Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Feeling Better

Sometimes it's nice—if you're feelings are hurt—for your mama to say "Don't worry. That person really isn't very smart."  Not meaning "If that person was smart, that person wouldn't have hurt your feelings." But more "Don't worry. That person was just grumpy because that person spent the better part of last night running around the back yard trying to find their butt with a flashlight in the dark." 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Planned Parenthood isn't your friend.

"[Stay-at-home mothers] make it harder for the rest of us to remedy the inequities that remain. We have to make young women aware of how their choices affect other women. It should be acceptable criticism to point out that, although everyone has the right to make their own life decisions, choosing to “opt out” reinforces stereotypes about women’s priorities that we’ve been working for decades to shatter, so just cut it out. And, the “individual choice” women have to become stay-at-home moms becomes precarious when they try to return to the workplace and find their earning power and options reduced. If we could see child-rearing as a necessary task and not an identity, and if we could collectively recognize that facilitating it benefits us all, we would go much further in guaranteeing women’s choices than we do when we are expected to uncritically celebrate every individual’s decisions."  Gloria Feldt (former Planned Parenthood head)  as quoted in the NY Times.

I have seen behind the curtain and the Wizard is pretty damn ugly.  (Thanks  Tony.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Whole Foods Haiku

A brisk fall evening
reveals a bearded hipster
weeping over cheese. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

On this Harvest Moon (I'm still in love with you)

If you don't live in this part of my city, you'd probably be surprised at how quiet it is at night. The city bus stops running at about ten, so people stop moving up and down the street toward the bus stops on either end. The cars pretty much stop, too. In the summer the June bugs and air conditioners hum mechanically all night, but this time of year they've generally quieted. (Except for this week when the Indian Summer has driven the temperatures back up to the high-nineties once again.)
I came home late last night and stood on our stoop looking up. Up at the red eyes of the television towers and the full moon hanging heavy between them. The clouds were fragmented and thin as they blew across the face of the sky. There in the darkness at the divide of the year, my neighborhood was quiet. Quiet and holy. Holy. Holy. Holy. I lifted my hands (He stretched out his Arms) and resisted the persistent peace (that comes with acceptance) as it washed over me in waves and ribbons. It wasn't a mistake. You didn't make a mistake. The answer to the question of my heart for all these months. I haven't been ready to let myself off the hook.
We came to the city for the "right reasons," I realize now, but with the wrong...well, methodology? Intentions? Theoretical constructs? Something. Something wrong. Nevertheless, we came and we failed. On a truly Magnificent Level. On the level of failed marriages, failed priesthoods, failed friendships, failed churches, and ultimately failed religions.
I made the comment last night with some of my friends that David and I never wondered if we had a missional call. Not true, said my friend, because you went there. We came here. And we are still here. And after six years of testing and proving and development, maybe we're finally ready to do what we came to do. And it's so much simpler than I thought and so much harder.
I have a feeling after writing this, that some of you are looking at me through your computer screens and thinking "Well, I'm glad she's finally come to terms with her failure." And I ask you, with sincerity, have you come to terms with yours?
Yeah. Me neither.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Art and Faith in a Post-Postmodern World

A friend of mine who knows much more about art than I do said "This is crap. A two-year-old with a crayon could do it." And since then, I have been praying my two-year-old will start making Howard Finster's with her crayons. As of yet, it hasn't happened.

Sometimes I have a few thoughts rolling around my mind like individual gumballs in one of those old-fashioned fishbowl machines. Jumbled and autonomous. So I work on those thoughts awhile and I start to pray about them and I realize their cohesiveness. Sometimes, all in a rush. Eureka! I have found it! Archimedes, meet Blind Bartimaeus. Physics and Metaphysics bound with a bow. Today I've had such a moment.

It started with a verse from the Gospel reading on Sunday: Luke 16:8 "The Master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of the world are more shrewd in dealing with their own age than the sons of light." It doesn't say "sometimes" or "maybe." It doesn't offer a solution to our lack of shrewdness. And what makes it worse is the exhortation found in Matthew 10 that we be "shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." Shrewd (say this in Gordon Geckko's voice) is good. Shrewd, especially in this context, is a bit of a tricky word. It doesn't have a single positive connotation. It means "mischievous," "severe," "hard," and my personal favorite "dangerous." Dangerous. Be as dangerous as serpents. The sons of the world are more dangerous in dealing with their own age than the sons of light. I can't think of a more confusing verse.

So, that's gumball one.

The second is something David heard on the radio this morning from a fairly well-known Christian speaker. "I'm going to tell you," he said, "About something you probably haven't heard about. Yet it is invading the Church!" What was he speaking about? Postmodernism. Yeah. Something we've been chewing on and contemplating and waxing poetic about since the end of the Second World War. So, I guess after seventy years it's time the Christian community jumped into the fracas. Now that it's over, that is. It's not that people have rejected the basic postmodern hypothesis that objective truth doesn't exist, it's just that objective truth didn't die like it was supposed to. We're frying other fish. But if you're a Christian, you probably won't hear about it for another seventy years. Not shrewd. Not shrewd at all.

