Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Heaven Recurrence

I find myself thinking and writing about heaven pretty frequently:

The BitterSweet Life Unpackaged
Scarcity In Heaven?
All Roads Lead To Heaven?

Some might say this is unrealistic or escapist or something. I disagree. In fact, I’ll argue the reverse. Regular contemplation of heaven helps us in at least two very significant ways:

1) Grows in us a longing for “highest reality”—pleasure and joy in their perfect, unadulterated forms.
2) Teaches us to view the inadequacies, inconsistencies and apparent injustices of earth in the correct light—the light of impending heaven.

Implicit in item # 1 is the fact that someone may have a successful and happy life…and long for heaven more rather than less as a result. For many, the very inadequacy of abundant pleasure and joy is a sure path upward. (Consider Ecclesiastes.) In C.S. Lewis’ words:


The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. - The Problem of Pain

Also often overlooked in discussions about heaven are the “theological” implications of such talk. Heaven, spoken about ambiguously, can only be a nebulous sort of a “good”—if good at all. (And no doubt this is why many people think of “heaven” as a sort of neutered earth.) Ultimately, heaven must be faith-specific and god-specific to have any meaning whatsoever. To put it plainly (if I may quote Lewis exorbitantly), “Heaven enters wherever Christ enters, even in this life.”

Ultimately, a genuine longing for Heaven is a longing for Christ. And that is the most “realistic” longing conceivable. So here’s my claim:
A disoriented life
is one devoid of Heaven.
In other words, this topic may come up again.




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Saturday, August 28, 2004

Counter Culture Music

I'm running short on time today...
So check out this article I wrote for Relevant Magazine (online edition) several months ago: Counter Culture Music

(You'll like their site.)

Happy weekend!


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Friday, August 27, 2004

Scarcity In Heaven


In the Rockies.

I didn’t take Econ 101, but here’s how I see things. On earth, value is determined by supply and demand. Whatever the medium—apparel, collectibles, natural resources, even relationships (sad, huh)—the drab "economic" rule always applies. That makes scarcity a paramount factor. What is rarely beautiful, rarely printed, or rarely produced, is highly valuable.

But when I transfer this grid to my picture of heaven, I have to somehow redefine the values of my equation. Why?

Because there will be great preciousness in heaven. But joy and beauty will not be in short supply. In fact, perfection—in form, in spirit, in conduct—will be the medium with which we interact.

As Paul put it:

…We know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade… We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home… The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5

That seems to raise a question. In a land of flawless pleasure, unending exaltation, "true reality," how can the “highly valuable” exist? Won’t “perfection” be run-of-the-mill? Won’t preciousness lose its uniqueness? Well, no.

1) Consider that life itself will be precious, like breaths of rarified air on top of Long’s Peak in the Rockies in the sun…when for a moment, all seems right with the world. And life will not be "only" intrinsically precious (as it is here, our homicidal society notwithstanding)—it will be experientially precious, which we can’t say now. Things will change irrevocably for the better, transformed by an inexhaustible resource: Christ's presence...

He'll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone. – Revelation 21:4

2) And something else. We will have a greater understanding of “fittingness.” Everyone, at last, will appear in his or her unadulterated form, as intended by God—strikingly, mesmerizingly, uniquely alive. Beauty will be everywhere...but never commonplace.

We catch a glimpse of this sense of “fitting” when Christ promises to go “prepare a place” in heaven for his disciples—“mansions,” homes that will seemingly correspond to each personality. Will there be thousands, millions of such houses, prepared for those who knew Christ on earth? Absolutely. Will they be uniformly flawless? Yes. But each home “fitted” to a soul.

Give me uniformity of beauty any day! Standardized delight anytime. This will be a perfect abundance of scarcity.




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Bittersweet What?





So I bought a box of chocolates,
left them at my girlfriend’s door.
Found them scattered on the pavement,
she’d thrown ‘em from the 13th floor.

