Excerpt from “Poor Dreamers”

When I finished eating, I pulled out the phone book and began looking for daycares around the area. There were two: Seaside and Ocean’s Brook, but neither name appealed to me, so I just closed the book. I kind of sat around all day, eating the left-overs from the night before whenever it suited me, and singing Marvin Gaye. It was the first time I had been happy in a long time. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I think there was about an hour where I did nothing but trace my finger across our brick wall, bringing a chair over to reach the bricks I couldn’t get.

It was November 11th, 2014. As most moms of the sleeper generation can tell you, that was the day No-Cryo sent out their first announcement to the owners of sleeping jars as a government-approved company. That day is sometimes referred to on sleeper-mom blogs as the Wailing Day.

I was laying on the carpet in a puddle of sun, smiling, when the doorbell rang. I opened the door and there was a pile of mail on our welcome mat. There were two bills, a magazine we never subscribed to, three pages of coupons for Mister Mac’s Pizza (which we always kept), and an unusual-looking letter.

I threw everything else on the table, but the unusual-looking letter. It was stamped [CONFIDENTIAL] and because of the confetti around the edges, I assumed it might be promotional mail for some collector’s edition woodcarvings or something. But I opened it anyway and it was from the No-Cryo Company. It read:

Dear Wendell and Michael Rue,

It is no small thing to risk the comfort of the present for a future hope. We know you have been with us from the beginning, even before our vision was as popular as it is today. Our company has gone through a number of big changes in the past few years and we have really felt your support through it all. You can sleep well tonight, like your loved one(s), that these changes have only made us more committed to your future hope and the safety of those you love. The world itself has gone through a lot of changes in the past few years—and while we cannot promise a solution for every problem we face, we can promise complete peace for those who you have invested in by using our product. The future belongs to them and the future belongs to you.

Due to the changes in the past few years, we are now delighted to promise you something we never could before: a complete guarantee that your loved one(s) will never have to face the threat of cancer! After passing the Defense of Life Act in 2013, the United States government now requires all legal guardians of current U.S. citizens embedded into one of our sleeping jars to pay a small monthly fee to ensure their full protection. More information about our life insurance policies and how to sign up can be found at http://www.no-cryo.org. If you are an owner of our sleeping jars and currently have a loved one(s) embedded, you must sign up for our life insurance. Further federal requirements stipulate that any U.S. citizen without a license from the federal government is disallowed to unlock any sleeping jar, or else face penalties up to incarceration for life. Only No-Cryo engineers can be licensed and are equally disallowed from unlocking the sleeping jars of anyone they know without approval from the federal government. It is further required that all home units either be sent to a local No-Cryo facility no later than November 15th, 2014, 4:00pm PT for upgrades.

Owners, like yourself, can choose to either have their home units be upgraded and sent back, or to have their unit remain under the care and watch of a local No-Cryo facility. These upgrades will do no harm to your loved one(s). Instead, it is a way to ensure their safety and your complete satisfaction. Choosing to leave a unit at a local No-Cryo facility is a great way to protect your loved one(s) even further, where they will be under constant care from one of our many highly-trained nurses. In fact, many owners like you placed their sleeping jars under the supervision of our staff since our very first day as a trusted company. If you choose to keep your unit at home, please remember that it is a violation of federal law to tamper with the unit, beyond replacing the necessary filters and charges. For more information on how to handle our units at home, read our How-To-Care Manual, available at http://www.no-cryo.org.

Lastly, for the safety of you and your loved one(s), it is a federal crime to unlock any sleeping jar, until our scientists have found a proven cure for the cancers that have been ravaging our country in recent years. We are confident, with the partnership of the United States government and trusted customers like you, that we have never been closer to finding a cure. For more information on how to help us fight the War Against Cancer and opt out of our life insurance program, visit http://www.no-cryo.org.

Thank you for investing in the future with us.

Yours truly,

Dane Bozgraff, President of No-Cryo, Secretary of Life Investment Solutions of America (LISoA)

Moscow, Christian Community, Cynicism, and My Attempt at Refreshing Old Thoughts for a Small Group of People Like That Guy who Refills the Chocolate Pudding at a Salad Bar

I have heard of blogs and rumors of blogs. I have heard that New Saint Andrew’s students even had blog wars and cared to formally respond to things other people said. There was a time when NSA students actually thought that discussions were fun.

Well I don’t know if I am interested in starting that up again. Right now, I find that most students here are interested in talking to each other about each other. That is much more preferable (this is a matter of taste) than engaging in “larger narratives” about “culture” and “secularism.” And how could we forget postmodernism? Everyone’s favorite word. It just has a certain ring to it. Postmodernism. Postmodernism. A very woody word, long word, philosophical. Gives me confidence. Much better than asking about someone’s day, sort of a tinny word. Culture. War. Culture war.

