Month: January 2012

I woke up in class yesterday morning.

Suddenly I was sitting in Alumni 112, chatting with the person sitting next to me, when I realized I couldn’t remember getting out of bed. Or getting dressed. Or driving to the university. Did I even park Leo, my car? Walk to class?

Apparently I had somehow done it, because I was in the correct classroom. The books I needed were in my bag. My shoes matched. And my unconscious had even, apparently, put earrings on. Perhaps nurturing and training this thing could lead to unprecedented levels of productivity and academic effectiveness–functioning on less sleep than ever before.

Or not.

Note to self: It’s more important to be present in life at 8 a.m. on Monday than it is to painstakingly study, write, and be academic the night before.

Christ paid in blood so I could have life. How can I ever just go through the motions when He died so I could be free? His gift is worth so much more than that. Life requires more than that.

Right now, my life is about living and preparing for the ministry to which I’m called. Sometimes that means taking ridiculously long hikes in the mountains, embarrassing myself in an attempt to teach an English class, writing an article, or trying to figure out Henry James.

Right now life is about waking up.

Obscurity is so Meaningful

That [Jane Austen’s] mythic patterns should have gone so long unrecognized is startling evidence of the real subtlety of her mind and art, which have been so much praised for shallow reasons. Even a brief examination of the occult structuring of Pride and Prejudice will establish Jane Austen’s claim to be the first great exemplar of the modern mythic consciousness.

-Douglas Bush, “Mrs. Bennet and the Dark Gods: The truth about Jane Austen”

What if obscurity isn’t always deliberate? Can it be that authors are as confused as the culture that formed them? That they write conclusionless works because they have no conclusions?

Strange, how critics generally seem to think that the author of every “great” work must have been a genius. Maybe they were people (gasp!) who just stumbled upon the right publisher, the right niche.

Maybe some modern “masters” were neurotic individuals who strung words together so abstrusely that, oh, my, they must have been earthshatteringly brilliant and new. They’re speaking to the very seat of our being, though we, obviously inferior intellectuals, see only daisies and paradox.

I’m an inferior enough intellectual to believe that sometimes authors are sitting down at the end of a long day and pouring out their thoughts in pen and ink. Or just trying to get through the next ten pages. Not so different.

Authors are  just as human as the rest of us. Sometimes the pear tree in the back yard has no more significance than a slip of your very own psychoanalyzed tongue. Quick! Your id is showing! Please keep that in check.

And maybe I’m not smiling NOT because my heart is broken, but because my embouchure is tired of trying to crank out a stubborn note on the oboe. Or… maybe it’s not. Let obscurity BE.

Indecorum

I was fifteen minutes late to my very first class of senior year. Got lost on the way to the Fine Arts building (how long have I been going to this school?). Locked the keys, along with all my textbooks, in the car. Tripped over my own feet on the way to the dining common.

But this morning, when I locked the keys  in my car, I neither laughed nor cried.

Funny how mature I thought I was at eighteen. I thought I knew how to handle anything that could happen.

Some four years and several unexpected life-lessons later, though, I’m rethinking my assumptions. Two weeks of senior year, and I’ve learned that I’m not only capable of dissolving into tears during a lecture on Kate Chopin, but also rather likely, apparently, to do so.

Strange, too, how my hands start shaking at odd times; choir rehearsal takes on a new flavor when you can’t hold the music still enough to tell an E flat from an A.  I’ve dealt with so much before now. Dealing with this should be easier.

I’m supposed to be confident. Capable. Secure.

But what good is confidence if you know you’re doing the right thing and it still feels like an emotional knife, twisting? Suddenly my capability doesn’t matter. It’s long gone.

What does strength even mean when you’re at the end of yourself, when trusting God goes from theory to application and you find it’s much harder than you ever thought?

Praise God, this is a lesson I really need to learn.

Reductio ad absurdum

Today I was standing at the binding machine at the printing press where I work, staring at a piece of a 3rd grade reading textbook that would soon be bound, trimmed, cut, and packaged onto a pallet with several hundred others just like it.

I saw concrete floors, metal walls, and gray German-made machines. I heard the rhythmic sounds of hydraulic machinery moving and the buzz of the bells in the background. After about five hours of stacking paper on the binder, my thoughts disintegrated. Then I started thinking about theology. Go figure.

Once I read that the probability of the human eye evolving is even more unlikely than my Complete Works of Shakespeare textbook suddenly coming into existence, given time, ink, and paper.

Given what I now know about bookbinding, I couldn’t help but wonder about the way Shakespeare’s plays–if they did indeed come into existence without an author–could even be printed and glued together into a book.

Perhaps it would be printed and bound by a spontaneously-existing printing press run by solar power, its engine ever-greased by the boundless reservoir of oil upon which it sits, belts automatically replaced and fitted by rubber from the gum acacia tree conveniently growing nearby. New editions every year.

So, if you find a book sitting in a forest, you’re automatically going to assume it put itself together by chance, right? Because concluding that something like a Shakespeare play might have an author is just toooo much of a leap.

And my ancestors were all children of an ape named Bananarama. Right.

Scientists are continually turning over new information that reinforces something Creationists have always believed: that evolution requires as much, if not exponentially more, faith than Christianity.

Perhaps the saddest part? The millions who buy into this evolutionary system have absolutely no hope. C.S. Lewis put it bitingly well in his satirical “Evolutionary Hymn“:

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future’s endless stair:
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

I hear voices

Sometimes I can’t even remember where I first read them, but that doesn’t stop the words I’ve read from slipping into my consciousness every now and then.

When I was twelve, I read Walk Two Moons, a story-within-a-story about a thirteen-year-old whose only dream was being united with her missing mother. At a time when my own father was conspicuously missing from my own life, the almost bitter reality and mystery of the story resonated.

The girl’s mother had died. I went on an eight-mile bike ride right after turning the last page. I’ll never forget the way the setting sun and Texas wind felt as it blew the tears out of my eyes.  That was the first book that ever made me cry.

Books force you to see the world through a different lens. Who can read Beowolf and not find today’s superheroes hopelessly inadequate in comparison? How could anyone read Elie Wiesel’s Night or Hersey’s Hiroshima and leave unimpressed by the atrocities the human spirit can endure?

Even the most buoyant fiction can change the humor you see in the world. I’ll never forget wishing for a pup like Hank the Cowdog. Or almost envying Pip’s ingenuity and pick-pocketing abilities.

Right now, I’m reeling from the biography of missionary Jim Elliot, martyred while serving the Lord in Ecuador. And stories of POW’s in the war-scarred South Pacific (Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is the most moving historical narrative I’ve read in a while), singing in defiance to their Japanese captors as they ladled tons of slopping waste out of the prison latrines.

I don’t have to agree with the worldview proclaimed by the words I read. But I know I see the people around me through wider, more compassionate eyes when I’m willing to hear those myriad voices.

I can better communicate the hope that is in me when I’m willing to see angles beyond my own safe little world. And giving the reason for the hope that is in me? Well, that makes all the difference.