Saturday, July 30, 2005

Faith…in Sand or Spirit?



The words "I believe" are in themselves a paradox.

It’s been observed (recently by Paula) that belief in a purely material world requires faith just as surely as belief in a supernatural one. In fact, most every philosopher, theologian, or evolutionists—systematic thinkers of all persuasions—articulate this conclusion at one time or another.

The poem below is an act of recognition (perhaps an overly simple one)
an attempt to acknowledge the above fact: To trust in matter or to worship God each require belief. Worship sex or trust a savior—both take "unverifiable" trust, not in spite of the facts, but in light of our imperfect ability to apprehend them.

For my part, I deliberately assert the authority of the unseen spiritual over and against the weight of the tactile visible. By the same token, atheists and materialists must vie with the credence of the intangible. I have, of course, material reasons for my choice. But the corpus of evidence leads only to the brink of belief—and there it (or, if you will, our intellectual grip) falls away.

Therefore, my poem not an explanation of conviction, much less a statement of “blind” belief. Rather, it's an expression of divinely triggered faith-intention. A casting of the vote on the side of the supernatural. (We all cast our votes one day.)

::

Spirit Over Sand

I saw a rock wall
A wall of granite grey
Without a growing thing—
And I believed you could do it.

I saw a sheer sky
A page of canvas brown
Without a beating wing—
And I believed you could do it.

I saw a sand waste
A world of desert red
Without a flowing spring—
And I believed you could do it.

I lived a fool’s life
A search for future’s blue
Without a mortal king—
And I believed you could do it.
I believed you could do it.




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Trouble with Words



Yesterday there was a minor fiasco over at the Vocabulary Reclamation Project, and because of my excessive humility, I'm letting you all in on it.


Actually, I'm buying time for a real post...and the situation is pretty humorous.

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Designer Truth


Can "truth" be eclectic?

Common sense and common experience reveal that to go looking for a truth that “suits us” will inevitably meet with success—and the package deal will likely include a gift shop and a tour guide to the magical kingdom.

When people shop for faith like it’s clothing, the search is over before it begins. We find “answers,” of course, but our “finds” have the same precariously-perfect style we’d expect of the summer’s fashion trends. And the same staying power.

Ultimately, there is nothing for it but to go searching simply for the Truth—color and style preferences be damned—and accommodate ourselves to its reality. Then our joys and our rewards, when they arrive, will be genuine—the kind that last forever.

Still later, we will find, to our astonishment, that the Truth is in fact what fits us, meets our deepest needs entirely, like lock and key—but we had to approach it as the truth in order to find it, and not merely look for the sweetest deal going.

Because the truth was larger, far larger than us, we had to discover the truth—and then grow into it. In the final reckoning, to craft designer truth, to build heaven to suit, is to reinvent the wheel.

And in the case of the truth, it can’t be done.




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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Love & Hoops...*

My bball game has been on the backburner so long it's slightly charred. But today I had an opportunity to turn on the heat and mix it up.

After work, for reasons known best to himself—but which involved a girl—my brother felt compelled to challenge me to a one-on-one hoops game.

I felt bad about doing it, since his self-confidence has been growing by leaps and bounds lately, but I really had no choice. It hurt me, it really did, but I hung the decisive L on him—which is not to say the game was a cupcake. But I needed to make a statement.

There may be an extra bounce in your step, bro, but I am still the man in this sport.

That being the case, I’m sorry I had to prove it at your expense.

Well, sort of sorry. But better luck next time… ;)

* The full title of this post, suppressed for semantic reasons, is "Love & Hoops & Smack."

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Waiting for Change

Last night it rained soothingly and the temperature fell thirty degrees, from the muggy, torpid 90s to cool, fresh 60s. This morning I walked out the back door and entered Autumn in July. Some of the trees were losing leaves and I swear the air smelled like wood smoke.

Few things so refreshing materialize so suddenly. Tolkien’s concept of “eucatastrophe” came to mind: a sudden, inexplicable change for the good. I think in a sense we’re all waiting for the world to change; to wake up and discover it is better—really better, like the way you thought life would improve after your tenth birthday.

We wait for a feeling of genuine world alteration, as if a drought that has lasted as long as anyone can remember has suddenly broken. Unexpected “small” things—like today’s reviving air, or the first snowfall—hint at the unarticulated wish.

We long silently to be awakened by an unthinkably lucky sunrise—heaven surfacing in full view. The old immanence shattered.

Or maybe I’m just strangely moved by weather, but I don’t think so.




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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

In Other Breaking News



A decisive point has arrived. A great bridge has been crossed. The Vocabulary Reclamation Project has just attracted its first paying member.*

Understandably, this was an emotional occasion for all involved. Overlyconscious wrote, “The link and banner are up and my eyes are, like, welling.” And I concurred.

The man deserves a quick life story, no doubt—and his site will soon grace the VRP’s new blogroll. As it is, I’m at least giving him a link.

* But I thought it was free! It is—and enhanced panache and class seldom come this cheap. “Paying” is merely metaphorical; or, if you will, it refers to overlyconscious’ placement of a VRP button and link on his site.


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A Sudden Change of Plan

I just returned from 60-mile drive to rendezvous with my brother. The plan was to continue our never-ending battle against militant greenery. In other words, it would be a full day of mowing. However, my drive turned out to be merely recreational, because my bro forgot to mention to me that we were taking the day off. Oops.

Fortunately for him, there were extenuating circumstances, namely that he is in the throes of the affection which leads to marriage. When you fall in love, there are always consequences. Brains are among the first to go.

I’m making a note of this because I have a feeling it could make a good story later.