But I am hoping that this new interest in people over ideas is not a response, a back-up, from cynicism, but a natural outworking of us just becoming more like Christ. If that’s the case, a healthy understanding of discussion and cynicism is sure to follow. If not, I am just participating in a cultural swing when I avoid discussionese and cynicism by asking someone about themselves. And pendulums always come back. If there is any hope of stopping pendulums–which we should be in the business of doing–then we need to set about the task of redeeming both extremes in light of the Gospel.

Abstract concept: I don’t think balance is the right of two wrong extremes, though. The Gospel (what? We’re talking about the Gospel now?) gives a different option than just a balance. Pagans thought that balance was the answer, but a balance is just a distant approximation of the Gospel, which is an entirely other system than the swinging pendulum, the cyclical history, Achilles’ shield. And we need to think about these two systems, whether we are studying ancient history, comparing two generations of evangelicals, or evaluating a small town culture that is less than thirty years old.

Cynicism is a sort of spiral, isn’t it? If I am a “cynical person,” then I am always in the position of distancing myself from things. And the more I distance myself from things (which look an awful lot like the ground I stand on), the more I back up and am sucked inwards. One day,  I will be standing in the middle of the lawn, spinning around and laughing at everyone who’s decided to stand still. And everyone and everything becomes blurry. The last line of attack for a cynic is to become cynical about cynics. A hipster of hipsters (NSA students think of ND Wilson here and their “important” opinions about his strategies). And not only is that actually a participation in the cycle (read: cynic=cycle) of blah blah movements that are born, not from new understandings, but rather from new rejections (modernism->postmodernism=no change), it is a failure to be happy and be at peace. Cynicism is only fulfilling its purpose when it is a tool to bring us toward peace (in Christ) and happiness (more deeply than the Greeks thought about it). As for life and liberty, I lost the first at the Cross and stopped caring about the second when the Holy Spirit made me one of his house idols.

Oh man, it’s so easy to be clever. It is too, too easy. A popular sci-fi author, John Scalzi, once gave ten reasons for why teenage writers suck. One of the reasons is that they can be clever without being good. I think that can be applied to this generation of Christians (not just in Moscow, but in the broader affluent American church). We have inherited a culture of wit and clever deviations from the ironclad doctrines of the Bible. And if I can pitch my own voice somewhere in this discussion, I think that youth culture has moved towards the subtle and mysterious and away from sun-dried systematic theology. I feel like I can make this broad claim, because I have seen a shift in books I have read, conversations I have had, and things I have thought myself. I think the movement towards mysticism and ambiguity is a good shift, but I have to be careful that it is not rooted in a secular floppiness and love of being different. Every generation wants to be different (and always in some surprising way becomes the same). If we want to stop the pendulum and move upwards, we should not fail to see this.

This generation’s interest in ambiguity ought to be an outgrowth from solid foundations. So I want to approach ambiguity with a spirit of gratitude. Thank you, R.C. Sproul, for being so practical. Thank you, Douglas Wilson, for being so cautious. Thank you, John Frame, for thinking so clearly. The church needed a generation of clarifiers and updaters. I think it now needs a generation that grows from those roots, to become a beautiful tree with a million little leaves (apologies for the metaphor). An age of doctrine hasn’t passed, it’s just growing into an age of aesthetics. And a key ingredient of a mature aesthetic is ambiguity (thank you, Austin Storm, for putting it in those terms, so I could think about it further).

Ahem. I forgot where I was. Oh yeah, it is so easy to be clever. Yeah. My point about cleverness was that it is the big killer of discussion. It is attached to self-worship and deception. Self-worship: believing that what you say is full and wise and worth hearing at all times. Deception: thinking that what you say actually matters like you think it does. Both of these are related and they can generate a spirit of anxiety. An anxious discussion–one that has the energy of a committee meeting on the wing of an airplane flying into the mouth of the Megatron Anti-Christ with rototiller arms at the End of the Ages, smashing up the Capitol building and carving the Washington monument into an Asherah pole–is fruitless. Because if there is no peace in our speech, we are not living like God fulfills His promises. But if I forget myself and remember that the people I talk to are more important than myself, I am free to have a peaceful discussion. And then we are free to be cynical about the right things. Besides that, discussions always devolve into bitter attacks.

So although I prefer talking about people and their lives, I see that there is some benefit to taking part in discussions. It is part of a personal agenda. I am a recovering cynic and, unfortunately, one of the side effects is that I have become very cynical about myself. This has kept me from speaking blatantly about what I think or to give reasons for my opinions. I have become cynical about my opinion mattering. That is not something I can judge for myself. My opinion will only matter as long as there are people who want to know it.