Like a path of broken glass and flowers
‘neath my feet,
on days like this, all I can say is,
life is bittersweet.


Put somewhat flippantly, but I can't spend
all my time crying about life's inequities. (See my other seventeen blogs for that. No, not really.) But if you think about it, there is a certain bittersweetness that characterizes our existence down here.

Like the letters Paul of Tarsus wrote in prison. Like the rim of the Grand Canyon. Like The Book of Sorrows. Like “Dark Line” coffee with Bailey’s. Like the Road to Emmaus, the guys recognizing their best friend only after he had departed...

My aim is to explore the paradoxical relationship between joy and longing, wonder and sorrow, pain infused with pleasure. Because ultimately our emptiness tell us as much about our souls as our satisfaction. And all philosophical systems, to be really cogent, need to postulate satisfactory answers for both ends of the spectrum, both elements of a black and white photo, so to speak.

Now, lest I get misunderstood before I even get my boxing gloves on: This is no ying yang type of statement. And I like to rag on Naturalism (makes for really boring fiction, incidentally). In fact, both those systems, Naturalism and various schools of Eastern thought, fail miserably to provide answers for life’s bittersweetness. My exploration of life is fueled by God who became Christ. God and man. Man and God. Now that’s bittersweet, more so the longer you look.

Stuff you find here will pertain to an accurate understanding of life’s paradoxes, mysteries and contradictions, seen through a Christ-dedicated lens. As well as musings on how Christ’s glory is reflected in unexpected or subversive ways... with additional thoughts thrown in for free. Pretty wide-ranging, you say. Indeed. But so were Leonardo Da Vinci, Lewis and Clark, and the buffalo. And they’re all famous.

You should also know:
I’m decidedly anti-snob, especially anti intellectual snobbery (which should be understood to include vocabulary snobbery). I think it’s more pertinent and usually harder to say something significant in a lucid way than to dress it up in words incomprehensible to the average People reader.

I used to be a Bohemian
But I got tired of being a snob.
I packed up and left Greenwich Village.
I moved off and got a real job.


Right. So I’m pretty much anti-snob on all fronts, except for book-snobbery, coffee-snobbery, basketball-snobbery, and maybe a few more garden variety counts I’m forgetting. (Subliminal message: Read
Joseph Epstein.) But it seems that you could divide all bloggers, somewhat superficially, into two camps: snobs and anti-snobs, in terms of what they say and how they say it. I’m just being up-front about my voting preference.

So there you have it. A post-postmodern page dedicated to chronicling Jesus’ glory as expressed in life’s bittersweetness.




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Hoop Dreams


Pulling your knees up when you jump makes you look higher.

A Basketball Diary

Once I dreamed I was holding an exclusive tryout for some top-flight agent, or NBA super-scout Marty Blake. To demonstrate my agility and power, I was jumping up and dunking a basketball through a ceiling fan. Then I woke up.

Marbury wanted to check Jordan. Kobe wanted to replace him. Lebron wants to be the best to play the game. We’re still looking for the next Great White Hope. In a world where hoops aspirations must be high if they’re not to be dissed, my basketball prospects have their vulnerabilities.

At 5’8,” I’m shorter than 99.74% of all college and pro-level players and 85.39% of all point guards in the same categories. (Statistics are based on quick mental estimates.) The fact that I’m in pretty decent shape for my size only emphasizes the above numbers, namely that I’m too short to even qualify as a “tweener.”

What’s worse, having picked up the game at age 12, I missed high school hoops through a combination of home education, no coaching, extracurricular travel, and ball handling skills that needed work to reach “par” level. A few years later at Rockhurst University, 18 hours of stiff academics beat out a walk-on opportunity my freshman year. However, I did find time to go through preseason with the team, drinking in one of the most grueling and least rewarding aspects of college hoops. Aaah.