As for me… Why hellooo, Mr. Archaeology Paper…

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Show Us Jesus :: 2

Spiritual Reality

Chapter 2: Apprehension

(Chapter 1: Comprehension Chapter 3: Reception)

The paradoxical question, “How do I see the unseen?” could provoke a variety of answers. My freshman biology teacher would tell you, “Use a microscope and don’t smudge the slide.” Others might suggest hallucinogens. Or yoga. Others still would wiggle their fingers and say “Right back at ya, Doctor.” And each of these answers would miss the point.

Earlier I suggested that a search for Jesus—the flesh-and-blood man who is now invisible—begins in a place that is far, far away for many of us, and yet eerily fitting when we arrive. This elusive locale is what I call comprehension—a coming-to-terms with our spiritual poverty.

The sharp realization of this need is seldom planned, although it should be. But as Pascal wrote, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of man”—and, to mix metaphors, our natures abhor a vacuum. We dislike comprehension because it reveals a weakness, an ugly hole—a problem that, once recognized, would have to be radically dealt with.

But suppose we go there. If, in fact, I do get honest, what comes next? Impelled by loneliness or curiosity or regret I take a step toward Christ, hoping to brush the invisible—and something happens.

I call it apprehension.

Not fear or nervousness, but a good apprehending, a soulful grasping. Think of it as spiritual perception. Our vision isn’t 20/20, in fact it’s not even close, but we see a glimmer. Like crime scene investigators, we follow a hunch and catch a glimpse of something moving “over there!”

It’s a little like walking into an empty room and hearing live piano music from around the corner. Or seeing unfinished pencil sketches on the floor, or clothes draped over a chair. We may not see our company but we know we’re not alone. Finding Christ can seem this way.

As Philip Yancey writes,

A thin membrane of belief separates the natural from the supernatural. Prayers may sometimes seem like hollow, sleepy words that bounce off walls and rise no higher than the ceiling… We experiences the highest realities through the lowest, and we must learn to pay attention to notice the difference. - Philip Yancey, Rumors

But how do we “notice?”

If you have anything like an eye for detail, you’ll have picked up this clue of a catch-phrase; earlier I said that “GLORY IS OF THE ESSENCE.” And here, as we struggle to open spiritual eyes, the crucially revealing nature of Jesus’ glory comes into play.

The disciples physically saw Christ’s glory, “the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish” (John 1:14)—but the glory still on display. We still catch glimpses.

For us, as in Jesus’ day, glory has intended effects. The effects are drastic and dangerous. This is because glory is not of little consequence. It is not, shall we say, mere sensory information about God.

You could think of glory as a path, often of breadcrumbs—now you see it, now you don’t. Ignore it and it’s gone. Or glory is a rope; when we begin sinking in the merely “physical” world, Christ throws us a line, and the line is glory. We grab it or we continue to drown.

You want to see the unseen? Glory is of the essence.

God reveals his glory to us and we run to follow it, see where it leads. I like to think of it as detective work: we have to trace the glory to its source. With a wonderfully chilling sensation, I realize the trail always leads the same place.

As Paul the theologian said, “Now God is shining in our hearts to let you know that his glory is seen in Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6, my emphasis). Suddenly one thing, at least, is clear: Glory has a purpose, a destination—and the destination is Christ.

John Muir grappled with this fact when he said, “Every natural object is a conductor of divinity.” And this strange trend, this translucent physicality—is all around us. We pick it up like a trail, put it together like clues, grab it like a lifeline. Then we follow.

::

Our Story
Chapter 2: A Miracle and a Ghost (Read it: John 21:5-8)

It’s hard to forget Peter.

Early on, he sighted Christ’s divinity, shouted it out, to the accolades of Jesus and the amazement of his friends. He called Jesus GOD! when his pals were still pegging the Galilean as an itinerant fisherman. He threw himself, heart and soul, on Christ’s bandwagon before it was the in thing to do. And then, when things got ugly, when Jesus most needed a friend, Peter walked. And not just that—while Jesus watched, Peter swore up and down he never knew the man. Peter didn’t just walk away, he ran.

But that was days ago. Now Peter stood in a surf-tossed boat and wondered if his ears were playing tricks. He couldn’t breath because a man was calling from the shore, and he knew the voice. And he recognized the inflections. And he’d heard these very words before.

Peter, who had been so blind, apprehended—

A stranger on the beach. A strange and familiar command. The fish fighting to jump into the net! He had seen this before… And Peter followed the clues, he saw Jesus on shore, he dove from the boat. Nothing would stop him now.

We’re like Peter. We’ve sensed this, we’ve tasted it, we must have more: glimpses of Jesus.

Fortunately (and here is the crux), it is easier to apprehend Christ’s glory than to see Christ himself. Shards of his glory, signs of his passing, are everywhere. And this is the heart of apprehension: Providentially, we can “choose” our moments of sight.

We can gape as glory echoes in the Grand Canyon. We can find it in Glacier Park. We can stand and watch it as the sun go down…or see it gleam in the scales of fish that want to be caught.

More powerful yet, we can catch sparks of Christ’s glory in a familiar face, or an unexpectedly kind word. We’re not gods, but we’re made in God’s mold; Jesus was a man, and he still speaks through relationships.

There are so many clues, so many trails, so many threads. And all traces of glory lead to Christ, because he is the origin of glory. So we grab, we follow—we apprehend that Someone is nearby. And at this moment, what we do next determines everything.

Frederick Buechner writes,
Through some moment of beauty or pain, some subtle turning of our lives, we catch glimmers at least of what the saints are blinded by; only then, unlike the saints, we go on as though nothing has happened. To go on as though something has happened, even though we are not sure what it was or just where we are supposed to go with it, is to enter the dimension of life that religion is a word for.

