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Sunday, January 29, 2012

"...for my love is of Christ."

The following anecdote was written a few years ago (and recently revised.)  I'm posting it in fulfillment of a promise to Zoe (sister of the groom in the story).  Also, it makes a nice follow up post to the last one on singleness.  It's another long one.  (I'm finding it impossible to keep posts very apologies.)

The Photographer’s Daughter
                My parents own a small photography business.  And like all our growing up experiences, this business affected my brothers and me in ways I didn’t come to realize until much later.  Dad’s dream always involved being a wedding photographer and Mom went to great lengths to help him achieve it.  The work started out more of a hobby than a profitable investment, since it only took up a few nights a week and two or three weekends a month in the summer.  Dad never did learn to charge enough for his services and took financial pity on poor couples just starting out.  Still, the money was enough to supplement both full-time incomes and paid for my brothers and me to stay in a Christian school.  Somehow we always managed to save just enough to buy food for my growing brothers to inhale. 
                Needless to say weddings became a common occurrence for our family.  Before I entered junior high school, I had seen enough pictures to have an extensive list of ideas.  Colors, flower types, seating arrangements, music options; soon I had accrued myriad suggestions that I put into the mental box marked ‘wedding paraphernalia’ and shoved into an often-visited corner of my mind.  Unfortunately, the extensive experience with weddings became something of an over-exposure.  By my  17th year, I was a rather jaded young lady when it came to weddings.  Beautiful weddings, like paperback romance novels, were a dime a dozen and most of them ended in divorce.  In the 15 years that my dad worked as a photographer not many of the couples he photographed remained married.  Of those that divorced in later years, over half of them were coming to dad asking for services for their second or third marriage.   That means that we could count on one hand the number of first-time and lasting marriages we had witnessed in 15 years.
                If my view seems rather cynical you must understand that I was attending ceremonies celebrating the marriages of people I did not know.  Though occasionally Mom and Dad shot a friend’s wedding, the vast majority were ceremonies of people I had never met before.  To make matters more impersonal, the tiny bit of information that I learned about their love stories were riddled with late-night bar scenes and living arrangements that tainted the beauty of a physical relationship as it was meant to be.  These sin-laced stories were a big factor in my disillusioned attitude toward marriage in general.  I just didn’t see a lot of them retaining the beauty of the wedding day.
                  Perhaps the biggest discrepancy I found with these weddings goes back to my idea of the dress.  Like all little girls, I had dreamed about the dress since I was old enough to walk.  The bride always wore white, that was a given.  And before I reached my teen years, I had seen enough bridal portraits to know exactly what I wanted my own wedding dress to look like (of course, as a nine- or ten-year-old the dress seemed vastly more important than the groom.)  At first, my childhood dreams were enforced by the scenes I witnessed, a fairy- land of sparkles and ruffles and lace.  The bride became a princess and would float down the aisle in a dreamy haze of purest silk to meet her forever true love.  They sealed the deal with a kiss and then everybody partied!  But I was in for a rude awakening.  Somebody, probably Mom, informed me that most of the brides were not first-time brides and those that were had lived with their fiancĂ©es for a year or two before the wedding.  When I was old enough to understand the full implications of it, I was shocked and appalled.  Brides still insisted on wearing white, regardless of what went on before they were married.  I thought of it as a shameful misuse of the symbolic white gown.  I felt somehow deceived…offended.  Like I had been ripped off.  Maybe it’s not a rational emotion, but it’s true.  I had a deep sense that Justice and Beauty were being marred.  It gnawed at me every time I critiqued another bridal portrait.  How dare these brides steal the emblem meant for those who waited and honored God with purity?  Of course, most of these brides weren’t believers so it simply wasn’t a consideration for them.  Love began to look a lot more like lust.
                Since I could do nothing to change it, the custom of the dress was a small irritant next to the second trial of being the photographer’s daughter.  It was this problem that perhaps  first incited in me the self-conscious emotions that besiege most pre-teen American girls.  Until we were old enough to stay home alone, Mom and Dad had either to find a babysitter, or tote us along to the weddings they photographed.  Since we had just moved a few months earlier and because our money didn’t come from overflowing coffers, my brothers and I usually had to find something suitable to wear and trudge along with them.  This produced a new kind of awkward feeling.  New, because my parents have always lived as normal, down-to-earth people. Aaron, Adam, and I generally felt at home wherever we were because our parents had taught us to be personable, friendly.  Also, my naturally talkative personality had rescued us from many uncomfortable situations before.  But weddings, I found, created an entirely different setting.                
                When we arrived I always felt like an uninvited stranger knocking on the door of the wrong house (probably because I was, in fact, an uninvited, though not necessarily ill-received, stranger).  Generally, we were welcomed warmly by the host or hostess (since Mom and Dad always asked if we could come before showing up with us at the door.)  Still, only so much can be done to make a stranger feel welcome at an occasion as intimate as a wedding.  Aaron, Adam, and I learned to love big weddings where we could hide in the crowd and pretend we were invisible, while still trying to enjoy a slice of stale wedding cake with that horrible crusty frosting that I’ve since come to detest.  Much more stressful were smaller weddings where we would huddle together in a remote corner and watch fancily- (and often times scantily-) clad people get drunk while my parents documented the traditions of the evening.  Those traditions proved to be another wedding-facet that was quite taxing for us.  We never knew proper etiquette.  (They don’t write books on how to behave as an uninvited wedding guest.) I was always unsure whether to join those shoving for a chance to catch the bouquet  (I was often encouraged to, though I learned to position myself far from prime catching locations.)  Should we clap when everyone else did or was that a privilege reserved for the invited guests?  I felt wrong refraining but I didn’t feel right fully participating either.   The frustrations of it were endless.
                Occasionally, interesting people would engage the three of us in conversation, but their attempts at making things seem more relaxed only served to highlight the fact that we were, indeed, rather ill at ease.  Most of the time we kept to ourselves, ate just enough to survive and not enough to seem rude, and threw longing looks at my parents who would encourage us with smiles and gestured countdowns of hours left before we could go home.  We waited obediently, if sometimes impatiently, and hoped we had gotten our punch from the right punch bowl. 
                Even as a girl the sparkle and glitz of weddings very quickly faded leaving only the torture of bored hours on the sidelines trying in vain to focus on whatever reading material I had managed to smuggle out of the house.  As unobservant as I tried to be, I realized quickly that the existence of a ‘Perfect Wedding’ was about as common as a worthily-worn white bridal gown.  Something always seemed to glitch the plans.  The mother of the bride found fault with the mother of the groom.  A recently disowned cousin showed up without invitation.  The bride was, more often than not, a selfish spotlight-hog and if one thing could be depended on, it was the lateness of the limo.  I started learning to see the plastic under the table cloths, the metal bars under the trellis, and the wires that held the flowers together.  Again I felt cheated.  It wasn’t magic!  There’s no such thing as “Happily Ever After!”
                I guess for all those reasons and many more, the first ‘real’ wedding I attended had a remarkable impact on me.    I call it my first real wedding because it was the first time I attended a wedding of somebody that I really knew and loved.  The groom, Nick, was a family friend of ours.  He was a close friend of my brother’s and our families had grown close over the past 8 years or so.  When we were introduced to Karyn before their engagement we loved her immediately.  I’ll never forget the moment that I found out about their plans to be married.  Nick had taken her for a romantic walk on the beach.  As they collected shells, he found one with two sides and a hinge.  With a swift, secretive move he slipped the ring inside the shell and exclaimed,
                “Here’s a pretty one, Karyn!”  When she took it from his hand, the ring fell out just as Nick fell to his knees to beg for her hand.  I remember my heart skipping a beat when I heard the story.  It was simple, sweet.  No expensive restaurant, no frills, no fake pretenses.  She was truly surprised, he was truly creative.  It was just Nick and Karyn, completely in love.   
                I also remember the day we got their wedding invitation.  This time, it was personal.  My name was actually on the envelope!  They apparently wanted me there!  Finally!  I could eat wedding mints without feeling guilty and I could sit in the ceremony without that odd sense of waiting to be caught. 
                The day finally came and we piled in for the hour ride to the church.  The familiar photography equipment packed out the back of the van, but it felt different this time.  I cared about how this day went.  I was involved in what happened even though I wasn’t even part of the selected bridesmaids.  I had an even better position!  I was an invited guest!  I determined to keep my eyes wide open, soak it all in.  Maybe, just maybe, some of that sparkle would be there.  The magic I had stopped believing in as a teenager.  I was not to be disappointed! 
                This being my first real wedding, it was probably for the best that it was so traditional.  From the candles, to the order of service, to the reception, these people didn’t miss a beat.  Karyn’s dress was tailored with promises and dreams.  Sequins, crinoline, brocade flowers - she looked like an angel.  I smiled to myself when the groom arrived with his groomsman.  I’d seen a lot of grooms, but few as sharp and noble as Nick.  But he hadn’t escaped pre-wedding jitters!  He dashed around in his tux, looking alternately sick with happiness and nervousness.  He could hardly stand still and his friends laughed good-naturedly while trying to help him bear it.
                Like other weddings, I had to wait a very long time for everything to really begin.  Being the photographer’s daughter meant that I was there about three hours early.  I read and sat and walked around and waited and slept and read.  It was hopeless to try to make myself useful since people were always designated to take care of whatever might have been forgotten.  I was thankful that it was a church wedding.  (Outside weddings have fewer comfortable sleeping places.)  I waited, wondering if it was all going to be too good to be true.
It wasn’t a perfect wedding by any means.  Tension mounted when one of the bridesmaid’s dresses popped a zipper and had to be fixed about half an hour before time to go down the aisle.  Things were further delayed when Nick’s grandparents were late.   But despite these hiccups the ceremony turned out to be the most wonderful thing I’d ever seen. 
Tears welled up in my eyes when the music started.  Karyn had chosen two songs:  a traditional wedding song and The Prayer (a love song popularized by Josh Groban).  Both were sung by long-time friends with meaning and emotion.  The candle lighting synchronized perfectly.  The attendants marched in. The room fell absolutely silent.  Every corner and crack seemed to be waiting…
                 Then the moment of moments when Karyn graced the back of the auditorium and began her regal stride toward the arch where Nick stood waiting.  It was at that moment that I found the culmination of enchantment.  The world stopped for the couple as their eyes met in a tender yet glowing joy.  Nick’s face lit up like a star and tears filled his eyes.  Karyn glanced at her parents, then down the aisle at the friends and family gathered to witness this day.  Then she settled her gaze on Nick and he won her full attention from that moment until the end. 
                The glory of God was present there.  And I learned a serious lesson about marriage.  The beauty of the wedding wasn’t in the decorations.  It wasn’t in the flowers or the plans or even the music.  Much to my surprise, it wasn’t even the properly pictured purity of the stunning white gown Karyn wore ( though it did thrill my heart to see the couple marry for love instead of lust.)  It was in the bride and groom and ultimately, the source of their love.  I knew them and loved them, and they knew and loved God.  That’s what made it so special.
                I had never seen two people so happy just to be together, to belong to one another.   Karyn didn’t scream when things went wrong.  People weren’t fighting over plans.  Nobody threw things and nobody got drunk.  It was all reality and sincerity adorned with grace. And the loveliness of it floored me.  As they held hands and darted for the getaway car through a maze of bubbles, friends, and family, I felt like I had just finished a really good book…”and they all lived happily ever after.”  For maybe the first time, I saw a wedding for what it was.  Not the momentous occasion that sealed love.  But the public declaration of a commitment to continue a love already sealed.  It wasn’t so much the day of the wedding.  Like any other day, July 11th came and went.  But these two were forever united before God as a testimony to His grace and a picture of His glory. 
                Nick and Karyn ended their vows with these words:  “I will love you forever, for my love is of Christ.”  That’s what brought tears to my eyes,  True Love- Sacrifice- Commitment.  I was stricken with the realization that it wasn’t magic.  It was so much more than magic, it was divine.  

