Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


A year ago we moved several hundred miles west and south, into a region very different from that in which I had spent my entire life, and as an avid birdwatcher, this opened up a whole new world of possibilities, at least as far as variety of bird species goes.  I spent all winter pouring over the range maps in my bird book and making a wish list of potential species I'd like to see, and this spring I am giddy as a kid at christmas, always glancing out the window hoping for a glimpse of that next new species.  There are three species of oriole on my list, two of which would be novel sightings for me.  I heard one whistling the other day and eagerly sought him out, hoping it would be either a Bullock's or an Orchard Oriole, but when he finally showed himself, it was nothing but a commonplace Baltimore Oriole, a bird I had seen a thousand times.  I had to stop and wonder at that thought, for there is no such thing as a 'common' bird, especially where orioles are concerned.

Even the most abundant sparrow species is quite remarkable when studied up close, each feather an exquisite work of art in its own right, add to that the complexity of migration, communication, and survival in this cold world, and that birds exist at all is a miracle.  I am especially fond of orioles, their song is beautiful, they are fun to watch, and they are stunningly gorgeous, that and they are a certain sign that spring has arrived at last.  So here I was, upset that I had seen so wondrous a creature, disappointed solely because it was not the bird I thought I should see at that particular moment.  And that is just birds, how much worse is it with everything else in life?  How often am I disappointed or upset because something did not happen how or when I thought it should?  Why can't I just graciously accept the beauty and blessing of the moment, rather than being discontent because life was not exactly as I thought it should be.  It would take much of the beauty and wonder out of life if everything happened exactly as we thought it should all the time, so maybe I should be more like that kid at Christmas, wide-eyed and excited, even if he is only getting socks.

In a humorously ironic side note, I saw an Orchard Oriole a few hours later and the next day there was a Bullock's Oriole strutting his stuff quite blatantly in the tree outside my window.  We are told He knows when even a sparrow falls to the ground, and that we are of much more value than the sparrows, you'd think by now I could trust Him implicitly.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Delving into the uncomfortable

I think I owned a single cheap paint brush, acquired who knows where and never used, before this project.  My idea of home improvement is eyeballing where to place a nail to hang a picture frame; refinishing furniture had never entered my mind.  Like most of our furniture, our dressers were once owned by distant relatives or discovered at a rummage sale, and unlike most of our functional pieces, they looked like it.  I'm not sure, but they might have been in the trenches during the Great War or even involved in the War of 1812, the War of the Roses was probably a little too early though, but whichever war they came through, it was time to do something about it.  I like them, they are very roomy, solid, and functional, but they look like they were left out in the rain for a couple months and then were run over by a bus.  We could have bought new ones, but modern dressers seem to be abominably expensive, of very poor quality, and lacking in functional space.  So I asked the almighty google if there was any hope, and after perusing various and sundry blogs, I discovered there was.  Thus began my career as a furniture refurbisher.  It has been an interesting project, and no, I won't be taking this up full time, but it is fun to know I can do it and the results are rather impressive (and much more economical than buying new furniture).

So what does my foray into home improvement have to do with anything?  Probably nothing, but it reminds me that often life takes us in directions we can hardly begin to imagine and looking back we wonder how we ended up there in the first place but are quite happy for the detour.  This was one such, though very minor, example.  I just read a passage that minded me of this very thing: Jesus had been speaking all day and there were thousands of people gathered around, it was getting dark and they were hungry.  He then turns to his disciples and asked them to feed the ravenous throng, which of course resulted in protestations of impossibility from his companions.  Of course painting a dresser is nothing compared to feeding thousands, but still, the reaction is the same, 'but…"  How often do we balk at attempting the difficult, let alone the impossible, simply because of our own doubts and fears?  Is it not such crazy ventures that make for the best stories?  Is it not around such unanticipated bends in the road that we find the most satisfying and intriguing results?  Perhaps, instead of balking at something as impossible, we need to step out in faith and simply say, 'yes, Lord,' and trust that He'll work out the thorny details.  The results will definitely surprise you!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What's your meta-narrative?

Why do we do what we do?  That is a questions that's been driving me crazy of late; it seems that most people have no idea why they do or do not do a particular thing at a particular moment.  As a culture we have embraced the idea of 'if it feels good, do it,' and to heck with the consequences, but there are usually consequences (good or bad), and we then tend to blame the former on ourselves and something else on the latter, which makes no sense at all.  Perhaps I am the insane one, trying to make sense of modern culture?  I just heard about a proposition in Australia to ban reading bedtime stories to children since there are some children who do not have parents who read them bedtime stories and are thus harmed by you reading to your kids.  Ah ha…?  Yes, I am definitely the crazy one around here.

