Excerpt from “Poor Dreamers”

When I finished eating, I pulled out the phone book and began looking for daycares around the area. There were two: Seaside and Ocean’s Brook, but neither name appealed to me, so I just closed the book. I kind of sat around all day, eating the left-overs from the night before whenever it suited me, and singing Marvin Gaye. It was the first time I had been happy in a long time. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I think there was about an hour where I did nothing but trace my finger across our brick wall, bringing a chair over to reach the bricks I couldn’t get.

It was November 11th, 2014. As most moms of the sleeper generation can tell you, that was the day No-Cryo sent out their first announcement to the owners of sleeping jars as a government-approved company. That day is sometimes referred to on sleeper-mom blogs as the Wailing Day.

I was laying on the carpet in a puddle of sun, smiling, when the doorbell rang. I opened the door and there was a pile of mail on our welcome mat. There were two bills, a magazine we never subscribed to, three pages of coupons for Mister Mac’s Pizza (which we always kept), and an unusual-looking letter.

I threw everything else on the table, but the unusual-looking letter. It was stamped [CONFIDENTIAL] and because of the confetti around the edges, I assumed it might be promotional mail for some collector’s edition woodcarvings or something. But I opened it anyway and it was from the No-Cryo Company. It read:

Dear Wendell and Michael Rue,

It is no small thing to risk the comfort of the present for a future hope. We know you have been with us from the beginning, even before our vision was as popular as it is today. Our company has gone through a number of big changes in the past few years and we have really felt your support through it all. You can sleep well tonight, like your loved one(s), that these changes have only made us more committed to your future hope and the safety of those you love. The world itself has gone through a lot of changes in the past few years—and while we cannot promise a solution for every problem we face, we can promise complete peace for those who you have invested in by using our product. The future belongs to them and the future belongs to you.

Due to the changes in the past few years, we are now delighted to promise you something we never could before: a complete guarantee that your loved one(s) will never have to face the threat of cancer! After passing the Defense of Life Act in 2013, the United States government now requires all legal guardians of current U.S. citizens embedded into one of our sleeping jars to pay a small monthly fee to ensure their full protection. More information about our life insurance policies and how to sign up can be found at http://www.no-cryo.org. If you are an owner of our sleeping jars and currently have a loved one(s) embedded, you must sign up for our life insurance. Further federal requirements stipulate that any U.S. citizen without a license from the federal government is disallowed to unlock any sleeping jar, or else face penalties up to incarceration for life. Only No-Cryo engineers can be licensed and are equally disallowed from unlocking the sleeping jars of anyone they know without approval from the federal government. It is further required that all home units either be sent to a local No-Cryo facility no later than November 15th, 2014, 4:00pm PT for upgrades.

Owners, like yourself, can choose to either have their home units be upgraded and sent back, or to have their unit remain under the care and watch of a local No-Cryo facility. These upgrades will do no harm to your loved one(s). Instead, it is a way to ensure their safety and your complete satisfaction. Choosing to leave a unit at a local No-Cryo facility is a great way to protect your loved one(s) even further, where they will be under constant care from one of our many highly-trained nurses. In fact, many owners like you placed their sleeping jars under the supervision of our staff since our very first day as a trusted company. If you choose to keep your unit at home, please remember that it is a violation of federal law to tamper with the unit, beyond replacing the necessary filters and charges. For more information on how to handle our units at home, read our How-To-Care Manual, available at http://www.no-cryo.org.

Lastly, for the safety of you and your loved one(s), it is a federal crime to unlock any sleeping jar, until our scientists have found a proven cure for the cancers that have been ravaging our country in recent years. We are confident, with the partnership of the United States government and trusted customers like you, that we have never been closer to finding a cure. For more information on how to help us fight the War Against Cancer and opt out of our life insurance program, visit http://www.no-cryo.org.

Thank you for investing in the future with us.

Yours truly,

Dane Bozgraff, President of No-Cryo, Secretary of Life Investment Solutions of America (LISoA)

Moscow, Christian Community, Cynicism, and My Attempt at Refreshing Old Thoughts for a Small Group of People Like That Guy who Refills the Chocolate Pudding at a Salad Bar

I have heard of blogs and rumors of blogs. I have heard that New Saint Andrew’s students even had blog wars and cared to formally respond to things other people said. There was a time when NSA students actually thought that discussions were fun.