I used to be the proud possessor of a 39 inch vertical, not bad for my height. Players would watch me bounce around the rim, shake their heads and say, “Too bad you’re not taller, man.” But back problems have taken away even this token victory, and reduced me to playing merely “above the net.” Now I’m forced to rely on ball feints and timing to get mine, at age 25 already turning into one of those “crafty old guys” we have all seen, been schooled by, and still somehow pity.

While I’ve occasionally been given the handle “white chocolate,” so far I’m not J-Will reconstituted. And while today’s prep sensations aspire to be the next Magic, Bird or Dream, my ambitions stand about two feet lower: Mugsy Bogues.

I wanna be
I wanna be
I wanna be
Like Mugsy


doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but welcome to my game. I may not dunk on your head, but I will lay-up on your shoulder. Look out, there’s a hoopsta on your block, coming to a court near you: Little Dawg, the Small White Hope, and I’m bringin’ the rain. Or at least the drizzle.

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Thursday, August 26, 2004

A Must-Read

I don't usually use poems, articles, excerpts, etc. as stand-alone posts, but this is too good. Enjoy.

Daisy
by Francis Thompson

The fairest things have fleetest end,
Their scent survives their close:
But the rose’s scent is bitterness
To him that loved the rose.

She went her unremembering way,
She went and left in me
The pain of all the partings gone,
And partings yet to be.

She left me marveling why my soul
Was sad that she was glad;
At all the sadness in the sweet,
The sweetness in the sad.




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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Downtown Camera


A few more urban art shots, just for fun. © 2004 Arielinds Photo.



A variation.



One of those blurry romantic shots contrasting the warmth of human love with the sterility of modern society. (Or something...)



The sun sets over downtown KC...a city known more for its barbecue than its visual appeal.



That's right, downtown KC. Does it get any more real? (Don't answer that question.) Our building is one over.

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Saturday, August 21, 2004

The Feel of Life



What’s the Texture of Your Existence?

There’s something I like about the “feel” of life. And it can’t be the pure ecstasy of it. Life’s not like a draught of bubbly champagne. It’s not even like a drink of clear, cold spring water. No, it’s more like a sip from relatively murky puddle with floating grass and dirt-specks.

But that’s the feel of life—rough, even raw. Sometimes abrasive. You grab life by the horns and bleed on the rough edges. You can’t sleep on life. It’s too real.

You walk along for awhile, then life shoots you an elbow in the eye and trips you up. You get back up, and awhile later life throws you again and kicks you in the teeth for good measure. So you get back up, ready for the next onslaught, because if you don’t, something worse might get you while you’re down. The bull may gore you. The semi-truck might nail you. You might go over the falls. Because that’s another fact about life—it keeps moving. And the only answer is to try and keep up.

Life is a yard stick, a measuring rod, passing implicit judgment on us all, even if we try and opt out. We can’t get away.

The tone of my description may come off as down-and-out or pessimistic (or maybe just clichéd and stupid), but that’s not where I’m coming from. Thankfully, some of the swift currents of life are pleasurable, pulling us toward something greater, unseen. And miraculously, even painful breakdowns may somehow push us toward the same huge purpose…looming deep and wide, behind our every muttered “Why?” or silent “How?”

I credit God for the changeful, rough-hewn nature of this life. I can’t explain my experience in terms of biological units interacting with a chemical interface. That’s not sufficient. But life, despite its inscrutability, is a fittingly porous element for revelation. Through it Christ reveals the plot to those entrenched in the rough material of his unfolding story.




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Jesus? Not MY Idol

"Chasing Perfection" Revisited

As I wrote the “Chasing Perfection” post below, I realized that some people might read it and respond, What makes you think I dream about becoming like him? (Jesus Christ.) Here are a few clarifying thoughts.

First, consider that we experience Christward longing clearly only in moments of honesty. (And for some, perhaps not even then.) To recap:


It's a bittersweet thing to look at the mysterious person in my mind's eye, the person who, somehow, could only be known as "me." But a "me" that is seemingly beyond my ability to realize. It's into this self-conscious, reluctantly-articulated inadequacy that Christ reaches when He says, Be perfect. And when I am most honest, I must admit I am no stranger to this longing.

