. Such blind, compulsive behavior - "faith," we call it - is obviously a vestigial weakness, a form of dependence, and therefore pathetic. Right? Doesn't science rule out this sort of thing? True "stark realists" have no place for reality that isn't, well, visibly stark... Right?

But the hunger remains. And science, despite its pretensions to omniscience, cannot explain the origins of this tendency. Science has "declassified" the soul, debunked the spiritual world, or so we're told. Why then, does the unseen still tug at us? Inexplicably, our souls are unabashed.

We are haunted by dreams of non-empirical reality.

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Friday, November 26, 2004

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Will eternity be lacking?

Recent days were the context for yet another blissful realization about heaven. Often “projected” images of the next place are a cause for concern, even if the angst is buried or subconscious. We anticipate a final, glorious freedom—fully actuated personhood, positive purity, with no downward bent—but we can’t help but fret a little. Some of earth’s good things seem just too good to do without. (Books? Marriage? Basketball?)

Don’t think for a moment that I think I’m raising anything approaching consequential questions. I fully concur with C.S. Lewis here. (I’m sure that comes as a surprise.)

There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “Heaven” ridiculous by saying that they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.” The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. - Mere Christianity

What I realized though, in regard to these concerns (which rise somewhat naturally), is simply this: Heaven will be a place worthy for the Maker. Fitted for the Creator. Heaven is a home where Christ will feel “comfortable.”

Suddenly, the conception that there could be missing pieces in such a place is laughable. Akin to me wondering if my skills would regress at MJ’s basketball camp. Or whether there would be much food for thought at a meeting of The Inklings. And such pictures are, of course, utterly inadequate, because Christ created not one or two, but every joy and pastime that I’ve come to love down here. Just look at earth; God’s attention span is infinite and he loves to multi-task.

Earth’s bittersweet excellence, incomplete as it is, is proof—a guarantee or pledge—of heaven’s brilliance. In other words, God’s character and craftsmanship, which we’ve already seen, imply the quality of heaven. A perfected earth?

At any rate, no worries.

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A Pastor Will Rise

You all will be relieved to hear that I successfully completed my essay assignment over J. Gresham Machen's provocative treatise, "Christianity & Culture." I ended up enjoying myself, discovering one of my favorite themes, "mental fight" (William Blake), entrenched squarely in the whole argument. Here's an excerpt (from my paper):

Earth is a war zone. As Dostoevsky wrote, “God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”[1]...Pastors must be men of courage, like Luther at Worms,[3] advancing with gospel weapons in their hands. The truth must saturate their minds and fortify their spines. The need is for humble defiance, a nonconformist’s audacity— “I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is strongest”[4]—but in Christ’s strength. Christianity, as characterized by C.S. Lewis, is “a fighting religion.”[5]

Thrilling stuff, eh.

All that goes to say that now I'm back to my usual pastime, writing bittersweet stuff that makes people say, "Huh."

[1] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (New York: Random House, 1990), 108.

[2] Available only in the full-text version. :) If you just have to read it, send me a note.
[3] Worms was the context for Luther’s famous statement: “My mind is held captive by the Word of God… Here I stand. God help me. I cannot do otherwise.”
[4] Henry D. Thoreau: Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience (Thoreau Reader, 2004). 23 November 2004, available from
[5] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1980), 37.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

To Be Alone

No, I’m not feeling the pangs of existential desolation. I have been reading about Nietzsche this morning, in The Real Face of Atheism—highly recommended—but I was thinking about this topic before I encountered poor mad, brilliant Frederick.

Loneliness seems to be a hallmark of our culture. Our insulating technology (“instant messages” are not conversations!) makes seclusion gravitational, and earnest, face-to-face friendships rarer that ever. Even if we didn’t live in a fiercely individualistic society, it would be hard to defy the electronic siren call of “effortless” relationship (condolences sent via email, celeb “friends” in our living rooms, talk show hosts masquerading as our pals…). It’s never been easy, but today, really knowing someone is a harder task than ever. And so, as often as not, we go it alone. America is a lonely nation.