We ought to be saints, should we not? Catch a glimpse and make a change. Peter threw himself overboard. Decisive action may be necessary.

::

So once again, we find ourselves in Peter’s shoes.

We make out a figure at a distance, either God or ghost, and know that business-as-usual has just imploded. A path, even through rough water, screams to be followed. And there is this inner need, driving us on.

Peter was fighting his way through waves, but he had never swum this fast.

::

This is Part 2 in a three-part series. Show Us Jesus 1 Show Us Jesus 3



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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Miraculous Liaison

How Christ Bends the Space-Time Continuum



Knowing Jesus involves a space-time continuum. Consider: When someone comes to "see" Christ, all three members of the trinity are involved; moreover, all three (known) dimensions of time coalesce. As Peter, one of Christ’s disciples, wrote re: knowing Christ—

God the Father has his eye on each of you, and has determined by the work of the Spirit to keep you obedient through the sacrifice of Jesus. May everything good from God be yours! (1 Peter 1:1-2, The Message, emphasis mine)

Salvation, by its very nature, is a miraculous melding of community and physics. Somehow God the Father, gifted with endless foresight, works out his plans in partnership with the active, transformative Spirit. Their purposes have been decisively set in motion by the hands and feet of Jesus.

Inexhaustible prescience comes to bear on a pinpoint moment. The huge weight of the infinite past (the Father's knowledge) leans down on the present with enough force to send our souls hurtling into the future, careening toward heights too thin for time.

Salvation is a cosmically epic moment.

But not a moment only, also an action—an act that flares to life at a given instant and blazes, paradoxically uniting all of time, and all of God’s person with mine. Kindled in one soul by three persons, salvation smolders under eternity’s roofless sky.

Births into Christ are heaven’s bonfires.



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VRP Rides Again



I spent a couple hours this afternoon updating the Vocabulary Reclamation Project. And now, believe it or not, you can actually become a member.

Thrilling, eh?

Check it out...and be sure to scroll down. (If only to make me feel justified in creating all those buttons...)




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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Second-Hand Inspiration


Our lights aren't self-igniting.

Several days ago, as I was driving down I-70 West with the measured abandon of someone eager not to arrive too early, I was inspired by some lyrics from Death Cab for Cutie’s Photo Album.

Information travels faster
in the modern age
in the modern age
as our days
are crawling by
so slowly

I knew I had just been given food for a post. I didn’t have time to write it at the moment, but given the time, the mind was there…

But on I-70, as the cerebral wheels hummed like tires, I found myself thinking about this phenomenon in general. Call it second-hand inspiration. In this case, it was Death Cab second-handing, and it happens frequently.

I remember, back in my teen days, listening to an Enya song—her songs have incredibly vague lyrics—and writing an entire poem based on what I thought she was singing. (Yeah, Enya. I know, I know
—I was younger then.) Point is, an apparently “original” creation emerged.

I’d venture to say that few of our ideas arise unaided. I don’t think we have ex nihilo thoughts, which should tell us something about ourselves—created—and something about God—he who is-not-inspired-by-others.

In a sense, none of our creations are actually original when we get right down to it. (Forget Ayn Rand’s hang-up with “second-handing”—in this sense, she was a second-hander herself.) Everything we think or write or compose or draw is inspired by something else. I find this more enlightening that constraining.

We’re little creations who mirror the original...and sometimes brilliantly.


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Domesticating the Black Hole

People have been leaving occasional comments on my 2 auxiliary blogs, the sophisticate Vocabulary Reclamation Project and the cocky Books Not Everyone Is Smart Enough to Read.*

I feel bad.

Having submitted various articles to various publications, never to hear back, I know the sorrow that results from speaking to a black hole. Especially when the comments are good stuff.

Therefore, once I shake myself loose from this bull dog of an Archaeology paper, I’ve resolved to make some changes.

Improve my character, clean up my act, resolve certain discrepancies, and all that.

In other words, update my subservient blogs. This will involve:

  1. Getting rid of stupid and laughable site ads.
  2. In the case of the VRP, creating a way to “join the project”…hopefully with an eye-catching graphic and “member blogroll.”
  3. In the case of BNEISETR, adapting to blog’s purpose to better serve BitterSweetLife—but without compromising the site’s original intent. The phrase “master book list” has captured my imagination… (But don’t worry, BNEISETR's endearing acronym will not change.)
  4. Other stuff.

Yes, change is on the way… Assuming there is life after Archaeology.


::

* UPDATE. Since this was posted, BNEISETR has been reincarnated. The list now lives on this blog in a simpler form: The Master Book List.

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Will to Read


Featured prominently on the bottom left: The Globe Illustrated Shakespeare, food for my defiance.

::

I’ve been thinking the last several weeks that the will to read is very much like the will to live—or the proverbial will to power. It’s deeply ingrained (in me, anyway) and scoffs at the idea of going gently into that dark night.

The opponents of willful reading have been putting up a good fight lately though. Foremost among these is my Summer Archaeology class, a fascinating but controlling presence that has been making power bids, attempting to wrest away control of my lit life. No dice.

I’ve been fighting back. As Thoreau put it, “I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is strongest.” Which raises the question: Who is?

Well obviously, I am, evidenced by the fact that I have defiantly read Cold Mountain, She and most of Saint Augustine’s Childhood (Gary Wills) and have now opened Norman Maclean’s novella, A River Runs Through It. (Other revolutionary acts will follow.)