And that’s how the photographer’s daughter learned the truth about weddings.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Some Honesty

I should clarify, before I begin that I am generally content with being single.  Like all young women, I do struggle occasionally with loneliness and an unfulfilled desire to be married.  However, I am finding that God's grace is more than sufficient for this.  It's not a greater trial than any other and I take it as a sign that God is working in me.  To desire marriage is to desire a good thing!  To long for that lifetime love is in some ways longing for Eden.  But I'm not always wildly excited to be married. In fact, I find boyfriendlessness to be rather freeing most of the time.  Again, not to say that I never want to marry, I just really enjoy the liberty of deciding how to spend my time and the spontaneity that singleness allows.  I mean, most married women don't decide to fly up to Alaska to work camp for a summer just a few weeks before it happens.  Most married women can't drop everything to drive over to the house of a friend in need or suddenly start writing when the need takes over.  I'm still under my parents and I value their guidance and advice; but for the most part, I'm at the point that I generally make my own schedule and my own decisions.  Honestly, it's just fun.  I like the journey.

But I've been burdened lately.  Most of my good friends are seriously dating, engaged, or married.  And that's fun too.  I get to watch their relationships bloom into lasting love; I get to sing at their weddings and help them set up their new lives.  Now, I'm even getting to hold a few of their newborns.  It's a little weird, but I'm getting used to it.  (Babies are so cute!)  The burden comes from the conversations I have with other single girls.  They feel misunderstood and in some cases, mistreated.  Well-meaning people say hurtful things that can make it hard to be young and single in the church sometimes.  I know that most of these comments are meant to help and the speakers don't have any idea that they just started a ball rolling that will probably end in discontent and loneliness. So as a (very) single young woman, I thought of a few ways that the church family can intentionally help single ladies in their struggle.

1. Be very careful about setting people up on dates.  I've heard it before.  "You'd be perfect for each other!  Just wait and see!"  Again, I know that people really do mean well.  But there really is no way to know if your manipulation of circumstances won't end up to be more awkward and lonely for either one or both of the people involved.  I'm not saying DON'T set people up.  I'm saying, be sensitive and careful.  Assume nothing.  Don't make plans for people or set traps.  (Being taken off guard with that sort of thing can seem like an insult.)  Always ask and notice if the girl you're asking is really comfortable with it or just trying to be nice.  Don't make her feel obligated.  She may be prayerfully considering it, but your pressure could be unwelcome.