Just the same, I can’t help wondering if isolation is a hallmark of all cultures, even a fundamental fact of existence. Thomas Wolfe seemed to think so. As he wrote in “God’s Lonely Man” (titled appropriately enough):

The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that the sense of loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon peculiar to myself and a few other solitary people, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence. All this hideous doubt, despair, and dark confusion of the soul a lonely person must know, for he is united to no image save that which he creates himself.

This loneliness, which Wolfe describes so devastatingly, is a mindset, a frame of heart, which transcends physicality and conditions. Who hasn’t sometimes felt the pangs of isolation strongly (even strongest) in a crowded room? There’s a closet in the human soul that defies the most well-intentioned sharing.

It’s like trying to describe a rare moment—say a windswept April sunset, wreathed in scents of forsythia—to someone who wasn’t there. A moment we cannot fully share, like a room we can only enter alone, leaves us unavoidable lonesome. We crouch singly in our souls. Others may peer in the windows, we may send out mail, but who else can cross the threshold? In a sense we cannot help but be lonely.

In that sense, we may be surrounded by ever so many friends, even good friends, and married, happily married, and still feel, at times, abandoned. The question seems to be not so much, “Is it possible, in our crowded, rushing society, for someone to be really alone?” as “Is it possible for someone not to be?”

Small echoes of resonant “proof” fortify my suspicions.

As a kid I watched a movie, now obsolete, entitled The Young Sherlock Holmes, an attempted prequel to Doyle’s stories. The film tried to imaginatively foreshadow the trajectory of Holmes' adult life; throughout the script, his byword is, “I never want to be alone.” In the end though, of course, he is—left inconsolable alone, his love interest dead, with only his work to divert his grief. And, remarkably enough, he is alone throughout the movie as well, even while his love still lives. So young Holmes emerges as a tragic hero. No one can never be alone. A semi-profound premise for a children’s movie.

I remember, wistfully, the telling line in Tolkien’s story: “To bear a ring of power is to be alone.” Poor Frodo. Until he sails West, he is fated for soul-isolation. Even the devoted Sam can only infer his misery. As usual, Tolkien simply tells the truth, cloaked in mythic hyperbole.

Former Waterdeep frontman Don Chaffer sings:
Most folks smile away the blues
I mean I…I guess they do
You never really know for sure
But I’m surviving on this hunch
That everybody else is hurtin’ too.

Centuries ago, a scholar captured it in his book: “The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy” (Proverbs 14:10).

And further instances, of course, literally pervade our culture. If I stopped here, I’d seem to be making a case for prolonged depression. Actually, that’s not my intent. Eyeing our natural predicament makes the solution all the more lucid and bright.

Simple logic suggests a human soul may only be known completely by the one who indwells it. And so far this seems to suggest that only I, Ariel, will ever know the full inner life of aforesaid young man (writer, thinker, basketball player extraordinaire…). This would be a cause for forlorn musings. And for many it is.

But, as W.H. Auden would assure us,
Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghost on the links,
Behind the lady who dances and the man who madly drinks,
Under the look of fatigue, the attack of migraine and the sigh
There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye.

Question: If my soul, simply by virtue of being mine, defies attempts at full comprehension, what hope is there for intimacy? In a world of endless searching, what hope is there of being found?

Answer, framed strikingly by David, the warrior-poet-king:

You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day…Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed underground, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. (Psalm 139)

Thomas Wolfe was wrong, in thinking loneliness has no recourse. So was Nietzsche. There is an antidote for earth-bound "isolation." The God who made a soul can also enter it, speak to it, know it…inside and out.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Scent of Life

You think it’s so absurdly funny
But I found a way to end this earthly strife;
The way lost friends smell the scent of money
I smelled the scent of life.

We’ve both known the search for meaning;
Both known love’s labors lost.
But I saw a treasure in the gutter gleaming,
And I ran to live at the dead man’s cross.

There was something to venture, all to gain;
Like the call of a living sea.
And nothing draws the sick and lame
Like a drink promised absolutely free.

