Molten petals sweep
And awaiting awaking,
For I am the mastodon.
I am the birdshout.
I am the awakening
I woke up in the best way today—a bit stark raving. Every thought is a letter.
I drink from a red mug with a chip in it. Wabi sabi, the Japanese might call it. There’s a glory in the fractured. You won’t find it, in this world, in the perfect. This is, right now, my favorite mug. I didn’t like it especially yesterday, and I probably won’t tomorrow, having returned to that erking and ever-present worry that I might not be perfect.
The me that wakes up three hours early to peanut butter toast and 1/3 a pot of coffee is the real me. The me that’s got it figured out and wakes up with thoughts every day is not. And there’s a glory that is not mine in my fracturedness. My wabi sabi. The glory of the broken. I’ve seen trendy pictures of plates broken and repaired with gold. I am broken and repaired with another’s blood. And in looking upon the shards of my so-called perfection, you might see it’s crimson smirk, it’s ridiculous, loving smile at the stupid child whom it loves.
This is my wound. Drink from it deeply. And I put my lips to the chip in the mug, and I sip more of my whipcreamed coffee. And I type out stupid words that the angels wonder at—not at their profundity but at their stupidity, for what good thing have the sons of Cain to offer? As we shatter our mugs and call them perfect? Is it not only the blooded ones that matter? Is it not only the blood that matters?
And I sip again from my mug. Drink deeply. This is my blood. Drink deeply.
I’m tearing up. I tear up easily when I’m tired and have read things that make me weepy. Yesterday I woke up pissed. I woke up later, but still early, and pissed. Today I did not. Today I woke up bloody.
Perfectionism is setting in. Back to breaking things. I mean writing. Back to writing.
This time the photo is mine. My wife hates that I leave junk on the kitchen counter, but that’s the only place I can think to leave it. And that night light—which if on under the LED overheads lays a crazy yellow shadow behind everything it touches—accompanied my morning ruminations for many months.
I wish I could find it, but I read a meme earlier with a pic of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer that said something like, “Standing out only leads to benefit if it can also benefit other persons, in which case it becomes extortion.” And that’s quite like the idea of the story, though from a cynical slant.
And while I think the idea needs some counterbalancing to be true, I think there’s something to be said about how worldly success works. Every person is intrinsically out for his own good. Such was the effect of the fall.
This doesn’t bar common grace, nor does it account for the nuances of “his own good,” which could also include moral success and therefore non-extortion helps to other persons. But it does speak for much of consumerism.
If I would be successful in the worldly sense, I would be of commercial value. I would be of consumptive value. That’s the nature or spirit of the fallen world. So to seek success in that sense is to seek to be consumed, to seek to be commercialized. And I, upon receiving those junk food profits, would ostensibly turn and eat others.
The more I learn about art—not commercial art or The Arts but art—the more I am convinced it’s the natural occupation of the godly.
Have you ever watched the sea? I’ve only really watched it from the shore, and not that even that much.
It moves like breath. In, out. Like the back of a child, up, down, as it sleeps in its crib. A heavenly hand caresses it with cloudy touch. In, out.
Dreams sleep there. Water fairies and krakens and pirates and the sky. The sea holds our dread, and it holds shores.
What are those shores worth? I wonder. Shores of sand and coconuts and spears and trading companies and rifles and gallows. Shores of magic. The cloudy hands hold those too.
From the shore, the stormy sea seems not so stormy. But get out on it… Have you ever felt a strong undertow? That restless babe is but a drowning factory. A toilet. A grave, pulling on you like time, and you tromping and splashing to escape.
Or the calm. You don’t meet that on the shore. The shore is always breathing, trading its woody fares for foreign winds and unearthed sea bottoms. And death.
And what is land but death, anyways? Porous, petrified, stillborn Adam. And here we are to work it.
I have never seen a calm sea. I suspect it’s a lot like death. No breath, just space for the walking room of your thoughts. We were all made for that place—where the water stops breathing and the wind doesn’t wander.
But were we made for that place? Is the sea made for calm? Wet movement upon stone. Waves and waves and restless weight. Like my six year old.
And like the rain to the rivers—beading and dripping down, down, down—all our lives go to the sea. And don’t get all uppity. The sky is the sea too. We drip down to the sea, to the very edge of the shore, and we fall in.
I’m not sure if it’s time or fate or possibility or creation. It’s something, and it doesn’t seem to want me to define it. But I suppose that’s just like anything God makes. And as I try, it breathes, in and out, and it sleeps and angers and dies.
Life and death are like the sea. But what can I tell, really, from this Adam? Maybe someday, God will walk me down to the shore, draw me by the hand in, and take me down to its depths.
This sent me spinning.
