"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

 

John Lennon once said ‘Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.’ Woody Allen said, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.’ If both of these ideas are correct—and it most often seems that they are—then we can conclude that life is what happens while God is busy laughing.

Cobwebs

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
Slowly growing. 

The fault in our selfies

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. 

Past the Edges (part four)

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

The Ocean of Time (part three)

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

The Maddening Quest (part two)

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, 

It understands

 

“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 Island on the Edge of Time (part one)

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

 

Resurrection Fever

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 
Inadequate disguise

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

My non-traditional, musical guide to Easter

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 secret of the tightrope walker

image

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