Having won acclaim as a corporate cog,
Making good was your only goal.
But my choice was wild praise to God
Over a silent, bearish soul.

© 2004 Ariel Vanderhorst

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Sylvan Gratitude?

Autumn could be considered a celebratory season for trees.

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Monday, November 22, 2004

False Dilemma

I just completed an enjoyably flippant post about my somewhat conflicted life, and now real exertion stares me in the face. We have a working relationship, but I still don't like the looks of him.

One of my professors assigned this incomprehensible paper. You know the story: "Masters students don't need breaks, writing causes serious reflection, forces articulation, these are weighty issues, etc., etc."

So off I go to write a treatise on Christianity & Culture, by the learned Gresham Machen.*

This post is a delaying tactic.

So let me tell you a little about Mr. Machen. His premise is that over the centuries, "one of the greatest problems that have agitated the Church is the problem of the relation between knowledge and piety, between culture and Christianity." In other words, doing and knowing seem to be at odds.

Anything more than a cursory look at the problem reveals there's really no conflict at all, unless one flies to an extreme of studious introspection or ignorant spontaneity. As everyone knows, you can't pull out the quick crossover-dribble/fade-away-jumper combination if you don't practice it first. But many people, I think, are naive about the relationship between learning and application. The bridge between truth and causality needs to be reemphasized, affirmed, restored. I guess that will be the point of my paper.

This is also precisely the point that Machen makes.

Why can't I just say that we agree and leave it at that?

*If you read it, let me know what you think. Better yet, blog about it, and I'll cite you in my paper. ;) It's an excellent piece, all the more impressive since it was originally presented live.

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This Is Your Life

Yesterday became the stage for a revealing chain of events. At church, having just wrapped up a dynamic series on Revelation, we had a "response Sunday." People (the brave ones, anyway) seized the opportunity to communicate something they had learned during the previous weeks of teaching. As usual, the comments were heartening, suggesting, more than anything else, that God is in a constant mode of speaking to his people.

I felt compelled to say something about the revelatory nature of creation - immediately glorious, yet a mere shadow of the divine character. Interestingly, I'd blogged about this very topic in recent days. Who says blogging isn't good for the soul?

After the service, I learned belatedly that the "Second Annual Harvest Bowl" was taking place in a field across the street, and saw that opportunity was knocking: a chance to scrabble around in the dirt with a bunch of guys in freezing weather. Normally I'm a hoops player, but the right thing to do was obvious. I dug through our car trunk and suited up in my dingy "paint clothes" from last summer. It was time to become a multiple-sport athlete.

As I was succumbing to the gravitational pull of the football game, my wife informed me that we'd just been given tickets to a classical music concert - Beethoven's Spring Sonata, with Rob Kapilow. Obviously, this opportunity was equally compelling. Beethoven or the Harvest Bowl? Sports or Arts? Which would it be? The choice was clear.

And so it was, a touchdown catch and a dramatic victory* later, I found myself in the men's room, ditching my sweatshirt, pulling my slacks and corduroy shirt back on. Ugh. The Harvest Bowl participants were dispersing as I raced to the waiting car and Lindsay peeled out of the church parking lot, hunched over the wheel. We were late.

Fortunately, there are ways to make up drive-time. Fifteen minutes later, I marched into the downtown Folly Theatre, a picture of cultured machismo. My valet-wife followed momentarily, having completed her car-parking duties several blocks away.** As we slipped into the concert hall, the refined murmurings of the sophisticate masked our entrance. Their ranks had been infiltrated, and they were unsuspecting. We sat down, exchanged a few meaningful glances, and the music began. Ah.

Later, in a surreal moment, I realized that the day's events in some ways epitomized my life. Tossed on adversarial waves of arts (academics) and athletics, thrown here and there by unplanned opportunities, anchored, fortunately, by the steady revelation of the divine Coordinator.

I'm not sure if pleasantly eclectic is the phrase I'm looking for. But regardless, I'm thankful.

*Well, sort of. We won by two touchdowns. But very act of winning an outdoor football game with no pads in freezing, drizzly weather is inherently dramatic...right?