Truly honest moments are rare. And Jesus was no pop culture icon, no sex symbol, no billionaire, the usual subjects of aspiration and jealousy. But he was truly alive. And it’s for this reason that I suggest he is the one you long to be, even when you’re not fully aware of it. He embodies humanity fully realized, physicality, intellect and spirituality quickened by friendship with a living God.

I’m not trying to prove this categorically, only to open a door for investigation. If your curiosity or sense of truth is stirred, that’s enough.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Oh, For A Muse Of Fire


If only it were that simple.

Inspired Thoughts on Cue-Writing

Maybe you've come across those online writing cues posted on sites like Orcut and LiveJournal. (To see a page with "writing prompts" (cues), click here.) The idea, as I take it, is that all the authorial mind waits upon is some external catalyst to release its pent up ingenuity.

I have mixed feelings about such ploys. Admittedly, the stream-of-consciousness epistles that may result can be somewhat enjoyable to write...but they can also be somewhat painful, or, worse, ridiculous to read. After all, why is a "new" writing cue superior to an old idea? Sometimes it seems all a new cue generates are new hang-ups with structure, rough new content, and newly-made (hasty) errors of syntax. Not to mention that a "good" cue doesn't always generate good writing.

Consider the seemingly auspicious cue, "Inspiration struck me-." I recently attempted to cue-write with this phrase. Here are several of my "possible outcomes."

First, an artsy attempt:

Inspiration struck me like a hit and run driver.
From the ground I watched him race away.
When I screamed he just drove faster
And I never saw his face.

Then a simplified approach to the same theme:

Inspiration struck me, but not hard enough.
I soon recovered and wrote this poem.

But it got worse.

Inspiration struck me
and I struck her right back,
knocking the blighter* on her face.
I guess that explains a lot.

Finally ending on this note of introspection:

Inspiration struck me and then stood over me, laughing.
It took me weeks to recover from the humiliation.

Who knows, there could be a place for cue writing in the author's bag of tricks. Until I figure it out, at least I can cue-write about cue-writing, and keep myself amused. OK, I'm out.

This word was used in association with The Vocabulary Reclamation Project.
*Blighter. Another derogatory term which has British connotations for me. Some would suggest the word is euphemistic, a substitute for more unpleasant insults. Perhaps, but if so, they would probably not be insults we'd use in America. For us, similar terms are: jerk, brat, unsavory character...

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Sunday, August 15, 2004

Chasing Perfection



The Ghosts of People We'll Never Be?

I've been considering the fact that God orders us to embrace perfection.


"You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father
is perfect."
- Jesus (Matthew 5:48)

I'm perfect, God says. Flawless and free in every way. You be that way too.
And in a sense, every fiber of me wants to say, "OK, God. All right, I will!" If only I could.

Because who hasn't felt the awkward desire in his own heart?--to change. To stop struggling with the same old thing. To live up to the ideal that we secretly cultivate. In short, to be someone we can never be. To be someone perfect. And not in the prissy, conformist sense of the word. Rather, someone powerful, compelling and complete. People who could be, as C.S. Lewis puts it, "possible gods and goddesses."

It's a bittersweet thing to look at the mysterious person in my mind's eye, the person who, somehow, could only be known as "me." But a "me" that is seemingly beyond my ability to realize. It's into this self-conscious, reluctantly-articulated inadequacy that Christ reaches when He says, Be perfect. And when I am most honest, I must admit I am no stranger to this longing. But does the story end there, in a dead-end alley?

