The Literary Life

I was looking through the music of John Denver on emusic the other day (don't be a cynic, his voice melts me--I swear, if a guy sweetly and sincerely sang "Annie's Song" to me I think I would fall instantly in love). And I remembered that when I was born (on Christmas Eve) my mom was watching the John Denver and the Muppets Christmas Special in her hospital bed. So I started thinking about how I had a special connection to that soundtrack, and to the music of John Denver, since it was one of the first things I heard when I came onto the earth's scene.

And I thought about a lot of other things in my life--metaphors that I have seen in my story, and that I have used to make sense of my life and to bring texture to my narrative. Like, I treat certain events or facts about my life in a very character-driven literary sense--and then I think about them, and digest them, and see how they fit in and help me make sense of my story and identity. There really isn't any difference (other than the level of investment) in how I look for threads and foreshadowing and symbolism in a novel, and how I look for it in my own life. A few examples are:
  • I was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church (OCA), at a small, missionary congregation that met in a room of a mortuary. What a great metaphor of life coming out of death--being baptized in a green, plastic tub in a mortuary! Then there's a lot I could say about the Russian connection, but I'll leave it just at the metaphor of the physical baptism.
  • I am an only child. This, in a larger sense, is like a foreshadowing or metanarrative of isolation and loneliness. Alone-ness.
  • My big, loud singing voice that can make grown people weep (and not only because they wish they had earplugs..) that I refuse to share with a larger audience of people (leading worship doesn't count to me, since I don't consider it a performance). It's like a tangible symbol of this general trend I have of having trouble being in the spotlight--especially in a positive way.

I could go on, these are just a few random ones I could think of right off.

At first I thought, "Maybe that's weird to look at my life in such a literary way, and to be seeing all these plot devices in my own life story." Then I thought, it's not like symbolism, foreshadowing, metaphor, and thematic threads were created by novelists--rather, part of the reason novelists use them, and part of the reason they are effective, is that these serendipitous, "literary" moments happen in our lives all the time if we are just open to seeing them. And I wonder how involved God is in the whole thing--like, how much God is setting things up, or using certain "plot points", etc... Anyway, I rather like thinking of life in this literary, narrative way, and I wonder how much God delights in these literary moments, that I find so beautiful and thrilling; and I think about God's role in creating these moments.

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Sharing a Poem

I don't often buy books of poetry, even though I enjoy some poetry a great deal. In all honesty, I think it's because often they're these skinny, little paperback books that cost $15...and it just seems like a rip-off. I know, I know...it's not a rip-off...because it's art that someone poured their time and heart and soul into. But still, I just don't often buy books of poetry. However, I did buy a book of poetry recently: The Trouble With Poetry: And Other Poems by Billy Collins. And I bought it because of one specific poem that moved me so much that I wanted to give my money to support the book. And here is that poem, called Flock. Feel free to buy the book if you feel so moved. :)

It has been calculated that each copy of the
Gutenberg Bible...required the skins of 300 sheep.
-from an article on printing

I can see them squeezed into the holding pen
behind the stone building
where the printing press is housed,

all of them squirming around
to find a little room
and looking so much alike

it would be nearly impossible
to count them,
and there is no telling

which one will carry the news
that the Lord is a shepherd,
one of the few things they already know.

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Being Liberal

I have recently acquired a friend who identifies as an "extreme leftist." Now, depending on the company I'm in I can also look like an "extreme leftist"...but next to my friend I practically look like a conservative. He's literally (and I do mean literally) a card-carrying socialist. And I love his company, and enjoy talking to him about a lot of different things. Though, he definitely presents just one side of the story most of the time. But he presents it persuasively.

Now, one thing I've noticed over time is that it's typically much more fun to be the liberal one in a group, rather than the more conservative one. Like, at my church (which is self-defined as evangelical, and quite conservative) I think I'd probably be considered off-the-charts liberal, but at my seminary (where the faculty, and much of the students, have a pretty strong liberal bent) I came off as staunchly moderate. It's really fun to be the liberal one. Liberals just come off as cooler, you know? Sometimes a conservative comes off as a prudish schoolmarm...always saying who shouldn't be doing what, and wanting to convince everyone they're doing something immoral, and also that they should be white and American and make a lot of money. (Yes, I realize that's a giant stereotype, but it does often seem to come out that way in interactions and debates...) But liberals seem to be about greater acceptance of people, especially people on the margins of our culture, and just seem to be less judgmental in general (except of conservatives, to which the judgment is often patronizing and self-righteous and venomous...but that's for another post).

But one thing I've noticed in my friend, is how easy it is to get bogged down in a self-designation. It's like, once you've declared yourself a "liberal", you have to follow the liberals on every issue--and it's easy to become kind of lazy in figuring things out for yourself (he's not, it just makes me think about that possibility for people). Not that you aren't educated and articulate and aware of the arguments, but at the same time, because you've based your identity on this label, it's easier not to really consider those options outside of your self-designation. And because it's just more fun to be liberal, I think it's easy for me just to not even want to think about those times I am more conservative on certain issues (which is not necessarily frequent, but I don't think it's never either). I don't want to be lazy in my stance-taking, y'know?

