……………..

I need my own voice to be silent.

I need to tame my tongue and train my words, because I speak too freely and use too many.

I need to know that others are more important than myself, because they are. I need to be awake for other people.

I need a quiet place to dream. I need everything to go to sleep, so I can stay awake dreaming.

I need a house of one hundred square feet, hidden by a garden and a tall concrete wall.

I need a gate.

I need no music, unless I give an hour to listen.

I need nine books, four on various subjects, five of fiction.

I need money, so I have money to give.

I need a horse of a dog and bones left from my small meal of chicken and green beans.

I need a pile of one hundred pieces of paper, housing the ink of three ballpoint pens.

I need to pray every hour, the Old Testament in the morning, the New Testament in the afternoon, and the Gospel before bed. I need to be reminded of the hope of the Resurrection before I fall asleep.

I need a quiet and peaceful life.

I need other people for me to serve and for them to preserve me.

I need Christ and I need Him to be crucified and to resurrect.

I need to die, so I have something to rise from.

I need to request grace in the darkness, which in contentment I can devote myself, so Our Father can fill me with grace, so the grace can rise in me like bread.

I need to know when to go and tell this to everyone and then to tell this to no one. I need to know when to use my voice and when to remain silent.

I need my own voice to be silent.

The Twelve Marks of New Monasticism

1.  Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.

2.  Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.

3.  Hospitality to the stranger.

4.  Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.

5.  Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.

6.  Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.

7.  Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.

8.  Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.

9.  Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.

10.  Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economics.

11.  Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.

12.  Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

Why not try writing a Rule then, brothers?

A Prayer of Someone Who Knows He Cannot Write Well

Dear God,

I am beginning to realize (how often I use that phrase!) that I know nothing, nor am I wise.

When people ask me for advice, I have absolutely nothing to say. Words fly in front of me like mosquitoes.

I am not only bad at giving advice, but a repeating offender at leaving questions unanswered. I could justify this by claiming that most questions are vapid, but other people are never vapid. They exist as themselves, where no one before or after ever will. Even the worst criminal deserves a response to his questions, whether or not the answer is satisfying.

When I am young, it is so easy to look at old sages and say, “Yes, but I could be wise too if I just had words.”

I used to think that wisdom was a set of words. As long as I could speak words or mold some clever statement, then I was wise. Wisdom is a turn of a phrase.

How wise we would all be if we memorized the Proverbs!

But now I am beginning to see that wisdom is not words, but life. To be wise, I must be alive, I must have experienced and felt.

Wisdom is empathy.

It is the experience of traveling through some dark valley and living through it. Or so, wisdom appears to be empathy in this small passage of time.

Wisdom is not witticisms.

Sometimes, it is a nod of the head and a hand on the shoulder. Sometimes, it is saying, “I know what you’re going through. But trust me, God bestows grace on those that request it.”

Lord God, if those words don’t sound cliche to my ears, I don’t know what does. I don’t know what that means, I couldn’t possibly know what that means, because I have experienced so little. I haven’t experienced anything in my shortened life.

I could easily say words, but there would be little wisdom in them if I have gone through nothing. They would be empty; vain promises. I would be like the unregenerate sinner declaring, “Don’t worry, you’re forgiven.” There is a superficial truth to it, but damn it, how does he know?

I am foolish, especially in the realm of the skill I think I am good at. I have at least some remote facility with the skill of writing. It is equal folly to look at a basket of fresh apples and say, “Oh, God, how they are all so woefully rotten! Piety, God, piety! I am so…so wormish!” Christ did not say that the mark of a true disciple is guilt. He said that His disciples will bear fruit and grow, not live in constant ignorance of the work of the Holy Spirit.

But each day I learn something new and am reminded how little I can do.

We are all in the process of quickly forgetting whatever comes into our heads. We might know many things, but those things are hidden away in our subconsciousness and temporarily forgotten. We cannot remember everything all at once.

All of the worlds that I see in my head are vague and foggy – my imagination, Lord.

But are you beginning the process, where my imagination is illuminated? Let me see the worlds with clarity and sharpness.

Continue your work, so I can continue mine.

One small fruit: I am beginning to forgo the training wheels of literary allusion and metaphor in favor of the more advanced and difficult wheels of actually describing and relaying a story.

This is difficult, but is evidently the heart of writing – the ability to see things and then show them to people.

I must show myself first. I must be able to see a world and continue describing it.

I am on track and balanced and feel as though I am alive – that I am finally above the clouds and seeing the world for what it really is – but as soon as my mind stops or I lose track, I have trouble lifting off the ground. It takes days or weeks to get back to that place.

That place of creative exhaustion is the place that I long for more often, but remains a subjective and elusive process, whereby I merely bare my soul and never focus on the quality and quantity of my discipline.

How I wish I could!

Perhaps, the answer to this problem is to stop thinking of writing as an elusive and subjective thing.

Writing is a place.

Let me remember the painting. Let me remember what I am seeing.

If writing is a place – the place of imagination – then I can return to it. I am either there or not.

It should be more difficult to leave than to enter.

Do not write. Imagine. As soon as I can imagine entirely – if I can imagine rooms and worlds and places and things and people – inside my head, then I have written a book. If I faithfully explore and visit these worlds, the more quickly I can enter.

Lord, thank you for all of this. Thank you for staying with me through all of my idiocy, folly, and sin. May I be a help to the poor and needy and may I not grumble and complain. May I not lose track of the end goal, but may I also stay firmly in the present, where your servants stay and lay and die. May I go into that Room of Dreams and leave, refreshed to do your work.

May I not become a curmudgeon, nor may I become too full of myself. May I be a good friend. May I accept what you tell me, may you give me the answers you wish to give me, and may I learn and grow to trim them and train them to share them with this world and your servants. May you teach me what good writing is. I do not know.

Fill me with wisdom, so that I can think less of myself and more of the sufferings of others. Put me in a valley, so I can look up to you. And when I come out of it, may I be full of joy and words to share that only experience bear.

Lovingly,

Trustingly,

Your Servant,

Your Image,

Man

 

…………….

A word about all-nighters:

They should be pulled only when you are in the most undire of situations. They should be completely your choice, free entirely of all pain and guilt.