2. Don't try to explain God's will.  Recently, I had to leave college and come home for health reasons.  Someone remarked to my mom that God was obviously doing this because my husband wasn't at Northland yet.  But when I got back to school, he'd certainly be there and I'd certainly start dating.  These comments are neither edifying nor true.  Another friend told me that she once had to sit out for several semester.  People were very free with their myriad opinions about God's plans for her.  Some included wild theories about God needing to remove her from school because the wrong guy had a crush on her and He obviously needed to remove her from this potential danger.  Let's get back to our theology.  God is in control of all things.  But beyond what He has revealed in the Word, there is no way to know God's ultimate plan for a specific person.  My being home at this time could have NOTHING to do with marriage.  There's a good chance that He just has a lot of work to do to sanctify me and things to teach me that require me to be home.  The fact is, even saying things like "your time is coming...just wait...he's right around the next corner" doesn't help.  That isn't necessarily true.  God may very well want her to be single until He calls her home and it's better for her to learn to be content with Jesus than it is for her to live for a day that might not be coming in His will for her.  The bottom line?  It's not ours to try to figure it out, just to follow.  Don't make it harder than it is.

3. NEVER imply that contentment is the magic key to the door of marriage.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard this one!  "As soon as you are content, God will bring him along!"  Not only is this not true, it reveals a very dangerous view of God.  Sure, contentment is one thing that God may use prolonged singleness to accomplish in the submitted believer.  But contentment (or any other virtue) is not the price for a boyfriend.  "Contentment"  motivated by an expectation for God to hand you a husband isn't true contentment.  It may happen that soon after you come to accept your singleness, you get married.  That doesn't make it a magic formula.  God isn't a magic genie and he doesn't owe you a husband or any other blessing for that matter.  The fact is, that He is so much more fulfilling than any human can be.  And contentment isn't a one-time achievement.  It's part of the journey of the Christian life.  Single girls are going to struggle with that from time to time.  Accept it.  Know that a lot of discontent women got married and are still discontent.  A lot of content women got married and are now discontent.  There are a lot of content people who aren't married.  And a lot of content women get married and stay content.  WHY?  Because contentment has nothing to do with marriage.  It has everything to do with where you place your security.  God gives blessing to unworthy people because of His grace.  He's just that kind of amazing, good God.  He also withholds very good blessings from people that we would consider worthy. Trying to relate the sin of discontentment to the reason for a person's singleness is like saying that as soon as you buy some syrup then pancakes will appear on the table.  It doesn't make sense in logic and it doesn't work in God's nature.

4. Don't try to tell her why she's still single.  This is an often made mistake and one of the most harmful. Girls get really insecure if guys haven't showed interest in them and if they reach 20 without having dated, chances are that they've already made a list in their heads to explain why.  "I'm too fat."  "I'm not pretty enough."  "I'm too talkative." "I'm not talkative enough." Even "compliments" don't excuse people from trying to "help." Saying things like, "you're too picky" or "you're too smart" is far from considerate.  The fact is that godly girls date because it's God's plan.  Godly girls are single when it's God's plan for them to be single.  Godly marriages happens when God wants it to happen and not a moment before.  Your opinion or approval have no bearing on His plans.

5. Be careful about how you talk about your relationship in her presence.  Some people might not agree with me on this one.  To clarify, I'm not saying hide your engagement pictures.  I'm not saying don't mention the name of the man for whom God is forming love in your heart.  In fact, it is an encouragement to me every time a friend starts dating! I thank God that He still puts people together and I like watching and learning from my dating friends.  I just want to make the point that a lot of dating/engaged girls get into a bragging mode that becomes a stumbling block for single girls in particular.  Those sweet nothings that he whispers into your ear were meant for your ear, not hers.  When you blabber on for hours about your intense love for so and so, it can be difficult for your single friend to relate to your emotional high and she may start to feel estranged from you because of your consuming need to talk about this guy.  One of the friendships that has been a blessing in my life had a defining moment at Thanksgiving this past year.  This friend had started dating only the week before.  She came to visit at a particularly low point for me when I was very sick.  During the course of her visit, she had several opportunities to talk about this new and exciting change in her life.  But not once did she mention her new relationship.  She asked how I was feeling.  She told me funny stories and told me about books she'd be reading.  But she was extremely sensitive to my vulnerable spiritual condition.  She discerned that I was probably already dealing with the emotional struggle of being sick and isolated from my friends.  And she set out to encourage me instead of discuss her new boyfriend.  That is love!  That is self-death!  If this has ever been shown to you, you can understand why it really spoke to me.  It's that kind of maturity and restraint I'm talking about.  (By the way, since that visit, she has shared with me about this special man and I've even had the chance to meet him.  The impression she made on me during that visit was such an encouragement and proof that her focus was on Christ that meeting him was one of the most pleasant boyfriend-meeting situations I've experienced yet.)

6. ENCOURAGE!  Lastly, give single girls opportunities to serve!  Involve them in Bible studies.  Invite them over and treat them like sisters.  Give them hugs.  Teach them new recipes.  Be interested in their passions and help them cultivate those passions for God's glory.  Distract them from their loneliness with the love of Jesus.  Basically, disciple them.  That's what single girls need, just like married girls do.  They need to be prepared for marriage, but more than that they need to be nurtured in the Word of God for the glory of God.  It's not ultimately about marriage.  It's about loving Jesus.  Don't pity them or feel sorry for them.  And don't give them the chance to have pity parties either.  Help them enjoy their singleness and reclaim it for the fullness of LIVING in Christ!

Hopefully, that was edifying.  It wasn't meant to be negative towards the kind attempts of people to comfort those who don't know your married joy.  Let God work and let your single friends enjoy their singleness with your support and love.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Great Subtraction: The Travel Mug

Convenience is such  a double-edged sword.  In one way, convenience makes for time saving.  And everybody loves to save time.  Time that you don't use to wash dishes, you can use to relax with family. (At least that's what all those dish-washer liquid commercials seem to imply.)  But at the same time, we lose something in convenience too.  In a society drowning in consumerism, we are cursed with the add syndrome.  Add sugar.  Add water.  Add frills, lace, and bows.  Add another song to your itunes.  Add a friend online.  Add information.  It has to be personalized.  Add another app.  Another job.  Another flavor to your soda.  Another deal.  Another shopping center.  Another membership.  Another email.  Add, add, add, add, ADD!  (No wonder kids have attention deficit disorder...or ADD.)  But I'm starting to think that all our multiplication has added up to subtraction.  The world can't just add exponentially without losing something.  And maybe what we've gained is less valuable than what we've lost.  We've subtracted solitude almost completely.  Contemplation is a lost art.  Silence is non-existent.  Contentment was tossed in the same garbage bin as conversations that go beyond trivialities.  Maybe we've even lost our identity.  (Or did we hand it over?)  It's something that gamers and headphone addicts miss out on completely.  They've added virtual entertainment and lost the sound of the rain on the roof and the feeling of the wind on their faces.  They've traded the smell of the sea and the sound of the surf for the treble of unreality.  The loss is tragic.

And here I come to my greatest complaint which is symbolic of the problem.  The travel mug.  
Tea is not a drink, it is an experience.  (A lot of coffee drinkers feel the same way about tea's cousin.) However, we should look at the historical purpose for afternoon tea.  It is reported that the queens of Britain took tea in the afternoons for several reasons.  
First, out of hunger.  (A lot of people can't get from lunch to dinner without a little something.) 
Second, to relax.  (Seriously, afternoon royal obligations can be strenuous.) 
Lastly, to converse.  (Many British friendships were formed around tea.)  
And England wasn't the only country to form important relationships around tea.  One proverb from a people group in Pakistan was made famous by a recent book entitled Three Cups of Tea.  "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger.  The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest.  The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family." 
Obviously, for most of the world, tea has important implications.  It's not just a drink.