The thing about this issue that has been driving me batty is that there is truly a reason behind things, but most people seem to think, at least on a superficial level, that none of it really matters.  This is why I have such a hard time finding a modern book I can read and enjoy, I tried to read Harry Potter but gave up, because so many critical things kept happening but there was no reason behind it; so many uncanny things happened that one must assume some sort of providence yet it was always luck, chance, etc. and the incongruity became too much.  It is bad enough that this is the reality in which I must live, I can't handle it in a work of fiction.  The 'ancients' (anyone writing before 1900) at least presumed a reason behind things; there was a motivation for their characters' actions and for the various events in the story.  Now things 'just happen,' and there is no explanation as to why or how.  Maybe that's why I can't stand literary fiction: I'm too analytical and want to know the nuts and bolts of what is going on.  I can suspend belief, in the case of certain fairy tales, it is much as my biochemistry professor used to say about things too tedious to explain, 'magic happens.'  But in those fairy tales, the characters and events make sense, even if the world's magic is never fully explained; the people are relatable even if the world is fantastic.

G.K. Chesterton probably puts it best:

“Can you not see, […] that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible? Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is-what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is-what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos. ”

So what are we to do with this 'mad' world of ours?  We need to find a meta-narrative, a meta-what?  We need a story behind the story, a reason for being, a purpose, a worldview, we need a lens through which to view ourselves, the world, and our place in it.  Yes, there are millions of opinions, ideas, religions, proposals, theories, and hypotheses out there about just that, the problems is, modern man is so busy 'just doing it,' that he has never sat down and decided which of these hypotheses fits life the best, thus he runs around like a headless chicken, oblivious that he is in effect dead.  What is the point to all this aimless running around if there is no reason behind it?  Simply living to 'enjoy ourselves' is a fairly vacuous existence, evidenced by the discontent and boredom in modern society; man needs more than mere pleasure to thrive.  'Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,' is a lifestyle as old as mankind and no one has yet found it fulfilling.  But that's your meta-narrative if you are of the 'accidental universe' school of thought.  If life and existence are some statistical improbability in a cosmic dice game, there is no point to anything so hedonism should be the order of the day, which is hardly conducive to civilization, so how has mankind survived if it is all pointless?

Perhaps there is a 'life force,' a 'mother nature,' a benign and distant or impersonal creative source for things?  Then our utmost happiness is to live in harmony with this 'force' or 'being' or whatever, with our fellow creatures, and with the universe at large (go watch that sci-fi flick with the large blue cat people for a good example).  Spend five minutes in a checkout line having register problems and tell me this is even possible.  It is a nice idea, but it doesn't survive two minutes in the real world, yes there are people who can pull it off, but they are few and far between.  And then there's the natural world itself, which is as cold, heartless, and ruthless as it gets; forget those cute talking animal movies and go watch a pack of hyenas maul a baby gazelle.  There is no utopian communion with our wild 'brothers and sisters,' you eat them or they'll eat you; not something you'd expect if our loving earth mother was in charge.

How about the 'pop machine god?'  You know, the god of popular american culture that will grant your every wish when and how you want it, because he loves you and just wants you to be happy and then you don't get something you REALLY wanted and lose your 'faith.'  He doesn't exist either.  Just try parenting like that, let alone supposing that is the nature of God!  The kids would run amok and we'd be even worse off than we are now.  Maybe that is why modern civilization is such a mess, we have tried parenting like that.  If that is truly the nature of God, no wonder the atheists are so intent on disproving him, which is really easy since he is as mythical as Zeus.

But happily, there is a fourth option, one we really don't like to think about, any more than we like to think our parents might be smarter, wiser, or know more than we do.  Instead of recreating God in our own image, or defining His characteristics to suit our tastes at the moment, and then getting angry when our tiny god fails us, maybe we could submit to the idea that we are created in His image, not He in ours, that maybe He is bigger than we can even begin to comprehend, that the things we think we know about Him barely begin to describe His attributes, that He is the author of this great story called life and we are merely characters upon the page, but since He has penned us, that also means we have some part to play, some purpose for being, and even more strange, He jumped into the story Himself, became a mere conglomeration of words and saved the entire story thereby.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hides in the bushes and makes weird noises!

This is the best quote EVER!  Yes, I am a bit sleep deprived and suffering the first symptoms of the Warbler Ague, but hey, it's spring!  Actually the proper quote is: "hiding in the bushes and making weird noises," stolen from Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman, describing the yellow-breasted chat.  Whoever thought I'd be caught quoting a guide to birds, next I'll be enthused about something in my reptile and amphibian guide, or worse, the fish book.  Thankfully I don't own a guide to mosses or fungi.  Wouldn't that make a fabulous blog title?  It is a great description of blogging, save the quote describes an auditory event whereas blogging is visual, but still, it is the same concept.  I should go get some sleep...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Weird and loving it!

So yesterday I took a slight detour in cyberspace and ended up wandering around for hours in a neighborhood I had never previously visited; it was something of a culture shock, but enlightening in its own feral way.  I don't tend to spend much time meandering along the various boulevards of the 'interweb,' rather I tend to visit a very few specific sites, conduct my business there, and move on.  But I had a little time and a google search led me to an article which led me to a website that inevitably sucked me in.  It was a 'gasp' website for parents, particularly moms, though I had heard of it previously I had never ventured thither.  What intrigued me was not the articles and their content, but rather the people behind the articles: those who wrote and read them.  It was something like the time I went to a 'big' movie theater for the first time in ages and found myself rather astonished at the clothes people chose to wear for a night out and their behavior thereupon.  I sometimes forget the ways of the world at large!