**Heh he...ahem. I know it sounds awful. But as a three-year veteran of marriage, I've discovered there are a limited number of sure-fire ways of ways to get a rise out of my wife. This paragraph is one of them. ;)

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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Jayhawk Accessory

Two national preseason #1 rankings, three powerhouse seniors, a loaded bench, and the enthusiasm of the KU faithful knows no bounds. What I’m wondering is…how did I miss the auction?*

*Perhaps the better question is, Why am I posting this? That's a good one.

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Just Kidding

BitterSweetLife continues to attract attention from intellectuals everywhere.

I recently received an email from Eunseong Kim, a Ph.D student at the School of Journalism at Indiana University. Mr. Kim politely requested my participation in an online blogging survey for purposes related to his Ph.D dissertation, stating enticingly, “Empirical examination of blogging and its impact on people have been rare…Your participation in this survey is crucial…to understanding the effects of this new communication phenomenon.”

I could have easily enlightened Mr. Kim as to why people blog, having recently conducted my own survey on the subject (13 participants at last count!), but I decided he ought to do his own research. And fascinating as the premise was, there were no promises of gratuitous reward for participation, so I was about to hit delete. Then I remembered the potential for fun with unsolicited blogger email.

It would only take twenty minutes. And it’s not as if I have nagging papers to generate, sagging bookshelves to navigate, a clanging hoops game to renovate.* So why not? Besides, as potential blog fodder, the opportunity was not to be overlooked. On behalf of my readers, I took the plunge.


I guess Mr. Kim failed to scout his participants adequately. Either that or I was the victim of a suave Asian jokester, adept at bait and switch. And so, after all my deliberation, the whole premise had failed to justify itself.

So has this post. But that’s life, isn’t it?


*This was sarcasm.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Colorblind People Waiting

Colorblind people,
waiting at stoplights,
assess the location
of undefined brightness,
and I don’t know you
so I do the same,
gauging the level
of your expressions,
high, low or middle,
not knowing their nature,
through pedestrian eyes.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Basketball Musings

On Saturday I returned to my favorite hoops locale after three weeks away. I’d definitely missed it—the regulation three-point arc, the hardwood floors, the familiar right-side baseline where I habitually ditched defenders for pull-up jumpers. Ah. I’d been away too long. But, as these things usually are, the vacation turned out to be costly.

The return to my court wasn’t royal. I clanged most of my shots and didn’t have the legs for the customary three hours of full-court action. So much for quick feints and slashing to the basket. Forget about knifing inside to steal rebounds.

Instead I spent my time lurking on the perimeter, steadily sweating out my salt content. After a couple hours I looked like the guy in the commercial who DIDN’T drink Gatorade.™ Maybe the four cups of coffee before the game didn’t help.

It kills me, that academic excellence (or at least the pursuit thereof) seems to require a proportional decline in one’s athletic ability. Aargh.


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Sunday, November 14, 2004

Clues from the Seasons

Seasons: a conduit for "sehnsucht" (inconsolable) longing?

I’ve wanted to write this post for months. What’s kept me from actually writing it, more than anything, is the elusive nature of what I really want to say. We all experience the seasons; we all know they inspire a variety of emotions. But why? It’s the Why that I want to get at, and which seems so difficult to approach.

Every time the seasons change I’m confronted by beauty, but not the type you forget in minutes, like a crisp snapshot, not the kind that entrances you for days, like a haunting melody, and then wears off. The beauty of the seasons seem, like the rarest writing, to “pierce like swords or burn like cold iron.” *

The seasons evoke feelings with no proximate cause. They pluck chords I never composed. Silvery hidden threads begin to vibrate, like strands of an ethereal web, and at their distal ends, something is shaken, something that is rarely touched…

Spring, dissolving ice, brings fragile hope; summer blazes, and for moments one feels that he could live forever; Fall distils the heat, and wistfulness comes on the wind; the final, icy expanse of winter crystallizes in a sense of searching, and yet, loss.

To state it differently:

As the world turns, varying distances from the sun create meteorological variety. Climates in each of the hemispheres react accordingly, resulting in yearly weather patterns. As we experience these changes, our personal “weather” changes as well.

