Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Beauty of Time

Time is such an amazing commodity when invested well!

If it's one thing on which Reformed Christians focus well, it's sin. Andrew Quigley preached an amazing sermon series at a Horn Creek conference on the stunningly underrepresented topic of sin, and it go me thinking. Humans have wandered the desert landscape of a sin-saturated earth for thousands of years, blazing away a small fraction of their lives in either cleaning up from, or digging deeper into, the nature of Adam & Eve's attempt at a shortcut. Jesus didn't take it from Satan in the desert, but they wanted wisdom and power faster than God promised. And boy, did they pass on their shortcutting habits!

There's a passage in C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength that indicates Merlin's bi-polar society - he can go from blubbering like a child to sitting calmly without any embarrassment whatsoever. Lewis knew that a split society is marginally effective. What he would have deplored is our current desperation to be continually fractured, in a frantic effort to 'make much of time'.

Making yourself be still can be a hard thing - yoga classes call it being 'centred'. But without stillness, the gift of time can be turned into a Mansfield Park array of "a quick succession of busy nothings". And that means you spend your life chasing your tail, with others to clear away the damage as you lumber through fences and signposts and china shops, like a blind bull. As Ezra and Nehemiah found out, clearing away the rubbish of a city's broken wall takes an enormous amount of focused energy - and time. Let alone building a new wall.

Austen and Lewis knew that a life spent in swift toil in service of the Enemy was nothing more than time lost. They outline the heartbreaking lack of preparation of children by parents, focus spent on fripperies, people eating and drinking and making merry til death. And then the contrast, of those who have learned the wisdom of avoidance of 'bad company', who value true friendship in strange packages (such as Miss Bates!), and wise financial investments in the eternal. This thrift pays dividends, such as a tree made into a wardrobe that opens into a magic world.

We all know that to invest in certain things, such as exercise and Eating Right, pays dividends. You can force yourself out the door to puff around the block in the comforting reflection that it's good for your heart and burns calories. Burning brain calories is a bit harder, and less visible - and much more satisfying. Investment in the invisible often pays well.

Good time spent means preparation - I can now pack for a week-long trip in an hour. Everything's been put away in its place, or in a bag. I can type out a review of a book in half a day instead of five days (like in my freshman year of college) because I've done it 200 times before. I can have a conversation about the gospel and be convincing, because I've fallen on my face trying to present it 100 times before. I can plot the course of a film because I've seen 1,000 of them. (That's not really something to be proud of!) I can walk into a house and figure out how to approach the difficult dog inside of 10 minutes because I've petsit at 30 different places. But each time, I have to allow time to figure out what will be puzzling, and make mistakes.

Thank God, in heaven we will have all the time in the world, and none of it will be wasted on the world. :)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Useful Occupation

Most of us, at some time or another, wish we didn't have a job. Adam wished that as soon as weeds started to grow in Paradise, no doubt.

But consider what life would really be like if we had nothing that we HAD to do. What would happen to our time? Would we spend endless hours searching for amusement among each other, spend time making social calls and hosting dinner parties with no real purpose, other than to while away the long hours and keep boredom at bay?

Anna Karenina is one of my favourite books - not because of the horrors of the slow moral decay of a woman given to adultery, but because of the wealth of detail that Tolstoy uses to describe a privileged people. The noble Russians under the czars were apparently a nation of playboys, and girls, spending most of their time in useless wranglings over forms of entertainment, having nothing better to do than to see and speak of "some new thing", as the Greeks did at the Areopagus. These idle Russians spent hours on playing cards, seeing new theatrical stars, creating drama between each other (if there was no other form of amusement), visiting and comparing houses, taking lavish vacations to summer or winter homes, having affairs - and getting into luxurious debt. Sounds rather familiar, doesn't it?

Of course, Tolstoy doesn't shirk a candid look at the glorious peasants, either - who have a great deal of virtues and the same number of vices. They don't want to work hard at learning new tasks, are continually convinced that their masters are out to 'get them' even when fair wages are paid, break new tools because they're fearfully unfamiliar, and constantly excuse their shoddy work by saying that it's 'just the way things are' - using God as an excuse for their lack of effort. Their best faces show either at home, where they can be the lords and masters, or under pressure at harvest time - because it's been that way for many years, and there's comfort in peaceful stability. Sounds rather familiar, doesn't it?

