"He said, 'The trouble is I have always been able to imagine almost anything. It has been my downfall.' It had also been his strongest suit...It was what led him to be a writer or, as he preferred to put it sometimes, a 'delusionist,' which struck him as less pretentious. He saw himself as a man who wrote because he couldn't think of anything else to do with his delusions."
from The Storm by Frederick Buechner
Cleaning out the cobwebs
A practice in letting go.
So faithfully they persisted
While life strolled idly by.
The cold winter nights
Curled up inside.
The luxurious rescue of spring
With its desire to live, to be present
In this life freshly sprouted.
Still, as the preacher once said,
“To everything there is a time.”
A time to let the cobwebs grow
In the corners of the house,
As well as in the corners of the mind.
And a time to clear away
The visible remnants of the past
So only the invisible may remain.
The memories of a life well lived
And a belief ever changing
I read a good article the other day titled “Poems Are Not Selfies”. The main thrust of the article was that the sole purpose of poetry was not self expression. This is a common mistake made by those just beginning to write poetry and it is something I have definitely been guilty of. It’s an easy mistake to make. Most of the poetry we are familiar with are songs and many songs are centered around self-expression.There is definitely a place for self expression in art and poetry but the article points out that for that to be the be all and end all is to fall short of what art is intended to be.
Self expression is only a part of who we are. We are more than just how we feel. We are our ideas and beliefs, our knowledge and our intuitions, our experiences and our dreams. To only communicate how we feel, is not an accurate picture of ourselves nor of the world around us. I believe that the ultimate purpose of art is not to describe myself but to describe the world as I see it (this, of course, is not a view original to me).
The article states that self expression is often too easy and art is intended to be difficult. The article quotes Geoffrey Hill saying “We are difficult. Human beings are difficult…Why is it believed that poetry, prose, painting, music should be less than we are?”
Which brings me to the problem with selfies. The article’s comparison of poetry to selfies at first seemed like such a ridiculous contrast. But, as I thought about it, I began to realize that the article’s primary points also brought up some of the reasons I find selfies so annoying. They aren’t a good picture of who we are or what we think. They aren’t a picture of how we see the world around us. They are a snapshot of a person or a persona. At best they are a meaningless trifle, at worst they are a narcissistic cry for attention.
But in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, one thing is certain, we all take selfies. Your selfies might not be the teenage girl taking the picture in the bathroom mirror, it may be far more subtle. It may be a self-deprecating tweet that you use to try to get attention, or ironic humor that is meant to convey your great wit, or Facebook status updates to tell everyone how GREAT a time you are always having with all of your many, MANY friends. Those are all selfies. They are brief snapshots of a small part of who you are. They are not you and should not be treated as such.
Maybe I’m making too big a deal of it. Social media is meant to be pointless drivel, right? No one really takes it seriously, right? I envy you if that is the case. If you have never felt annoyed, angry, or hurt from a post or a tweet. The sad truth is that we take it way too seriously and rely on it far too much.
I’m not saying that your selfies are hurting anyone. I am saying that they are a poor exchange for the interaction we are meant to have. In the world of smart phones with high definition cameras, selfies are all too easy. Human interactions always have been and always will be difficult. But it is that difficulty that we must strive for. For only in that complexity will we not only see ourselves as we really are, but we may catch a glimpse of the world around us well.
Now please like this post, retweet, or reblog it. It would make me feel a lot better as a person and as a writer.
Start at the beginning of the story here
Time is a strange mirror
That often finds its truest reflections
In our vision of others
The captain looked at the beautiful girl
Then at his own wrinkled hands
Which then felt his own leathered, worn face
The old man he had been chasing
Was himself, he was his own white whale,
Time was merely the conduit
Lady Time smiled at this revelation
"Come," she said to the captain.
"As you said, this is the edge."
"But I don’t understand.
I thought we were meant to be together
That is why I chased after you.”
Lady Time smiled in pity
"As a boy, I was your playmate,
As a young man, I was your mistress,
You sought to contain me in this form,
But mine is a lonely existence,
I can be held by no man for long
But just because you reach an end
Does not mean the journey is over
There is always something out past the edges.”