Well I don’t know if I am interested in starting that up again. Right now, I find that most students here are interested in talking to each other about each other. That is much more preferable (this is a matter of taste) than engaging in “larger narratives” about “culture” and “secularism.” And how could we forget postmodernism? Everyone’s favorite word. It just has a certain ring to it. Postmodernism. Postmodernism. A very woody word, long word, philosophical. Gives me confidence. Much better than asking about someone’s day, sort of a tinny word. Culture. War. Culture war.

But I am hoping that this new interest in people over ideas is not a response, a back-up, from cynicism, but a natural outworking of us just becoming more like Christ. If that’s the case, a healthy understanding of discussion and cynicism is sure to follow. If not, I am just participating in a cultural swing when I avoid discussionese and cynicism by asking someone about themselves. And pendulums always come back. If there is any hope of stopping pendulums–which we should be in the business of doing–then we need to set about the task of redeeming both extremes in light of the Gospel.

Abstract concept: I don’t think balance is the right of two wrong extremes, though. The Gospel (what? We’re talking about the Gospel now?) gives a different option than just a balance. Pagans thought that balance was the answer, but a balance is just a distant approximation of the Gospel, which is an entirely other system than the swinging pendulum, the cyclical history, Achilles’ shield. And we need to think about these two systems, whether we are studying ancient history, comparing two generations of evangelicals, or evaluating a small town culture that is less than thirty years old.

Cynicism is a sort of spiral, isn’t it? If I am a “cynical person,” then I am always in the position of distancing myself from things. And the more I distance myself from things (which look an awful lot like the ground I stand on), the more I back up and am sucked inwards. One day,  I will be standing in the middle of the lawn, spinning around and laughing at everyone who’s decided to stand still. And everyone and everything becomes blurry. The last line of attack for a cynic is to become cynical about cynics. A hipster of hipsters (NSA students think of ND Wilson here and their “important” opinions about his strategies). And not only is that actually a participation in the cycle (read: cynic=cycle) of blah blah movements that are born, not from new understandings, but rather from new rejections (modernism->postmodernism=no change), it is a failure to be happy and be at peace. Cynicism is only fulfilling its purpose when it is a tool to bring us toward peace (in Christ) and happiness (more deeply than the Greeks thought about it). As for life and liberty, I lost the first at the Cross and stopped caring about the second when the Holy Spirit made me one of his house idols.

Oh man, it’s so easy to be clever. It is too, too easy. A popular sci-fi author, John Scalzi, once gave ten reasons for why teenage writers suck. One of the reasons is that they can be clever without being good. I think that can be applied to this generation of Christians (not just in Moscow, but in the broader affluent American church). We have inherited a culture of wit and clever deviations from the ironclad doctrines of the Bible. And if I can pitch my own voice somewhere in this discussion, I think that youth culture has moved towards the subtle and mysterious and away from sun-dried systematic theology. I feel like I can make this broad claim, because I have seen a shift in books I have read, conversations I have had, and things I have thought myself. I think the movement towards mysticism and ambiguity is a good shift, but I have to be careful that it is not rooted in a secular floppiness and love of being different. Every generation wants to be different (and always in some surprising way, becomes the same). If we want to stop the pendulum and move upwards, we should not fail to see

This generation’s interest in ambiguity ought to be an outgrowth from solid foundations. So I want to approach ambiguity with a spirit of gratitude. Thank you, R.C. Sproul, for being so practical. Thank you, Douglas Wilson, for being so cautious. Thank you, John Frame, for thinking so clearly. The church needed a generation of clarifiers and updaters. I think it now needs a generation that grows from those roots, to become a beautiful tree with a million little leaves (apologies for the metaphor). An age of doctrine hasn’t passed, it’s just growing into an age of aesthetics. And a key ingredient of a mature aesthetic is ambiguity (thank you, Austin Storm, for putting it in those terms).

Ahem. I forgot where I was. Oh yeah, it is so easy to be clever. Yeah. My point about cleverness was that it is the big killer of discussion. It is attached to self-worship and deception. Self-worship: believing that what you say is full and wise and worth hearing at all times. Deception: thinking that what you say actually matters like you think it does. Both of these are related and they can generate a spirit of anxiety. An anxious discussion–one that has the energy of a committee meeting on the wing of an airplane flying into the mouth of the Megatron Anti-Christ with rototiller arms at the End of the Ages, smashing up the Capitol building and carving the Washington monument into an Asherah pole–is fruitless. Because if there is no peace in our speech, we are not living like God fulfills His promises. But if I forget myself and remember that the people I talk to are more important than myself, I am free to have a peaceful discussion. And then we are free to be cynical about the right things. Besides that, discussions always devolve into bitter attacks.