And still, there’s the Why. How to explain the alignment of air and soul? How do climate and spirit coincide?

There’s a truth that hovers at the fringes of imagination, solid and inscrutable. I can’t see it in the dark, but that doesn’t keep me from stumbling over it every year, spring and summer, fall and winter, scuffing my contentment, knocking my settledness. Something whispers, Listen closely, before you get too old, and I sense that a colossal weight - of joy or sorrow - hangs in the balance.

The seasons probe a devastating secret, in C.S. Lewis' words, “the secret we cannot hide and tell, though we desire to do both...Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter…” (The Weight of Glory)

But “beauty” won’t suffice. Like many beautiful things, the seasons are merely a conduit, a hazy mirror. Stare at them too long, and the sweetness shrivels. One looks, at best, through them, to what lies behind. In the end, the seasons are guideposts for a journey.

For now, I'll leave it at that.

“…they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” (Lewis)

* This from C.S. Lewis, commenting on J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy. Lewis is in all ways an authority on the mysterious longing for something higher, deeper, as yet unattainable -sehnsucht he calls it - an experience common to all.

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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Quick Life Story

So much for profound posts. Exams and papers have been cracking the whip lately. In a couple classes, I'm clinging by my fingertips to the crumbling cliff marked "A." I'm struggling for my very academic existence.

Even so, I have to spare an over-the-shoulder glance for BitterSweetLife. Much-neglected, this blog has treated me well. And without more ado, here are a few random comments:

In recent weeks, the blog has survived its first real identity crisis. When I started tapping out my very first post, the pseudo-comical, pseudo-philosophical effort now known as
Bittersweet What?, the trajectory was set. For better or worse, BitterSweetLife would relegate itself to a class apart from the normal, make-it-up-as-you-go blogosphere, where posting happens like circadian rhythms. The fateful choice was made, and obvious catalysts for posting--coworker idiosyncrasies, internet browser problems, intra-family squabbles--were merely fond memories. Things could have been different. But they weren't. And so I found myself surrounded on all sides, hemmed in by scholastic overdoses that would require rehab, professors that could not be denied, and a small bittersweet blog, eloquently persuasive in its silence.

For a few short days, I thought the answer was to
go mainstream, post the "daily stuff." And why not? It works for countless glittery blogs with readerships that dwarf BitterSweetLife's like Limbaugh's brain dwarfs Moore's. But I couldn't do it, finally, because the blog wouldn't let me. BitterSweetLife may as well have gone audio. ("That's not what I'm about," said the blog morosely. His eyes were red and weepy and there were bottles stacked on the desktop by the recycling bin, off to one side.) I still got the message. *Sigh.* Back to bittersweetness. It meant fewer posts and probably a continued "niche" readership, but #$$%^! It's what we're about.

Other than this "to thine own self be true" episode, I've had a few minor revelations. My earlier
comments about Blog Explosion seem to have proven accurate. More hits, but few quality hits. Still, I'm not complaining; exposure is good, and will help me on my way to tri-continental domination. (If you want to experience the Explosion, click here.)

I went ahead and installed a "Submit to BitterSweetLife" link in the sidebar, for any of you toying with the idea. There are a few posts waiting in the pipeline, once I get around to it, and more are welcome. Do you have what it takes?

That's all for now. Rounding up these scattered thoughts will help me articulate a truly bittersweet post in the near future. (At least that's what I tell myself.)

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

My Christmas break assignment.

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Dawn of a New Era

Well, it's the morning after, and the results are in. As the excitement and hoopla dies down, it's time to tally up the results... My birthday usually coincides with election day, which would have been a real thrill this year, but the six-day discrepancy isn't preventing me from taking stock of the changed landscape political/residential landscape simultaneously, as usual. So, illuminated by a post-Birthday glow, here are my new library acquisitions:

Reversed Thunder - Eugene Peterson
The Abolition of Man - C.S. Lewis
The Unnecessary Pastor - Marva Dawn / Eugene Peterson
Pilgrim At Tinker Creek - Annie Dillard
The Real Face of Atheism - Ravi Zacharias
Heaven - Randy Alcorn
What's So Amazing About Grace - Philip Yancey
The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations - Mark Water, compiler
The Bartender's Bible - Gary Regan

Good books. They're like hair-trigger explosives, ticking away until you flip open the first several pages, then - BOOM! A good explosion. In what ways will these titles nuance my thinking and affect my lifestyle? Man, I can't wait until Christmas break.