The captain—the old man—nodded
He took the maiden’s hand
And began to walk away
He stopped and turned to the boy
“She’s all yours,” he said
Motioning to the ship
The boy gave a grateful smile
And watched as the old man and mistress Time
Stepped out onto the silent waves
Their feet skimmed over the foamy crests
Hand in hand they disappeared
Past the edges, into the horizon
The boy wrote in the sand once more before he left
One word, ETERNITY,
That was soon swept away by the ever rising tide
Start at the beginning of the story here
Time was not always an ocean
Before it was a river
Before that a fountain, before that a drop
The captain had watched it grow with joy
Amazed at its propensity for life and power
But it had outgrown him
He had tried to contain it
Had been forced to chase it to this end
Simply because he needed it
But Time needs no man
And will stretch beyond any reach
A fickle friend, a coy prey
The captain stepped from the boat
Onto the island that rested
On the edge of time
The waves silently splashed the small boy
Who stood beside, unsure of his purpose
Yet resolute in his presence
The old man smiled “You came,”
“You knew I would,” the captain replied
Returning the spyglass to its owner
“You are not as I remember,” the captain said.
“You are as you always were,” the old man said
As he drew in the sand with his toe
“Why did you leave me?”
The captain asked, a pleading in his voice
“Why did you change?”
“What has changed is the way you see me,”
The old man replied.
“I am also as I always was.”
The captain looked closer
Into the old man’s eyes
The boy gasped because he saw it too
A beautiful maiden stood
Where the old man had been
On the sands of the beach
The ocean of Time rolled gently
In the blue of her eyes
Where the captain had trapped it so long ago
Read part four
Read part one of the story here
A vengeful backwind blows
Filling the sails. Horizontal parachutes
Gently releasing the ship from its past
“Land ho,” is called from the crow’s nest
The captain peers across the horizon
Where a curious spyglass stares back
The captain’s conquest stretches before him
Curving around the beach
Racing off to the edge of the sunset
The maddening quest will not end here
But it is close
He can feel it
He spies the boy with the curious, familiar spyglass
He calls for a boat to be lowered
And for him to be brought on board
The boy is not surprised to be summoned
For the telescope does not just see,
“Where is she?” the captain asks. “She?”
“The one who gave you the spyglass.”
“You mean the old man?” the boy asks, confused.
“Old man?” the captain mutters.
He grabs the spyglass
The telescope that sees into forever
There in the distance is the edge of the sea
The end of the journey
After what has seemed an eternity
And just as the boy said, an old man
On an island, peering back
Waiting for this day he surely knew would come
“The sea will soon be ours,”
The captain says to himself
More than to the crew
“Once again,” he sighs.
“Do you want to see the edge?”
He asks the boy
“The edge of what?”
The boy has never asked so much
“Why, the edge of everything.”
Read part three
The old man stood on the edge of the shore
Head bent down
Hand cupped to his ears above the crashing waves
"What are you doing?"
A boy asked from behind
"Listening," was his reply.
"Listening to the waves? Why?"
The old man smiled
A twinkle of the sea reflected in his eye
"Where I come from the waves make no noise."
"Where do you come from?"
The boy’s ruddy face twisted with youthful curiosity
"I live on an island
On the edge of time.
The waves crash and break soundlessly.
Time ebbs and flows silently before your eyes
Stealing grains of sand from the beach
Washing up memories in its wake.
I come here to remember
Where the waves go when they leave
And how soft the sand feels between my toes
But this is your shore,” the man said to the boy
"I am but a visitor.”
The boy, distracted, drew in the sand with his toe
The old man held out a gift
A small rusted telescope
“Keep it,” the old man insisted
“Keep an eye to the horizon
For what has not yet been revealed.”