So although I prefer talking about people and their lives, I see that there is some benefit to taking part in discussions. It is part of a personal agenda. I am a recovering cynic and, unfortunately, one of the side effects is that I have become very cynical about myself. This has kept me from speaking blatantly about what I think or to give reasons for my opinions. I have become cynical about my opinion mattering. That is not something I can judge for myself. My opinion will only matter as long as there are people who want to know it.

You might be wondering, “So…what’s all this then?” And the truth is, I don’t know. I felt like starting a series on Christian community, not abstractly, but about the community immediately around me. I am talking about Douglas Wilson, Moscow, Trinity Reformed Church, First Things, Austin Storm, my classmates, my friends, New Saint Andrews, reformed thinking, First Things, and other people and thoughts in my life. There are a lot of blogs that come out of this milieu, but most of them are just boring (besides First Things). So here we are.

Quote 5: Emily Dickinson

“Publication – is the Auction” by Emily Dickinson

Publication – is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man –
Poverty – be justifying
For so foul a thing

 

Possibly – but We – would rather
From Our Garret go
White – unto the White Creator –
Than invest – Our Snow –

 

Thought belong to Him who gave it –
Then – to Him Who bear
It’s Corporeal illustration – sell
The Royal Air –

 

In the Parcel – Be the Merchant
Of the Heavenly Grace –
But reduce no Human Spirit
To Disgrace of Price –
Note: So cynical. No one is forcing them to publish their thoughts.

Excerpt from “Poor Dreamers”

I locked her up thirty-three years ago. Her name is Sarah. I love her more than anything. I love her more than my own life. There has been a lot said these days about life being a gift. But it sometimes feels like we prize more life than a better one. I don’t. Michael and I believe that any life lived, no matter how short, is worth living well. And when we lay in bed at night and think about everything we regret together, when the only thing behind our eyelids and in the palms of our hands and plastered on the ceiling is an imprint of Sarah, we know that our lives, with all of our swimming doubt and our relapses into anger and impatience with each other and our fear of judgment, we know that our lives, far from being long and happy, will have always been short and full of suffering. Every life is…

“I doubt this will become legal,” I said.

“Of course it will! Yes it will. Don’t you see? Nothing can happen to him in there. He’s kept safe from all the cancer and all the disease and broken bones in all the world.” Jill motioned over to the chunky thing on Jack’s knees. “And when we can finally tell them and they find a cure for cancer, it will be like he came back to life.”

As soon as she said that, I remember, Jack lost his grip of the unit and it dropped on the floor. There was a snapping sound and my ribs rattled. His neck. His neck, I thought. Jill fell onto the floor on her knees and began uselessly fondling the unit around the blue cubes. Jack came down and immediately pressed in certain corners of the unit. We heard a sizzle and then a release of pressure, like a breath. And then we heard crying.

Jill lifted Cheston out of the machine, a blue naked boy, his skin the complexion and texture of a big wet raisin. She kissed him and cried and brought him into the kitchen and lifted her shirt and breastfed him as if she had been doing it every day for the past five months.

They explained the situation to their family, but when they heard about it, it was very much unlike he had been raised from the dead. The whole family treated him like some secret, something to be whispered about. And they loved him. But I don’t think any love passed between our friends and their family after that. I don’t know if they were scared of the LPO or the police, but Jill stopped inviting her family over. And they stopped inviting her. Then they stopped talking to each other. And two years later, Cheston died of cancer.

It made sense to put your child in a unit back then. The cancer pandemic was real and it was serious. Like cancer had always been, it was unexplainable. But around the middle of that first decade, cancer acted differently than it ever had. A lot of people thought it was adapting. Like they knew what cancer even was. We have a better idea of it now almost forty years later, but our better ideas about it are simply that we now know we knew nothing. It’s a start. There was a peak period where a lot of older women were getting breast cancer and older men prostate cancer. But polls showed a steady increase of cancer developing in younger and younger demographics. Around 2010 and 2011, the majority—by which I mean, over 50%—of two and three year olds were dying of any and all forms of cancer. Abortion was becoming increasingly popular for parents to deal with this, but with such a dramatic decrease in population growth, it was becoming a very bad option for the country. In the midst of this, the No-Cryo Company stepped in. The company promised an alternative to both abortion and raising a child doomed to die. They would provide you with a sleeping jar that would preserve the life of your newborn, until a cure for cancer was found. The child, they said, could be preserved indefinitely by their advanced techniques. Allegedly, most profit went to private research to find a cure. Not a bad deal for most parents, except the units were exceedingly expensive to buy and even more expensive to maintain. Besides, few knew about it and if they did, they only told people that would consider the sleeping jar as an immediate option for their family. It was not legal.