It's fundamentally depressing, isn't it? We are safe. We are soft. And the relevant church is seventy years behind the academic and artistic community that we used to lead. I've long suspected it, but now I'm sure of it. We need to bone up on what those Sons of the World are up to because their art, their music and their literature shows whats going on in the heart of the culture. And that's Our Father's Business, isn't it?

The problem is that it isn't always pretty. What's going on in the heart of our culture? Most of us know that our culture is suffering from profound sexual brokenness that stems from and is exacerbated by loneliness. We see a whole new objectification of women, but we're also seeing the culture rip the dignity off of the elderly and the helpless. We see that, but we don't want to talk about it. We don't want to paint it or write about it or sing about it. Because we don't want to be defiled by it? Or, because we're scared of it? It's hard to be dangerous when you're hiding under a rock. (Just ask Gideon.) I believe, in my heart of hearts, that the Gospel is real and Jesus changes things. From the dawn of time, human beings have expressed their inmost truth by singing and telling stories and painting. This the image of God reflected in us.

Let's sing about Jesus. Let's paint about Jesus. Lets write about Him. Not silly things either. Not the tired morality plays we've already got a million scripts for. Do we believe the Gospel is big enough to conquer sexual addiction? Let's make art about that. Do we believe the Gospel can heal loneliness? Let's write about that. Let's be top-shelf literary theorists. Let's be the best music critics Rolling Stone has even known. Let's curate modern art museums. See my point? But the deal is, we can't be half-assed (and haven't we become comfortable in the world of Half-Assed Art?) Because those Sons of the World are shrewd. And they will know. We've got to be the best and the sharpest and we're going to have to see modern art. We're going to have to look upon the brokenness of the world as reflected in literature of the not-beach variety. Jesus looked on our brokenness and wept. Does he expect any less from us?

It's harder to do than it is to write about.

Friday, July 30, 2010

We will all go together when we go (when we go)

Today I read Michael Rowe's fascinating blog on the Huffington Post about Anne Rice's decision to renounce the title of "Christian." Two things strike me at once: First, that I cannot renounce the name of Christian. And second, that Evil's purpose to scatter the sheep is becoming more evident with every breath.

I know, as does Rowe, what the title "Christian" has come to mean. And so do you. So, I won't elucidate here. But I must say that as long as He strengthens me to do so, (remembering Saint Peter) I must bind to myself the name of the Savior who lifts me out of the muck and the mire. Who gives my feet a firm place to stand and enables me to do so confidently in the presence of an altogether Almighty God. What they called Him, they will call me. How they felt for Him, they will feel for me. What they did to Him, they will want to do to me. And I must count it as gain.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy on me.

And I am reminded at the same time that as Christians, oh my brothers and sisters, as Christians, we cannot forsake assembling together. As for me, my feet had almost slipped in the matter. I am thankful for the process of redemption. We cannot - as meddlesome and altogether vexing as they are - forsake other Christians. Their sin is repugnant to us. The smell of it lingers in our nostrils like the smell of burning death. Yet, it is no worse than ours. We must awake to the realization of the little foxes in our vineyards and understand that we all stand together, before God, utterly condemnable. Amen? Amen. We need the fellowship of the saints. An orthodox faith doesn't stand alone.

I know you already know, but I thought it worth restating.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Literary Leanings

Like every great reader, I have a list of favorite books that I read and re-read over and over and over again. I generally go through several paper-back copies and reserve a hard-cover in case of calamity. (I don't want to be without a good read when the Apes take over the world.)

Few of them could really be labed "classic," although I'm sure at least one will pop up on our children's summer reading lists. (That is, of course, if they're still teaching reading at our local gub'ment sausage factories when our children finally get there.) Since I first read them as a child, it's hard to say if I love them because they appeal to certain dearly-held sensibilities, or if they actually created them in the first place.

I find myself returning to these stories at the times when the bottom of my world seems to drop out from under my feet and I find myself, arms flailing, reaching for something solid and true around which to wrap my mind. So, I suppose in that sense, they're something of a religion. Of course, I still believe in an Omnipotent and Loving God, it's just that I know he exposes His own to suffering like a doctor breaking the leg of a child only to set it right again. (If He were not ultimately Merciful, what would we do? My books are far more predictible.)

I read them during the mad whirl of my upheaved adolescence, during the unsteady squash-and-cucumber summers I first spent away from home working in a kitchen in North Carolina, after my first real heartbreak, shortly after I was married, when my grandmother died. When I lay awake at night during my first pregnancy, round as a melon and uncomfortable with impending labor, my husband read them to me. It's one of my sweetest memories. I'm reading them now as the uncertainty of the future presses around me like a slew of strangers in a close elevator. Every time I read them, I understand them on a new, if not deeper, level.