If you have a lot of school to do, then go to bed.

If you have nothing to do, stay up. And do something.

Last night was my first official all-nighter. It has been pulled.

I now exist in a strange dream state where the past day is still existing. It has not stopped existing. I have not passed on into that dark ether; it has not past on in death.

I once pulled a half-nighter. I told myself it was to bring in the First Snow, to consecrate the Winter. I had plans to go on a snow walk at 2 in the morning. Really, the point was to finish reading for the class in the morning. This pressure contributed to the feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff. Or, maybe, I felt like I had already fallen. I did the very not good thing. I actually took the little step forward.

Last night was my first official all-nighter.

I used it to read On Writing by Stephen King.

What a gorgeous day!

I am now at a coffee shop and I cannot help but see everyone as a potential character. This is not something King mentions at all, but I feel a hope in my legs. Maybe they are falling asleep, or maybe I am again realizing the possibilities in front of me. Anything can be written about – and with love! Who cares about the man who wrote 500 mystery novels and not a single one was born out of a specific love?

Do you want to know how to deal with someone who is annoying?

Look at them like a character in a novel.

I could have gotten annoyed, but instead I laughed and bantered.

______

He had a bear for a dog, I mentioned. Yeah, so much when he took his dog to Yosemite National Park, four little Indian girls jumped out of their car and pointed and said, “Bear!” And they wanted to take a picture with his dog, so they could go back home and show all their friends that they got a picture with a bear.

“You could have told them that it was Yogi.” A woman with short cropped hair and a yellow blouse with an over-sized stitched flower on it said.

“Should’a put a hat on him!” I said as I walked away. He didn’t hear, but she did and she laughed.

The man reminded me a lot of my grandfather. Perhaps back when he had to work – say, thirty years ago – he made things. He might have built a screened-in porch off the bedroom for his wife. He wore rectangular glasses and was somehow confident wearing pulled-up tube socks and short denim shorts…

like my grandfather; the man, I have been told, who I resemble so strongly in mannerism and thought. One key difference is our sock drawers. He had one drawer chock full of unmatched white socks. I also do not own as many knives nor do I share his passion for bacon grease.

This new man – a distant reincarnation, perhaps, of my grandfather – sat facing an empty chair. He talked to the empty chair.

“Yeah, we are going on a grand adventure. Ten months in Europe…You know, people who visit France always complain that they are not treated nicely, but I just had a fine time in Paris! The Parisians and us got a long fine…my daughter, she, you know, got her degree in Germany and says that in the local area of her college…”

I thought he was talking to his bear of a dog, that black and shaggy oaf. Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite. [insert other cliches]

Upon closer examination, he was talking to a woman behind him, who also faced an empty chair. He talked to her like she did not exist.

After a further discussion of his past visits to Europe and train problems during riots, she said, “Well, I better get back to my books.”

“Yeah, me too, I have my little computer here to do things…” he said.

“Yeah…” she laughed.

What an end! Fireworks everywhere! The end of a dialog the likes of which the world has never seen.

I love you, hun, the old man with stale muffin cheeks said, patting the underside of the bear.

I sat in silence and in the morning sun, waiting eagerly to see who would be his next conduit for information.

A woman entered.

Her.

I must go take a nap now.

 

Day by Day 66

I. Remind Us, O Holy One!

Remind us of the memories we forget. Remind us to prize the moments that pass us by, that we might remember the present as if it has already passed us. May the sweetness of memory accompany our present experience. Reveal to us how it all fits together, the flying thoughts of every madman and madwoman. We drive ourselves mad, we do not own enough cages.

Lord, remind me that my mind is a temple, not the storage room of an alchemist. May you build up the walls of my wooden mind, so that I can overlay them with gold and decorate them with images of palm trees and lilies. This temple is not a clean white room, sterilized of humanity. This temple smells like sweat and incense and burning flesh. This temple is luminescent, glowing with human treasures. Fill your temple, my mind, with things that you treasure.

And bless me when I go out to fight to expand the borders of my mind, to plunder the Greeks and Japanese. Give me more allies than just dead Brits.

II. The High Court of Theology

I am regularly tried by the High Court of Theology for heresy and the pursuit of shadows. Here is a concise list of past accusations:

Platonism

Materialism

Mysticism

Rationalism

Mentalism

Bodyism

Prideful Exegesis

Prideful Humility

Prideful Learning

Impatience

False Integrity

The greatest accusation – and, I must confess, crime – is the separation of my face and the region behind my face. These two regions are not in communication. I have not yet learned how to transpose the hope I have to my face. As a result, I do not offer hope to those who need it, because the doors to the temple are heavy. And, I ask myself, what place do I have to offer hope and to have the pride to assume I have it?

Can we have charity without first acknowledging that we possess something of value?

Lord, open the doors!

III. A Theologically Reasonable Question

From a place of ignorance, I ask, “Why deny evolution on the grounds of theology?” Many Christians do this very thing, without any consideration for the vast ramifications of an aligned understanding of evolution. Evolution is a scientific theory which is only philosophically applicable under the context of certain worlds. Most Christians deny evolution on the grounds of theology, because they are unwilling to separate it from the context of a secular world. If we were honest, we would be more willing to reverse the process. What if we separated the theory of evolution from its secular context and put it into a Christian context?  Under that context, could we still deny it on the grounds of theology?

Before denying it on the grounds of theology, we would have to treat it as an isolated scientific theory. We would have to prove whether it is consistent with Creation. Many Christians think it is not consistent with Creation, but that is because the secular world is not consistent with Creation. When Christians deny evolution, they are merely denying the secular world. Therefore, we cannot even begin to deny evolution on the basis of scientific observation until we have put it in the context of Christendom. In order to be intellectually honest, Christian scientists must go into the lab knowing how the theory of evolution could exist alongside Christian theology, even as a possibility. With this in mind, the Christian scientists is not an atheist in his work, but a believer. As a believer, he can then honestly appraise the validity of the theory of evolution on the basis of scientific observation. And after this honest appraisal, he could only deny it on the grounds of theology after it has been proven to be inconsistent with Creation

Unfortunately, we have made it a fool’s errand to deny evolution on the basis of scientific observation. The standard is set to treat evolution as a world, specifically tied to secularism.