Before Cheston died of cancer, I got pregnant. I was twenty-one. It was my first child. I had to make a choice. I could have either raised my child, who would probably die within three years, or I could give her a real chance at a better life. I had seen that the unit kept Cheston alive for over five months. And in the span of time between first meeting Cheston and getting pregnant, No-Cryo had gone public and was undergoing heavy reformation—so was the LPO, which was becoming less of a threat.

Michael and I agreed. We were going to put our first and only daughter, Sarah, into a sleeping jar and hope and pray for the day they’d find a cure.

An Answer

When I stand before the mirror in the morning, after trying on different frowns and testing out my witticisms for the coming day, I sometimes ask my reflection, “What do I stand for?”

Reflection: I don’t know the point of the question.

Me: Well, and I don’t know where it comes from. Maybe the culture has told me it’s an important one–or maybe I have just been forced to consider it.

Reflection: We all stand for something. What movies we eat and foods we consider locate us in certain places in this land of free-consumption. We are labeled by the signs and seals on our clothes, food packaging, tables, wooden spoons, bathroom towels, shoes, phones, and skin (if you believe in that sort of thing).

Me: I don’t, but I believe some people do. Anyway, I guess the pessimist can say that we stand for what we consume. Every individual is a pastiche of what he chooses to keep around himself or put inside for safekeeping. Watch your mouth about Nickelback; I grew up on that stuff.

Reflection: Hey, that’s funny. But I don’t know, I don’t know! Maybe if we slightly inverted the pessimist’s position, we could say that we stand for what we do with our consumption. This moves the definition from things held to things done. We stand for what makes us move, not what keeps us in place.

Me: Ah, and that again shifts the meaning of standing-for-something from consumption to location. That feels better. We are getting closer.

Reflection: Yes, but let’s invent a situation. Let’s say that if standing-for-something means you stand someplace, then what happens if someone stands for something, but is very far from that thing? In this situation, the heart of standing-for-something would be movement. It would be movement towards what the person stands for.

Me: And here, we thought that standing-for-something meant we did not move at all! Of course, if someone is moving toward a place to stand, then the resolution of someone’s desire to stand-for-something is to be in the place where he can stand for it. Again we find that standing-for-something is less an issue of belief, but more of action.

Reflection: Okay and if there is moving intrinsic to this action–if someone finds themselves far from where they wish they were–then there is actually energy and action intrinsic to it. Once we actually get to where we’re going, then, we still retain that energy, only then, we are actually standing, not moving.

Me: So can we say, then, that to stand for something is to put your energy into staying in a place?

Reflection: Yes, that’s it! So with that in mind, what do you stand for?

Me: …I don’t know. I’m going away from you you now. You always make me self-conscious, always make me wonder if I suffer from a secret sin of vanity. Sometimes I want to make a vow of avoiding all mirrors and reflections–you!–for a month or so. It’s so hard, though.

Reflection: Oh, come on man. Why even think of doing it if it’s so hard?

Me: Because anything worth doing is not worth doing at all.

Reflection: Chesterton.

Me: No, me. I just said it, didn’t I? And quit keeping me here. You can’t live without me. I can live without you. I always did prefer talking to your cousin, Thought.

Reflection: That hurts. I am secretly jealous of him.

Me: Get over it. And if you just told me, it ain’t no secret.

 

When I finally walk away, disengaging from Reflection to say “hello” to Thought, I ask him, “Well, Thought, what do I stand for?”

 

Thought: It’s tough to say, dude. I think (hah!) that your Conscience pulls you in two directions– both good ones, might I add–but one is the direction of duty, the other privilege.

Me: Hey, hey, hey, don’t bring Conscience into this. I only bother with him when he bothers with me. He’s too exhausting–especially for a casual conversation like this. He is always wanting to inspect my deeper and sinful motivations. I keep trying to tell him, hey, not everything is about sin.

Thought: I think he might have a point, but fine, I do what you say, dude.

Me: Most of the time.

Thought: Sure, most of the time.

Me: So, if I am pulled in two directions–one of duty, the other privilege–where do those two directions pull me towards? I just got done talking to your brother about what it means to stand for something.

Thought: Ask Imagination.

Imagination: I have been here the whole time, like the spirits of our ancestors!