So what's my point?  The travel mug has ruined all that.  Take afternoon tea and strip it of its leisure and conversation.  Smash the delicate teacups and rip up the table cloth.  Take the tea and pour it quickly into an insulated mug, tea spilling everywhere while you rush out the door.  It's just not the same.  Yes, we get to drink our tea wherever we are.  Yes, we get to enjoy whatever hot drink we want even if we are riding the subway to some unknown destination.  But if that's the case, let's not say that we are having tea.  Let's just say that we are drinking it.  

And if I invite you for tea, as I love to do, then let me set out my nice teacups and some flowers.  Let's sit down on the sunny side of the kitchen and talk.  Let's have tea.  Let's reject the subtraction of afternoon tea from culture.  Take tea by yourself if you wish...reclaim something of your British heritage.  (If you have no British heritage than reclaim something of mine.  Or chances are, that whatever culture you were from had or has a tea ritual...many countries do.)  Take tea daily, twice a day, three times.  And in some ways this will make us stronger people.  We will resist the urge to fill our hours with sound and our days with movement.  We will practice breathing and letting the silence consume us with peace.  We will become better listeners, because we will hear the clock ticking (and we will smile at it, knowing that it is no longer dominating us for a least a few moments every day.)  We will hear the birds singing or the rain or the wind or the world around us, apart from us, undriven by us, unaffected by our presence, unaltered by our brashness.  And in these silences, we will make room for thoughts and often, for thoughts of God.  I sometimes see my morning teatime as a conversation with God.  But of course, I didn't invite Him.  He invited me.  They are lovely hours that we spend in quiet.  Sometimes there are tears. Sometimes, laughter.  Always, I leave those times with a sigh and a feeling of utter completeness.  And that's not an app that can be downloaded.
So, trash your travel mug, friends.  You're invited to tea.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Follow Up

Lewis would have said that the modern BBC Sherlock is a classic example of what a modern (here postmodern) mind looks like.  He is all fact and no meaning.  Here, finally, I rest my case.

“...His world is all fact and no meaning.
And in a period when factual realism is dominant we shall find people deliberately inducing upon themselves this doglike mind. A man who has experienced love from within will deliverately go about to inspect it analytically from outside and regard the results of this analysis as truer than his experience.
The extreme limit of this self-binding is seen in those who, like the rest of us, have consciousness, yet go about to study the human organism as if they did not know it was conscious. As long as this deliberate refusal to understand things from above, even where such understanding is possible, continues, it is idle to talk of any final victory over materialism.
The critique of every experience from below, the voluntary ignoring of meaning and concentration on fact, will always have the same plausibility. There will always be evidence, and every month fresh evidence, to show that religion is only psychological, justice only self-protection, politics only economics, love only lust, and thought itself only cerebral biochemistry.”
–C. S. Lewis, “Transposition,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses(New York: HarperCollins, 1949/2001), 114-5.

Friday, January 20, 2012


I start by apologizing to my readership for the repetition of topics.  There is a lot going on in my head these days.  A post about biblical femininity is brewing but isn't quite ready to hit the keyboard.  I'm also making a mental collection of daycare stories to post at some point just for comic relief.  But before any of that can happen, I have to cleanse my mind of the recent disturbance which has descended upon my poor, unsuspecting self.  Here's proof that there's no such thing as "just a story."

I saw the trailer for the new BBC Holmes a few months ago.  Honestly, it didn't spark an interest in me at the time.  Dealing with some major health issues and the burdens and responsibilities of being an RA, I didn't have room for the entrance of a new British miniseries to make an impact on my life.  Now, several months later, I've been doing my own digging into the classic Holmes tales and found that I enjoy Doyle's work immensely.  (See the former post comparing the books to the recent movie.)

Last week, PBS aired the show in an encore North American presentation.  I caught the first episode with the interest of a current reader.  Last night, I was able to complete the first season (three episodes total, each 90 minutes long...I know...European TV is so different,  Just wanted to clarify that finishing the first season in a week didn't entail endless hours of brainless watching!)  I have come away extremely agitated.  It wasn't a lack of interest in the show or even a severe deviation from tradition in plot that bothers me so much.  Contrarily, the producers and actors have done a great job of modernizing Holmes while still maintaining the old world feel of Baker Street.  It's comparable to the nonexistent (but incredibly believable) time period of "A Series of Unfortunate Events." A lot of people have mentioned the success of the show's attempt to reveal Sherlock's thought processes by ghosting words and symbols onto the screen.  And I concede that the casting is well done.  (I am particularly fond of Dr. Watson....increasingly irritated with Holmes himself...but I'm getting ahead of myself.)  And I'll also concede that Sherlock is a type.  He can change with the times and retain his essential Holmes-ness.  Especially given Doyle's lack of loyalty to the original Holmes (he was reportedly eager to kill him off so he could also move on with his life...) I don't think updating Sherlock is a big problem.  It doesn't do damage to the stories.  It isn't like trying to update Narnia or Middle Earth, since doing that would destroy them.  And one of the neatest things I've realized in the journey of Holmes is that intelligent is coming back!  Hopefully, the days under the reign of the antihero (Napoleon Dynamite..) are FAR behind us.  It's nice to see smart (even nerdy) seeing better days.  Let us think!  Yay!  So, in short and so far (I haven't seen the second season...not sure I will), I like what I've seen.  But that's just the problem.

The new BBC Sherlock is dark.  And I feel for the new series exactly as I felt after reading Fitzgerald for the first time.  I liked it.  But I hate that I like it.  I hate the attraction it holds for me; it speaks to an unnamed darkness within.  I walk away with a confident feeling that nothing is wrong. And underneath I know that everything is wrong! The fire is out, but if you stir the coals you realize that they aren't dead.  In fact, they put me in a lot of danger.  So, let's stir the coals a little bit so that I can throw cold water on it, toss out my scrawled notes of analysis, and stop thinking about it.

I said before that Sherlock was a lot like Hamlet for me.  My Shakespearean friends know how strong of a statement that is.  Shakespeare did something in Hamlet that made the character a real person.  We talk of Hamlet like a piece of history.  And we tend to do the same with Sherlock Holmes.  He's very much alive to us.  In fact, a recent statistic revealed that 1/5 of all British people think that Holmes was actually a historical figure.  Sure, it reveals some ignorance, but those stats also speak to the power of a classic story to transform a culture.  And that is why it's not "just a story."  He's a cultural icon and he reveals the culture as well as shapes it.  So if we assume that the new BBC version is indicative of the current culture (certainly an extreme view of it, but a view to be taken seriously) than we can draw some chilling conclusions about the Western world.