Moreover, my will to read was intensified a couple days ago when Lindsay and I watched a film version (Kenneth Branagh, Lawrence Fishburne) of Shakespeare’s Othello. Even when converted to the screen, Shakespeare screams “Read me!” And I will. I definitely will—because I want to. Ha! Hey prof., How do you like them apples?*

But at what price, freedom?

Aye, there’s the rub;
For in that heap of books
What grades may come,
When I have shuffled off this mortal’s coil
Must give me pause...

Well, that will be as it may. I hold my GPA more loosely after enduring some academic abuse last semester. My policy used to be, “When it comes to academics, you make your own luck—so put up or shut up.” For five years I never had reason to doubt this credo. After last semester, however, my mantra has changed to a slightly jaded “Do what you can and what happens, happens.”

Profound, eh?

True, the whiteboards don’t shine with the same lustrous glow they once possessed, and now I occasionally notice my professors repeating themselves…

But at least I have a fortified Will To Read.


* Yeah, yeah. You devoted readers are worrying that I'm testing fate, about to self-destruct in my academic career. It's not happening. My defiance is measured, which is to say I intend to read what I want AND get an A. How 'bout that? But incidentally, should the A not materialize, it would be fully in keeping with my new academic credo... ;)




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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Under a Summer Tree



Something I’ve been thinking about recently is George MacDonald’s idea of “thin places”—moments or locales where the veil between created, material reality and eternal, invisible reality is almost transparent. As McDonald writes in Phantastes, "a great hand reached out of the dark, and grasped mine for a moment, mightily and tenderly. I said to myself, “The veil between, though very dark, is very thin.”

I'm haunted by the thought of such glimpses.


::

Under a Summer tree
I found the soul of Autumn resting,
Fall that had-not-yet-arrived
Waiting in the warm-dry scent
Of curling leaves;
A glimpse, a little doorway
Into timelessness,
Unlooked for, uncanny.
Do trees see further?


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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Show Us Jesus :: 1

Spiritual reality

Chapter One: Comprehension
(Chapter 2: Apprehension
Chapter 3: Reception)

Something I often think about is, “How do we ‘see the unseen?’" And, more to the point, "How do we see Christ?”

Most of us have, in all honesty, caught glimpses. There are reflections of Christ’s beauty and grace in human faces. An unexpected smile “sends” us; likewise, a brilliant arc of color in the sky. We’re reminded—as of something we’d forgot—that molecules don’t have the final word. We speculate that God stands close at hand.

But it’s a hard thing, apprehending the unseen. And something else is also difficult: that while Christ is everywhere, we so seldom “find” him. In his presence is joy, soul-satisfaction, and glory… And we want all this. As Augustine wrote, “You made us tilted toward you, and our heart is unstable until stabilized in you.” In many ways, the glory of God is so close by we can almost taste it. But the pursuit of glory begins with a paradoxical statement. Consider:

"The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish." (John 1:14, The Message)

I can’t read these words without being reminded of the paradox that is currently inherent to God’s glory. For us, these words are true and they are not. We can say them and we can’t. We see Christ too, but not in the same way as the disciples. For us, the lens has changed.

::

James and John were fishing when the young Galilean called them over. Things just took off from there. His disciples got to know him face to face, hiked with him through Galilee, sailed with him through storms. They knew the timbre of his voice, could match the length of his strides subconsciously. Peter could have told you the color of his eyes.

And us?

We’ve exchanged all this for something else—something, in fact, that Jesus said was “better.” This seems inexplicable. But where does it start? Well, in a book. In a book is where this search at least begins. We have Christ’s words. We have the glory of Christ put down in verbal form, painstakingly inscripted. Readable, in-the-book glory.

And this is better? C’mon!

In the face of our instinctive disbelief, we should remember the advantages of written truth: For one, it’s more direct, more piercing. Raw truth marks nuances that raw appearances never can. But just the same… Sometimes Christ’s “missing” physicality hits us hard. Jesus is invisible to us, but we long for relationship. Christ is unseen…but the problem persists, how to find him. So how do we “see Jesus?”

::

I think it begins with a need. The need is blunt, catalytic, like being thirsty, or like being poor in Mexico. We come to a point of no delusions. We get honest. Honesty involves a certain horror, perhaps—we see that our soul is dehydrated, asphyxiated, unbalanced—lacking Christ. Or perhaps the feeling surfaces as curiosity, but somehow it's no less urgent. Call it comprehension, call it authenticity, call it the end of the rope—call it want you want. To conceal this need is fatal.

Our Story
Chapter 1: A Cold Night’s Work (John 21:3-4)

Peter, one-time friend of Jesus, knew the feeling. It ripped him like a scalpel when Christ turned and gave him one last look. It wasn’t just his personal betrayal he saw mirrored in Christ’s eyes—it was his own yawning emptiness, as Jesus turned away, walking away, staggering away to death. Peter had just disowned him.

Days later, when Peter told his friends, “I’m going fishing,” there was no mistaking the flat, cold note in his voice. Peter was sick. Sick with sorrow and regret. He was tired, too—tired of sitting, tired of crying, tired of waiting for something, anything, to happen. He needed, like anyone being shredded by alternating despair and hope, something to do. The something was fishing.

The other disciples heard the finality, the angry resignation, and, being damaged goods themselves, did what they could to help. In this case, it was the buddy system. “We’re going too,” they said. And they went.

That’s how they ended up sitting in the sea, a handful of tired men making a desperate pretense of fishing. They started fishing at dusk, with the gulls crying. When the cocks in the village started crowing, they were still wearily casting their nets. And when Jesus appeared on the beach, they didn’t even notice.