Petsitting often reminds me that we were created for a purpose. Without the normal occupation of sheep-herding, bird-pointing or hunting down rabbits in wild fields, pet dogs often lead an uneventful and rather bored existence. They bark at everything passing the window because it's a break from routine, and because they have nothing to do. Going on a walk and eating are their favourite exercises - nearly their only exercises. Instead of being able to trail around with their masters on a farm (where they could chase cats or hunt rats in the barn without upsetting anyone), they get yelled at when they act up, because they are a form of amusement instead of a useful member of society with specified tasks.

Cats are the same - instead of being able to hunt down pests or spend hours in trees waiting to leap upon their prey, they sit at windows and stare at passers-by.....with unblinking feral eyes. They have fights with each other simply to have some excitement. They try to eat curtains, and make messes on rugs, nibble on your hair or lay on your computer keyboard, all to advertise: I'M BORED, PLAY WITH ME!!!! And they're cute for a while, chasing strings and getting themselves wrapped up in your laundry, and rustling in paper bags....but eventually they get to the stage where they just try to sit in the best sunny spots and snarl if you use their favourite cushion. Life would actually be more exciting for them if they had to stay one step ahead of their pursuers. Makes me think of a Simon & Garfunkel song about keeping the customers satisfied: "one step ahead of the shoe-shine, two steps away from the county line...."

There's an interesting warning in Jeremiah 17: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited...those who depart from me shall be written in the earth..."

The difference between people who are doing work to God's glory, and those who are merely filling up their days without purpose, has to do with whether or not they understand what's happening behind the seemingly meaningless tasks. God's character traits of order, cleanliness, beauty, generosity, creativity, magnificence....can all be seen in His created earth. And if we, His small reflections, are merely casting around for ways in which to waste time instead of use it, that seems a crime against His commands and our very natures. That's why people who fritter away existence with gossip and pleasure and 'busy nothings' seem shriveled in soul. If they want the earth that badly, they'll get it - and that's all they'll get. What a waste!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Unwinnable Scenario

There are words in a woman's vocabulary, besides "we need to talk", that ought to send a thinking man screaming out the door. They are this: "I'm going on a diet."

At first glance, you would think that this would bring joy and delight into a man's heart. Yes, she has said it! And without him having to point out that she has blossomed past the blushing bride of yore! But no. As with most woman things, what is on the surface is farthest from the truth.

The truth is that this woman who sits by him in the car, steely-eyed, vowing that she is by gum NOT going to give in like those other times, no, she really is going to hunker down and do it - get that nasty weight off - is now the Enemy of Fat. Being a new Crusader, she hunts it down and makes it scream for mercy - but not just in her own life. Now conversations with friends and neighbors will focus on this topic, and with herself in the mirror ("THINK before you eat that ice cream bar, for heaven's sake!!"). So instead of enjoying evenings of comfort with his wife on the couch, watching harmless re-runs of "CSI" or "The Ghost Weeper" to make her happy - no, he's got to hear huffing and puffing as she flings his favorite drinks and snacks out of cupboard and fridge. These are grunts of anger and war, and though she may say it tactfully (she is a good wife), there will be sideways comments for him as well. "Do you know how many calories are in that soda?" or the educational kiss of death: "Did you know that in some cultures, tofu is considered just as good as meat? I think we should go international today."

For women are never content to do anything just by themselves. Men comment on this when women go in a gaggle to the bathroom, or when they can't even go outside in a simple dress without hailing a passer-by for an opinion.....if they can't get it at home, that's always an option. "HEY! You there! Should I wear the red flats or the black sandals?" Somehow, men don't realize that this togetherness trend never ends.

Unlike when she gets pregnant, there will be no great advantage when the diet ends, because it never does. Instead of a pregnancy giving way to a bouncing happy child after nine months of labour, the diet never ends and never produces anything other than a thinner wife. But even then, the future fear of putting the weight back on is ever-present. The child is at least a form of entertainment, whereas diets often mean that entertainment and jollity must be put on hold for extra mood swings and black looks at Burger King signs. Not to mention crying. ("I STILL can't fit into that dress!!!")