The new Sherlock is postmodern, egotistic, sociopathic, pragmatic, and non-empathetic.  One at a time now...
Postmodern- The atmosphere of the show is one of shaky moral values at best.
Egotistic- Holmes is desperately self-absorbed. (It gets nauseating.  I want to like him.  I can't.)
Sociopathic- Holmes avoids people and applies his rules to others only.
Pragmatic- Stealing, manipulation, lying, and other wrongs are approached with the attitude of "means justifies the end."  The game is everything.  The work is his idol.
Lack of empathy- Apparently, Holmes cares for no one.  His attitudes lack emotion. (Which, I find interesting and paradoxical...probably because I'm not a man...huh.)

Besides the deduction that we are dealing with a relativistic, self-absorbed, and apathetic culture, we should notice that these revelations center on the character of Holmes (just as the more traditional, but equally mysterious values of the original centralized on the literary Holmes.) With this in mind, I raise the question that has plagued me for the past 24 hours.  What makes the new Holmes intrinsically different from his archenemy, Moriarty?  Is it just that we like him?  He's the main character so we're supposed to agree with him?  If Sherlock wins, did objective "good" win or was it just the protagonist?  Did we replace the unintelligent cultural antihero with something else...something darker?  Something that isn't a hero at all, just a friendly villain.  ARGH!  I can't get over how deeply this question cuts me.  I've been introduced to three different Holmes's in the past two months.  This third has left me feeling as if I just found out that my long-time friend is a government-hired assassin.  It's unsettling to say the least.

I could spend hours refuting the worst ideological flaws of the show (and the book...though those in the book provide a different set of anti-biblical fallacies which are somewhat less threatening to our current culture than others.)  Instead, I'd like to make one palpable -if somewhat weak- case for the value of the show.  How does it take one deeper into life versus distracting one from life?  Holmes begins to humanize...and by that, I mean that the people he has in his life (unwelcome though they may seem at times) begin to change him.  His walls begin to fall down (though only very slightly so far).

I base my case for the redemption of the show on the words of Jesus in John 15:13.  "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."  Ultimately, He means that His own death on the cross is the most superlative expression of love in the history of the world.  But He also means to comment on the nature of mankind.  If someone is willing to lay down his or her life for you, you can safely assume that the motive is out of love for you.  And this is exactly what Dr. Watson offers to do in the final scene of the first season.  My theory will rise or fall based on the next season (which I'm not positive I can bring myself to watch) but it's worth noting that the idea of "good vs evil" begins to clarify itself in those very final moments.

The scene occurs after another emotionally charged conversation between Watson and Holmes.  Watson has just begun to understand Holmes's lack of empathy.  (A scene which nearly stole much of my sleep last night.)

John Watson: There are lives at stake, Sherlock! Actual human lives— Just, just so I know, do you care about that at all?
Sherlock Holmes: Will caring about them help save them?
John Watson[angrily] Nope!
Sherlock Holmes: Then I'll continue not to make that mistake.
John Watson: And you find that easy, do you?
Sherlock Holmes: Yes, very. Is that news to you?
John Watson: No. [pause] No.
Sherlock Holmes[realising] ...I've disappointed you.
John Watson[sarcastically] That's good, that's good deduction, yeah.
Sherlock HolmesDon't make people into heroes, John. Heroes don't exist, and if they did, I wouldn't be one of them.

Shortly thereafter the two find themselves face to face with Moriarty.  Watson has a bomb strapped to him and the bead of a sniper trained on the ignition of the explosive.  It's the first time Sherlock has something that the audience considers a "personal" stake in the victim of Moriarty's madness.  Sherlock shows the first cracks in his armor.  So he does seem to care...?

Sherlock Holmes: People have died.
Jim Moriarty: That's what people DO!

Jim Moriarty: Do you know what happens if you don't leave me alone, Sherlock, to you?
Sherlock Holmes: Oh, let me guess, I get killed.
Jim Moriarty: Kill you? Um, no. Don't be obvious I mean, I'm gonna kill you anyway, someday. I don't want to rush it though. I'm saving it up for something special! No no no no no, if you don't stop prying... I'll burn you. I will burn... the heart out of you.
Sherlock Holmes: I've been reliably informed that I don't have one.
Jim Moriarty: Oh, but we both know that's not quite true.

Then something unexpected happens.  Just as the truly psychopathic villain steps past the ex-soldier, Watson lunges and puts Moriarty in a headlock.  He then calmly reminds Moriarty that if the sniper fires, they both die.  Sherlock's eyes widen and his jaw drops.  (So...he IS different from Moriarty.  He isn't willing to stake everything for the game.  Watson's life means something.  Vaguely...he's not sure why... but still...something there.  Something empathetic, shall we say?  Something valuable.  And it's Moriarty of all people who points out the differences.  The unresolved problem that remains...Sherlock hasn't developed his empathy by concern for others so he's not sure how to respond.  Is he suppressing his natural emotional responses???  Questions!?)

When the clash suddenly ends and Moriarty makes a lunatic's exit (only to return...), Sherlock tears the bomb from his friend's chest and asks repeatedly if Watson is okay.  He doesn't stop asking until he's sure that Watson is fine.  Then, still shocked and humbled, he says, "What you did just then...that was...that was...good."  He says the word as if it was a new concept for him. (We're hoping that it isn't entirely new...just unpracticed.)  Sherlock deals with facts and conclusions.  He rarely dabbles with morality or objective implications.  "Good."  He might be starting to get it.  I'm not sure.  Maybe the writers will start injecting some of that refreshing goodness into the show.  I don't know.  Until then, Sherlock drains the life from me.

Wow.  What a relief.  I'm going to return to the books.  :)  That's probably where I belonged in the first place.  :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Smorgasbord

I have no plans for this post.  My hands were itching to write, so I thought I'd start and see what happens.  That might dangerous, but I've been in mundane life long enough that I'm willing to risk a little bit of danger for the adrenaline rush.  So, enjoy the buffet.  I'm not sure what it will do for you...I just hope you don't walk away with a stomachache.
Item 1: The frustration of having lost every single Scrabble game I have ever played with my brother, Aaron.  Is it because he is more intelligent? No, we're about even on that score (though if I'm to be honest, he probably far surpasses me in logic.)  He wins because he plays with cheap words!  By the time I will have spent 20 minutes trying to find a place to put "docetic" on the board, Aaron will have placed "cat," "up," "sing," and "long."  Of course the result is his gaining upwards of 50 points while I have passed my last four turns in stubborn devotion to the dignity of language.  When my word finally achieves a spot on the board, it ends up in the corner with no triple letter scores.  And for all my loyalty, I receive 12 points.  I always charge him with cheating, but to no avail.  He doesn't even care that he won the game on inferior word quality!