Me: Great. What do you have for us? Where does duty pull me? And where does privilege pull me? By the way, Thought, I really like the juxtaposition between duty and privilege. You could have gone with responsibility and privilege–or maybe need and want. Your choice even sounds more nuanced.

Thought: Thanks.

Imagination: [interrupts] I see you wanting to live out your whole life in the suburbs. You want to move back there, but you are unsure why. There is a deep conviction in you that you ought to let your roots grow deep. And you think that you should go back home. Your duty is tangled with your sentimentalism. You look at the past with caution, but sometimes you tell yourself, “For a moment, I’ll indulge. For a moment, I’ll listen to an old song.” I speak for the rest of us when I say that it gets pretty interesting in here when you look back at the past.

Thought, Reflection, Conscience, The Old Man, Love, etc: Amen!

Me: Good to know…do you want me to do it more often?

Imagination: Everyone is nodding your head up here. Yes.

Me: Duly-noted.

Imagination: Anyway, your sentimentalism crosses two ways–Thought, do you want to help me with this, I have trouble with stuff like this–

Thought: Sure. Sorry, I asked for you too early. Yes, your sentimentalism crosses two ways. You are only occasionally sentimental about the past. But the future? Conscience knows more about this, but you think about the future a lot. You enjoy planning and taking different routes with it. You like to follow different possible narratives of your life–Imagination, ask him–

Imagination: This is me nodding my head. It’s always a wild ride.

The Old Man: I second that notion–

Conscience: Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!

The Old Man: So shrill today. You did good at the mirror, but there is still so many times today when you could slip and–

Conscience: Not listening! Not listening! Quick, everyone think of someone else!

Love: My question is: why does this guy still stick around? Why don’t we all just ignore him? Or kill him? Killing him would be better.

Imagination: Let’s jump on his back from behind when he’s not looking and stick a knife in his chest, repeatedly, until he falls on his knees, his kneecaps splitting, so he can mutter his last words, “Let them…remember…I…never gave up.”

The Old Man: I am always watching. Go ahead; try to catch me when my back is turned.

Love: Ever heard of death, buddy?

Conscience: Shut up! Shut up! Thought, you were saying something.

Me: You guys really tire me out. You give me headaches sometimes.

Conscience: Well, when was the last time you prayed?

The Old Man: Pfft, he hasn’t prayed at all this week. Unless you count his distracted plea for repentance before his Cinnamon Toast Crunch on Wednesday.

Conscience: Does God count it?

The Old Man: How should I know? Why are we even talking? What is truth?

Love: Hang this devil from a tree!

Imagination: I have the rope.

Thought: I’ll watch.

Conscience: I hate being the shrill one, but everyone, would you please keep on topic and shut up!?

Me: I think I’m going to go.

Thought: No, no! I was just about to make a conclusion!

Me: Ugh, hurry up.

Thought: Yes, anyway, you think a lot about the future. And when I say that duty directs part of you, that is not to say that your duty is separate from you having fun. You have fun with almost everything–it’s a principle I concocted for you about two years ago, remember?–or you should have fun with everything. Taking up duty, for you, is an opportunity for fun. You would have fun pursuing duty. Duty, however, always lies somewhere in the future for you. You feel very little duty for the present. Conscience told me that’s a problem, but I don’t know. He is very skeptical of your intentions.

Me: I don’t know. I appreciate it sometimes, but other times, no.

Thought: Well, it annoys the heck out of me. It keeps me from getting into work flows. He is always–

Conscience: Inserting myself? SHUT UP!

Thought: You are going to feel guilty for interrupting me.

Conscience: (slowly nods my head)

Thought: Anyway, your conviction of duty is fun, futuristic, and abstract for you. When you pursue duty, you are really pursuing the cultivation of further theologies and ideas you hold deeply. If you pursued duty, you would have fun with it, but I think the abstract would be a problem. You would probably find that the abstract ideas of suburban redevelopment and monasticism and cultivating a certain Christian culture would be very difficult to keep abstract. And when the abstract ideals turned physical, my guess is that they would be poisons for you, not tall glass of water.

This is important.

It is my prediction that there will always be a collection of ideals that you will hold closely, but will never live out. You will probably never pursue culture or redevelopment as much as you would like. All of this, I should add, is tied to community. This is yet another distinction between your duty and your privilege, because your highest privilege is that of the loner.

If you pursued privilege, you would not pursue abstract ideas, but instead a lifestyle. Imagination can give you some specifics.

