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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Another Truth About Math

He takes his classwork very seriously.  He's not the easily distracted student who pauses every once in a while to wiggle his pencil and watch it "turn into" rubber like the other 7th graders.  He doesn't talk to the boy next to him (the one wiggling his pencil to make it look like rubber..) and he doesn't sneak reading Calvin and Hobbes under his desk.  Nathan is focused.  In a way that some internal thinkers aren't.  And he expresses it in a way that internal thinkers never would, with his hands waving and his face knotting into expressions of intense concentration.
 
I had spent much of the hour watching him crash boldly into the dense math worksheet left by the real teacher.  For me the morning had been a lot of passing out of papers and writing of homework on the board and then monitoring students to make sure that they worked diligently while I sat at the desk mulling over the irony that I, of all people, was substitute teaching for a math teacher.  "Substitute teaching"...a phrase which here means "handing out worksheets and holding back the flood gate of questions until the real teacher returned."  The hardest question I had had to answer that morning was "May I please use the restroom?" One that I used all my authority to answer confidently, "Yes.  You may."  Having experienced the suffering of being denied bathroom privileges in many high school classes, I happen to be very merciful about letting kids go.  My students somehow figured this out early on.
Nathan was not one of them.  He was not eager to leave to escape work, though I'm sure if I'd offered him the chance he might have taken it.  I did not know if math was his favorite subject or not, though I would guess not since it was determination and not delight that flashed in his face as he attacked each problem.  He was on a quest.  Each number was a small beast to be destroyed by a shining pencil lead.

I smiled with understanding the first few times he accidentally spoke his thoughts aloud in distinct whispers.
"1...minus...7?  No...that's not...how did...arg..?"   It reminded me of my own incomprehensible babbling, sounds I also make when I am contorting my brain to figure out an equation.  His struggle resonated deeply with me.
I tried not to stare as his hands danced in front of his face drawing invisible numbers on an imaginary chalkboard for his eyes alone. When he failed to find an answer that fit the problem, his hands covered his eyes, and he emitted a small groan as he sank back in his chair.  The rest of the class must be used to this type of thinking from Nathan, because they did not complain and hardly seemed to notice.

These meaningful antics continued for about 20 minutes. Every so often I could hear his verbal explanation of an entire problem in erratic half thoughts and rerouted attempts to solve.  The occasional victorious grunt or frustrated moan.  Then another set of numbers written in the air.  My intent observations deteriorated to the random disinterested glance as the class period wore on.  I would check to make sure that no one was distracted by his habits, then return to my own fervent writing.  I had my own thinking to do.  My own problems to figure out.
At last with about 10 minutes left to finish the work, Nathan buried his face in his palms and let his fingers grasp his white-blond hair. The desperate words, his first whole sentence in many minutes, he articulated with clarity and raw emotion.

"This doesn't make sense!!!!"

It was not a cry for help.  He did not look at me imploringly in hopes that I would offer assistance.  He may not have even realized I was still in the room. The statement was one of realization and fact.  And it brought my own thoughts into clear focus.  Nathan could have been reading over my shoulder.

Moments before, I had been very busy scrawling my thoughts in a sketch book and trying to lace them all together.  They looked something like this...Grad school...then more school?  PhD?  Linguistics?  Journalism?  Well, Lord, what I do with that random desire?  This weird talent?  A passion for art that I can't create?  A longing to help women in particular understand how theology impacts them?  An interesting, but seemingly useless, habit of writing poetry that nobody cares about?  Move?  Stay here?  Hope for a sign?  Pound the pavement for a full time job? Work fast food?  Get more education?  Professional development....  

I was, again, trying to fuse the frayed edges of my post-undergrad life into some kind of reasonable whole.These normal considerations easily spiral for me into an obsessive practice that I like to call "figuring things out."  That's the phrase I use when I really mean, "I'm not trusting God." And my heart was, once again, trembling with the realization.
"This doesn't make sense!!!"
Nathan continued to crunch numbers.
But my heart was seared with truth.

The world of math has a ridiculous phenomenon called an "irrational number."  These are numbers that have no end.  Like Pi.  It's 3.14159....and it goes on forever.  It can't be simplified or finished.  But it's real.
The world of life has a phenomenon called "irrational events."  They are questions that have no obvious answers.  They can't be simplified or finished.  But they are real.

Solomon talks about them in Ecclesiastes. Things that happen, unfulfilled desires, random messiness of existence...vanity, vanity, all is vanity... all strung together in what we've been promised is a "beautiful tapestry of God's plan."  But from where I stand it looks like a bag of yarn all twisted together in crazy colors and knots.  Grab one string to try to untangle it and the knot gets worse.  What do I do?  Well, I can  press my eyes in to my palms and pull my hair and yell, "This doesn't make sense."  But I think He wants me to trust Him instead of "figuring things out."

He knows the end and the beginning and everything in between.  He has numbered all my days and written them in His book.  And His goal is not to make me a teacher or a writer or a linguist.  His goal is to make me more like Jesus, and He has promised that He WILL do it.  I can't speed up the process or try to "make sense of it."  The fact is, most of it isn't going to make sense.  He's much too complex for me to understand.  
It is mine to rest in Him.
The Creator of Irrational Numbers.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Perhaps Blue

I am obliged to join the torch eaters
who breathe the fire
back into the art
and train the dragons
to tear out
the lifeless, empty hearts
devour and replace them
to feel and know again
what's true.
"And what color shall we bind it in...
your book of poetry?"
Perhaps blue.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hevel

Uncertainty gnaws like cancer
Playing limbo with the questions 
While I stumble through the colored squares
like the Sorry game piece
bumped back to the beginning
more often than moved on.
I know about waiting rooms with magazines 
small stuff living while
the big dreams fester-
I am young.
And God is changing me.