The boy took it with a grateful shrug
The boy looked through the eyepiece
Even as the old man walked away
And saw a ship in the distance
A ship from the ocean’s past
A link to the boy’s future
From the land where time escaped
Read part two
I went to bed with resurrection fever
And awoke in a cold sweat
The yellow light of dawn
Refracting through my window
Shadows dancing on the wall
Outside, a tree groans
Shaken by an unseen hand
Its naked limbs ashamed
Yearn for a temporal covering
Inside, the fever breaks
Starved of the fruits
That would nourish it
Escaping through the cursed pores
As infertile stains on my
Outside, the sun ignores the wind
As the lily subdues the frost
The ground unable to contain
The flower’s craving toward the sky
Inside, life peaks its head
Through the opening for death
The emptiness speaks volumes
Yet leaves room for doubt
I went to bed with resurrection fever
Then was lulled by a dream
Of a hope that is parodied
By the trees not yet in bloom
And the shapeless idiot wind
I dream that the patient
Will be graced with a remedial faith
And that resurrection fever
Will only last through the night
I have a special fascination with holidays. It’s a combination of the celebratory nature of them, the nostalgia they incite, and their comforting familiarity. They don’t always live up to the promise and the expectation, but then again it almost seems like they do regardless.
I’ve also become increasingly fascinated with developing certain traditions around them. It’s like they give a certain rhythm and purpose to the year that otherwise does not exist. One recent Easter tradition that I’ve developed is listening to specific albums loosely based around the theme of Easter. Like the holidays themselves, I almost feel like I put too much weight on these albums, but they also seem to always deliver. So, here is the hodgepodge of albums that represent Easter to me.
Slow Train Coming—Bob Dylan
Slow Train Coming is the first of three albums that most critics refer to as Dylan’s weird Christian phase. This is a little bit of a misnomer because you’d be hard pressed to find a Dylan album that doesn’t have some Christian or religious overtones. However, this one definitely stands out with Dylan more of a “born-againer” than on previous albums. It’s really almost a swelling Gospel album complete with some sweet Hammond organ riffs, a funky horn section, and a backing choir. Regardless of whether this album is a rare confessional or just the beginning of a phase, it’s hard not to be moved by the sincerity of songs like “I Believe in You” and “When He Returns”.
Separation Sunday—The Hold Steady
This is the album that is the most unlike the others on the list, but it’s really the album that started this tradition. It’s the least religious album on the list but still feels deeply spiritual to me. This album was given to me by my friend Brendan who is a super fan of THS but I’m not sure even he could have imagined the impact it has had on me. It’s a concept album that follows “the narrator, Holly (short for Halleluiah) a sometimes addict, sometimes prostitute, sometimes born again Christian/Catholic (and sometimes all three simultaneously); Charlemagne, a pimp; and Gideon, a skinhead, as they travel from city to city and party to party” (Wikipedia quote). It’s a story that is told in a very nonlinear way so it takes a few listens to get it, but it is really powerful. The main character, Holly, begins with rehab and religion, goes back into the partying scene, and ends full circle in church on Easter morning, limping in, asking the priest if she can ”tell your congregation how a resurrection really feels?” That line gets me every time. Honestly, I could write a whole post about this album. It’s a redemptive story told over blaring guitars, jangly keys, and Craig Finn’s signature speak-singing narrating. It deals with heavy subjects profoundly and honestly but manages to never take itself too seriously. I look forward to listening to this album every year.
A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band—Rich Mullins
This is the album that has been with me the longest and the one that makes the most sense with my background. At times it almost feels too traditional, too much a part of a past that I barely relate to anymore, but I also cannot stop listening to it. The album was meant to be a modern day liturgy and you can feel the mixture of celtic and classical influences on songs like “52:10” and “The Color Green”. “Hold Me Jesus” and “Creed” tie me to my faith in ways that few things do these days. Even the bookend songs “Here in America” and “Land of My Sojourn” that are strangely patriotic manage to glean some beautiful things from my past that are a big part of who I am today.
Of Man—Cool Hand Luke
This album is the swan song of one of my favorite obscure Christian rock bands. It is also a concept album (really all of these albums are in one way or another) that follows Jesus during passion week through Crucifixion and up to Easter. It’s really beautiful musically with plenty of piano ballads and synths but packs a punch with hard hitting guitars and emotional vocals. Again, it’s hard not to be moved by the emotions evoked by this exploration into the Jesus’ final week. By the time they get to repeating “Solei deo gloria” on “Not the End, Not the End”, I have trouble not singing along.