Kind of reminds me of my reaction when reading The Grace Awakening.
Is self-absorption wrong? Short answer—only when it lacks love.
If the focus on self follows a similar model to C.S. Lewis’s metaphor about ships, then no. If a person becomes absorbed with the self but does so as self relates (in love) to God or others, then it’s as right as actively working with or for others. For instance, recognizing/correcting/suppressing/dealing with one’s own anger in order to more healthily relate to a spouse is loving. And what about the person who, in introspection, further plumbs his own sinfulness, with the result of a greater appreciation for and dependence upon God? Sometimes love requires us to become absorbed in self.
However, a person who is only absorbed in self cannot at the same time love. That self-absorption—or perhaps, better, “ego-absorption”—is symptomatic of a lack of love.
Because of his adjectives, I don’t think, necessarily, that Taylor condemned the former. The type of self-absorption to which he refers seems to be that of the unloving kind.
As is often the case with “over thinking” or “worry,” people tend to define self-absorption by degree. If a person is “too” self-absorbed, it’s bad. But it’s not the degree that’s the problem. It’s the quality or the reason. It’s the motivation behind it. The man who cries “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” is surely thinking about his own sin. But he is also thinking about God’s goodness, and he desires to have the span between God and himself bridged.
It also reminds me of the little I learned about the Ego and Self idea. But as I understand it, Ego is the I, whereas Self understands I only in relation to We. The I doesn’t disappear, but it’s context is different. The Self is part of a unified diversity of communal individuals. The former is the lack of the love, and the latter is the love—the relationship.
I am afraid of being self-absorbed. To the extent that I become self-absorbed about being self-absorbed. And then I write documents to determine whether or not I’m being self-absorbed or justifying why I am. Taylor could easily be writing about my blog. And, at least in part, the fear of that led to the creation of this document.
A couple thoughts:
As saint-sinners, and assuming the I is the only alternative to love, all we think and do is, to some degree, self-absorbed. Until glorification, we cannot escape it. No man-created thought or system is safe. No man-understood thought or system is safe. We are wholly dependent upon God for anything not self-absorbed.
Learning by Keyboard documents are meant to depict the development of my thought life over time. They include sinful and incorrect thoughts. They also include some grace and some love. I imagine every form of thought and conversation from every person in this age, no matter how godly, follows the same pattern. Indeed, Taylor might as well have said, “I come across people sinning all the time.”
I’m not defending or diminishing the sin to which he refers. It’s sinful, and the goal of the believer is to love better.
But duh. Really. Of course artists will sin while arting.
But back to the LBKs—Taylor could mean my blog (I doubt it, but I could fit his model), but that’s fine. That’s part of being authentic and transparent. I don’t mean these articles as didactic. They’re exploratory.
To the degree that God provides grace through faith, as I work to obey, I will love while writing. And while thinking and learning. And thus to that degree, these documents will lean away from the sinful form of self-absorption and toward the more relational, loving form, in which relationship provides the context, rather than the ego.
But again, Taylor says this as well. #LordSaveUs
“Only worship music is good music.”
I grew up with this belief, or something like it. I have trouble responding with any measure of clear-headedness when someone brings it back up, though I have been and am being convinced that valuable art is a much broader category than just worship music.
This is from a document for my novel:
This is the issue with southern moralistic Christianity that requires that all “art” be “Christian” to be good. It’s an application of a cultural norm more than a recognition that intent always qualifies morality and that the intent should be “love one another.”
Otherwise—and this is not a reason or a proof against this system but a symptom or result of it—a southern moralist cannot accept or interact with other cultures that do not censor the same taboos but that might still be loving. He cannot speak with the Irish or persons from Spain or the Nordic countries, who cuss like crazy. He cannot hang out with the English or persons from Seattle or Colorado (or pretty much anywhere) because he can’t handle being in a pub. He can’t regard art that incorporates disturbing imagery even when its message is the Gospel.
Indeed, how can southerners interact with the Gospel? Maybe by Lifeway books and movies.
Intent determines moral purity; rules do not (unless they are followed with pure intent). Christ certainly exemplifies this when combatting the religious leaders, whose rules had the appearance of purity but no heart. I think our tendency is the same—to make rules and then forget the heart. And maybe it’s a parenting failure, or maybe it comes from losing faith. Or maybe it comes from failing to understand or care where rules come from and why those origins matter. Though it’s probably at its core an issue of faith.