Secular and Christian worlds seem to both agree that evolution is its own world, not a theory. Mistake! It might seem to establish certain expectations and possibilities for Creation, but only according to its context. We think it might be possible to separate it from both the secular and Christian world, that it can stand on its own with appendage extensions. In this fictitious state, which world would it stand most in defiance against?

It would seem to stand in defiance to secularism, because secularism apart from evolution would glorify man in all his imperfections. The world of evolution would treat man as one point on the graph of evolutionary progress.

It would seem to stand in defiance to the Word of God, because the Word of God establishes that man is made in the image of God. The world of evolution would treat man as one point on the graph of evolutionary progress.

But, evolution is not a world. It is a theory that further defines – like a developing photograph (ah, maybe a painting formed within the confines of a certain frame! No, we do not want to confuse our metaphors) – any theological ideas it is paired with. The fictitious “world” of evolution I described earlier has the same exact ramifications on secularism and the Word of God. This “world” is clearly a theory, because its thesis is the same in both contexts; man is progressing in some form of glory.

Ask yourself, is this thesis more consistent with the Christian belief of man made in the image of God, or the secular belief that man is glorious by his very nature?

Christian theology establishes that man does not exist apart from God, but in relation to Him. God made man good, but good so that he could progress into greater glory, the glory of perfection. And what do we believe to be the glory of perfection? Do we not believe that it is a constant growth towards the likeness of God?

Man was made to become more like God.

And how does God assure this growth in man?

He does so through death.

And what is necessary for both Redemption and evolution?

Death, which leads to Resurrection.

In the context of Christian theology, evolution is consistent. It requires the creation of man in the image of God, the creational principle that progress is perfection, and the requirement of death for Resurrection.

What do we believe to be the image of God? Do we believe that it is the form of a human? Or, is it the obvious distinction man has from all other creatures, defined by his free will and his ability to both reason and unreason?

Perhaps this seems counter-intuitive to evolution, but I have faith that it is the latter. If the image of God is found in the physical form of a human, evolution would assert that man began in a different form. Problem! If the image of God is found in the uniqueness of the creature man, then a distinct process used to assure this distinction is consistent with that belief. Man is still distinct from the rest of Creation, because Creation does not grow in understanding like man.

 

Ask others – not yourself, now – if evolution really is inconsistent with Christian theology, the queen of all other studies.

Now, to a more thorough discussion of frames.

IV. Where Do We Place Our Enigmas?

Well, what do you want to call it? Do you want to call it a worldview, a system, a grid, a pair of glasses, a belief, what?

Let us call it a painting. It is not something we ourselves painted, but rather the image that appeared when we chose our frames.

We spent all last week – our entire lives – shopping for frames at Hobby Lobby. We were in that aisle at the back of the store, with our index fingers under our chins and humming, darting our eyes from price tag to price tag. Should it be large and plastic, small and factory-ornate, long and wooden, what?

When we finally chose a frame, we brought it to the cash register, and gave the female employee with turquoise earrings 15.97 exactly. We keep pennies and dimes in our back pocketses.

We brought the frame home, banged some nails into the drywall, and hung it. From the opposite side of the room – we only last hours – we observed it in silence like it had something to say. We observed it like we sometimes observe our pet goldfish, Worldly-Pleasure-Bubbles.

And suddenly at the fourth watch, colors burst from the center of the empty frame. They ricocheted off one side and then to the other and then to another, weaving an image like the spider behind our toilet, Images-of-Temptation.

At this point, our stories divide.

You have your painting.

And I have mine.

And what frames did we buy, what beliefs did we adopt? No matter what frames we purchased – however different they might be – there are two similarities. We divide, but you are conquered if we do not perceive the same world. Here is why.

One, all paintings are of the world.

Two, frames exists and the world does not exist without it. Under here, I will clarify.

I am not saying that the world cannot exist without our beliefs.

I am saying that we cannot exist without our beliefs – thereby –

I am saying that we cannot see if we do not believe something.

I am saying, therefore, that we see different things, but our sight,

I am saying, is determined by our beliefs. Some of us see but,

I am saying, do not perceive. And the less perceptive therefore,

I am saying, do not perceive that all frames include the same sort,

I am saying, of assumption. The assumption of reason and a sort,

I am saying, of Divinity. We may disagree on the source of Divinity,

I am saying, but for me the source of Divinity is the Greatest Enigma,

I AM.

 

Since all paintings are of the world and some are different, some paintings are off (not including the one dangling lightbulb of reason you left on). Some paintings are obscured, inaccurate, oblique, rotten transmogrified shellfish juice. All frames capture a painting of the world, but only some capture an accurate painting of the world. The world looks only one way, no matter how vast its scope. Hobby Lobby stood on the edge of the Darkened Cosmos with a shotgun in hand, and fired its thousand frames. Was the frame that captured you a fatal shot?

Please step away from the tracks for a moment, this train of metaphor is going to de-rail. Here is a more stable metaphor.

The world is like a Renaissance painting. It is not Jackson Pollock, it is not Mark Rothko. It is classical. It could be Pre-Raphaelite. Yes, actually, I would not mind that at all.

The world is like a Pre-Raphaelite painting. It is full of colors, characters, plots, suspenses, mysteries, references, and the distant suspicion that it is being watched.

The world has lots of women and has no use for ugly women. If a woman is foolish, her beauty is seductive. If a woman is wise, her beauty is seductive. In the world, all women are seductive and for this reason, they never pull back their hair and are obsessed with flowers and chivalry.

And there is only one thing in the world that preserves the existence of all seductive women.

Shadow.

Without shadow, the painting is undone. Colors morph, characters translucify, plots lighten, suspenses unravel, mysteries break the silence, references explain themselves, and you appear standing in the art gallery in your Victorian dress with your sunbrella, shrieking at any darkness behind you. Without shadow, no painting exists.

And we both very well know that you have a painting hanging above your oversized leather couch, don’t we?

Every painting has shadows; it must. The question, therefore, is not whether there are shadows, but instead where the shadows lie. Do they lie underneath the horse of a seductive woman? Do they lie behind a tree on a sunny day?