There are lonely moments when
the friendships feel scattered 
like dead leaves crushed 
under light up tennis shoes and
caught up on autumn wind 
to multiplied adventures 
while I'm still here-  
A fragment of color stuck
To rain soaked concrete.  

But I am conflicted.
I want safe danger
I want protected risks
I want stable fluctuations
Spontaneous schedules
Responsible rebellion
Experienced youth
I want sound and silence.
I want the ice to freeze within the fire.   
To fill my lungs past capacity before I exhale. 
I want both gnats and galaxies to devour me whole.
I want it all-
And then I want more
My world cannot exist. 

There are star clusters in the night sky.
Indistinct sparkles glowing mysteries.  
I want to know them like I know my own handwriting.  
But I am just a human pounding 
on the ceiling limitations
banging my forehead 
on the darkness of the dome
feeling the pressure of mutual exclusivity.  
To know about the things I do not know about is maddening
I am drawing drops of water from a dry well
I am speaking my soliloquy to an empty room-
But I am young and
laced with Eden's longings.

Only God is God.
This is the message of 
Ecclesiastes. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wickedness

Apprehension isn't a bad thing.  When it comes to Broadway musicals (and the perspectives of circles of Christianity), there can be a lot of hype and a lot of controversy.  Probably none has created more of both than Wicked. I love a good Broadway creation.  But this one was on the fringe for me because I didn't get the story yet, which left me on the outside of a lot of excited groups of friends whenever the topic came up. That said...it was kind of fun this week when I was able to enter the Boston Opera House with a clean slate having only heard two or three of the songs and knowing almost nothing else.  Here's my little take on it, just because writing is the best way for me to process it and a few friends have asked me what I thought.  

The Boston set/cast/theatrics were all amazing.  Super well done.   
The music was awesome.  'Nuff said.  
The philosophy...here's the part people squabble over.  Well, I'm just gonna say it.  I didn't have a problem with it.  It was spot on most of the time.  I've heard people say that it blurs the lines between good and evil, but I actually believe the story does an incredible job of revealing what is ACTUALLY good and ACTUALLY evil.  It gets under the surface and deals with Truth.  If you want to know a story that blurs the lines, read "A Series of Unfortunate Events." But don't go see Wicked, because it's really clear.    
One of the most fascinating aspects of it is that "perception is reality" concept.  I know, it can be dangerous. But this story does a great job, as I said.  There was real justice, and that was refreshing.  There are a lot of interesting comments about history and how we come to believe things (worthy of entire articles of their own).  There was probably some political undertones too.  

Bottom line: Loved it.  Would definitely go see it again if I could.  Will probably listen to the music and sing along loudly while pretending I know how to dance.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Daily Cliff

Now that I'm 23
It's possible I finally see
What would have been of benefit at 12.
That I should Live.
Not the shallow breathing
of those peasants
serving good Telemachus
in neat, unrumpled togas
But the reckless passion of the
traveler, his father
Yet a living that demands no ship,
no far off shores.
Rather risks
little death leaps
off the daily cliff
Coming to the edge
where the sign says
"Beware"
Risks like forgetting
                letting go
         and letting beauty grow
         wild without answering the questions
Like picking up
        the little silver pen
        I found on the roller coaster
        and jotting down the thoughts
        even if I know
        they never will be read
Like slowing down
        enjoying
        sharp edges
        and
        soft centers
        and all the range of fire and ice between
Then being honest all about it
without the need to analyze
                          or apologize
Like listening to the music
and not just to the words

Beautiful Shallows

I spent all summer
in those underwater caves
plunging depths I did not know existed.
The sparkling suffocation
of the truth
seeped through my veins
and lungs and filled the space
behind my eyes
until all I felt was heaviness
strange suspended life or death
gasping up for air and treading water
never more than seconds I allowed
before descending once again to drown
myself in all the salty glory.
Exhaustion and desire
poured together formed one lust
for beauty, goodness, truth,
An ocean vast, and wide, and deep
I have to learn to swim.
Somehow in this desperate dive
I missed the ghostly octopus
his wicked writhing nearer to the shore
and skittering sand crabs
indistinct and perfect
leaving magic patterns in the sand
and tiny purple sea shells
that get lost in my pockets
but are big enough
to change the world.
I lost my balance under water
and forgot how thrilling
to be captivated by
beautiful shallows. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Chamber 3: The Nautilus on the Inevitable End

There is something in our
anxious desperation
greater than and equal to
the scrambling of the rabbit from the dogs
to dig for an excuse;
the rabbit's way of life is
seeking reasons for the death
the age that qualifies her
the conditions that she met
associated with that gaping hole.
Avoidance means escape.
But youth-
And innocents,
with all the questions
cannot, for some reason, be
entrusted to the Sovereign
who gives,
to take away for His just mysteries,
Lest we too should feel
exposure of delusion
She dies.  And we think rightly so.