And men, you already know that you can't stop her. Even if you try to tell her that she looks fine and doesn't NEED to diet, she will counter with feelings ("but I don't FEEL fine!"), personal projections ("I saw you looking at that thin girl in the mall!"), challenges ("Are you saying you don't think I can do it?") or silence while she thinks all these things but refuses to say them. So as a female, I release you to give a hearty "Amen" to your wife's project: "I think that's great, honey, you go ahead and do that."

But don't you dare say that in my presence. Man, have you NO sense?! I'm going on a diet.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Scales Hatred

"I hate the scales. They mock me."

So said a good friend of mine today, when we were discussing the issues of non-svelteness. We used to be skinny, and the moan of the world has now become our tune: If only.

If only we didn't have to spend time exercising that feels pointless anyway, continually read Scripture just so we can forget the best verses in conversation (those ones that would force others to change their view), or do the daily disciplines of deodorant and dish-washing, we'd have a lot more free time. Of course, every time that I DO get all virtuous and go exercising, and then hop on the scale to See My Progress, I'm horribly disappointed. The scale's monologue goes something like this:

'Haha! See if you can move me! It's impossible! Now go eat an ice cream bar out of resigned indifference!'

Oddly enough, the same voice pops up when I want to read Scripture or engage in prayer. Only, instead of ice cream bars, the carrot that is dangled (what an incentive, if you're a donkey) is more like the Necessity of Projects. When I have my teeth brushed and my face washed and I'm all tucked into a holy posture for prayer - that's when it 'suddenly' occurs to me that laundry has not been done, thank-you cards not written, and by gum I need to make sure that the bank has really taken care of the bills on BillPay. None of these things can possibly wait until after I speak with the Lord of the Universe, who has plenty of time for creating new species and sorting out issues of world hunger, but none at all for my piddly details of existence. Sure, He loves me and all, but as a good Reformed sort I'm firmly convinced in my heart of hearts that there are limits to His love. "After all", I reason, "it doesn't do to tick Him off. Perhaps when I go to pray, He's feeling like incinerating me for aiming swear words at the minister in my head on the Sabbath. While I do these chores, I shall ponder the paths of my feet, and restrain the Lord from turning me into a pile of salt. Obviously if I go talk to Him, I've got to be perfectly prepared."

This idea of Perfect Preparation works really well until you have a real issue, such as confronted David when on the run from Saul, or Solomon's insights into the folly of his own building efforts (Psalm 127), or the captives in Babylon. Then all the piddly details of existence can go hang while you go talk to your Father, pouring out your heart to Him - and when that's over, somehow everything gets allocated to its proper place. Sure, you're still a slave, but you can at least sing a song of Zion under your breath and keep hoping for the day of the Lord when your enemies get paid back in full. (Those Psalms are especially satisfying after listening to political news reports.)

My minister said something of profound import this Sabbath about scales. Two of our church visitors are professional musicians, and they still spend significant amounts of time on scales - boring, repetitive, finger-limbering scales. He equated it to our spiritual disciplines: praying, reading the Word, listening to the Pastor speak. (We all had a laugh at this last barb to the children, who get a little restless in lifting their longing eyes to the clock, from whence comes salvation from long sermons.)

Repeated actions seem like a completely inefficient time-swamp. You can throw in hours of laundry and car repair and mending of clothes, the Time Swamp will swallow them all and greedily open its maw for more. (The horse-leech hath four daughters, crying 'Give! Give!) God requires us to wend our way through the swamp, just like Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor, occasionally staring at dead faces of those who got sucked into the swamp along the way. He requires us to throw tithe into the collection plate to pay for endless amounts of church supplies and salaries; He requires us to spend hours praying and reading His word, and for what? So that the wicked can keep merrily squashing us and then asking us "well, where is He?" And some of us sure feel like asking Him the same question, since He doesn't seem in a hurry to answer our neediest prayers.

