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.