::

Like Peter, we may be tired or sad. Our spiritual senses may be dull. Maybe we’re focused on an empty hole inside that at one point was a reservoir. We sense an emptiness. Or we’ve walked with Christ before, but now must find him again, and the search is killing us.

Earlier, Peter had wandered in the dark, weeping.
Now he was drifting in the sea, fishing.
One thing was for certain, though.

We’re like Peter.

We want to see Jesus.

::

This is Part 1 in a three-part series. Show Us Jesus 2 Show Us Jesus 3



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Breaking News

I’m ostensibly working on a big research paper for my Archaeology class, but I accidentally noticed (no, really) that Relevant Magazine finally got around to posting an article I sent their way a couple months ago. (You could say “author relations” is not their strong point, but the banner graphic does look good…) Give it a hit if you feel so inclined.

Hopefully I’ll have time for a real post later.

In the meantime, have any of you run across any great web sources on the ancient city of Philippi? Yeah... Well, that figures.




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Monday, July 18, 2005

She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed



She : A History of Adventure (Modern Library Classics)

I took a break from blogging over the weekend to work on my Show Us Jesus message, and now I'm looking for a way back in. I have material for some fairly ambitious posts—at least one unpackaging my SUJ "preview"—but right now I'll settle for an easier re-entry.

You wonder what I mean. You're thinking, Aren't all your posts ambitious? Well, in a sense, of course. But some of them, while still grand, almost write themselves. Often they're the posts I've spent hours reading and thinking about. That's right. It's
book review time.

::

She – H. Rider Haggard B- (solid)

I started this book on our trip to Glacier Park, interrupted it with various required Archaeology texts, and was still able to pick it back up effortlessly when I had the time. This fact says something about Haggard’s ability to write fiction that grabs you. True, She is not “shocking” by 21st century standards, but the book does have some surprising, even hair-raising twists. The Tolkien and Lewis parallels which I’ve heard of for years (and which are spelled out in the introduction) are fascinating, and I think I would concur with many reviewers who praise She’s slightly haunting mythic quality.

However, I can’t see myself reading this book more than once—multi-readability being a trademark of classic fiction—and Haggard’s writing could use polishing. (A fact that was noted by his contemporary, Robert Louis Stevenson, who cautioned Haggard not to write "too quickly." (Haggard stated that he ripped off She in six weeks!) Thus, while Haggard’s work was more sensational and better-selling at the time, Stevenson’s works have better stood the test of time. )

No one, including Haggard, has been able to nail down the "allegorical" nature of She, which continues to bemuse and tease... Do all men long for unavoidable, inconsolable love of a woman? Some might differ, but I don't think so... Perhaps it is the inconsolable aspect of She that gets people, though, couched as it is in action-adventure form. We don't expect it. The feeling catches us off guard, and we realize a thriller doesn't normally cut so deep. Haggard's form of inconsolable longing sticks us in a place that isn't often probed. We don't necessarily want a goddess/woman, who would turn out to be human after all...but we do want Someone.

Kudos to Haggard for (inadvertently) bringing up a subject that is rarely breached in fiction. This in itself relegates She to the coveted rank of "solid."


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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Sting of Invisible Beauty



"Invisible Beauty": We see its cascading effects; we don't yet see its Source.
© 2005 Ariel Vanderhorst

Blogging has been on hold the last couple days as I mow lawns, house-sit and work on a message for Sunday morning, among other things. However, here’s another thought on the Show Us Jesus theme.

Most of us who follow Christ feel this way, I think, from time to time. Invisible beauty ranks high on our current list of the bittersweet. The fact is, though, we will continue to feel this way until this world order is reversed, and greatness is translated into appearance (1 Corinthians 13:12).

::

Invisible

Jesus, I wish you would meet me now,
And speak your living words in real-time.
I want to reach your side and see the sunshine
In your eyes, and be no longer blind.

Lord, I’ve believed, though I haven’t seen,
One-upped the disciples in this test;
I’ve leaned on the invisible, learned to rest—
Couldn’t I see now and still be blessed?




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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Show Us Jesus*


How does one "see the unseen?"

The Ongoing Search for Christ

Astonishingly, the Creator seldom imposes himself on his creatures. It requires attention and effort on our part to “remember your Creator” because the Creator slips quietly backstage. God does not force his presence on us. When lesser gods attract, God withdraws, honoring our fatal freedom to ignore him. -Philip Yancey, Rumors
::

The pursuit of glory begins with a paradoxical statement:

"The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish."
(John 1:14 MSG)

John writes by way of giving evidence, handing us this must-know information so we can get our minds around the truth. But the truth itself is shocking. I can’t read this passage without being struck by the paradox: "We saw the glory..." says John. What about us?

Today, we can say these words, and we can’t. For us it’s true and it isn’t.

The disciples indeed saw Jesus: Flesh-and-blood glory. We see him too, but not in the same way. Our starting place is not a sea-side summons to "Come follow!" but this… this in-the-book glory.

Christ the man is no longer with us, but he’s left these words behind him, and something else as wellhis spirit. The lens that we use to perceive Christ has switched, visible to invisible, optical data to spiritual perception. We are not alone, but the highest reality in our lives is now unseen.

In some ways, our obstacle here is also our advantage—we are no longer misled by appearances. The unseen can have a piercing effectiveness, a more direct path to our hearts, because we are so easily swayed by facades. But undoubtedly we are going against the grain when we work to "see the unseen." As Christ said, “Blessed are those who have not seen, but have believed.”