Or, did you purchase a frame that captured some troublesome absurdities? What I am asking is, why is your sun a moon? Why is the horse upside down?

We divided a long time ago. We divided at the point when you bought the frame of Giggles-the-Clown. He believes in absurdism and Sheol has him under a copyright. Shadows cannot float like that.

All paintings contain shadows. Some paintings make consistent use of their shadows. The shadows lie where they ought. In the case of all paintings, there ought to be a shadow underneath the horse.

All paintings, I am saying, require an I AM, an enigma. Some, however, have enigmas where there ought to be clarity. I AM ought to be above human comprehension, He ought to absorb all questions, He ought to exist. Without Him, we put enigmas in places that ought to be quite clear. Where He lies is where the shadows ought to be and by these shadows we see the light that emanates from Him to create the form of Creation.

Without Him, we are forced to simultaneously keep the shadows in our own reason and yet claim that our reason is the only light on.

V. An Encounter

It was the first time I traveled alone. I was in an airport I had never been in and my phone was almost out of power. The carpet was installed in the 80’s. It was dark blue and tiny brown and red little dots were sprinkled over it like sawdust at an arcade.

Near the highest virtue is self-forgetfulness, but it is difficult to pretend that you are not thinking of yourself sometimes. As someone who is fair, sometimes my face gets unusually red. This is not the result of me being embarrassed, or overheated, or angry, or laughing, or holding an odd body position for a long time – although it could be. No, sometimes I am red-faced because.

In that airport terminal, I felt acutely aware of every strangers’ eyes. There were so many eyes and they all seemed to follow me.

My parents renovated an old farmhouse called the “Bliss Homestead.” They moved because Bliss Road had heavy traffic and they could not keep their bedroom window open at night. Ironic.

I do not know where the picture came from or where it is now – Mom, do you know? – but in the stairway hung a full black painting of some nineteenth century matriarch. The only thing visible was her face and her eyes.

O, her eyes!

The eyes of all the strangers in that airport followed me like the eyes of that dead matriarch. They made me an uncomfortable five-year old again, going to bed early and alone.

Of course, it was not that bad because I got Burger King. When they called my name – Joshua – I grabbed the bag and went to sit next to a long line of slot machines.

It was an airport in Las Vegas.

I sat cross-legged on a pile of sawdust, took the double whopper out of the bag, the large fries, the ketchup packets, the brown napkins, folded the bag into a place-setting, and neatly placed everything like I was sitting down to have dinner with myself.

At this point, my face was back to a healthy pale, but the row of middle-aged Indian men sitting in front of me like a tribunal turned my thoughts back to myself.

How did strangers see me? How would I see myself if I was a stranger to myself? I entered into a dialog with myself about the sinfulness or virtue of praying over my meal. What would these Indians think? Did I fit some stereotype for them; the wealthy Christian American? Would I pray over the meal because I was commanded to, or because I wanted to appear right before men? Well, if they saw me negatively – I mean, I had my top button buttoned – then praying would not make me look any better.

I told myself, stop this careful thinking!, bowed my head, and prayed. I prayed for a long time, not because I was being thorough, but because I kept thinking things that were not part of my prayer. I thought about what sort of people come to Las Vegas, if they come specifically to the airport for the slot machines, who uses the slot machines, what sort of country I live in that allows such multiculturalism, etc.

And then I thought, my goodness, they must think I have a healthy prayer life. If I was an American glutton, I would not pray too quickly, but I would pray quickly. I would not pray too quickly, because the only way to make a private prayer appear honest is to wait an extra two seconds. But, I would pray quickly, because God asks a lot of questions.

I stopped praying, sweating a little and red-faced, and looked up to see, leaning on one of the slot machines, a nun. I did not know there were nun anymore.

I waited for my face to go back to normal and unwrapped my double whopper. Just before my first bite, I asked her if she knows Latin.

She was a short Latino woman with eyes dark and affectionate like coffee in the morning. Her round face turned into a dimpled smile and she knelt down, her hair falling over her face. I twisted off my ring and handed it to her. She took it like my younger sister might take a LEGO minifigure I like – a knight in full armor, perhaps.

She turned it around in her hand as I chewed like a cow, watching her squint her eyes and, finally, put on her reading glasses.

I swallowed too early so I took a sip of the oversized cup of Dr. Pepper and then asked, “Do you know what it says?” She shook her head a little. “It says, praise God, serve others, discipline self. And inscribed on the inside it says, holiness, humility, love.”

“Oh!” She said, handing the ring back to me, “That is wonderful!”

“Yeah, my dad gave it to me for my high school graduation.”

I felt my face turning red again, not knowing where else to take the conversation, if it was that. I thought about it as I took another bite.

“You know,” I said, with food in my mouth, “I have a great respect for Catholicism. I am a Protestant, but I think that Protestants and Catholics are really part of the same Church.” What else was I supposed to talk about? This was the first nun I ever talked to; the conversation had to go deep and quickly, too. Our plane was leaving in forty minutes and there was little chance we would sit next to each other.

“Yes.” She said. “So…do you speak Latin?”

“Me?” I said. “Oh, not that much. I really don’t know Latin very well, even though I studied it for over ten years. We focused mostly on translation.”

“Yes.”

“What kind of nun are you – like, I mean – what order?”

“I am a Franciscan…”

Somehow, from there, we circled back to talking about Latin and she mentioned that she prays in Latin. She told me that she it allows her to think carefully about what she says to God. It is also more beautiful. She asked me if I agreed and, of course, I nodded my head even though I never tried praying in Latin.

Our conversation stopped there, but I did not stop noticing her. In my mind, I compared her spirituality to the spirituality of the two Buddhist monks boarding the plane. What did she think of them; are they kindred souls of monasticism or enemies? I thought of the mu koans that Zen monks have to understand. I thought, ultimately, of the ignorance and emptiness in their pursuit of unity with nature.

This nun, she pursued unity with God Himself.

She told me her name, but I forgot.