Item 2: I've done some reading lately.  One interesting post entitled "The Lighted Carriage and the Starlit Night" was on Adam Young's fascinating blog.  (I'm not a dedicated fan of Owl City, but I find the abstract poetry and the maverick style intriguing.  The more I read, the more I realize that he is more than a nominal Christian.  Just an interesting side note.)  I've been pondering the thoughts of that post with one by Andrew Peterson.  (Another side note: I'm also not a dedicated fan of Peterson, but I'm completely sold on his poetry.  This guy is brilliant!  He can take the Truth and reveal its stunning beauty.  His perspective is greatly appreciated.)  Anyway, the post is called Distillation: A Poem.  And the poem here is the worded fruition of what I have tried to word myself for at least a year now.  (He beat me to it!  Maybe I'll still make an effort.) My point in bringing up these posts is to say that when you braid the two posts, you get the neat idea that God likes it when we write poetry.  I think that's awesome!  (In the weightiest sense of the word.) And I'll probably write more on that later

Item 3: Dreams are weird things.  Last night my dream included the best man at a friend's wedding.  This best man was not engaging in appropriate wedding behavior.  His antics included walloping the pianist with long stem roses before replacing his toast speech with an animated video about nascar racing.  Go figure.  Some things are random.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sherlock Holmes

Generally speaking, I join the literary world in irritation when a beloved book becomes a movie.  I would have to write an entire blog just on the strong feelings I have against the Disney remakes of The Chronicles of Narnia.  I actually have point by point disputes with the way the movies tamper with and destroy some of Lewis's main points.  It keeps me up at night to think that kids today come out of theaters having seen Disney's idea of Lewis's works and think they love Narnia.  They don't even know Narnia.  They have no clue about the real Aslan.  They just drank poison and called it whole milk. Arg!  In my opinion  in many book-to-movie cases, the movie greatly cheapens the impact of the story.  My only hope is that people who watch the Narnia movies will be compelled to read the books.  Poor Lewis!  He is, I am certain, convulsing in his grave.  

But, as I said, that is an entire blog in itself.  My angry rant could stretch for miles.  The point of this post is to consider, with some reserve, the newest versions of Sherlock Holmes (not the plot, but the character.)  I always wanted to read the books and managed to pick up a copy of the complete "Adventures" at goodwill a few months back.  I was impressed with Sherlock as a character in the same way that I enjoyed analyzing Hamlet.  There's something deeper to him than meets the eye, but the movie Holmes and the book Holmes are worth contrasting.

In the movie, Sherlock is 1/3 luck, 1/3 observer, and 1/3 genius.  Of course, it's an odd combination that shows up in extreme quirkiness, frequent boredom, and rampant arrogance.  The last of which is a quality which defines much of Sherlock's personality, which is fascinating because where his intellect fails (and it occasionally does) luck comes in and fills in the gap.  Sherlock doesn't believe in anything supernatural.  His outlook is entirely fatalistic, naturalistic, and Darwinian.  His story emphasizes survival of the fittest (namely, himself) and when it comes to relationships, he likes to give off the aura that he is highly detached.  Regardless, the audience knows that he cares deeply for several people and for goodness in general (which is why he has devoted his life to saving the world even if his means of doing so are not always kosher.)  He's lovable, but misguided and appeals to the audience with the same attitudes as Jack Sparrow.  

This picturesque characterization differs from the book in one important way.  In the book, Sherlock is 1/2 observer and 1/2 genius.  Luck isn't a factor and the implications are huge.  Emphasis is placed on facts rather than fiction, encouraging an interest in real life rather than a currently popular escapism. 
"There is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace."  
"Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind could invent."
The literary Sherlock also has a smidgen less of the arrogance than his cinematic counterpart.  Though the literary Sherlock gently chides Watson for not noticing details and at times seems rather patronizing in explaining how he came to his conclusions, he makes a point of deflecting praise when he can.  In the mystery of The Red-Headed League, he ends his remarks with a French quotation meaning, "The man is nothing- the work is everything." Sherlock worships the factual realm and is willing to concede credit to that realm even at the expense of his image.  (Detached as he is, he has little concern for his image and doesn't need to care about it since it is more secure than Scotland Yard.)

People often marvel that they miss what he catches because his observations are incredibly commonplace.  "Omne ignotum pro magnifico," he sighs to Watson meaning, "The unknown always passes for the marvelous."  But that's just it.  It isn't truly marvelous, it's simply unknown.  Holmes implies that he has simply taught himself to think outside the box.  Sherlock is aided by a vast store of knowledge gained by avid reading and a Hamlet-like personality developed with artistic and musical pursuits; these excellent resources prime him to be the greatest crime-fighting thinker in the history of Europe.  Unlike the cinema Holmes, the literary Holmes never has an intellectual failure.  He does sustain one casualty because of timing during the Scandal in Bohemia when he is outsmarted by Irene Adler.  (I won't go into the interesting fact that in the book only a woman could outsmart Holmes...) 

Watson elaborates, "In his singular character the dual nature alternately asserted itself, and his extreme exactness and astuteness represented, as I have often thought, the reaction against the poetic and contemplative mood which occasionally predominated in him.  The swing of his nature took him from extreme languor to devouring energy; and as, I knew well, he was never so truly formidable as when, for days on end, he had been lounging in his armchair amid his improvisations and his black-letter editions.  Then it was that the lust of the chase would suddenly come upon him, and that his brilliant reasoning power would rise to the level of intuition, until those who were unacquainted with his methods would look askance at him as on a man whose knowledge was not that of other mortals."  

This passage serves two purposes.  1. It agrees with my assertion that Holmes has a Hamlet-like quality to him (an irreconcilable dual nature that is not entirely comfortable with itself.)  2. It agrees with the fact that his methods were odd only to those who did not know him.  Holmes was, indeed, a mortal.  And his gifts were simply the result of having honed and developed aspects of the mind that other men possessed, yet chose to suppress or neglect.

It is this stability that Holmes of the movies lacks.  The movie Holmes is an interesting character, a little darker and more cynical than the Holmes of the books, but engaging nonetheless, and not so far from the Holmes of the book that the movie is unwatchable.  That said, I can't necessarily recommend the movie.  People who are intensely devoted to the book (and have read all the stories...I'm still working through them) will have much better opinions about this.  In the meantime, may your life be infinitely stranger than anything fiction can invent.  

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Saudades: Skyline

1.   You’ve got this, Em!  Just one step at a time.” Anna’s voice behind me was the only heartening sound in my current reality.  Everything else was silenced by the inner clamor of my own struggle.  I grasped for another frail bush branch to pull myself up.  Will it hold my weight?  My fear was nearly realized.  Once again on level footing, I stopped to wipe my forehead on my jacket tied around my waist; the layer abandoned long ago which I was told would be necessary at the top of the mountain.  This, I also doubted.  I could not imagine ever feeling cold again.  Heat poured from my body.  I wondered if the plants would wilt from it.  Minutes ticked by.  A log-bridge was crossed over a shallow brook.  The tree line faded behind me and soon became a distant memory.  When I felt that I could go no further, a fellow (more seasoned) hiker jubilated that we were halfway there!  Only half!  My arms quivered.  My legs tingled with exhaustion.  But the air was (to my ignorant shock) growing colder and stinging life and determination back into my flickering flame.  Out of shape was not how I ever wanted to approach hiking again, I determined as I found footing on the silt of another incline.  I began planning regular workout routines that I would implement as soon as I got home, this mental work to distract my mind from the pain as I climbed.  Of course, in these mental pictures, the workouts yielded much less pain than I was currently experiencing. 