I think Israel is a really interesting example. They began with the heart, in Abraham and then down through the central figures. They also had God-given rules designed to cultivate and guide that heart. But they lost the heart, kept the rules, and built upon the rules. Didn’t they? (12/13/2017: A friend once told me that the Ancient Near Eastern understanding of Law was more idealistic or prescriptive than prohibitive—”Look upon this law, understand the truth and justice behind it, and apply that truth and justice in whatever way is best per context”; even so, it’s pretty clear that the Jews of Jesus’ day were of the prohibitive brand). It was culture that they built upon purity, but it was godless culture. The same is true, I think, of much of southern moralism today. And surely other brands of moralism.
The problem for Christians, and anyone else looking for goodness and beauty and truth (may they find Christ), is when we assign purity or impurity to culturally normalized morals, like “(So called) worship music is the only music worth listening to” or “No cussing,” “No drinking,” “No ‘vulgar’ media,” and even, sometimes, “No nudity.” I do not believe anything is necessarily impure. Impurity requires less-than-pure intent.
The standard is love. Not just lack of unlove, but the act of love. If it’s not in love, it’s impure.
I do not mean that we should disregard all prudence when dealing with these things. Paul talks about this. Don’t tempt the alcoholic with the real freedom to drink in appropriate contexts. Don’t tempt the porn addict with the real freedom to regard the human body in appropriate contexts. But the reason for those rules (I suppose they are rules) and therefore the only thing that makes them worth following is love. Assigning these rules without assigning love leads persons into sin and wickedness. So love requires that we encourage them away from things that tempt them, until such time that they grow in faith and not be overcome with their temptations as they love.
With this in mind, certainly all bad art, and bad thinking, takes at face value the norms of its cultural context—culture being the things that man has developed.
3/6/2018: If art accords with any particular culture (given that all our cultures, even in the church, are man-touched), my guess is it’s not good (stick this word on a scale in your mind before impaling me on my perfectionism). And if you think it’s good, maybe you’ve got some introspection and repentance to do. My only real point here–good art challenges.
Edit 3/7/2018: Apparently astrophysicists agree.
Bears repeating: Creativity that satisfies & affirms your world view is Entertainment. Creativity that challenges &… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…—
Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 06, 2018
Edit 2: Also G. K. Chesterton (whom I’ve yet to read).
"Art is born when the temporary touches the eternal." — G.K. Chesterton—
Brehm Center (@brehmcenter) March 07, 2018
If artistic success, and indeed Christian success, is not measured in dollars, then what is success? What would success be for my pursuit of writing?
A life of love is a success. A life spent, poured out, in service to God and others. And what does that look like? It looks like quality relationships. Dialogue. Humility. A corporate and cooperative search for truth. It looks like learning, like recognizing failures and doing what I can to make up for them. It looks like depending upon grace and extending that same grace to others.
Art is the same. Art pours itself out in service to others. It works to heal wounds. It encourages. It questions wrongs. It seeks what’s right and invites others to do the same. It stands before others in vulnerability, asking to either be part of their lives or to be set aside or to be demolished. It relates.
Thus artistic success is using my craft in relation to—in relationship with—others. And not just to the nameless masses—that plumb-line of success I tend to follow and I think that much of the world around me tends to follow. It is in relation to others in the same way that I am called to relate to others in all of life. I am called to love those who are in my sphere. If I abandon those persons in my sphere and seek to share my work with other spheres, where does that leave me? Surely not love. My desire for other spheres couldn’t be a loving one, given that plenty persons exist in my current one.
Thus my art should begin with persons I know. And it probably ends there, too. But I haven’t developed in my understanding that far, yet.
And if success isn’t measured in dollars, how do I make enough money for my family and still art? Do I just jam it in the cracks, like after the kids go to bed? I guess it depends on whatever time God affords me. Right this second, I have enough time to write freely. At least for the moment. After this, I don’t know. (2/20/2018: Not anymore I don’t. I’m currently pulling the cracks as wide as I can and cramming it in there.)
Sorry. It’s been a while since I’ve posted. It’s been super busy.
I wonder if we approach commerce from the wrong direction. I write, or whatever it is I do, to give, to love. What recompense I receive is also someone’s gift. That’s the interdependence inherent in love. And in this way a community should function. I realize this is not the way of the world, it having fallen from love into karma. But God hasn’t fallen into karma, and God still steers the thing.
Thus I shouldn’t think of it as “How can I make myself deserve to be paid?” but rather “How can I best give?”
The natural question that arises, then, is at what point do you make a living? Or how do you provide for your family?
(2/12/2018: I’ve spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out what I was saying in this next part. It’s been so long since I’ve posted that it’s been a good reminder about the purpose and guidelines of these posts. But I figure this is a touchy-enough topic that I should probably try to figure it out.
So perhaps I refer to the precedence of grace before action and to us being called to good work without being able to control grace—something about the dependence inherent in faithful work and thus the disconnect between a faithful, dependent worker and a goal corresponding to independence. Or I may have had a couple ideas rolling around in there.)