VI. The Blessed – We Are the Fools

The basic existence function is the practice of a skill. Only the peculiar and rare are afforded the privilege of trimming and discussing truth into abstraction. The craftsman – the unintelligensed (they are bless ehd) – are there to remind us all that truth does not need either. The truth exists like a cube of sugar. Those who have the privilege to trim it with their teeth may taste its sweetness, but they increasingly understand less of it until the Great Epiphany, Death. Intelligence is a hobby, a skill. Not everyone is called to curse themselves with knowledge that they must not only cultivate but preserve from corruption. To those who can receive it, ought. Our basic existence function is the practice of a skill.

VII. Another Encounter

“Hey man, what’s your name? Full name, first and last name.” Smoking, musk, tie-die hoodie and healed acne face. Late twenties, probably. Shaking and nervous like he just killed the cat he brought into his house three weeks ago.

“Caleb”

“Yeah, and last.”

“Caleb Warner.” I was going to reserve this information.

He then smiled, like “bro” and tapped me on the heart with the tips of his fingers. He walked behind me and said to my back, “Yah man, just don’t do that.” I turned around to see him karate chop his own neck. I imagined a photo-negative of myself three days ago as an executioner, standing over his disembodied head.

“I’m human still, are you still human?” He asked.

“Yeah, I’m still human.”

“Yeah, I’m not. Just don’t…don’t do that again.”

I walked away concerned, but hopeful that he has never known me and never will.

VIII. To Those Who Want To Do Everything

If we all perform different functions as one body, then when we study one detail of Creation as individuals, we study everything as one body. Do not be afraid to have a precise direction in life, as if you might miss out.

A specified study is not a separate study from others. It is merely one door into the same room of truth. As writing is to cooking is to astronomy, so mathematics is to music. You may study one and enter in, or try and study them all at a basic level, propelled by curiosity.

Whoever studies them all does not enter the room, but stays studying the door. These individuals are not necessarily as interested in getting into the room as they are in finding out how to.

Take up your door-frame, and walk.

IX. A Few Observations

Blowing your nose sounds like an espresso machine.

No one ever eats the bread for breakfast. You might as well get whole grain.

Never defend something you have done without reason. If you said something and you do not know why, when someone attacks it, their offense is more founded than your defense.

Some things do not need to be defended.

The way to a man’s heart is through his arteries.

If everyone stopped thinking I was trying to do something, I would finally be free to try.

X. The Purpose

Thank you for exploring these memories with me. We will let some of them float away, but feel free to use some of them to lay on top of each other, the stones of the left wall for the temple of your mind.

…………..

I do not worship G.K. Chesterton like I am tempted to worship C.S. Lewis in his glory.

Chesterton once observed that people who do not know Jesus simultaneously accuse him of opposite vices. To some, He is too judgmental. To the same some, He is too soft. He is too liberal, but also too legalistic.

A man who can be accused of opposites is likely to be living righteously.

I dream of a fellowship that can be seen as pharisaical and liberal, conservative and radical, pietistic and outward, silent and abrasive, passive and aggressive, laborious and lazy.

I do not know what this fellowship would be called right now, so let me think about it for ten minutes. It would be part of the Church. It would be the workplace for brothers called to the same vocation, the resting place, a place of worship, a place of hospitality and solitude.

I admire the individual who pursues glory, who seeks after God, through his own work. His work – no matter what it is – is how he communes with the God of work. His rest is seen in the same light, because he rests from the work that pleases him. Rest is not separate from work, but is the fruit of it. He rests with the God of rest at a feast and continues his labor through it and during it, perpetually refreshed and pleased.

If I could draw a caricature of this individual, he would be the heroic artist. He would be Beethoven as the extreme, the man obsessed with his own craft. The more balanced version of this individual would be Bach, the man obsessed with his God. Both commune with God, but Bach is admirable for his self-forgetfulness even with immense skill. Bach is not a heroic artist, he is a saintly artist.

This is a world increasingly divided, ghettoized, district-ed. The world has been an international community as long as there have been nations, but it has only been a global community for less than two hundred years.

Major contributors to this change:

railroads

telegrams

automobiles

highways

telephones

television

internet

email

websites

smartphones

telepathy [coming soon]

teleheadgear

forehead implants

obsessive technophilia

The hope was that these technologies would connect distant communities that had not been connected. And this happened, but the more streets layed down, the more alleys and blocks for building.

This is what has happened. The world is now so connected, that there are thousands of empty plots of land for opinions, blogs, cults, groups, clubs, religions, fetishes, exclusivity, personalities, media, indie bands, reviews, etc. cque.

You know this world, this is the world of global ghettos. It could not exist without the technologies our Fathers of Progress hoped would bring global unity.

Global ghettos are not a bad thing. They offer a delicious opportunity. Here is a basic presentation of what has happened:

smalltown -> globaltown -> globalcity -> globalized smalltown

When the wishful youth looks out at this open and wild landscape, he perceives the freedom to be heard by the entire world. He can find a place – there is always an empty plot somewhere – to establish himself as a hero. The wishful youth becomes the heroic artist! He will change the world through and to and by their vision of force!

Refreshingly – and thankfully – no single one of these fools will “change the world.” Because of their similar ambitions, they preserve the landscape of heroic artists en masse. The only ones chosen out of the cesspool of the global City of Man are sacrificed to the idols of capitalization. They are simultaneously sacrifices and martyrs. They lose their individual identities to become hyper-personalities, hyper-individuals. They are worshiped in their passing by youths propelled by jealousy. Major corporations have begun to realize that the life cycle for these manufactured eternal souls is about five years. After the drugs and aids – the publicized personal life – they trod off into obscurity and maybe the major motion flop twenty years later. Remember him? What a haircut.

The most successful live peaceful lives in their globalized smalltown. Maybe they start a band and have 5,000 facebook likes. Out of those 5,000 likes, maybe 4,539 have heard them and enjoyed they do. Cool band, bro! Glad I checked you guys out. Out of those 4,539, only 2,702 have made them money. The band is only a part-time gig for the successful globalized smalltown artist. Still, 5,000 facebook likes is enough for his friends to believe he made it. Not as big as J Biebz, but his five years is almost up.

The heroic artist is dead. He had a good run. The world is too fractured for an individual visionary to topple it. In order to topple something, it has to be stable. Forgive me for mentioning Beethoven again, but he is the perfect example. Before him stood hundreds of years of a stable musical tradition. He stood before the brick wall, hammer in hand.