From these stories, I've learned the import of purpose, of quotidian pleasure and of animal compantionship. I've learned what it is I aspire to and what it is that brings lasting pleasure. I find myself writing in the voices of the characters I love and making mental narrations that cushion difficult circumstances in bearable frames.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a bar in Connecticut in the uncomfortable position of explaining my relationships with books to some of David's business associates. (A position, it must be said, that he put me in solely for the pleasure of seeing me vexed.) I tried to explain the difference between the deliciously cerebral delight of constructing a 20-plus page article on some obsure aspect of a dusty old text and reading. The first is the clinical, albeit frequently grubby disection of literature. It's the fascination of seeing a beating heart during surgery. The second is the untidy and almost lascivious consumption of literature and the accompanying pleasure brought by the beating of your own heart as you experience the world first hand.

I love them both. I'm a lucky girl.

My short list, in no particular order, is as follows:
The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
All Creatures Great and Small, James Heriot
All Things Bright and Beautiful, James Heriot
All Things Wise and Wonderful, James Heriot
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
Answered Prayers for Owen Meany, John Irving
A Child's Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson
What's yours?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Captive Israel (Or, O Come Immanuel)

Kyak off a Hunting Island, S.C. beach that doesn't exist any more.

Strange days, these. For some reason, the yellow smog doesn't hang as heavy upon this city this summer. Not yet, anyway. As I push the stroller down the buckled sidewalks, I feel like I'm more focused on the cracks and pits in the sidewalk than on what's going on around me. I don't see quite like I used to and I wonder if I've entered the ranks of the voluntarily blind.

I saw a woman in a headscarf making her way past a row of mouldering houses on her way to a neighborhood supermarket known for having a selection of Halal meat. She swung an empty Whole Foods bag as she walked. Pecking her way down the street. First on the sidewalk and then, in the gutter as the terrain warranted. I wondered at the similarity of our daily lives: See him off. Make the breakfast. Change the diapers. Wash the dishes. Wait for his return. Amen.

I followed her not because I was interested, but because I didn't want to manhandle the 50-plus pounds in the stroller up the steep and broken grade going another way would have dictated. I've gone lazy. And I can't help but compare the me of the present to the me of the past who would have followed with greedy and journalistic eyes longing for a glimpse of the strange color or even suffering I thought lent authenticity to my neighborhood, my companions, my life.

Like Aslan on the table of the White Witch, my idealism has been sacrificed, transmogrified, and reborn. I see the real. The truth will set you free, but it will kill you first.

I remember somewhat fondly, actually, the relish with which I absorbed the grit of this neighborhood. I saw the drugs, the prostitutes and the cops they attracted. Strangely, it's a much quieter neighborhood now and I wonder if all the action has just been pressed down the street, or if the economy has effected the street commerce. I almost think it's the latter. The hos and pimps had to get real jobs. They really needed the benefits.

Even the 100-year-old beauties of my neighborhood have gone shabby with the sub-prime crisis. The Jemison house needs to be painted in the most desperate way. And it breaks my heart. Even in my parent's neighborhood, there is a house with boarded-up windows. It's something marvelously out-of-place there, almost like a 1954 Packard in the driveway or something. You know the Packard? A great steel megalith of a car with a frowning grill looking as if it has just eaten a monstrous sausage and is experiencing the most vile dyspepsia.

I liked being a tourist of suffering. I liked being able to take it all back up over the mountain for dinner. I liked being "among them, but not of them." But these days, I confess, I feel the weight of the suffering everywhere. It seems to pour down the drainpipes off the roofs of the world and trickle maliciously into the attics of every house in the city. Housewives feel it drip on their faces as they pour the coffee. Businessmen scan the skies as they drive to work. Uh oh. Here it comes. There isn't a home here that hasn't suffered. Rain falls on the just and the unjust, and these days, I'm not so sure that money provides any sort of flood insurance from the onslaught of suffering. It drones through the evenings like a twin engine Cessna through a cloudless summer sky. (A sound that to me, means lonely.)

Last night, I felt again the whisper of the still, small voice saying "peace, peace" when there is no peace. It was as if the peace was being birthed. It wasn't so much a restatement of what existed as a creating of what was not. It moved, making a way in the wilderness. Tying up all the loose ends and spreading a table for me in the presence of my enemies. (And Tom Bombadil. Why not?) My grandmother came to me in a dream with rolled-up jeans and an enamel bowl full of blackberries. Everything, she said, is so beautiful here.

Oh Come, Oh Come, Immanuel.
And ransom Captive Israel.
Who mourns in lonely exile here.
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.