I reached another plateau, nearly at the top, the rocky saddle of Skyline frosted with ice visible now even without (maybe because I was without) my foggy, sweat-drenched glasses which I’d tossed in my backpack long ago.  Then Anna’s voice lilted in awe through the turmoil of the ascent.  “Look!”  I lifted my eyes from the path immediately in front of me to the view above the low shrubs to my right.  Alaska stretched its arms wide before me in shades of green and grey with lakes far below me.  She held before me a display of emeralds and sapphires strewn through the rugged valleys of the Kenai where polar sun warmed the earth for only a few months every year.  I didn’t realize how far I’d come.  My breathing slowed to normal, but my heartbeat quickened.  A fresh and yet familiar feeling wrapped itself around me.  Starting with my feet and working its way to the crown of my head.  Comfort.  Freedom.  As if I’d been here a million times, belonged here.  The words were a whisper in my soul: Welcome Home.  I'd traveled a lot for only being 20-years-old.  I knew what it was to feel out of place. And I knew what it was to come home.  This feeling was the same that I knew when I stepped over my own threshold after months away.  It was the release of crashing into my own bed after the long journey.  It was the first home-cooked meal after the trip.  The first hug from mom after weeks of only hearing her voice over the phone. Immediately reason began dicing it into tiny shreds.  You’ve never even been here.  Home doesn’t apply.  You’re an outsider.  What are you thinking?   But I couldn’t shake the hush that had fallen on me.  After that pause, the top of Skyline seemed to hike to me rather than the other way around.  Upon arrival, I threw myself recklessly on the highest boulder I could find and closed my eyes attempting to craft the dips and crags of the horizon into my soul.  If I could etch it into my mind and make it a part of me, maybe I wouldn’t have to leave, maybe Alaska would be identity; maybe the vastness would widen me and devour me!  Oh, I was meant to be here!  Here on this lonely rock at the top of a mountain in the late afternoon of an arctic summer. 

I shivered and dragged my weary arms into the sleeves of my jacket for which I was now extremely grateful.  My body had gone from burning to freezing in a matter of moments and it wasn’t sure how to translate the change into a livable body temperature.  In fact, it didn’t level out again until I was at the bottom of the mountain.  I had climbed with Anna, but I descended with Janice.  Janice rescued me from toppling off the path a few times as my now-destroyed sneakers had lost much of their traction.  Between near-death experiences, I pried into the details of Janice’s life.  It was the first time I’d actually had a conversation with her and it was the beginning of a thriving friendship.  The feeling I’d had on the top of Skyline returned throughout the summer especially when I considered the largeness of my location.  Intense as the emotion was on the top of the mountain, it was as yet premature.  The people factor hadn’t yet been added.  It was only after some times in prayer together over difficult campers, counseling after services,  trips to Fred Meyer, testimonies and meals shared, and hours of work in the kitchen that I realized what it was.  Saudades.

Saudades: Meus Brasileiros

Mom worked with the sad, limp strands of my hair.  My hair had forever been a curse.  It held as much body as the fur of a rat and often resembled the nest of the same.  The comb worked its way through my tangled tresses and mom mentioned the need for some concealer to hide the red spot where my glasses pressed in on the bridge of my nose.  Mom didn’t want me wearing my glasses in my senior pictures, even though I’d begged the opposite.  I silently bemoaned the fact that as a 17-year-old senior in high school I was still wearing braces and glasses and found myself incapable of styling my hair for pictures.  “There, you look beautiful!”  Mom’s encouragement helped…a little; even though I still didn’t equate beauty with braces and wilted hair.  Finally, I was ready and waiting for the photographer to call my name.  My hand tapped nervously and I reached for the neckline of my top to make sure my necklace was showing.  The tiny butterfly dangled from a chain heavy with the history it held.  It had been sent as a birthday present from a friend in Brazil and when I touched the silver charm a special kind of sorrow came to me.  I saw the flames of the sunset in Sao Paulo at the close of the day…days filled with people and flavors and smells and the intensity of emotion…like a Brazilian feels.  I remember the press of people downtown, little snapshots of millions of lives, a million people I would never meet, a million souls that needed a Savior.  I remember the view from the restaurant on the top floor of a skyscraper near the center of the city.  There was no escaping the concrete jungle which stretched past sight and continues to grow daily, so I’m told.  I sat in church services with fewer people than pew space, yet the sound of their praises outlasted the piano and the decibels of their voices surpassed that of their larger American counterparts.    I saw the girls I’d spent hours with, taking walks, eating lunches, talking long into the night.  I remember the patio where I prayed and wrote in my journal daily.  The face of a sweet little girl who became my sister.  Waking up to the sound of the city and letting it charm me to sleep every night.  A sleepless city, Sao Paulo.  A restless, thrill-seeking city…full of people, yet so very empty.  The aches of these days came back to me as I fumbled with the chain at my neck to turn the clasp to the back.  Then the photographer called my name.  Saudades

Saudades: Outer Banks

           The family was packing the car.  I couldn't bring myself to help.  Instead, I wandered through the little cottage inhaling deeply the smell of cedar and sand and saltwater.  Everything from the tan, tight-weave carpet to the tiny hall closet had become dear to me, though I couldn’t figure out exactly when this had happened.  All the other years that my family had rented this beach house from our friends I had come, played, beached, and left with the knowledge that we’d be back.  This year was different.  Why did I feel like a shipwreck?  In my short and last trip through the little house I reached the master bedroom.  The water mattress had been replaced with a real mattress just last year.  I used to lie on it and imagine that fish swum and mermaids played in reefs inside it as I slept.  I missed that eerie feeling of swaying back and forth, like falling asleep on a sailboat.  I missed sitting on the edge of its instability playing pirates with my brothers, our intermittent yelps occasionally forcing mom to peek in.  “If you jump on that waterbed it will burst!”  After which announcement we would settle down…until we forgot. Thankfully (perhaps miraculously) that bed never broke.  The master bedroom had a little bathroom in the far corner.  It smelled like coconut shampoo and wet sand crunched under your feet no matter how many times the floor was wiped down.  I’d hung my wet swimsuit on the towel rack in that room after long, sunny days at the beach.  It never dried fully before I used it again…plunging into the waves…again and again throwing myself into the mystery of the ocean letting salt and sand rush through my hair and only coming up to breathe when I couldn’t take it anymore...  Across the hall from the master was “my” room.  It wasn’t really mine of course, but it was the room I’d used on our vacations since I was born.  The furniture was white wicker and the walls were adorned with paintings in pastel colors.  Jars of seashells and sand were scattered around on shelves and in the closet.  My room was a different universe from the one my brothers shared. Brightly colored fish hung on their wall and the red bunk beds, so similar to the structure of a ship, often served as another playground for us on the rare rainy days in the Outer Banks.  I breathed a long heavy sigh.  The chaos of packing to go home was winding down.  The rest of the family was already on the porch and carrying final suitcases and baskets down the stairs.  Mom called for me.  I blinked tears away as I passed through the living room and kitchen before pressing my arm to open the screen door.  In the process, the door latch caught on my arm and tore away a patch of skin from my elbow.  I let quiet tears fall for a moment before I grabbed a napkin to stay the bleeding.  The gash was deep and the scar serves as a souvenir.  Saudades.

Saudades: An Explanation of Sorts

I felt it again the other day.  I'm not sure what tied all the ends together to create the rope, I just know what the strands were.  One was a conversation with my dear friend Mrs. Garriss, so full of encouragement and concern.  Another was a 15 minute block which I spent flipping through pictures of a place I once was and people who still mean so much to me.  A strand formed when I heard a song later in the day that reminded me of the God that made a world where we see pictures of Him all around us.  And another joined the bundle when I texted a friend who got me thinking about the beauty of relationships in the gospel.  All that vague mish-mash created a thick rope which tied itself snugly (not quite to the point of asphyxiation) around my inner most self.  And the worst part of all is that no English word exists to express this feeling!  Thankfully, I know enough Portuguese to compensate for these linguistic inadequacies.  The word is "saudades."