Now, after all these years and all the heroic artists, the wall is a pile of bricks. It can still be moved – certainly – but that is better done brick-by-brick than by pushing. A man cannot push a pile of bricks, hoping that it will move any significant distance.

What is the visionary going to do? What is next?

The heroic artist is dead, but he had two sons during his stint in the global ghettos.

The first son looks the most like him, but he has a smaller build. He is the one who has the desire to change the world, but the “world” he wants to change is really his local community. He is the local artist, not the indie artist. He is known by everyone in one neighborhood, but to the neighborhood on the other side of the city, who cares? He is the local heroic artist.

The second son is a different beast entirely. The world does not know him, the world does not know what he looks like, and the world does not, at this point, care.

FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT NOW

The second son is the fellowship artist. The fellowship artist has an individual personality to his brothers only. Let us call him Jeff. Hi, brother Jeff!

He is one cell in the organism that is now the artist fellowship. The artist fellowship now bears the responsibilities of an individual. He is an organism, a body. He is brothers. I have had ten minutes, so let us call him Blessed Poor. Hi, Blessed Poor!

Blessed Poor produces collaborative artwork, where the individuals underneath it take no credit. It writes books that say, “Written by Blessed Poor” or “Published by Blessed Poor Press.” Where are the individual names? What does it matter?

For thousands of years, masterpieces of literature, music, paint, sculpting, and every other art form have been done by individuals. The previous world structure allowed for these strong personalities, as well as individual patrons.

But now, the world is almost entirely restructured into a form not much different than the previous. There are still patrons, but the patrons are entire communities. There are still artists, but the most prominent artists will be communities.

The second son is an entire global ghetto.

This vision may seem unclear, but we see through a glass darkly. Let it be known that it will happen – perhaps it already is in some places – and it will be a good thing.

The infrastructure for this is both old and new. There are the monasteries and writing colonies of the past. There is the global community of the present. While artist fellowships are not the only conclusion of this environment, the only cause of artist fellowships would be this environment.

The individual artist could easily begin exploring the artist fellowship. First, he must admit and confess his pride. Second, he must look beyond himself for skill. Third, he must fellowship with these artists. Last, he must work with them. Their first patron is the globalized smalltown within which they exist.

This is an application of the importance of place. We are no longer rooted in geographic regions, but global regions. If we believe that geographic regions are the only legitimate places, our pursuit of this will be both fabricated and condemning. It would be hard to pursue place in geography without forsaking the technologies that have so rooted us in each others’ lives.

You are no hero. Your community is the hero.

 

 

Day by Day 65

I. Caleb’s Categorical Imperative

Tick, tock. Someone is waking up, this is the sounding of a talking clock.

This is the Divine Clock of the Cosmos. Every ancient kept quiet and attentive, theirs ears to the glass and listening to the steady moving hands. Every now and then an ancient – let’s say Ptolemy – stepped back from the Clock, nodded his head in enthusiasm, and scribbled something in Greek on a tablet. He would write about the music he heard, the music of the spheres, the tones and measured rhythms of matter and force.

He constructed categories for his discoveries of this ordered Cosmos, like a library for a vast collection. Regardless of the discoveries’ consistency with our observations, there was an aweful beauty to his fabrications. They worked, ordered and measured like the Clock he observed.

Of course now, we are quite skeptical of categories. We prefer to leave ideas and people unlabeled. We prefer Truth without a face or form. We prefer to act fluidly, naturally. If something is true, we think, then we will possess it intrinsically and act without having to consider it beforehand.

This is how we approach all skills too, including thought, conversation, writing, rhetoric, parenting, and vacuuming. We believe – almost exclusively – in natural and uncategorized skill. The more natural someone believes or acts, the more skilled they are. We believe in the myth of exclusive natural talent.

We have thrown away the old Clock model. We think it is too unnatural, too factory-made, too metallic.

What we do not recognize, however, is that categories are necessary to act naturally. The ancients believed in constructing categories for wisdom and knowledge, but only so that the end result might be an effortless possession of skill. They recognized that the foundations of this Divine Clock are categories and, because of its masterful construction, moves flawlessly. Naturally.

An ancient master of oration, for example, would have so deeply embodied the five canons of rhetoric, that he would be acutely aware of the exceptions, qualifications, and fluidity of them. Because of this acute awareness, the categories would in some sense cease existing. He would be them and no longer need them. Yet, the foundations would be the categories he used to learn.

This is my imperative; it is necessary to construct categories. There is no place to store our wisdom and knowledge if we refuse to build even a single bookshelf.

II. The Skill of an Image of God

People seem to fit uncomfortably into categories. Unless someone is either hyper-ironic or blind to themselves, people do not like being labeled.

Every now and then, there might be a situation when a friend asks, “So, what do you think of John?” And you fumble in your words for awhile, unsure of what to say. You finally tell her, “Well, I like John, but he’s kind of…hm.”

Profund. To the depths of the ocean.

There is not a simple three-step process to determine how to accurately describe someone, but categories are an excellent tool for precise clarification.

We broadly place people into two groups, the intelligent or the skilled. We are all too frequently crude and unfair in our descriptions of others. If we cannot be honest and true in our judgments of others, we ought not to speak. That is why it is so essential to see the image of God in someone before we see the image of the Fallen Man.

The choice of description between intelligence and skill is unremarkable. It assumes that those who use their brains are unlikely to use their hands and vice versa. The brain and hand are connected; intelligence and skill cannot exist separate from one another. In order to better understand and express the glory of human ability, it is wise to borrow from the ancients.

If rhetoric is the art of a good man speaking well, then rhetoric is not only confined to the giving of speeches. It can be expanded to the life of a man. Rhetoric is the art of a good man living well. The five canons of rhetoric apply to life. How does a man live a persuasive life? A persuasive life is one lived by a man of strong convictions who seeks to prove the truth of his beliefs by living a good life.

The five canons of rhetoric do apply to life, but are specifically applicable to the varying intelligences that people have. The five canons of rhetoric do not apply to the deeper tools – or intelligences – of persuasion, the ones beyond human skill.