In our favor is this: We don’t stumble over Jesus’ appearance anymore-
  • His not-so-striking looks
  • His peasant status
  • His mundane day job
  • His lack of fine threads and servants

Instead, we stumble over his non-appearance. Today, we have to search for Jesus
—and the burning question is how?

Just as it was in John's day, "glory" is of the essence...


* Once or twice a year I get the opportunity to guest-speak at my church, and I'm trying a new idea with this post - previewing the message I'm giving this Sunday. More than likely, I'll post a follow-up.




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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Existential Thanks



The sensation of gratefulness raises some fascinating existential problems. Consider this major dilemma: How should one respond when something good happens to you—for no good reason? Who do you thank for inexplicable blessing? On a more penetrating level, why the impulse to thank someone? Or be thankful at all?

Try and put yourself in the shoes of one of those annoying lucky people who are always winning radio prizes or being handed free tickets to major sporting events by people they’ve never seen before. In a small way, the problem in such cases would be of gratitude looking for an owner. Or, to up the ante, suppose you won the lottery. Who do you thank? It’s like receiving a gift in the mail with no return address. The cynical or blasé person might write off such windfall as happenstance, but the sane person feels gratitude and sees the wisdom (and necessity) of it.

I had my own experience with unclaimed gratefulness last week. I was mowing a lawn on a humid, mid-90-degree day when out of nowhere a cloud of deliciously cool air enveloped me. The inexplicable AC lasted for about five seconds, until either the draft withdrew or I mowed my way out of it. On my return stripe, the arctic current was gone.

For awhile I tried to puzzle out the source of my rejuvenation. It wasn’t like wind—it was like sudden immersion, entering a walk-in freezer. Cross out the cool breeze option. I’d been passing under a tree, and trees produce shade, but I’ve never known them to generate waves of supra-cooled air. I’d been near a small ditch, but since when do two-foot ditches serve as wind-makers… It was a strange event indeed. But the effect was instantaneous and undeniable: I was sweating less and the world seemed a better place.

And, for some reason, I was grateful. But why?

Ravi Zacharias tells a story about an airline pilot who refused to leave his downed and burning plane until he’d assisted every passenger to escape. The tearful parents of a child thanked him for his selflessness, and well they should have. Next, Ravi gives an account of a second airliner which was en route when, one by one, all four of its engines gave out. Horrified, the pilot announced that ditching was unavoidable. As the plane plummeted, one of the engines coughed, sputtered and came back to life. Then another did the same. And a third. Incredibly, the airliner was able to limp to a runway, where it landed intact. At this point, Ravi queries: Who do you thank then?

Touché. People everywhere feel the pangs of existential angst and wonder who they are and why they’re alive. But equally urgent is the question of existential thanks. Who am I and why do I feel a baffling impulse toward gratitude?


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Monday, July 11, 2005

Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier, B

Charles Frazier's Call of the Wild



Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier, B

Since I firmly believe that books should be read in their native habitats, it was obvious that en route to Glacier Park would be the ideal setting to read Cold Mountain.

Charles Frazier’s first novel drew rave reviews and a movie deal with the star treatment—and in a sense, I get it. This was Frazier’s first novel, he splashed hickory smoke and blood across 400-some pages, so real you could smell it, and crafted an ending that elicits physical symptoms. He was the “National Book Award” winner—and I see it. Sort of.

Frazier’s characterizations are lean but thorough, and his language is in-your-face crude and still tugs at heart-strings; this is an intense, gripping book, and worth a read. Unfortunately, Frazier’s philosophy is incoherent—and this is a trait in literature that never fails to annoy. If Cold Mountain was intended as a Civil War-era documentary, an unsparing microcosm of our national tragedy, well and good. But Frazier can’t resist crossing into philosophical speculation.

Cold Mountain’s protagonist, Inman, must be considered a stoic in the modern sense, violently self-sufficient, meeting horror with resigned despair: “All the resurrection any man might expect was…to be dragged dead from the grave at rope’s end” (p. 397). Inman is a dead-earnest cynic with a gun, and the world Frazier paints is harsh and starkly material. His dialogue (lacking quotation marks), gives conversations an understated feel, as if the words arise more from narrative circumstances than from the characters’ minds. Well, all right. Naturalistic portraits can have their point.

But Frazier’s story becomes nonsensical when it marries this mechanistic life to vivid natural beauty and “cures of all sorts” (p. 418)—as if a brutal, Darwinist world occasionally dresses in pastels, and ought to be adored. Frazier “theologizes” the book's Cold Mountain as a kind of archetype, the omniscient object of Inman’s journey, and the context for fruitful householding. He dresses it up, venerates the mountain, and that’s where his philosophy stumbles:

Are we to fight and claw or are we to sigh and plant gardens? Do mountains contain awe, or just a great deal of matter? When all is said and done, this story is ultimately deterministic, and the ending bears this out. (An overly blunt analogy would be The Call of the Wild starring humans.) But it’s not convincingly deterministic—which leaves one strangely dissatisfied.

Especially when one’s driving to Glacier Park.



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Surviving, Against All Odds

Well, it's happened again, and this time in my old neighborhood. Just goes to show, you ridicule something across town, and next thing you know, the madness is happening in your own backyard. I was driving over to my parents' when I saw the incredible sight:

A 14-16 year-old guy and his girlfriend were "hiking" up the street, the guy sporting a camelbak hydration system to keep the two of the from succumbing to the treacherous conditions of the Whispering Hills subdivision. But his precautions hadn't ended there. He was also sporting a khaki safari hat and professional walking stick—in contrast to his girl, who was woefully under-equipped.

Truly, I hope they made it around the block to the relative safety of their swimming pool.