I was first introduced to the word "saudades" when I was studying Portuguese before my first trip to Brazil.  It was probably mid-winter 2006 (the summer before the seven-week trip) when I stared at a page in a learning guide discussing the unique points of the Portuguese language.  Saudades.  (Pronounced sah-oo-DAH-jeez to rhyme with the senseless phrase "cow dog cheese" in case that helps anybody...)  Brazilians are proud of this word because (as I said) it has no exact translation into English.  For everything that developing countries feel is important to borrow from Western civilization, maintaining a unique identity in the midst of that modernization is pretty important.  Needless to say, while I was in Brazil my friends took great delight in trying to explain this word to me, as if it were an ancient Brazilian hymn that hadn’t been translated into any other language.  It's a deep word, but this explanation is a hybrid of what they gave me and what I have come to finally understand as its full-bodied meaning.  My language book said that "saudades" is the strong feeling you get when you consider the places of your childhood or your lost youth.  My friends built on that by saying that it has to do with something you long for and can’t replace.  They apply it mostly to the people they love and are far from.  In recent years, I've expanded the definition for my own purposes and in the process I think I've finally come across the experience that my friends were trying to communicate to me.  Saudades is a many-faceted word that expresses less of an emotion and more of experience.  It is the nature of Brazilians to live intensely.  They don’t know what “halfway” means so their love is passionate and expressive.  Their hate is greatly to be avoided.  For that reason, saudades a word of poetry and when a Brazilian says “Tenho muito saudades de voce,” (I have much saudades for you) It is not to be taken lightly....
The next three posts are portraits of Saudades.  They aren’t an explanation so much as they are an attempt to help my readers find parallels within their own experiences.  Since saudades is so complex, each account shows it in a different light with different emphases.  It is more like a friend that gives different perspectives on an event than it is a quantifiable feeling so try not to pinpoint one definition.  Just enjoy it.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mom's Birthday

Call me cheap, but I was running seriously low on funds for my mom's birthday this year.  So I wrote her a poem instead of buying her a present.  I'm glad, actually, because I've been trying to write a poem for her for some time now and for some unreasonable reason it just hasn't happened.  Until the day before her birthday.  The only background needed for this poem is the fact that since before I was born, my family has visited the beaches of the Outer Banks, NC.  It was where I got my first sunburn, ate my first picnic, screamed my first yelp of true joy, and first answered the question "Where's Waldo" in those awesome picture books from the 1990's.  In short, the Outer Banks is where our family formed much of our current identity, which happens to include a passionate, undying, poetic, intrinsic, helpless, emotional, soul-deep, indescribable love for the ocean.
Oh, and there are these wild ponies that live on the far islands.  These elusive creatures are mysterious and somewhat dangerous.  I've never seen one.

I remember trips to stand on sand dunes
  long drives out to the island's outer rim-
  dustily down the one deserted highway-
  straining sun-scorched eyes in hopes
  of (rarely) catching (just perhaps) a glimpse
  of those wild sea-born stallions through the mist.

The nobility of anarchy seized something
  in your soul- enchanted you with visions
  of rampant, risky glory- untamed, unrestrained
  the regal symbol of a reckless beauty-

And oh, I know when I am restless
    stomping in the dirt
    neighing at the gate
    chomping at the bit (so you say)
We both know
  That you and I have never bit
  nor bridle held
  nor tolerated puny ends the world
  calls limits.
We have always run on shoeless hooves
 grinding all the gravel through our callouses
 melting into mild meadows with all our hearts.

And just as I never could have
  swum to shore without you-
  the strength of your struggle-
  at my side;
  My freedom is not true without your trust.
Even wild horses live in odd complexities
  of natural necessity
  and limitless love.

A Question of Fear

Today I tore up the 40millionth credit card offer I have personally received since coming home from college.  Who knows how many my parents tore up for me while I was gone.  As I watched the words on the page become ragged edges in the trashcan, it struck me that I just saved myself a lot of stress.  And I smiled.

Isn't it great to live in a country where you can have everything you can afford...and then everything you can't afford!?

Don't read me wrong.  I don't think credit cards are a sin.  And I am no socialist.  My blood runs red, white, and blue; I have more family members in the military than there are recruiting stations in Virginia.  But I think we have seriously forgotten what the American Dream was meant to be.  It wasn't the big house and the picket fence and the neat little families of one boy and one girl skipping merrily off to school wearing the nicest clothing and getting picked up in the latest model of whatever new car matters to come home to the biggest television set on the market and tickets to Disneyworld tucked safely away in a mahogany desk in a rarely-used study with the best new computer atop its expensive surface.

The Real American Dream had a lot more to do with who a person was than what a person possessed.  It was rooted the longing to be free to worship God and raise a family without the government interfering in these vital, biblical mandates.  It was so much more about how a man could serve God rather than how a man could be served.  I'm not saying the founding fathers were all saved men.  I am saying that our priorities have shifted drastically.  We are, in the words of a phenomenal author, "Amusing ourselves to death" while the masses pass by ignorant of the life they could have in Christ and we ourselves give up the best for some secondary dream.  A "lesser light."

One amazing fact about being a follower of Christ is the lack of need for all that fluff that we've come (very wrongly) to term the American Dream.  My own love of comfort and desire for stuff is a startling and scary fact.  We live in a culture that has exchanged the glory of the One God and set up a high-profit market in designer idols.

It's weird what happens to our race of Image-Bearers when they stop practically bearing the Image.  I became aware the other day that some people actually have addictions to things like eating pottery or household cleaner.  Does that strike anybody else as being extremely disturbing?  What has gone wrong in a society like ours?  People who have everything find out that it's not worth their worship so they turn to...self-destruction.  Isaiah was right in chapter 50 when he states that walking by our own lanterns and trying to live by our own light will lead to destruction.  And that makes me sad.  I know that (being the extremist that I am) I could just have easily turned so something self-destructive if God's grace had not built a high and sturdy wall.  Even as a believer, I'm dense enough to try to scale that wall sometimes.  But my Father does not let me.  What about those people in those strangely-shaped prisons?  Maybe it's contoured to look like a Mercedes-Benz.  Maybe it's got the same lines as a human being. Maybe it's as innocent looking as a plate of food.  My own designer idols come in so many shapes...I get pretty creative with my sin.  But Lewis was right either way.  Hell doesn't know how to make pleasure, so its best attack is to twist the pleasures of God until they don't look like Jesus anymore.  How far we have fallen!  Even our plastic joys form the strongest chains that keep us from enjoying Christ!  And yet He is merciful!

Three days into the New Year.  Last year is fixed and unchangeable.  This year is an empty journal.  As another author says, "He did not give us options to consider; he gave us commands to obey."  And in the scattered exaggerations of my existence where mankind looms with power and Jesus cowers in the shadows, something has to change within me daily.  In the twisted lies of my sinful heart these words shatter the despair:  "Why do you fear man in whose nostrils is breath?" "Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies?"  What I fear controls me.  Do I fear Him?    Will I choose to see Him as the undying El Olam, the Giver of life and therefore above all?  He is the Almighty who measures the ocean on his palm and stretches out the vast universe like a sparkling curtain.  My only correct response is to worship Him.