But C.S. Lewis is right - pain is the gift that nobody wants - the pain of 'wasted time', the pain of year after year of weary playing of spiritual scales, the 'what's the use' feeling that we fight. After years of blows on our rock-hard forms like an artist's hammer-blows on marble, the things that hurt us so much (little or great) are those which turn our image to something resembling Christ. And that consummation is devoutly to be wished.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Poetry on Hope and Faith in Unlikely Places

Sometimes you can find poetic expression in the most unlikely places. Just as it's possible to find steamy marital references in Puritan town-hall records, it's possible to find poetry in John Calvin's commentaries:

[Re: Romans 4:18- 'Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations'] "And, doubtless, there is nothing more injurious to faith than to fasten our minds to tour eyes, that we may from what we see, seek a reason for our hope...for except faith flies upward on celestial wings, so as to look down on all the perceptions of the flesh as on things far below, it will stick fast in the mud of the world...for when he had no ground for hoping he yet in hope relied on the promise of God; and he thought it a sufficient reason for hoping, that the Lord had promised, however incredible the thing was in itself."

After a great explanation of how Abraham shuts his mind to the clamoring of the flesh (I can't possibly have a child at this age, with Sarah!), Calvin has this to say about Abraham 'being not weak in faith':
"..he vacillated not, nor fluctuated, as we usually do under difficult circumstances. There is indeed a twofold weakness of faith - one is that which, by succumbing to trying adversities, occasions a falling away from the supporting power of God - the other arises from imperfection, but does not extinguish faith itself: for the mind is never so illuminated, but that many relics of ignorance remain; the heart is never so strengthened, but that much doubting cleaves to it. Hence with these vices of the flesh, ignorance and doubt, the faithful have a continual conflict, and in this conflict their faith is often dreadfully shaken and distressed, but at length it comes forth victorious; so that they may be said to be strong even in weakness."

The Lord seems to love these paradoxes of comparison and contrast. Even in re-reading the account of Abraham and Sarah being given the most wonderful news of their life, it struck me that God was multitasking. He came down to encourage his child Abraham with a great word of promise about the coming Seed who was to crush the serpent, and also to crush some of the serpent's children in Sodom and Gomorrah. First to bless, then to curse - not only for an object lesson to Abraham regarding what would happen to rebellious covenant children who forgot their teaching "to do righteousness and justice", but also to rescue a covenant child (Lot) who had forgotten how to be salt and light. His wife became salt, and Sodom's darkness exploded from the power of the Light that visited it from on high. Little did Lot know that his prayers to God would be answered so drastically. (In God's kingdom, until we reach heaven, there is never blessing unalloyed.)

The fight of faith is always obscured by what we see:

"All things around us are in opposition to the promises of God: He promises immortality; we are surrounded with mortality and corruption: He declares that he counts us just; we are covered with sins; He testifies that he is propitious and kind to us; outward judgments threaten his wrath. What then is to be done? We must with closed eyes pass by ourselves and all things connected with us, that nothing may hinder or prevent us from believing that God is true."

Amen to that, John! ....and now, wisdom from Icanhascheezburger:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Loving "The Silver Chair" All Over Again

Don't know about anyone else, but for some reason, parts of C.S. Lewis' "The Silver Chair" just didn't hit as hard as other books. In a fit of wakefulness on Sunday, after eight cups of coffee (they can really add up when you have them everywhere you go!), I re-read it. And found some gems.

Have always loved Puddleglum, but the appreciation is deeper now. My parents can sometimes seem to look on The Dark Side of Life in complete contrariness to the immortal Monty Python boys' advice ("always look on the bright side of life!"). And life is such, on this sin-saturated world of ours, that they're quite often right. However, they are the people that you lean on in times of real trouble, just like Jill and Eustace.

"Many have taken ship at the pale beaches," replied the Warden, "and -"
"Yes, I know," interrupted Puddleglum. "And few return to the sunlit lands. You needn't say it again. You are a chap of one idea, aren't you?"
The children huddled close together on either side of Puddleglum. They had thought him a wet blanket while they were still above ground, but down here he seemed the only comforting thing they had.

Puddleglum is one of those characters that you grow to love. First he's irritating with his constant string of 'what-ifs' that always tend to disaster. Then he's a solid rock on which to lean, though he tends to rub a bit raw. Then he's a rock in a tossing sea, and you can depend on him to do the hard things like put his foot in a magical fire in order to save his unappreciative friends from enchanted doom. He is loyal, he is steady, and the only time he really gets excited is when there's a test of his serious view of life.