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Unbearable Brightness of Being



Cottonwoods wave, wind streams,

world turns with no lever,
clouds slide on sunbeams,
today I could live forever.

::

There are times and moments when to live is pastime enough. The texture of existence, the “act” of being, makes us rapt and still. The assertive, positive side of Hamlet’s famous query takes our hearts by storm as we think, but more, feel—I am, I am.

In a perfect world, the business of living would account fully for every waking moment. We could sit on a hillside for a dozen years without looking for a better endeavor. Perhaps we will.

The moments when we fancy we need endless time to spend simply living, when we wish life could lengthen endlessly, hint at the ecstasy of life in a new earth. A land where simply “To be” answers every previous question.

And more, to act? The proportionate joy of perfect exertion, of flawless adventure, cannot even be imagined.



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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Depth & Brevity

In light of the Summer’s demands, which extend ray-like into the distant future—or at least until August 5, my course’s deadline—I’m considering the necessity of writing shorter posts.

I’ve started dabbling in Pascal, and one thing I’ve noticed is that many of his “Pensees” are merely a sentence or two long, which demonstrates the fact that you can cover a lot of ground quite tersely.

The appeal of this option is growing by leaps and bounds.

This week, Lindsay is heading to Mexico for a short-term mission trip with 40-some people from our church. I’m staying back to work, do class assignments, and come up with a sermon idea for this Sunday when I’ll be a “guest preacher” at our church.

Loneliness will likely collide with urgency, as I rush sadly to get everything done; hopefully my essay assignments won’t be overly poignant, as that wouldn’t fly very well in archaeology. The sermon could be justifiably bittersweet, however. In the meantime, here’s my first Pensee-like post (and more about Pascal later):

::

We call God “omniscient” because we must, but I suspect the truth eclipses the adjective as the sky outshines a beat-out bowl. We can’t fathom the label we’ve invented—“ALL-knowing”—much less the reality it points to.


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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Summer Schemes

As I Fight for (My) Independence


Initially, the Summer vista looked very promising.

The Scottish poet Robert Burns had it right. As he wrote, with keen intuition:

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley.

Updated for the twenty-first century, this means roughly that In the long run, your daring plans have about the same chances of success as those of a rodent.

Sobering, huh? Actually, I’m murdering Burns’ intended meaning, which was much more innocent, something to the effect that Things don’t always go as planned. (The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, paraphrases his lines, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”) But the point is there.

I had big plans for this summer. As of today, they’re fighting for survival. My plans included a three-tiered program of reading—
  1. Several titles on the mysterious Mind/Brain dichotomy, a fascinating topic.
  2. Some theological heavy-hitters, including Augustine’s Confessions, Pascal’s Pensees, and perhaps some Dostoevsky.
  3. A survey approach to some favorite short story authors, among them: Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Saki, Cortazar, Faulkner, O. Henry…
—but this was not all. The short story survey was intended to prime the pump for some fiction writing and eventual magazine submissions. Blogging, as well, played a prominent role in my schemes, since blogging keeps the authorial muse alive and kicking. My plans had various subplots and options (with elements like poetry and basketball), dependent upon the speed of my progress. But every romance has a villain; with Summer designs so imaginative, there would have to be a wrench in the works.

Enter the Summer semester Archaeology class.

All it takes is one over-achieving professor to scatter a hundred good intentions into next year. Couple the massive reading and essay assignments with my grueling summer job, and a pattern emerges.

Disgruntled weekend write-sessions and hours of outdoor speculation are the main elements. While I mow lawns and kill weeds I fantasize about writing what I want to write.

On the bright side, story ideas and post themes have a lot of time to percolate while I’m working. On the dark side, they’re like a sunburn which may become a tan or may just peel off. Good ideas tend to dry up and fade away if they’re not developed.

Which will win out this Summer? Academically-mandated busyness or creative new endeavors? I’ve been slapped with a split personality and there isn’t room for the two of us.

My plan is to exert dramatic effort—put my assignments down like a dying dog, rock ‘em back on their heels with a smash-mouth attack—and then read and write what I want. My intellectual freedom is being wrestled away, but I intend to sucker-punch the assailant and grab it back. That's what I'm telling myself; I will get through this. I will have Summer my way.

It's just a matter of time, is what I'm saying.




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An Impressive List

Every once in awhile, I find a link that deserves to be posted sola, in revered solitude.

Today I came across another blogger who takes her reading seriously enough to review and catalogue it, and this, in my experience, is rare. Bravo, Semicolon! Her list is definitely worth a look...and incidentally shares some of the titles on my own (not fully published) list. Bravo again!


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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Hiking Cold Mountain



Cold Mountain : A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries)

Since I firmly believe that books should be read in their native habitats, it was obvious that en route to Glacier Park would be the ideal setting to read Cold Mountain.

Charles Frazier’s first novel drew rave reviews and a movie deal with the star treatment—and in a sense, I get it. This was Frazier’s first novel, he splashed hickory smoke and blood across 400-some pages, so real you could smell it, and crafted an ending that elicits physical symptoms. He was the “National Book Award” winner—and I see it. Sort of.

Frazier’s characterizations are lean but thorough, and his language is in-your-face crude and still tugs at heart-strings; this is an intense, gripping book, and worth a read. Unfortunately, Frazier’s philosophy is incoherent—and this is a trait in literature that never fails to annoy. If Cold Mountain was intended as a Civil War-era documentary, an unsparing microcosm of our national tragedy, well and good. But Frazier can’t resist crossing into philosophical speculation.