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Foiled Again

Has a poem ever led you on a high-speed chase?
Perched in a soft-top Cadillac, swerving on and off the road,
Until finally you apprehend it, pin it against the car,
And write down its description,
Only to realize you’ve caught a poem,
But the essence has escaped?

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Jayhawk Spirit

Something needs to be said, with NCAA basketball season around the corner: KU is #1, baby!

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Sunday, November 07, 2004

Sensory Deficit

Why Can't We See Clearly?

Today I was jolted into an awareness of sensory deprivation. It’s not that my allotted five are no good. Standard issue, they’re still holding up all right. It’s just that I need more.

The Bible’s book of Revelation introduces creatures “full of eyes…with six wings,” and after the initial recoiling, this picture begins to sink in. Implications come next.

How else to describe it but an expose of our sensory limitations? A critique of our conceptual immobility? Our senses work fine, but, given the context of ultimate reality, they’re pitifully lacking. The eerie metaphor of the six-winged, many-eyed creature shatters our human archetypes (brown hair, blue eyes, no wings), and in the process suggests our perceptions may be more artificial than we realize.

I find myself wondering, Just how much do we miss? We don’t often come to grips with our total inability to see clearly, to grasp a picture of reality that's multifaceted and true. The fact is, we’re hopelessly earth-bound in our means of apprehension, or, to reverse the analogy, we’re like fish in water, conceiving of land.

Just the same, the spiritual plane is one that demands our attention. It’s as if the locale of Heaven emits a constant, low-decibel roar, falling just below the level of audibility, which nonetheless sets our ear-drums tingling. With our deficient senses, we track the signal as best we can.

In Revelation, John (the author) reveals his sensory "deficit" with each line he pens. We gain a picture of a throne room that encompasses the skies, filled with indescribable figures—and not because they are too shadowy to make out. Rather, it’s John’s powers of comprehension and expression that are on the shady side. His five senses succumb, and he responds with a helpless profusion of similes, as ultimately inadequate as they are immediately glorious.

It’s not that we lack a mysterious sixth sense, which will be conferred at a later date. No, what we need are seventh, eighth, ninth senses, ad nauseum, until we finally "see" things as they are. Or maybe the powers of apprehension we possess now are mere shadows of what they ought to be, will be, like a Cyclops (+ one eye) compared to a creature “full” of them.

One day, there will be a sensory awakening. In the meantime, it doesn't hurt to remember our limitations.

We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! - 1 Corinthians 13:12, The Message
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Saturday, November 06, 2004

Basketball Spell

A scene remarkable for its magical, unadulterated beauty.

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Friday, November 05, 2004

In the Right Crowd, I Stand Out

Something humorous happened at work today. When the students walked into the high school class where I was substituting, one of them said, "Hey, we have the thin substitute with hair!" Yea. I guess I can think of worse epithets, though. This comment ought to tell you something about the average employee in my profession.

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The Return to BitterSweetness

This "mainstream" posting facade is killing me. It seems incredibly convenient, but I just can't do it. Back to bittersweetness.

Lately I've been thinking about the mysterious effects that the seasons have on us. What's the connection between autumn and longing, winter and loss; why are the same sensations shared by so many people? I'm hoping to tackle this in a full-length (whatever that means) post. In the meantime...there's no denying the gravitational "spiritual" pull that the seasons have on us. C.S. Lewis might point us back to "inconsolable longings" and I would suspect the same.


Winter clouds in a summer sky
Were the muted reasons I

Packed my bags in mid-July
And left to find a place where I would never die.