The Prince has been harder to appreciate. Although I've read this book more than ten times, and have some passages memorized, he seems one of those characters that I ought to love and appreciate, and it just didn't quite hit the heart strings yet. He did strike me as more like Hamlet in character than appearance - overfond of soliloquy and his own voice, knowingly egotistical, and foolhardy in his acceptance of adventure. Some of that could be put down to enchantment of the green serpent, but he was foolhardy in his independence before he became enchanted. Altogether, he didn't seem like a proper replacement for his father, Prince Caspian the Seafarer.
Until today.

His speech to the Witch is a masterpiece of kingly courtesy - politely asking for good treatment at the hand of an oppressor takes a lot of courage. That kind of courage means that you are requiring of yourself the inability to sink to the level of the torturer; they will be given fair words until strong ones are required. They must prove themselves evil in the presence of other witnesses. "Please it you to grant me and my friends safe conduct and a guide through your dark realm." Rilian starts to take leadership naturally, and it is seamless, but these great words have escaped me til now.

[On his formerly enchanted shield, the Lion now figures brightly.] "Doubtless," said the Prince. "This signifies that Aslan will be our good lord, whether he means us to live or die. And all's one, for that. Now, by my counsel, we shall all kneel and kiss his likeness, and then all shake hands one with another, as true friends that may shortly be parted. And then, let us descend into the city and take the adventure that is set us."

By this cheerful acceptance that his life is in Aslan's hands, the Prince is more than saying that he is just as able to live or die at Aslan's command. What he's really saying is that whether he is buried alive (and no one hears of him ever again), or gets out and rules Narnia, his life is not wasted. It is hard, sometimes, to believe that your continued life will be of any use if no one knows the sacrifices you made, or if your goals were not met - what would be the point of a life that no one sees? Rilian is affirming an ancient Christian principle: whether one dies or lives, in poverty or in great blessing, it is good that the Lord do with you what He wishes. Hamlet struggled long with the idea that a life cut short by his own hand ("to die! To sleep! no more") would be better than living in pain. Rilian accepts that Aslan might have called three noble people out of their own lives to wander about the countryside, beset by cannibalistic giants and serpents disguised as beautiful enchantresses, just for all four of them to perish underground in an attempt at freedom. (Yes, insert Braveheart music here.) And here is an end of the matter:

"Friends," said the Prince, "when once a man is launched on such an adventure as this, he must bid farewell to hopes and fears, otherwise death or deliverance will both come too late to save his honour and his reason."

This post is dedicated to my mum and my sisters, the bravest women I know. :)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Aaaaaah, I Can Feel The Burn- In My Fingertips

So I read an article on Helium that made me desire to walk outside in the muggy Arizona weather (anything over 10% humidity is muggy)for an hour, just because I was so pumped. Proper motivation comes by reading, and reading by the preachers of the Internet.

Well, not quite true. I had been wondering why my exercise 'regime' (mostly 20-30 minute walks under duress and in a bad attitude, 2-3 times per week) wasn't working. I'm not gaining, but I'm not losing anything either. Just like the turtle, I plod along, get a bit of satisfaction on crossing something off the list, get a little hungry and whammo - my jeans size hasn't changed. And, there's That Pair Of Jeans that I'm stashing away at the back of one of my drawers, in a deep dark corner. Occasionally, I take it out and look at it longingly, as if to say, "some day darling - some day we shall be together, no matter what the cost". But just like a man and his mistress in all those period films like "Dr. Zhivago" or most recently "Becoming Jane", circumstances and society have cruelly gotten in my way. Specifically, circumstances of ice cream and pizza still being in this world, and the society that I run with still liking them. Therefore, I could not help but be drawn to them like a moth to a flame, and tragically, get burned on the scales every time. And yet - and yet the fascination remains. (Doesn't this just sound like one of those books that attempt to appeal to your worst instincts and then call it a Poignant Exploration of Art? Hogwash.)

So now I've decided to take some Drastic Measures and stride out to the forest and End It All, sacrificing my desires of artichoke dip and cheesecake to the higher call of Health and Wellness, although not in that order, and die of pneumonia in the rain to preserve my honour. (Actually, this is lightly akin to Rufus Sewell's character in the Thomas Hardy adaptation film "The Woodlanders". And just like Sir Ulrich Lichtensteihn in "A Knight's Tale", he spends his ill-starred passion on THE WRONG GIRL. Why on earth these good-looking Tools of Fate don't see that the stunning beauty by their side isn't the one they want to chase, I don't know - I tell them enough when I'm watching that they're being muppets.)