All people cannot help but live out their convictions. Therefore, all people attempt to live persuasive lives. There are five different skills of the persuasive life, five essential intelligences that are used to convince an unbelieving party that their beliefs are true. Because all people are made in the image of God, all people possess intelligence, but there is not one kind of intelligence. These different categories of intelligence are ultimately different categories of skill. Because they are different categories of skill, they can be learned.

III. The Prophet

The Prophet speaks in riddles, skilled in invention. He has the mind of a craftsman. He does not think quickly, but methodically. He works on original ideas for long periods of time behind his eyes and does not have a surface intelligence. If someone asks him a question, he will likely stumble over his words because any external interaction is a distraction from his mental processes.

The Prophet is the most skilled at original thoughts. He may not have a fantastic memory or be quick, but he can eloquently recount his own ideas.

He is most likely to be a writer and have a commonplace of clever thoughts or witticisms that he can draw from in social situations.

IV. The Adviser

The Adviser organizes, skilled in arrangement. He has a firm grasp on the principles and broad ideas that govern human action. He is not likely to have many original thoughts, but he has a mind of perfect organization. He is likely an extremely copious person who soaks in the thoughts of others and hangs them together on a line. Details elude him, but structures and contours do not.

For example, if someone asks him about the movement of history, various -isms, or an ethical situation, he could respond quickly with something of value. He gives good advice, because he can apply large principles to detailed situations.

Since he knows and remembers the bigger picture, he is able to connect things quickly. Metaphor and poetry are close to his heart. He delights in organizing thoughts and preserving clarity. He sees everything.

V. The King

The King demonstrates and represents, skilled in style. He knows how to make things appear natural and attractive. In a word, he is socially intelligent. He is aware of the immediate wants and needs of people. Therefore, his primary skill is identifying and drawing people in, whether it is through eloquent speech, evocative dress, or simply in the way he carries himself. He has a cultivated image.

His intelligence lies in a very different place than the other intelligences. His social intelligence is not merely sophistry. He knows the importance of others’ opinions and knows that words are not the only way to convey meaning.

He knows what sort of words are appropriate when, whether he uses a grand, middle, or plain style, but words are less important to him than presentation. When he has drawn the masses in, he knows how to sustain a healthy and prolonged relationship with them. He is a natural leader.

VI. The Judge

The Judge remembers and determines, skilled in memory. He recalls details quickly and, long past everyone has forgotten, remembers. The overarching structure is above him, but he is in tune with the sensitive balance of situations. The Judge holds a set of scales and he knows which scale is a particle of dust off from the other.

Because of this acute awareness of balance and detail, he can determine truth that requires observation.

He lives in the world of the microcosmos, one few see. He forgets nothing.

VII. The Priest

The Priest recounts and delights, skilled in delivery. He captivates people with his delight of the thoughts of others. He delights in things and, through his delight, knows how to make others delight.

He likely has few original thoughts nor is he able to remember or think quickly. He, however, is instinctively curious and passionate for ideas that he can share. Whether it is something mundane or grand, he makes others interested. He is capable of making a listener hang on to his every word. He is a natural teacher.

VIII. The Follower

We are disciples of the God who possesses all intelligences. No one can match Him and He wants us to be like Him. We pursue intelligence, not through the acquisition of abstract knowledge, but through skill.

Intelligence is a skill, so we can cultivate it. It is not entirely founded on natural ability. If someone can learn, they can learn to be intelligent in some way. We are called to grow, progress, fill, multiply, and learn. Some are called to cultivate intelligence. Through these skills, we can live persuasive lives.

We are to persuade the world that Christ has died and risen and, therefore, that we are able to live well. The five canons of intelligence only apply to the use of our skills for persuasion.

There is a deeper way in which we persuade others that only the Holy Spirit bestows; faith, the source of love. He is the only one who allows us to forget ourselves and become perfect images of God. And a life infused with the Holy Spirit is the most persuasive argument for the truth of the Gospel.

If the Cosmos is any Clock, it is a cuckoo clock. And we are to dance and sing with it…

Maybe that was too much.

 

………….

When we put the kids to bed, you crawled into bed beside me and your cold toes hit my ankles.

I didn’t know what you were planning or what I was up for, but it was late. And if you wanted to do something, then I would. Fine. I am always ready.

I felt your breath and one hanging strand of your hair tickle my cheek. You were leaning over me, as I imagined with my eyes closed, like a tiger making sure the deer was asleep. Do tigers eat deer, I thought?

I thought of you as a huntress – Daphne, maybe – looking for the perfect place to plant a kiss, at an unsuspecting faker. A faker of sleep, like James when I unbuckled his seat-belt and brought his limp body up the stairs to bed, a fallen hero to a funeral pyre. He nearly conquered the night, but the enemy of Missing-Something stabbed him.

We both knew I was awake. Just ten minutes ago, I was brushing my teeth in the blinding bathroom, wearing my t-shirt and boxers.

It was a long day and I listened to a song in the car that reminded me of high school. It was a Peter Gabriel song, one that I recall shifting the entire frame of reality. One that I recall bursting the hollow imitation of innocence.

But now, when I hear it, the earth remains spherical and there is no way for me to make it flat. My frame is set and it was set with that song. Now, that song merely marks the beginning of now. Then, it marked that end of now. The Needle of Now vibrates in small motions over North and it would be unwise for me to go South. Even if I could find my way back. The sun is going down.

And now it is down and you are over me like a tiger or Daphne, moving forward but afraid of breaking a twig. I opened the window before I went to bed. It is one of those nights when you say to yourself, It is one of those nights, one where the window should be left open. The crickets sang their song of Taking a Nap With Mom.

When I was five and my dad was out of town, my mother brought me up to her bedroom and laid me down for a nap. We said little to each other, although I had little intention of taking a long nap and could have said, “But Mom, I’m not tired.”

Earlier that day, she took the bed-sheets, the heavy cool white quilt and the thin smooth toga, off the clothesline after I ran through them, worried that someone was behind the sheets, ready to catch me.

We took the nap as the sun was setting and, closing my eyes, learned the most profound lesson in my life; naps are very good. She was there with me, her arm around me, and I knew I would not be killed.