Well, no. There's something else. Another player on the stage, arbiting between me and my inertia, the incredible heaviness of my being. Because the perfection that Christ commands, he also empowers. As the apostle Paul said:


I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)


And this isn't an isolated suggestion in the gospels. It's a central tenet of Jesus' message; those he calls, he "glorifies" (Romans 8:30). Today, in the middle of lay-offs, managerial tirades, spilled coffee, car wrecks, whatever, Christ's people are gradually growing into the perfection he envisions for us. Why? Because he has intended it, predestined it, if you will--and what he intends inevitably comes to pass. How? Because Jesus is the one doing the work, crafting us, shaping us, pouring us into a mold that he made when he walked the earth. Sometimes, to help myself, I try to picture it concretely...

We're slowly filling his shoes. Steadily filling them out. We're gradually growing into these salvation clothes that right now flop about our shoulders like an XL T-shirt on a two-year-old. Perhaps the ill-fitting nature of our "perfect" clothing makes us cry now; I suspect it makes Christ laugh. He sees all ends.

So our deepest true desire--longings for clean brightness, glorious freedom, a personality fully realized--Jesus commands us to grasp. And rightly so, since he was the fully integrated human, the complete man. He calls us to be like him, aficionados of true life, and then he takes the burden of authorship upon Himself. Do it, he says. And then, if we submit, He sets about doing it for us. The artistry of eternity waits upon our assent.

Here, then, is the final word on perfection, the verdict for those of us haunted by the people we long to be: Whole humanity--and full personality--is never consummated apart from Christ. Do you want to become perfect? (Remember how the word is intended here.) If you don't know Christ, you sadly never will. If you do, you already are.



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Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Morality of Blogging

Do Blogs Affect Our Behavior?

My conscience has driven me to confess: Just the other day I found myself rescuing a stunned caterpillar, scooping him off a hazardous driveway…specifically so I could write about it on my blog. Over the ensuing days, I’ve seen the little larva countless times in my mind’s eye, stretched as if paralyzed on the asphalt. He has haunted my dreams. He pursues me through the corridors of my mind, whispering: I could have died, would have. Could have, would have, could have, would have—if not for your stupid blog.

Oops, got a bit carried away there. So I guess the caterpillar incident didn’t have earth-shattering implications. Nevertheless, it triggered some kind of cautionary response, and now I’m wondering just how great an impact a blog might have on its author, given sufficient time and scope. Would the blog-driven changes become noticeable? Would they be “artificial,” because they were induced, as it were, by an external influence (i.e. BitterSweetLife)? What types of acts might a blogger be driven to perform in order to provide editorial fodder? And would they be beneficial or detrimental? I guess that would depend on the blog.

As I consider my own journey through the moral twilight of blogging, let me record that it began with a caterpillar. But where might it end? What desperate feats and abnormal accomplishments will I deliberately pursue for the sake of my blog? (Just for kicks, let’s end on the same speculative note with which we began.) I can hear the 60 Minutes theme music cueing up now…Blogger Gate: It began with a liberated larva…and culminated in a multifarious* internet plot to infiltrate Democratic headquarters and paint carefully selected Jack Handey quotations on the walls. Investigators tracked their culprit through cyberspace, slapping him with an inescapable verdict: Guilty, by his own admission. Guilty, as published on his blog…

This word was used in association with The Vocabulary Reclamation Project.
*Multifarious. A smooth-bodied adjective with a subtle undertone of swagger. Essentially meaning: multi-dimensioned, complex, sophisticated. More clinical synonyms include: diversiform, multivarious, multiplex. Try using it in the workplace.




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Nehemiad

I just finished reading Nehemiah, a truly mythic book in the Bible. It's also historically accurate. (Can you beat that?) I came up with this "rag" (as in a rough shred) poem thinking about Nehemiah’s faith-driven persistence.

Nehemiah’s quest to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls and return the hearts of his people to their God was a brilliant success…and a bitter failure. He poured himself into Jerusalem and her people for over a decade. Then, after mere years of absence, he returned to discover worship abandoned, festivals forgotten, lawbreaking embraced.


Again, he called Jerusalem to repentance. Summoned Israel back to freedom and joy, their rich identity as “the chosen.” But how long would it last? The question must have surfaced in his mind.