Anyway. So the same rules apply to writing. I may THINK that I have done All There Is To Do, coming up with creative ideas and worrying about grammatical structure and misplaced commas, but the only thing that will bump me up into earning more than $3/article on Helium is writing every morning, scribbling at night, and generally making a nuisance of myself until someone is impressed and notices. Stubbornness - it's got to pay off somehow! So back to the drawing board - or, writing pages - more creative exercises in The Artist's Way.
And someday, when I've added ten pounds to my diaries but not to my frame, I shall count all the calluses on my fingers and be proud. Right now, I need some coffee to get started. :)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Waiting for Redbox

It's a fairly typical night at the Reyburn house - Mum's raptly watching the Les Miserables musical (no doubt we'll hear its merits and demerits tomorrow), Dad got bored with Marius' histrionics and went to bed, and I'm writing articles on Helium because I'm waiting for Redbox.

Redbox offers these addictive texting deals, where you can save the stunning amount of a whole dollar if they get to advertise to you. No doubt Satan used the same sort of argument with Eve when debating the various merits and demerits of the Tree of Good and Evil system. "Yes, Eve, I do hear you on that. Yes, yes, it's good to know your limits - but surely one can explore just the possibility that maybe it doesn't matter? I know you have a spiritual budget that doesn't include consequences for forbidden things, but how do you know that you've hit that limit yet?"

Perhaps Marius' histrionics are having an effect on me, and this link between Satan and Redbox is farfetched. Perhaps they have nothing in common but a certain medieval link to the colour of ripe pomegranates. But I know human nature.

I know that I shall TELL myself that all will be well, I'll run down to the Redbox dispenser at precisely 11:49 pm and will be back in plenty of time tomorrow so that my card doesn't get charged. It's a foolproof plan, except for the nature of the card holder; she tends to forget things, get caught up in the moment, crawl into bed with a sleepy smile and have the Redbox DVD smirking at her in the morning. I am tired; I ought to just pay the $1 fee and be happy for affordable entertainment. Why won't that happen? Because, just like Eve, I always think there is something better that the universe is holding back from me.

Oh, wretched consumer that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Joy of Discipline

I woke up early this morning because I was feeling fat.

Not because of the beauty of the slightly misty morning, not because it would be an amazing experience to stride along with my sister to the garage and talk together about Life, not because of the example of the disciplined dogwalkers also up early. Although all of these things did happen along the way, they were merely an intriguing byproduct of the knowledge that my goal of lost weight hasn't been reached. (The budget doesn't cover new clothes.)

Sometimes, people's lives are completely changed because they're out of work and need a new car, so they begin some garage business and make a fortune in the next 15 years. All adulation and glory when you reach the finish line, a lot of tears and heartaches and late nights up trying not to worry until that happens. Or, someone finally hears the gospel call because it is previewed by the very real threat of hellish death. Talk about a trailer for a film that no one wants to see!

C.S. Lewis wrote, at the end of "Surprised by Joy", that joy itself is a byproduct - when he searched for it, it eluded him and frustrated him. He would see it, run after it to grasp it, and joy would melt out of his hands like the morning sun - burning his fingers along the way. When he plodded after pursuing the very real person of Christ, joy did come - but intermittently, along the road toward eternity. (I'm listening to U2's song "Beautiful Day" as I write - the line "After the Flood, all the colours came out" is particularly appropriate here.) If you haven't seen the film "The Road", it's a beauty-out-of-ashes story of a man's love for his son; great relationships are like that, forged out of hardship and toil.

My sister and I have now spent three months together in Scotland. Because of all of the late nights and weeping sessions and prayer times and films laughed at together, we have a host of great memories and funny insider jokes. If we tried to shortcut the process and just skip past all of the times where our conversations went nowhere and feelings were hurt, there would be very shallow memories of no enduring depth. I call it the "Dust to Glory" sequence; man is born from dust, but God propels him to glory through the dust. If you fall into the snatching routine, as Satan tempted Jesus to do in the desert, and shortcut the process of birthing pangs of joy - you might gain the world for a time. But you will lose your own soul along the way.