Cause I’ve been searching
But I never have been found.
And when I wake up and my dreams are gone,
All I can surmise is “Time to move on.”

© 2004 Ariel Vanderhorst

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Thursday, November 04, 2004

(Bad) Dreams of the Future

A Satire

Well, the great descent into mediocrity has begun. Chameleon-like, BitterSweetLife is assuming some of the trappings of the age twenty-something blogosphere, and a few of you may be wondering just how far this will go.

Might this blog someday feature: Candid confessions of boredom and apathy? (“hi, i’m just posting to say that nothing interesting happened today. again.”) Grammar-defying flirtation? (“sew r al boiys lyk yu? hee hee, cn u b syrius?”) Pathetically wishful thinking? (“Today I ran into Jen again in the cafĂ©. Every time I see her, I start sweating and I say the stupidest stuff. I’m not sure she knows my name, but I wonder if she’d go out with me if I asked her?) Stodgy revelations? (“Today I typed in keyword “etymology” on Ebay, and was quite impressed by the results.”) Wanna-be profundity? (“Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I think...‘Why bother?’ But we all have days when our inner child feels a little blue.”)

What apparitions might greet you when you pull down your Favorites menu and hit up BitterSweetLife (multiple times a day)?

Randomly proliferating links?
Hey, for no particular reason, check out this great political article by a weeping liberal: Night Falls

Trivial Filler With Subtle Implications?
Now playing: “We Are the Champions,” Queen

Amusingly useless profiles?

Second-hand smack?
Click here for the latest Jim Rome syndication!

Pictures of questionable relevance?

"Here’s my second cousin on my dad’s side in Starbuck’s last year." (Not really. -Ed.)

Irrational demands and pleas?
Hey, please click on all my ads, blogroll me and give my site a high rating, would you?

I’m starting to get a little bit scared myself. But somewhere, in my heart of hearts, I know that BitterSweetLife is, and will remain, indubitably, itself.

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We have this scenic overlook a couple blocks from our apartment that used to give one a gorgeous view of the Missouri River Valley. This was back in the days of Lewis & Clark, apparently. Now it gives one a gorgeous view of our grimy industrial district. At least the graffiti is photogenic.

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BitterSweetLife Goes Pop

This blog is becoming more and more mainstream. Before you panic, don’t worry—I’m not going to start regaling you with accounts of my serial dating exploits or invent “creative” new four-letter words to hurl at the President. (Neither tactic can be considered innovative any longer. Come to think of it, were they ever?) Rather, my posts seem to be evolving into more traditional blog fare: daily musings and observations, gloating over flattering coincidences, cursing life’s irony, etc. The contemplative tone that I aim for on BitterSweetLife takes more time to articulate than I have on my hands these days. I’m telling myself this may turn out to be a good thing. Who knows?

But, without more ado, on to today’s headlines.

Professor Tosses Students a Bone
Covert Amends for Horrific Exam?

This morning in my Old Testament Survey class, a couple dozen students perplexedly experienced the easiest in-class quiz ever. My professor, we’ll call him Prof. Green, has taunted us throughout the semester with weekly quizzes that you can never be fully ready for, due to his detailed questions and massive reading assignments. The best you can hope for is to go in “feeling good” about your prospects—and this subjective indicator doesn't always pay off.

Today, things were different. Anyone who had casually perused our reading could have aced the quiz, no sweat. Ten of ten; chalk ‘em up; money in the bank. This was shocking. I found myself smiling in bewilderment as I filled out the paperwork for my point allotment. It felt like welfare. What had come over Professor Green?

My only theory pertains to our exam two days ago, a truly horrific demonstration of the futility of modern study methods. Hours spent highlighting, memorizing outlines and theories, and reviewing texts left me with an apparent “C” knowledge of the material (a fate shared by most of the students, as judged by an impromptu “exit poll” outside the classroom). Apparently few of us knew what to study.

Somehow one feels that an academic curveball implies a level of moral obligation on the part of he who pitches it. Could Professor Green feel the weight of this unspoken dictate as well?

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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Tunnel Vision?

Near "The Plaza" in KC, the riverwalk has a grunge side.