Imagination: Privilege for you looks like a large property in the Palouse fifteen minutes from Moscow, Idaho. It looks like a house with electricity and gas, but no internet. You would have a home phone and nothing else. You would build a library and wonder at all times, “Is this selfish?” You would open your house to as much charity as you could. You would call your house the Abbey, because you always did flirt with monasticism (but you never pulled the trigger; how sad).

Privilege for you looks like eating your meals seasonally. In the winter, you would never leave your house. You would stay in, reading in a recliner in the corner of your office, writing at your desk next to the big bay window looking out on the Palouse. You would stay in, trying out different recipes, ones that people might have eaten one hundred and fifty years ago.

You would wonder to yourself all day long, “I am alone and at peace and in silence, but at what cost?” but you would look at your library and the books you wrote and say, “A very small one.”

Sometimes, however, Conscience would come in and accuse you of being too obsessed with your own holiness, while disregarding the needs and wishes of others. You would defend yourself, maybe, with the books and the knowledge and the wisdom. “All the parts of the body do different things,” you’d say, “and some of them aren’t called to live for others so explicitly. I work for others from a distance.”

But you would always wonder to yourself, “At what cost? Wasn’t I always a people-person?” But the question would bug you, because your Thought would get didactic. You would try not to answer questions about yourself–you would accuse yourself, then, of introspection–but really, if we don’t inspect ourselves, who will? You would say, “God inspects us.” But how does he do it? Through others, always.

You would then tell yourself, “I need more people in my life.”

You would have people work for you, who would come out every weekend to do work on your land. An assistant would come and give you a list of who is going to call or visit in upcoming weeks and when. You would be excited to meet them, to discuss new ideas with them, but when they left, your isolation would take on a deep oppressive feeling of loneliness. Because we are the loneliest when we are around people.

And really, the whole reason you pursued privilege was for other people. You would wonder all day long, in your house alone, your sweater, coming up the stairs with your hand on the banister, the neatly-decorated Christmas tree glowing in the middle of the front room, naked without its girdle of presents, almost clinical, as if it existed there to demonstrate some personal achievement of festive order, not the jubilation of an international and cross-chronological Kingdom, you would wonder if it has just all been idols the whole time. You would feel emptiness deep in your bones, not loneliness, but contempt for yourself–not the sort of contempt that makes someone want to end their lives, but one that makes them want to change everything about it. You would feel like you had to change everything, from the foundation of your personally-designed home to the innards of your private cogitations.

But you would keep going, growing weary of your skepticism and wishing that you could just think with some clarity again, the piercing clarity of your youth.

And you would die and instead of being a sweet victory, it would be a sort of gasp, a relief from the oppression of contemplation.

But duty? Duty would take you into the suburbs, unsure of your intentions–Conscience would believe them to be sinful, of course–and when people would ask you what you were doing with your life, you would say, “Whatever God asks me to do.”

Duty would put people into your life, people you could not or did not choose, who were always distracting you from what you really wanted to do. And in your mind, you would think, “But it’s all fun. The pain of patience is fun.”

You would have trouble believing it and you would die unknown, released not from yourself, but others. You accomplished nothing of what you ever wanted to. At the end of your life, remembering all of the clear ideas you started out with, like small stacked boxes tied to the back of a city bike, what ever happened to all the clarity? When and why did God get rid of the clarity? You would tell yourself, “Well, that was before I ever tried anything.” And you would be right. Life has a way of plunging us into the dirt of what we had always longed for.

What a mess you would be. A glorious mess. You would look at God in your private moments and ask him, “God, I have always called you Father. But why have you given me a serpent instead of a rock?”

Me: So what? I’m walking to school. Can you finish this up? What should I do? What do I stand for?

Love: I have an idea.

Conscience: I always love your ideas.

Love: Har har.

Me: Go on, go on. I’m ten minutes late to class. Hurry up.

Love: Here’s an idea; don’t plan. Don’t even play narrative games with Imagination. It might be fun, but it’s self-indulgent and I can’t stand that. It leaves nothing for me. Live your life by helping other people. If someone asks you to do something, say yes. Always. See where God takes you. Be open. Shut your mind – for once! Don’t be a cave for bats to fly in and hang out. Close it like a sore mouth. Live by what you see and hear and touch and smell and taste. Get your life plans, not from thinking about life, but from living it. See and receive. Hear and receive. Touch and receive. Smell and receive. Taste and receive. To close your mouth and to sense, they are the same. Close your mind, not your love. Let your Father grow your life through your loves, through the places you end up in. It may have never been your choice, but it is your choice to serve. Pray always for gratitude. Pray always that temptation keeps its damn fingers away from your mind.