The walk today was a great success - trees blooming in pink and white, dogs frisking around in deep green grass, random red rubber bands strewn along the walkway, large-eyed children staring up from prams. And mist to cover it all with an air of mystery. Every once in a while, the sun would break free of the clouds and shards of light would pierce the field, as if the Creator couldn't bear to shroud the living in gray any more. John Piper is right - "joy is that for which suffering is preparing us".

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Communication Potholes II, clearly, I just fell into a Communication pothole in the previous blog post. My sister just pointed out that everything made sense until I veered off into venting about Christian artists. The communication train derailed out of the station.

This is what I was trying to say. Christian authors and musicians communicate with different mediums, but the authors often get themselves mired in jargon, whereas the musicians often wrap themselves up in sweetness of Christian living that the Bible never promoted. "Hopeful garments are saturated in desperation, not Christian proficiency." (Jan Meyers, "The Allure of Hope") Jesus literally drove away many of His followers by telling them the cost of discipleship - possibly no home, no earthly inheritance, no assurance of wealth, rejection, no earthly throne, loving your enemies, being a servant. They 'walked with Him no more" when He told them point-blank that they had to be chosen by the Father, and there was no way for them to influence their own salvation. The reason why it infuriates me that Christian communicators fail to get this across is because they promote Jesus without saying His hard sayings in words that can be understood. (Obviously, I just did the same thing, so you can forget about saying that I'm being judgmental. What a powerful phrase turned prissy - 'being judgmental'. All that says anymore is that you're acting like a hurt little child on a playground, unable to hear the slightest criticism.)

Another phrase that riles is "it's just semantics". It's one of those phrases that formerly meant something, and now it communicates "I don't want to be bothered with exploring whether there is a difference in meaning or not". All roads do not lead to the gospel. All words do not mean the same - even a child could tell you that much. There is such a thing as truth and lies, and it takes time to ascertain which is which, even in the Garden of Eden. "It's just semantics" is usually followed by "well, it doesn't matter anyway" which is a poorly expressed way of saying "I don't care enough about this topic to possibly argue with you, because then the clumsy fabric of tolerance will be ripped away like the Temple curtain, and expose all the dead bones of bad thinking behind it".

All of these things are examples of poor communication, which is verbal laziness. God gave us words, so that we can mirror Him as The Word, and we ought to respect that gift.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Communication Potholes

Sometimes, communication is like shouting through a door.

Tried that with my sister recently - somehow, even though I had enunciated, the phrase "I was writing about how I didn't want to do the morning pages" turned into "You're saying you don't have a potato??! What?" Sometimes clear words just aren't enough because they've been obscured by your desire to be lazy.

That's right, lazy. I could have opened the door and walked over to my sister and said my phrase if I really wanted her to understand me. That's what I think about most theologians/preachers/teachers/professors who try so hard to be clever that they confuse their readers who feel they are wading through a word bog. Or, it can be indubitably surmised that those who obfuscate the clear rendering of key subtexts may befuddle their most allegiant admirers, akin to miring themselves in expressionary swampland. (I'm now getting editorial 'redlining' from blogspot, who doesn't appreciate my efforts to look smart.)

If you only write for a certain audience, don't complain that most people can't understand you. You didn't intend to be understood, you decided to stand like a lone reed, waving sadly on the abandoned banks of the Lake of Intellect. ("Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny" - Uncle Andrew from C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew) There are few Christian authors that I really enjoy, just as there are few Christian musicians whose music I can stand, because it seems as though both types of artist are trying desperately to make Christianity into a mold it never intended to fill - Heavenly Hooey.

Many Christian authors seem to indicate that, as long as you throw a few verses into a fiction/therapy/job book, add a semi-original paragraph about either God's Love or God's Sovereignty (depending on whether you're Non-Denominational or Anything Else), you're golden. Hand over the harp, let the angels sing and the publishers quote.

Christian musicians - if there are any more 'worship bands' ready to make another album of songs that are bigoted enough to exclude anything about God's wrath against sinners or eternal hellfire....please just stay at home. I almost wish that you'd experience Johnny Cash's wretched drug-filled lifestyle rather than listen to how you want to wrap sweet Jesus in fuzzy pink blankets and cuddle up to him for eternity. I am sorry to be so harsh, but it must be a Christian artist rule not to tell your fellow musician that they need to edit.