Nonetheless, Nehemiah rebuilt. He didn't question his reward because he knew God was keeping track, not his people. So Nehemiah didn’t lean back on the crutch of a doubtful future, a stubborn race, and bow out. He built, and that was enough. He saw glory through rock dust. If that’s not bittersweet, what is?

The Poem

The strength of the builders is failing,
There are no stories told at all.
Hearts misplaced in piles of rubble,
I wonder who will build the wall.

The men are praying to their weapons,
There is no singing anymore.
Hope is locked inside the temple,
Faith scorched like the city doors.

The square is filled with propaganda,
Flyers and letters by the ton,
Every morning a new mantra.
But we’ll have truth when work is done.

©2004 Ariel Vanderhorst



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If Language Was Ethics...

...Here's How I Would Explain My Blog

You will have noticed this is an old-school blog, still bound by outmoded conventions like spelling, punctuation, capitalization, etc. This is, of course, a rather intolerant, absolutist way of looking at things. It implies that there are rules, and that those who don’t abide by them are somehow in error. Or even wrong. Perhaps you wonder how I can be so sure of myself, so convinced that my way is the best. Or maybe you just hate me for my grammatical, syntactical arrogance. In such cases, I do have one thing to say: It sure feels good being right.


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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Caterpillar Pride


Keeping the future in view, I guess.

Today I saw a caterpillar drop out of a tree onto an asphalt driveway. It was the sad little plop of his body hitting the pavement that got my attention. Ouch. Dreaming about butterflies again, little fellow?

He just lay there, stunned. Didn't move at all. After about a minute I felt compelled to help the poor guy. As soon as I touched him, he started writhing, kicking his miniscule legs in defiance of the rescue attempt. I tossed him onto the lawn against his will. Good grief. Where did the little jerk pick up his approach to an offer of help? Us humans?



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Unbeauty


How does this make you feel?

This photo is a companion piece to Our Aesthetic Map, posted below.

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Pity is a Lever



This is for real. Left outside our apartment building.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Our Aesthetic Map



Certain things cause me to feel a combination of pity and revulsion. Sometimes an ugly building or overgrown yard, sometimes a pathetic book I would never want to read. O think, oh...that's sad. There's a unexplainable sensation that such things shouldn't exist. They're awkward.

But the remarkable thing is that such "aethetics" of life even bother me, considering the societal fragmentation and crying needs all around. Why should "mere" matters of appearance even register?

May I suggest that it's a testimony to the fact that that Christ gave us not just a moral compass but an aesthetic sensibility as well... a sensibility that's meant to lead somewhere. He means us to enjoy creation, and know the good and beautiful when we see it. And (same as in the realm of truth and ethics) therefore the inverse is also true.

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A Good Marriage, A Good Book


The fateful evening.

Last Wednesday (August 4), Lindsay and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary. What I’ve heard is that the first three years are the hardest, so apparently we dodged the bullet, and now have a chance at the ripe old married age of “four.” On the auspicious evening we went to an Italian place we’d been eyeing for the past year—it was great. We exchanged gifts—mine went over well. (So did Lindsay’s, but that goes almost without saying; it doesn't take much to make me happy.)


Among our gifts were several poems. I wrote two short ones for Lindsay, and, true romantic that she is, she wept over the “sweet” one. The second poem was intended to be merely humorous, and she laughed, so I think the evening could be considered a success. Lindsay wrote some verse too, a deep, thoughtful poem for me, and, callous lout* that I am, I was still moved. I’d post the poems here for you, but Lindsay now owns the copyrights on mine, so I’d have to acquire permission; and her poem is too profound for casual browsing. All in all, a triumphant Third Anniversary evening.