And start getting to class on time.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – quote falsely attributed to Ghandi, often found on coffee cups and bumper stickers, very popular, often accompanied by a stencil drawing of Ghandi’s face, inconsistent with Ghandi’s explicit beliefs about societal change, but nevertheless inspiring, a quote well worth being monetized.

http://img.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_1484w/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2013/11/27/Others/Images/2013-11-27/t%2081385584691.jpg?uuid=3E8uylejEeO9vwl6sqPcKw

This is a picture of Obama in front of the turkey he will pardon the day before Thanksgiving.

Every year, Ancient Israel slaughtered innocent animals on the Day of Atonement for their collective sins. The day before Thanksgiving, America is proud of its commander-in-chief-priest to not perform a sacrifice for our collective sins, but rather apologize to this turkey for the atoning birds we devour by gratitude every Thanksgiving.

“The turkey represents, not just our inherited sins from our ancestors, but also the sins we daily commit. On the Day of American Pardon, we put our hands to the warm feathers of the nearest turkey, symbolizing our most profound apology for both the sins of others and our own. As a good book says, the sins of the father pass from generation to generation, so too in America, we are guilty of the sins our collective consciousness has forgotten–like slavery, for example. We vow with our mouths and our heartburn the next day that we are yet still sinners, but while we were still sinners, we apologized for ourselves. The Day of American Pardon and the Day of Thanksgiving complement one another; a paradox we would all do well to meditate on by yoga or, more simply, through the folding of the hands and a little rest. We give our apology, yet we take another life; maybe two or three, depending on the size of our extended family (and whether we get along with them well enough to invite them over, celebrating indigestion around a crowded table stretching from the living room to the foyer). As a good book says, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, so too in America, we give and we take away. We are our Lord. And as our Lord, we are responsible for changing the course of our own collective salvation.” – President Barack Obama

“As someone who is hungry all the time, I find the very idea of Thanksgiving delicious and I look forward to the turkey and stuffing this year. My grandma makes a wicked onion dip. We in our house prefer carrots over potato chips for dip, unless the potato chips are homemade, in which case we infuse them with curry. We are Indians. Some of my ancestors were there when the pilgrims landed at Plymouth. As an inheritor of sacred Thanksgiving traditions, I vow to imagine stuffing my stomach so full of edible things, that the food would pile up into my esophagus, thus causing me to be slightly short of breath, possess a heart of fire, spit acid on occasion, and sometimes cough up food I might have once taken into myself. In the end, it would all work out. As I say, eat–or don’t, as in my case–the change you wish to see in the world. This is what we do on Thanksgiving; we eat–or feed on the idea of eating, as I do. We pile the food so high on our plate, in such a mess, that the green beans and the mashed potatoes, filled with butterloads of sour cream, and the onion dip and the carrots and the wine and the, oh my favorite, the, the, my mouth–how it drools–the turkey covered in three kinds of gravy become one and when we digest the food, we too become one with our gratitude. And eight or so hours later, we work out our gratitude with fear and trembling, a journey we must take alone.” – Ghandi

Maybe when I was a freshman in high school, I thought I might be a writer. I thought I said good things, even if I said things I didn’t understand. So I wrote stories like “The Same Fire That Keeps Us Alive” and “A Picture of the Universe,” because I had this idea that, in order to get to the transcendent, I had to transcend the mundane. I had to get beyond normal expectations. I went after the weird and bizarre, constantly asking myself, “Now, why haven’t great minds gone here? Why haven’t they made worlds where people walk upside down, their hands feet, who survive on mercury, and live on a flat planet sitting still in observation of our world?” I thought I needed to be a prophet.

A prophet and seer are different. A prophet speaks on behalf of God, when God is unwilling to communicate his revelations through normal means. A seer is an interpreter of the mundane for the blind. He shows the blind that the transcendent is in the mundane. This is a very Chestertonian idea, I know. So is this next one. The transcendent is not a shy puppy that the seer has to coax out of some hiding hole underneath the front porch. The transcendent is a sudden tornado and the seer is a storm chaser. The only people who miss it are the ones hiding in their basements, shaking puppies on their laps, telling themselves that nothing is really out there, that it will be okay.

A seer has a dirty and dangerous job. It is much less lofty and respected than the prophet. He has to get into his pick-up truck and chase the tornado with the only camera he can afford, his eyes. When the sky clears and people are sitting on their front porches waving to their neighbors, the sweaty and dusty seer has to come up to them, to be that solicitor, and tell them about what they tried avoiding. Some forgot that they forgot, but at the word “tornado,” ask him, “So? Why does it matter if a tornado just came through here? I feel fine!” Others are so conscious of their rejection, they yell him off the front porch and pick up their shotguns.