(Feel free to leave instructive notes on this blog. By this last paragraph, I'm obviously asking for snarky feedback.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Waiting to (In)spire

The reason why I'm badly inconsistent with my blogging is because I'm always waiting for Inspiration to hit me.

Quite literally, if it came flying through the window, bonked me on the head and cheeped loudly "WRITE NOW! WRITE AS THOUGH YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT!!!", it would happen more often. I hate bosses, but they do have their ability - ie, to make you want to do something, and then hide their remains.

There are numbers of really rubbish films on LOVEFILM (Britain's version of Netflix), countless dishes and the drying laundry starting reproachfully at me, all testament to the fact that procrastination is just hope spelled out really long - the hope that some day, you will just do those things that are on the Important list without having a days-long argument with some voice at the back of your head giving you good reasons why it shouldn't be done Now.

Only problem is, I feel really INSPIRED when I buy birthday cards, think of cute clever things to say, and as soon as I enter the door to the current domicile, they all flee like roaches in the light. And I'm left sitting stupidly on the doorstep, wishing I would have written down this lovely wisdom in the shop, purchased postage, and jammed them in the postbox before my brain tried to convince me to Wait Til You Get Home to write it all down. When you can relax, put your feet up, and....promptly forget all that wisdom.

I feel similarly inspired, and you might too, when watching a coloured snail slide along the sidewalk near a wall - a snail with amazing reds and browns in swirly patterns, looking like the crusted rich loam out of a deep green wood somewhere, where small elves lurk and water droplets dance. I feel monumentally inspired when beholding a castle - centuries of stone glimmering in the sun after being newly washed in rain, hearty testament to generations of flighty human beings and their transitory lives. I feel incredibly inspired whilst shopping in Glasgow, with red and black and blonde waves of heads swimming their way toward the traffic lights, for and against me, and I swim strongly against their current interests. And I feel horridly daunted when I see a 5-cent piece glittering on the ground as I flash by on my cycle (Amsterdam story) and I can't grab it because my tour group is moving on.

That's what life does - it presents these lovely gifts, sometimes allows you to dabble in them and taste them, or roll around on them like warm grass in the sun, and sometimes whisks them away. Perhaps, even if you don't get those magic words down on the paper as you can, when you can, these moments are still worthwhile.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Living the Author Dream

This video tells you a few heartening things about writers:

1. Yes, you CAN become an author. Requirement: massive alphabetized bookshelves.
2. LOOK at these people. They are normal beings whose kids might not like their work, and dress up like Napoleonic pirates - not too different from you.
3. "Lazy Little Loafers" can give modern self-absorbed children the positive kick in the trousers they've always needed. Buy today! And then they'll turn around and write a nasty book about you as a parent 30 years later!
4. Always wanted to become your own best chemistry set? Find inspiration from "Guinea Pig Diaries".
5. Have delusions of grandeur? So does the author who wants to make William F. Buckley "look like an illiterate fool", along with Ammon Shea.
7. Always harbored a Steinbeck-flavoured fantasy of becoming a chicken farmer? See how it's done here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

O Flower of Scotland! today I found out that a quite French word, "Caldercruix", is pronounced by the Scots as


That fairly well sums up the British attitude toward the French, but the Scots have this particularly virulent form of Contrarianism that puts easygoing Americans to shame. (Contrarianism: Standing against anything commonly accepted, for fear of being labeled part of a crowd. Best test: whether a label for this Devil's Advocacy attitude bothers you.)

The Scots are not content to simply bash the English and their neighbors across the sea, they like to 'adopt, adapt and improve'.
  • To show that they are not English, they install bagpipers in large cities and loudly sing nationalistic songs at football matches, not only on key but also with several pints apiece inside them. (We can sing better and louder than you can; do you even KNOW the words to "God Save the Queen"?!)
  • To show that they are not Irish OR American, they loudly proclaim that their whiskey (a) was made first, (b) tastes better, and (c) was not used by American bootleggers. (Our rancid grain juice is miles better than yours.)
  • To prove that they are not French, they hold to the Highland games and Highland dancing (Our men still look better in skirts than your women do), and mispronounce their words. (Michael McIntyre assigns this particular Contrarianism to the English, but the sense is the same:)

Summary Motto:

We will take your words
But you will never take
OUR FREEDOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

...and for those who don't mind Scottish swearing, Robin Williams' summary of golf is brilliant.