I also wanted to briefly mention a book I finished last week: The Diary of a Country Priest, by George Bernanos. It doesn’t sound like a blockbuster (and it doesn’t read like a screen play), but what a breath of fresh air. Originally published in French, this book is a psychological masterpiece, and classic enough to survive translation. It brought to mind the flavor of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamozov, or the lucid, disarming self-awareness of Montaigne…but published originally in 1937. In the words of The New York Times Book Review, “It is a strange and sad, yet a beautiful and compelling story.” Bittersweet indeed. A modern masterpiece. (And I’m not Catholic.) If you do consider reading this book, which you should, keep in mind that it’s one of those Books Not Everyone Is Smart Enough To Read, both for its inadequate recognition and somewhat challenging dialogue. (There are some passages you’ll need to read twice.) So prepare accordingly.


*This word was used in association with the Vocabulary Reclamation Project.
Lout. I'm unsure of the word's etymology, but it seems to have an olde English flavor to it. Synonyms include "thug," "hoodlum" and "oaf."




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Saturday, August 07, 2004

Mo & Abram’s Café


© 2004 Arielinds Photo

A bittersweet poem based on a couple stories no one should miss.

I drink milk and honey in my coffee;
it’s my taste of the promised land.
Keeps my bleary eyes open to see–-
maybe there are still springs in the sand.

So the cream and gold amid the black
keep my eyes open to behold
a pillar of flame, iridescent cloud at my back
and a watered garden from a mountain peak...before I get too old.

Still there are answers my imbibed alacrity can’t find–-
Does my pathway end at this scenic mountain wall?
Or does it crest the proffered overlook and fall?
Will I ever enter Canaan…before I lose my body, soul and mind?



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City's Edge


Just a short walk from my apartment.

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Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Vocabulary Reclamation Project


A favorite, especially in adjective form.

I have this lingering fear that fascinating and clever words are disappearing from our vocabularies. Many of our speech patterns could be best summarized as like, um, whatever and our society seems to dumb everything down to the lowest common denominator. This process is exemplified by rap music, where every third word would appear like **** on this blog, and the main theme of every album is as follows:

I’m the man
Because I talk trash
And pull triggers
And get girls pregnant
I’m the man

The problem with simplistic, repetitive language is that it can only express one type of idea—you know, the simplistic, repetitive kind. Which is cool…if you’re operating a jack hammer or jogging…for the rest of the foreseeable future.

But more complex—and more valuable—ideas deserve more complex language. In fact, they require it. Example: It’s not possible to express the concept of “beauty” (even allowing for different interpretations) using only the words found in the lyrics of a 50 Cent album.

For us to live and die properly, things have to be named properly. Let us reclaim our words. - John Berger


So. Really engaging dialogue and writing must not be allowed to go the way of the dinosaur. And while others are doing their part (WORLD, Credenda Agenda, The Wall Street Journal, great authors…), this ought to be a grassroots effort as well. And to this end I am launching the Vocabulary Reclamation Project (VRP), a movement intent on getting the power of words back into the mouths of the people.

If you occasionally see a truly scintillating (or somewhat obscure) word on the blog, marked by an asterisk, you can breath a sigh of relief, and, if necessary, check the definition. The VRP is on the job.

(Care to join the inner circle?)

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Basketball, Fulfillment, and the Stranger Who Hates Me


Lately I’ve been enjoying the sweet luxury of hoops on a regular basis. Once, sometimes twice a week, Lindsay turns me loose and I cruise down to the local metro university, UMKC. Adrenalin flowing, spirits ridiculously high, I play pickup basketball until my hoops-lovin’ heart can’t take any more. Aah. Basketball is one of God’s better creations.

But far be it from me to head into the fieldhouse and forget the blog. In the course of my recent hoops trips, I’ve come across a strange (to me) phenomenon, one worth mentioning: someone who dislikes me for no apparent reason.

I don’t want to come off as an egotist. So let me say that there various people who have disliked me for discernable reasons. Nothing worth commenting on there. But someone who doesn’t even know you, and still gives you the cold shoulder? Surely, this bears looking into.