So that is my strangely nostalgic, celebratory, Easter tradition that almost seems to exist in opposition to itself. It represents my faith, my doubt, my love for music, and my hope that this crazy thing called life somehow makes sense. All in all it seems like a fitting Easter tradition.
The tightrope walker knows the secret:
Don’t look down, don’t look back
Don’t try to run, don’t panic
One foot in front of the other
Balance, always balance.
Bravery is not a commodity in which he deals
Bravery dances on the rope
A laughter on the wind
Tipsy with tenacity
The tightrope walker can only follow,
A pragmatic shadow on the heals of adventure
Some nights he dreams of falling
Some days he feels a strange longing
To fall, to flail, to lose all control
Now, that would be true courage
To give up the balance
To rest his weight on the unknown
But the tightrope walker knows the secret:
It is all unknown
To balance or to fall
To plummet or lunge to safety
It is not the fear that keeps him going
Or holds him back
It is the unknown
And the pursuit thereof
I knew I shouldn’t watch the trailer, but I also knew I was going to anyway. I don’t know if it’s just me or if there is some natural instinct to watch or read something you know you’re going to disagree with, but I do it way too often. The trailer was on masculinity and MMA style fighting in the church, and it was called Fight Church. And as I expected, it annoyed the hell out of me (pun intended). Now, I haven’t seen the documentary and it might actually be a good, well balanced look on the subject. This is just my reaction to the trailer and some of the ideas expressed in it.
It probably partly annoyed me because of my history with these subjects in the church. The last church I regularly attended was big on masculinity and encouraging men to “man up”. It was always pretty vague as to what that meant, but the leaders seemed to really enjoy making other men feel inferior and stressing that their masculinity, or lack thereof, was somehow tied to their spirituality, or lack thereof. It always felt rather manipulative to me. But they might say I am just being too sensitive and effeminate.
They also liked to portray God as this kick ass deity who wasn’t afraid to get his hands bloody. They had no problem with a God who slaughtered entire nations of people because they didn’t serve him. I once made a comment about how that bothered me and a seminary student offered the explanation that “God’s a baller.” If that’s your definition, then I guess Saddam Hussein, Ted Bundy, and Hitler are all pretty baller as well.
Anyway, going back to the documentary: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with boxing or MMA fighting. If those guys want to use their last remaining brain cells to try to pummel out someone else’s remaining brain cells, I don’t really care. I’m not saying all fighters are stupid, but let’s face it, none of these guys are choosing between this career and becoming an astrophysicist.
My problem is more with the idea of elevating that as the ultimate picture of masculinity or even worse as the ultimate picture of God. I sincerely hope that a true view of God and masculinity is a little more nuanced than that. I may not have a good idea of what that looks like, but I really hope it’s more than a ripped dude in a Tapout shirt. To be fair, I also hope it’s more than a heavily bearded guy in flannel.
One of my favorite depictions of masculinity is not in movies like Fight Club or 300 but in an indie flick called Lars and the Real Girl. In this movie, Lars is a twenty-something who has some serious issues (you really need to see the movie) understanding himself and the world around him. At one point, he asks his brother when he knew that he had grown up and become a man. One of the brilliant pieces of this scene is that the brother answers this question while he is cooking and folding laundry.
His brother is reluctant to answer at first, but Lars keeps prodding and his brother finally answers with: “…you grow up when you decide to do right, okay, and not what’s right for you, what’s right for everybody, even when it hurts…you don’t jerk people around, you know, and you don’t cheat on your woman, and you take care of your family, and you admit when you’re wrong, or you try to, anyways. That’s all I can think of, you know - it sound like it’s easy and for some reason it’s not.”
Now, I’m no psychologist or theologian and maybe I’m not that manly, but I feel like that’s a pretty good definition of how to be a good man and just a good person in general. And just maybe understanding that and striving to be that way is a step toward understanding God. It seems like it’s worth trying anyway.