And I got in an argument with this guy I know recently, who was trying to say that I wasn't very liberal. His rationale was that it was because I believe in God (and I think also, because I wouldn't sleep with him, but that's another story). And I found myself fighting to defend my designation as a liberal. And after trying for like 20 minutes to prove how damn liberal I am, I finally just thought--why does it matter whether he gives me this designation? And I realized that sometimes it's easy to get caught up in a label, and that it can prevent growth into new and different ways of thinking and being. I don't want to be about a label, I want to be about loving people.

This was underscored when I watched the movie Children of Men over the weekend (which I highly recommend). I won't give away the plot points, but let's just say, some people with a liberal agenda in the movie get really invested in their ideals, and they are so passionate about pushing their ideals, they forget that what it's really all about is the PEOPLE and not the ideals--the ideals are just there to empower and love and serve the people, especially the poor and people who don't have a voice, not the other way around.

I want to try and live that as much as I can, and if it makes me a liberal, fine, and if not, fine.

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Street Parking

In the service of "I don't like to fill my life with any more anger and bitterness than is absolutely necessary", I would like to ask you all a question about something that has been pissing me off like crazy lately. Because, at least then I can find out whether my frustration is justified, or if I'm just being nitpicky and critical.

So here's the thing...though I live in a house, we only have one parking space which is occupied by my roommate. I don't mind, and let her have it, because often street parking is pretty easy to find and I don't mind walking. However...there is a Calvary Chapel very close to our house (don't get me started on what I think about this church theologically/ethically/intellectually/etc.) and they often have meetings where their members overflow their lot and then use the street parking around my house. That's not that big of a deal, they are entitled to it (though, I will say, my visceral dislike of the church probably does affect the level to which I let this get under my skin). But what I find really frustrating is how people park their cars. For example, when there is a driveway, they will pull up so that there's about 3/4 of a car length between the front of their car and the beginning of the driveway--rather than pulling up right to the driveway so the space is efficiently used. It just seems really insensitive. Like, along the curb in front of our house, 4 cars can fit pretty easily if people just park with some consideration of the fact that they are not the only person who may want to park around there. But when these church people (and, to be fair, other people too) come and park, often only TWO cars can fit along that curb. It's as if they purposely try to make the least efficient use of the curb as possible.

I just feel like people need to think more about the fact that there are other people who exist in the world. Is that too much to ask?

Okay. End of rant. All this talk of "efficiency" is making me a little sick with myself...such capitalistic garbage...but still, I am curious to know whether people feel like this is justified frustration, or just silly.

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Feeling Lenty

Thursday morning was a beautiful morning for me. And the thing is, even though I know that using words to describe it will not really work, and will only come off as cheesy; and it also won't even come close to capturing the glory of the morning...I feel compelled to share it anyway.
I was talking to a friend Thursday morning saying that I just wasn't feeling very "lenty" during this season of Lent. Often Lent is really important for me in terms of connecting with God and awakening my spiritual life. This time, I didn't add any practices (I usually add something instead of giving something up), and I just kind of went through the days as usual. But I noticed that the newest Speaking of Faith (NPR's weekly, hour-long show on faith and values; not necessarily Christian, just faiths in general) in my podcast inbox was an Armenian Orthodox man (Vigen Goroian) speaking about "Restoring the Senses: Life, Gardening, and an Orthodox Easter." So, on my morning walk, Vigen and Krista Tippet (the host of the show) accompanied me. For some reason, when they started talking about Easter, and senses, and new life, I almost immediately started crying.
See, I think the problem is, it's very common in the Western Church (and my particular congregation) to focus on Lent and Good Friday and Easter being about our yucky sinfulness and Jesus dying for our sins. And it's not like I don't believe in that at all...but the legalistic way of thinking about this time just doesn't capture me like it used to. It's not a metaphor that resonates with me on a deep level anymore. Partly it's because I just don't feel all this guilt anymore about my sinfulness; so this whole legal transaction way of thinking about the cross and Easter, well, on an emotional level it just rings hollow. HOWEVER...looking at it on other levels, really really speaks to me. Like, looking at the power of God to bring life out of death, both in my individual life and in the world that so desperately needs new life in so many ways. And seeing how the killing of Jesus reveals so much about human brokenness (that we would kill someone like Jesus), and Jesus resurrecting redeems that brokenness. Redemption, New Life, God triumphing over death/evil...the need for those things really resonates with me.
So as I was walking, and listening to Vigen talk about using all of our senses to experience Lent and Easter, I found a kumquat on the ground right on the sidewalk in front of me, even though there was no kumquat tree anywhere I could see. It was a perfect shade of bright orange, and I could squeeze it and smell a lovely citrus smell. It was just such a perfect addition to the love and hope and beauty I was feeling toward the world--and it was awakening my senses. So I just held it and smelled it for a mile or so.

Then I saw this tree--and it was just one of those moments where the beauty of everything was just overwhelming and real. And not in a sappy way. But there's no way to really explain it in words.

So anyway. Now I am more ready for Easter. I'm feeling more "lenty." Thanks to Vigen and to the common, remarkable beauties of God's creation. Happy Easter.

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