This seems similar to me to the question of grace and faith. If salvation is by grace and grace alone, at what point does a person act, or respond, as it were? At what point does a person have faith? And in the case of present salvation, or sanctification, at what point does the person take action? There seems to be some kind of disconnect between cause and effect. I wonder if the answer lies in my misconstruing the effect. Is salvation the properly desired effect of faith? Of good action?
Doesn’t the faithful person already assume salvation—that is to say, dependence—and in his godly dependence seek primarily things other than what the so-called independent person still requires?
Is earning a living the properly desired effect of giving to others? I suggest no. And I think my adherence to the question is symptomatic of my so-called independence.
I remember hearing something from someone at some point that went something like this: Give, give, give, and if you happen to get, give that too.
The focus isn’t on not having. I’m not an ascetic. The focus is on giving. And I think we have enough correction by way of Jesus on receiving. That is, don’t depend upon it, for God takes care even of flowers and sparrows.
What about one’s family? Surely providing for others is a gift, and we work in order to earn those things that others need to survive. Yes, but money is not all. There are things more important than money. For instance, learning to give. Giving alongside you. Serving others. Depending upon God. All of those things are more important than merely possessing.
And that term, earn a living, is just wrong. Earn, as in karma. A living, as in those things that make us alive. How graceless and anti-metaphysical is that? As if food and clothing and housing make us alive. As if breathing, alone, is living.
Further, how often does the term actually mean to earn indulgence? We’re on the escalator of indulgence—our horizon of living goes up with every notch of the crank.
Of course we should try to keep breathing. God gave us life, time, and it’s best spent with care. But to what end? To indulge? Or to give?
Thus, we breathe to give. We keep breathing to keep giving.
If you can’t love the persons already in your life…
Not that getting to the place of writing to the masses is the thing to pursue.
Love those who are in your life, and you may be given more persons to love, like the parable of the talents. But because you love—because you aren’t just wanting to be loved by the masses—you will think of the masses not for fame, like you tend to think of them when not loving, but as recipients, as companions. In loving those available to love, the prospect of more persons is only a reward insofar as the scope of your love increases. Celebrity is not the reward. Expanded love is. Or can be. Some persons are called to love from prison cells.
It’s the whole issue of wanting to be good all over again. I wanted, and still want sometimes, to be good because it will secure me as being what I believe is praiseworthy. But actually being good results in not caring about being praiseworthy. The method of achieving your desire robs you of your desire (thank God).
So I should write for persons already in my life. Art is a means of communication, of dialogue, of relationship with others. So my art belongs to persons I already know. These are the recipients of my love, thus they are the recipients of my writing.
That’s not to say that I can’t write to persons I don’t know. Just like I can introduce myself to a stranger at a business conference, teach a new class in Guam, help a missionary I’ve never met before… The scope is one of spheres. Who’s in your sphere, and who’s at the edge of your sphere, and who’s outside of your sphere? And with things like Twitter, where you can, to some extent, connect with just about anyone, spheres are versatile things.
I have already thought about writing vignettes for persons in my life. I could also just write letters. I don’t have to stick to fiction or to poetry. I could even write something for different persons I admire or follow through Twitter.
Also, I have been asked to write a devotional for my church. That’s a big duh. “Hey will you love us by writing for us?”
Another thing I should note. I’m an introvert, which means a few, deep friendships. That’s not to say I can’t interact with many persons, but I shouldn’t expect myself to just go crazy and write love letters to every one of my Facebook friends. I have a friend who’s just writing a bunch of funny nonsense on his feed. It doesn’t really seem directed at any one in particular, but at the same time, it’s for no one else but those persons on his feed.
First off. Yeah right. Get over your anonymity, Patrick. The shadow of success ever keeps you dependent.
But if it did happen. Doesn’t celebrity, at least to some degree, mean that you match the world’s idea of what’s valuable to consume? And doesn’t the world typically want to consume those things that are not good? So wouldn’t celebrity be an indication of your valuelessness?
Plus, that kind of goes against my ideas about being able to seek truth and beauty and the like alongside the world.
But there is a difference between media junk food and thoughtful material. The former is usually considered celebrity-worthy, but not always. Tolkien and Lewis are two thoughtful examples that are also widely praised. They just happened to be both—to have something good to say that also appealed to the masses. Of course, the latter only matters because it increases the range for the former to travel. Tolstoy, or maybe it was Dostoyevsky, talked about that.
What about “Christian” celebrity? Chris Tomlin. Ann Voskamp. Mark Driscoll. Have these persons just fit whatever standard Christians have set for what’s acceptably junk-foodish?