Not two minutes later, I opened my eyes and it was dark. Thousands of crickets screamed like someone had lit matches and seared their butts.

Mom was gone.

At first, I was confused. But confusion turned into fear and fear turned into anger. She left me! She left me! And who was going to protect me from the face of the disembodied Larry, peering through the old farmhouse window? The window was open, the crickets cried fowl, and Larry knew that Mom was downstairs drinking coffee and talking to Dad. It was supposed to be her nap, not mine!

In my ear, my wife whispered, “Want to go on an adventure?”

So much for a kiss. But, like I said, I was ready for anything. Always ready.

I smiled half of my face, the half in the pillow. “Oh, but I’m so tired.”

It was true that I was tired, but I could go either way. I would have been happy if she said, “Okay, let’s go to bed then.” But she convinced me, with three simple words. “A big adventure.”

I jumped out of bed as if my arm had not fallen asleep under the summer-knighted pillow. I stretched and yawned, pulling on my jeans from the floor like a fallen shade.

We said little to each other, but I got the keys from the wooden bowl on the counter, looked at her stillness in the kitchen under the oppressive ceiling light, and opened the door to the garage.

We got in the car and closed the doors, feeling as if we were in the loading bay of an enemy warship. At least, that is how I felt. I imagined we were leaving something dangerous. We were; dreaming children. Nothing is more dangerous.

“The kids will be okay.” She said to me.

I did not believe her, but for the sake of adventure, I nodded my head.

We drove for thirty minutes, but it was not silent. The moon spoke so loudly, every cloud moved out of the way. It spoke with a clear and defiant voice. “I am the Moon your god, who brought you out of your house and into the house of my light.” He was welcoming, but I did not know what to say to him. Thank you, maybe?

We went to the beach, the tired waves crashing, half-asleep.

We went to the water, leaving two piles of clothes on the beach.

We went to the sea bottom, leaving the surface sparkling like my son’s blue eyes under the oppressive ceiling lights in our kitchen. We played in the coral reef for hours, worried we might find an eel around the corner ready to snap at us.

But there was no other creature there, only us and the silent waving seaweed holding onto the stone for dear life.

We held on to each other and the invisible tide could not snatch us. We sat on the top of the coral and in the distance of that hushed world, witnessed the slow descent of half a ship.

It was half a sailboat. The tangled mast billowed in the wind of the sunken waves. The wheel faced us vertically standing on the deck, waving at us with its eight arms, saying mechanically, “Thanks for stopping by!” And to the next person in line asking, “Insert five coins, please.”

When the shell of wood struck the seafloor, a cloud of sand covered the entire empty spectacle, distant and dead like a deserted fairground in Kansas. If the knees of a towering ferris wheel give out, does anyone hear its pained fall?

I sighed – relieved – and leaned over to kiss my wife as if we just witnessed the Grand Finale of a fireworks show.

Up on the cliff, above the ocean and the small hills of clothes, a boy of fourteen finishes his trumpet solo for the Sinking of the Spirit Past. I have a thought to throw five coins into his trumpet case or to rub his hair, but he doesn’t need it. His solo is payment enough, under the moon that demands worship and above the married couple delighting in the passing of time.

Well done, kid. You have learned the second most profound lesson in my life; growing up is not done by escaping feeling, but by feeling the right things.

We feel cold toes and we don’t move our legs away.

We feel full and we play trumpet solos for an ocean, half-asleep.

…………

I speak with a weak voice but fill the three chambers of my heart with the dark sayings of the wise.

Things come and go, but every poet knows that. There is a majesty in people, their metaphors, their small acts of genius, unseen, unsuspected even by them. The brief moments when a slight crack splits down the middle of the face of a stranger and they speak past themselves.

Enjoy these moments and tell no one, but say to God, “Thank you for the eyes to see and the mind to receive these small treasures.” Beauty may reproduce itself, but only after it has spent time in the womb of the mind.

There is glory in fleeting images, the glances behind the foggy eyes of doomed vessels. They are the strangest of us all. The flashes of brilliance they have, when it is clear that they are not their own. It is never ours, it was never ours to give. They give nothing, but I give less. There is a sea of glass dolls breaking on the stone of my life.

I will drown if I keep my back to the water. I either learn to breathe in water or drown. I either breathe in the midst of this great crowd, repenting for my lack of fascination, or continue on in bitterness and lost in the labyrinth of straw figurines.

I will either drown in this sea of distorted reflections or hold my hope for the boats I see floating above me. They burn like the sun on the surface of the water, broken boards soaring towards the sea bottom.

Repentance is breathing. We are rebels of God from the start of our day, when we choose to start a dialog with that voice which is not our conscience. At that very point, when we have forsaken talking to the Conscience for that other voice, we have lost. When the Holy Spirit Himself is left asking, “Where are you?” traipsing through the jungle inside our ribcage, we have forgotten the blessing of one day.

Goodbye, day. Bye, day.

Breath! Talk to Him. The man in the mirror has nothing to offer you. Those around you are not mirrors. Banish the thought. They are not mirrors. Your friends are not mirrors. Neither are your parents or siblings. They do not reflect you nor should they. You and them do not exist in the same place. You and your friend exist in different places, flailing in a separate stream, screaming for someone other than you or silent.

The only thing you can learn from them is to see the grace of God in their lives, whether they acknowledge it or not, whether they worship or not. They are not merely idols of God, they are vessels for Him to either shatter or fill with gold. God will give them what they do not deserve or not.

You will get what you deserve only if you ask for it. Plead to God, “Lord, I deserve more! I have earned more than them. Give me what I deserve.”

And that is when God, as a just God, sends your soul straight into the labyrinth of midnight, after a time of silence, an opportunity for you to scream. Not all of us get what we deserve.

Ask God, “Lord, I deserve darkness. I deserve to be in darkness. But I do not want darkness. Give me what I do not deserve. I deserve nothing.”

And then that strange vessel, gleaming through a crack, looks suddenly like a friend and not just an ocean. And then your friend, struggling down the rapids, looks suddenly like a brother and not just a distant motion. And a labyrinth is shaped into a heart with three chambers.