Let’s call him “John.” He’s about my size and height, and roughly twenty years my senior, judging by his hairline. Our games our similar, but not identical. If John gets a pick, and you might as well count ‘em. He’s deadly. Outside the arc or in, no difference. (Wish I could say the same.) His offense is an unconventional set shot (mine is textbook, a source of some pride), but that seems besides the point(s). John’s a crafty, sinewy, middle-aged marksman.

And he hates me.

It’s not as if I’m hard to work with on the court. I’m quick to distribute the ball, I call my own fouls, and I don’t talk any more trash than the situation warrants. Aside from those admirable traits, all I do is hit 90% of my jumpers (inside the arc, *sigh*). What’s not to like?

When it comes down to it, John hates me because I have a pull-up J, grab more than my share of rebounds, and I’m not jaded. (“Hate” is a little extreme, but allow me the effect, will you? Thanks.) That’s my theory, anyway, until I come up with a better one. There’s an indisputably cynical quality to John’s persona… (Once burned in love, now, never, never to be burned again…at least not in basketball? Sure.)

How else to explain the lowered shoulders, cold demeanor and shouting: Block out! Cut! That man’s mine, mine, mine! What’s fueling this choleric competitor? You’re a complex man, John, but I have your little game figured out. I guess. (Once, long ago, somebody broke your heart…or something.)

To draw a wider parallel, it’s weird how people can end up disliking you for the very things you would hope to be admired for. Or is that just life? Either way, until I get this figured out, I’ll keep a wary eye on John’s elbows.


Anyone else have thoughts on this phenomenon?

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Sunday, August 01, 2004

Welcome to New Orleans


© 2004 Ariel Vanderhorst

In my book, this is the best attraction on St. Peters, probably the best in the French Quarter, arguably the best in New Orleans: Preservation Hall. A non-touristy music venue oozing atmosphere, dedicated to traditional jazz. And I'm not even a jazz-lover.

(We recently returned from a 5-day vacation in New Orleans. Welcome to the photolog... All pictures © 2004 Ariellinds Photo)

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Take It To The Streets


A homegrown jazz band plies their trade in the French Quarter. Don't let their unpolished appearance fool you, they have a CD out.

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Sing It


This guy had quite a voice. It carried for most of a block, with no mic. French Quarter, New Orleans

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Preservation Hall Before the Show


In the moments before the musicians take their seats, electricity fills the air. (Sixty-watt bulbs to be precise, and no flashes allowed.) St. Peters Street, New Orleans

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The Brass Kicks In


Lindsay sits spellbound in Preservation Hall. Those guys can play. St. Peters Street, New Orleans

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Wassup, Holmes?


The drum player gives me a suspicious look. "Are you filming the band?" "No, no." Preservation Hall, St. Peters Street

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Sober Player


The trumpet player took his job seriously. Stand up, play solo, sit down, thank audience for applause, grimace. These professionals. Preservation Hall, St. Peters Street

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Chillin' Chillun


It's hard to keep a kid mezmerized. These guys did a pretty good job. Preservation Hall, St. Peter's Street

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Swingin'


The band hits full stride. (Being two feet away, I had a hard time standing up to "inconspicuously" take this shot.) Preservation Hall, St. Peters Street

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Goldtones


And now for a clarinet riff. The other band members just sat back, nodding in appreciation. Preservation Hall, St. Peters Street

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Standing Room Only


I snapped this one from the back of the room. And that was the last Preservation Hall shot, I promise. But next time you're in the Big Easy...

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All Roads Lead to Heaven?


You're walking through the park, skirting trash and mud, when you glance up. What? Is this symptomatic of the way the city mixes religiosity with decadence and assumes there's no contradiction? City Park, New Orleans

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Angel of New Orleans


A closeup of the angel from the above picture.

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Tourist Trap


We came across this film star in City Park.


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Living Giant


There are these colossal Live Oaks all over, some of them over a century old. City Park, New Orleans

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Cajun Color


No one can say the place ain't colorful.
Esplenade Avenue, New Orleans

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