Cold Mountain’s protagonist, Inman, must be considered a stoic in the modern sense, violently self-sufficient, meeting horror with resigned despair: “All the resurrection any man might expect was…to be dragged dead from the grave at rope’s end” (p. 397). Inman is a dead-earnest cynic with a gun, and the world Frazier paints is harsh and starkly material. His dialogue (lacking quotation marks), gives conversations an understated feel, as if the words arise more from narrative circumstances than from the characters’ minds. Well, all right. Naturalistic portraits can have their point.

But Frazier’s story becomes nonsensical when it marries this mechanistic life to vivid natural beauty and “cures of all sorts” (p. 418)—as if a brutal, Darwinist world occasionally dresses in pastels, and ought to be adored. Frazier “theologizes” the book's Cold Mountain as a kind of archetype, the omniscient object of Inman’s journey, and the context for fruitful householding. He dresses it up, venerates the mountain, and that’s where his philosophy stumbles:

Are we to fight and claw or are we to sigh and plant gardens? Do mountains contain awe, or just a great deal of matter? When all is said and done, this story is ultimately deterministic, and the ending bears this out. (An overly blunt analogy would be The Call of the Wild starring humans.) But it’s not convincingly deterministic—which leaves one strangely dissatisfied.

Especially when one’s driving to Glacier Park.

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

A Just Shower


Nature brims with examples of rugged, masculine showers. Why not follow suit?

Yesterday I attended my first
coed wedding shower, which was also, appropriately, my first wedding shower.

An old friend of mine, Tim, is getting married this Summer, and ever since we were reunited by the magic of the internet, I’ve been waiting for a chance to talk a little in person. He and his fiance traveled down to KC from Ohio, so the shower was a can’t-miss occasion.

A brief side note: I’ve always said there are obvious inequities involved in this custom of “showers,” the most obvious being that the guys are left out in the cold. Not that we want to sit around eating fruit cups and playing girly word games—no, our concerns are more deeply-rooted. We want stuff. And no matter what you say about tradition and “treating the lady,” it’s manifestly unfair that the girls get lingerie and clothing and the guys get…that toaster we registered for at Target.

Since the girls get showers (Lindsay had four), the guys should get “storms” or something—an occasion to receive tools and camping gear and manly books. But I’m digressing.

Yesterday’s occasion was tastefully carried off, as Tim and Brit received gifts that avoided disgusting gender neutrality while catering to both parties. (Tim netted a tool box and some wrenches.) Observing this overdue defiance of convention was enjoyable and, in some ways, therapeutic. I’m happy for them both—a socially just shower is an excellent forerunner to a happy marriage.

And while I’m on the subject, my own marriage deserves comment here. Lindsay being out of town yesterday, “on tour” with a drama group drawn from our church’s young people, I was forced to attend the shower alone.

Initially, I was unconcerned. It was only as the agenda was announced—“We’ll all go around, introduce ourselves, and offer Tim and Brit a word of advice”—that I felt the uneasy sensation of approaching rashness. Oh boy, what do I say? I was third in line, and in lieu of anything profound or wise occurring to me, I knew something outrageous would rise to the surface. I needed Lindsay’s balancing influence. But then it was too late.

“Tim, it’s essential, early on, that Brit comes to appreciate your athletic abilities…”

Sigh. If Lindsay had been there, I know I would have eloquently expressed any one of the half-dozen deeply profound, poignant and romantic insights I’m thinking of right now. Darn it.

Anyway, congratulations Tim and Brit!
And for you single readers, here's to many more socially just showers!


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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Shouting Mountains



I have other things to say, but Glacier Park keeps dogging my thoughts. Smuggled home in my luggage were a number of nagging questions. Questions like How should one feel about mountains? Alive? Little? To paraphrase Einstein, Are the mountains friendly? …And why do I live in Missouri?

The last query seems completely baffling, but the first several can be played with.

To the person with a materialist perspective, Glacier Park’s peaks are a random conglomeration of rock and ice, and may be justifiably feared or simply avoided—or even rashly scaled to impress females. They may not, however, be the subject of giddy snapshots and they certainly may not inspire awe. Mountains don’t increase creature comfort or add job security and they don’t fall in the category of purchasable amenities. If they did, the materialist (or Darwinist or naturalistic thinker) would have a larger array of “correct” reactions at his disposal.



To the materialist, mountains are never friendly, except possibly for their caves, where one can hide from the elements unless bears get there first. Therefore, one may fear the mountains or feel small because they have greater mass. Indifference may also be justifiable. But nothing else.

So what’s with these feelings of awe? Why the songs and stories about mysterious peaks? And this nonsense about wanting to climb them? (Even stark materialists like Charles Frazier in Cold Mountain inexplicably smuggle these sentiments in…) This observable human-mountain reaction does not jive with a materialist world.
And to chalk up mountain-awe to "chemical reactions in the brain," as if that answers the question, is to evade it entirely.



But suppose we change the frame. In the context of Creation, all my impulses to feel and to do in the mountains' shadow make perfect sense. Ought I to harbor wonder and awe? Yes. Feel small, and yet alive and significant? Indeed. Take numerous photos? Absolutely. Climb the mountain? Of course.

Really, it’s as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:

By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. (The Message translation)

Creation is one of the most simple and unavoidable cases for Christ. It speaks all languages, makes its own arguments, and never stops speaking. The thoughtful person will be confronted with it every day of his life.



At every turn Creation surprises us with our non-material instincts, flaunts them in our face, and never stops asking, "How do you explain this?” Creation has a megaphone in the mountains.


There is room for a very limited number of schemes in the materialist cupboard, none of them very grandiose: A whole shelf is reserved for wealth. Self-reliance, realism and “common sense” each have their niches. There is certainly no room for mountains.




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