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Alternative Youth

And in other breaking news...during my Ethics class this week, one of my classmates had a pointed question for me:
"Do you play the drums?"
"Well, no...but I've always wanted to."
"I was just wondering, so I thought I might as well ask."
"No problem."

He was trying to start a band and searching for that elusive missing piece; clearly the "alternative" aspect of my persona had subconsciously grabbed his attention. So, as I cross the ominous quarter-century mark this month, I’m still justifiably young. Ha!

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The New Egotism

Recently, enlightened by my substitute-teaching experiences in North KC, I've become aware of a fascinating variation on the age-old theme of arrogance. The usual approach, adopted by a number of us, involves an overt swagger and the not-so-subliminal message, I'm all that. A thin (or nonexistent, as the case may be) veneer of playfulness disguises the dead-earnest nature of the assertion.

However, this tried and true approach to ego-expansion is being forsaken by many in our postmodern culture. These days, general ethical uncertainty is regarded as a virtue, and "tolerance" seems to imply that most forms of personal self-assertion are evil. An increasing number of people (showcased by my fairly transparent high school students) prefer a more nuanced approach to self-promotion, a more subtle approach to pride.

Call it "the new egotism." A self-induced air of confusion, fudging of ability and judgment, is becoming mainstream. It involves a kind of chronic self-doubt, resulting in the central tenet of our postmodern heritage--the certainty of uncertainty. Some refer to this as "tolerance."

And, in an ironic twist, this supposed lack of conviction and moral penetration qualifies one for a legitimacy and credence. Implicit in the new egotism is the idea that You should listen to me because I'm unsure, I'm not dogmatic, that is, I'm an authentically "open-minded" person.

Does moral uncertainty generate authority? Are the chronically confused our new top dogs? At least in the classroom microcosm, this new math seems to be at work.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Low-Maintenance Road

This dilapidated bridge made for an adventurous crossing last weekend.

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Monday, November 01, 2004

Short Story In Review

Preliminary reviews of Leviathan’s Fishhook, my second complete short story, are in, and the critics concur: it’s better than my first. Comparisons have been made (kindly) to C.S. Lewis and T.S. Elliot (specifically Till We Have Faces and Journey of the Magi), and as far as I’m concerned, that’s success.

If you’d like to give this 1.5 page story a read, go ahead. Better yet, if you’re willing to offer some formal feedback, send me a note (see sidebar).

I found that swapping genres—outright allegory for narrative fantasy—was a sound remedy for authorial frustration. In a cathartic act, I cut loose my sulky imagination and simply wrote what I felt like writing. This was in contrast to my first ill-fated attempt, The Wrong House.

Retrospectively, I think that in House I took a fairly viable concept and “analogized” it beyond all recognition. One can add only so many deliberate parallels before they have a dehabilitating effect on the story’s flow, and end up stifling the plot and characters. The devastatingly-perfect allegory may also be devastatingly unintelligible. Note to self: Future tilts at allegory will have to be attempted upon a thoroughly suitable frame; tweaking a preexisting idea didn’t work.

I typed up Leviathan in a matter of hours one afternoon, revised it a couple times, and found a fully-developed story staring me in the face. Bewildered, I wondered how it was possible. And why the second story was easily more compelling? “Practice” must pay dividends, but after a little contemplation, I’m calling this “working to my strengths.” My writing these days is more suited to fantasy/narrative/character/action than abstract allegory. Ashamedly, I now realize this fact falls into the “Things you should know by now” category. Maybe now I do.

A few other brief notes: Writing Leviathan was a pleasurable experience in part because I gave myself room to paint my action vividly. I visualized the main sequence “cinematographically” before jotting it down. This motion capture approach was not a bad idea. Also, my protagonist is indubitably bittersweet, a sympathetic hero; this just feels right. Finally, the method of inspiration—one key concept instead of a plot device—seems an improvement. Better to let plots grow organically at this point, unless they materialize as mature adults, ready to enter the workforce. That never happens.

Hopefully setting down a few observations here will help me in future eleventh hour situations.

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