You might be wondering, “So…what’s all this then?” And the truth is, I don’t know. I felt like starting a series on Christian community, not abstractly, but about the community immediately around me. I am talking about Douglas Wilson, Moscow, Trinity Reformed Church, First Things, Austin Storm, my classmates, my friends, New Saint Andrews, reformed thinking, First Things, and other people and thoughts in my life. There are a lot of blogs that come out of this milieu, but most of them are just boring (besides First Things).

So, here we are.

Quote 5: Emily Dickinson

“Publication – is the Auction” by Emily Dickinson

Publication – is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man –
Poverty – be justifying
For so foul a thing

 

Possibly – but We – would rather
From Our Garret go
White – unto the White Creator –
Than invest – Our Snow –

 

Thought belong to Him who gave it –
Then – to Him Who bear
It’s Corporeal illustration – sell
The Royal Air –

 

In the Parcel – Be the Merchant
Of the Heavenly Grace –
But reduce no Human Spirit
To Disgrace of Price –
Note: So cynical. No one is forcing them to publish their thoughts.

Excerpt from “Poor Dreamers”

I locked her up thirty-three years ago. Her name is Sarah. I love her more than anything. I love her more than my own life. There has been a lot said these days about life being a gift. But it sometimes feels like we prize more life than a better one. I don’t. Michael and I believe that any life lived, no matter how short, is worth living well. And when we lay in bed at night and think about everything we regret together, when the only thing behind our eyelids and in the palms of our hands and plastered on the ceiling is an imprint of Sarah, we know that our lives, with all of our swimming doubt and our relapses into anger and impatience with each other and our fear of judgment, we know that our lives, far from being long and happy, will have always been short and full of suffering. Every life is…

“I doubt this will become legal,” I said.

“Of course it will! Yes it will. Don’t you see? Nothing can happen to him in there. He’s kept safe from all the cancer and all the disease and broken bones in all the world.” Jill motioned over to the chunky thing on Jack’s knees. “And when we can finally tell them and they find a cure for cancer, it will be like he came back to life.”

As soon as she said that, I remember, Jack lost his grip of the unit and it dropped on the floor. There was a snapping sound and my ribs rattled. His neck. His neck, I thought. Jill fell onto the floor on her knees and began uselessly fondling the unit around the blue cubes. Jack came down and immediately pressed in certain corners of the unit. We heard a sizzle and then a release of pressure, like a breath. And then we heard crying.

Jill lifted Cheston out of the machine, a blue naked boy, his skin the complexion and texture of a big wet raisin. She kissed him and cried and brought him into the kitchen and lifted her shirt and breastfed him as if she had been doing it every day for the past five months.

They explained the situation to their family, but when they heard about it, it was very much unlike he had been raised from the dead. The whole family treated him like some secret, something to be whispered about. And they loved him. But I don’t think any love passed between our friends and their family after that. I don’t know if they were scared of the LPO or the police, but Jill stopped inviting her family over. And they stopped inviting her. Then they stopped talking to each other. And two years later, Cheston died of cancer.

It made sense to put your child in a unit back then. The cancer pandemic was real and it was serious. Like cancer had always been, it was unexplainable. But around the middle of that first decade, cancer acted differently than it ever had. A lot of people thought it was adapting. Like they knew what cancer even was. We have a better idea of it now almost forty years later, but our better ideas about it are simply that we now know we knew nothing. It’s a start. There was a peak period where a lot of older women were getting breast cancer and older men prostate cancer. But polls showed a steady increase of cancer developing in younger and younger demographics. Around 2010 and 2011, the majority—by which I mean, over 50%—of two and three year olds were dying of any and all forms of cancer. Abortion was becoming increasingly popular for parents to deal with this, but with such a dramatic decrease in population growth, it was becoming a very bad option for the country. In the midst of this, the No-Cryo Company stepped in. The company promised an alternative to both abortion and raising a child doomed to die. They would provide you with a sleeping jar that would preserve the life of your newborn, until a cure for cancer was found. The child, they said, could be preserved indefinitely by their advanced techniques. Allegedly, most profit went to private research to find a cure. Not a bad deal for most parents, except the units were exceedingly expensive to buy and even more expensive to maintain. Besides, few knew about it and if they did, they only told people that would consider the sleeping jar as an immediate option for their family. It was not legal.

Before Cheston died of cancer, I got pregnant. I was twenty-one. It was my first child. I had to make a choice. I could have either raised my child, who would probably die within three years, or I could give her a real chance at a better life. I had seen that the unit kept Cheston alive for over five months. And in the span of time between first meeting Cheston and getting pregnant, No-Cryo had gone public and was undergoing heavy reformation—so was the LPO, which was becoming less of a threat.

Michael and I agreed. We were going to put our first and only daughter, Sarah, into a sleeping jar and hope and pray for the day they’d find a cure.