I am tired of prophets. We need seers now, people to stay outside and remind the forgetful of promises finished in the present. I could add another turn of phrase here, one about how the past is impossible and the future does not exist, but that would be pedestrian. I want to say how the promises that God fulfilled in the past were fulfilled in the present. This is a fresher concept; the past is a collection of presents. So when Christ died on the cross and resurrected three days later, those were present fulfillments. When the seer remembers, he is remembering the present. And tornadoes will continue to blast through our feeble presents like trailer parks until the way is made straight, until everyone sees him.

I don’t want you to think that God is somehow responsible for suffering, though. God hates tornadoes, because they are in rebellion. They are off their leashes. God is not against destruction and cleansing fires, where they are due, but he is against his children suffering. He does not like it when his creation groans. We have confused the metaphor of a tornado for an actual tornado. Why did we do that?

Often, I doubt whether or not I can say the things I say. I doubt what I say as I say it. All I used was a slight juxtaposition between prophet and seer (even then, some might not like the distinction), a clever but fairly vague metaphor for transcendence, and then a didactic bit about God and the problem of suffering. What I did was not enough to get us both to where I wish we could go.

And I used to think that getting to the place I want to go is the responsibility of the words. I would speak in vague language and avoid the concrete like a conservative citizen avoids it when it’s wet. I used to say that our words always fail. Our words are spoken by an idiot, I’d think, signifying nothing (reference). Why couldn’t I see that words are more than pack animals to rough up and abuse? Why couldn’t I see that words were children? They are to be loved, not condemned constantly for not being good enough. Here I could say, “after all, Jesus was the DIVINE WORD!!!” but it would be too obvious. Like lyrics, explanation is done well only when expectations are not met. So I need to think of another way to get at this, a way to hit you in the chink of your armor.

Words are to be loved, because they were given as a gift to us when we were children. We were never given the option to accept words. They were put in our mouths and we took them, because they were good. On our first day out, we craved them and for the next year or so, we tried to make them ourselves. We imitated what we craved until the world said, our bodies said, our mothers said, “That was very good.”

Thesis: Because our moms told us that words are very good, they are.

Result: Because words are very good, we are responsible for failing to communicate.

Call-to-Action: Be a slave to your words, not your words slaves to your ideas.

Since birth, I have had no choice but to learn what to do with words. Because of my parents talking to me when I could not respond, I was given a gift I could not refuse. It was never my choice. Here, there are obvious parallels between infant baptism and the gift of words. A subtle reference to the parallel, like, “my parents baptized me with words” would not do well in the jungle, so I will say it plainly: the gift of words, like baptism, is a good gift given to children which they cannot refuse. If you don’t like that, wave your hands.

Like Bob Dylan said, you got to serve somebody. There is, unfortunately, no option between the Devil or the Lord. We are slaves to the Lord, either way. We are chained to him by the gifts he has given which we cannot refuse. One gift is words.

We’re screwed, really. There is no way to be free. We are commanded to say something, even if we don’t like what we say, if we criticize ourselves as we go along, hate what we say, disavow ourselves, blame the words, hold onto a bad attitude, deconstruct, accuse God of being unfair, to dance away. Our only choice is to stay still and start speaking.

Life is very much like a mandatory dance class. The dance instructor has a gun pointing at us at all times. He is yelling at us to be dance and enjoy it. But we don’t want to. We want to have a bad attitude, when really dancing wouldn’t be so bad. Our pride holds us back; we don’t want to be ashamed, we don’t want to look silly. But everyone around is dancing. We want to stand apart. But we can’t. We are given the choice between one option; to be happy as a slave. But we hate dancing and we tell ourselves, “It wasn’t my choice to begin with to be here!” Too bad. Our only choice is to shut up and dance.

 

Deo Gracias!

Adam lay i-bowndyn,

bowndyn in a bond,

Fowre thowsand wynter

thowt he not to long
And al was for an appil,
an appil that he tok.

As clerkes fyndyn wretyn

in here book.
Ne hadde the appil take ben,
the appil taken ben,

Ne had never his lady

been a heav’ne bride.*
Blyssid be the tyme
that appil take was!

Therefore we mown syngyn

Deo gratias!

 

*I changed this line. I get to. I have the internet and I am a Protestant .