While some of the information was helpful, even encouraging, and often amusing, it was more the language and the writers' way of viewing the world that caught my attention.  I often forget that to some people, certain four letter scatological adjectives are as necessary to their grammar as breathing is to life.  I would also never have kids after reading about them on that site, but that is another article entirely (and yes, I am a parent).  But the one thing that really caught my eye was an anonymous post in their 'confessional' message board where you can post your worst mommy moments, etc.  It was a brief statement going something like this, 'I finally made a friend with a fellow parent at my kid's school but…'  The author went on to state, 'I am an agnostic, bisexual, and a liberal,' (I wanted to interject, 'who isn't?'), but she ended with the words, 'and terrified.'  That gave me pause.  And the reason for her disquiet?  The friend in question is a Christian.  That was pretty much all there was to the post, but I found it both tragic and intriguing.  Why was this person terrified?  It was certainly an interesting look at how the 'world' sees the church.

Now if the person in question was a zombie or a werewolf or a vampire, that would be cool (to most moderns).  Or if they were Buddhist, New Age, or a fellow agnostic, that too would be hip.  Their race, gender, sexuality, doesn't matter, except the more 'diverse' the better.  If they were a sociopath or a serial killer, that might raise a few eyebrows, but I had never thought of myself as terrifying!  What's weird about this whole perception is that apparently every other group/religion/race/occupation/gender/sexuality/organization on the face of the planet is composed of flesh and blood people, but the church is something utterly different and you can't be friends with its adherents without taking your life (or at least your social standing) in your hands.  But then if your only exposure to so-called Christians is through the media, this view is unsurprising as it is the last 'group' you can safely depict as evil, annoying, stupid, etc. in our obsessively politically correct culture.  But the church is just like any other group of people: there are smart people, not so smart people, nice people, mean people, saints and jerks, introverts and extroverts, etc., to say we are all weirdos just because we are Christians is stereotyping, or is it?

This is far from the first time in history the church has been seen as weird or even dangerous.  The Romans accused early Christians of being atheists and cannibals.  Peter calls us sojourners and exiles.  Jesus Himself said we'd be hated because He was.  I guess the church is weird and was always meant to be, for it has something the world both desperately wants yet utterly despises.  Which got me thinking about another matter that has always puzzled me.  Why is Christianity so despised in modern culture when everything else is either tolerated or ignored.  If you want the church to die a quiet death, why keep drawing attention to it?  This is like telling a toddler to leave something alone, hoping it will place his thoughts on anything but the forbidden object, but it achieves exactly the opposite: he can think of nothing else.  Why not just ignore the church and hope it goes away, vanishes into obscurity like the Cult of Zeus and the worship of Molech?

But there is always some new book claiming to debunk scripture or a TV program aimed at explaining 'what really happened.'  If anyone who can even remotely be associated with the church does something mean or stupid, the media can't quit talking about it.  Every Easter and Christmas, another issue of a certain magazine proclaims the 'truth' about Jesus.  I really love the 'controversy' over 'God's wife,' inspired by some little scrap of parchment, considered by most to be a forgery, but it crops up every now and again on a slow news day.  The entire collection of the Dead Sea Scrolls never got that much attention.  Why so much effort to discredit what should be an obscure religious sect?  You never see this sort of stuff aimed at Hinduism, New Age, Wicca, Islam, etc.  If the world is trying so hard to make the church look weird and stupid, perhaps there is truly something there to be afraid of.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Someday my finch will come

In my experience, the best way to find something is to look for something else entirely (your car keys).  This applies to bird watching as well.  The spring migration has begun and we northerners (at least those of us crazy enough to know what a limpkin is) eagerly scan the ponds and bushes, hoping for the chance of seeing something we have never seen before, a new species to add to our much feted 'life list.'  There are various birds lumped into the category of 'northern finches,' and as we moved about as far north as one can and still be in the lower 48 states nearly eight years ago, I was eager to add a few of these unique creatures to my list.  In seven years and countless attempts, I never saw any of these coveted birds.  Then we moved 500 miles west and south and all my hopes of seeing those particular birds sputtered out, though I found myself in an area with a plethora of new and interesting birds to discover, I was a little disappointed, but life goes on and cannot revolve around one's obsessions.

Yesterday, out of the blue, one of those 'northern finches' wandered into my life.  A whole flock of red crossbills had invaded the neighbor's yard and I was within four feet of three of them busy at the bird feeder.  Life is kind of like that: when we least expect it, we trip right over something that changes our lives forever.  When we look to the future and try to plot and plan and hope, often there comes no clear answer, but then we lay aside thoughts of our 'destiny' and then run headlong into something amazing when we weren't looking for it.  If you need proof that there is a God or that He has a sense of humor, just look back at your own life or listen to the tales of others.  His timing and provision are perfect, it is our impatience and demand for immediate satisfaction or perhaps our longing for something we cannot have or that will not be good for us that drives us to think that He is absent or uncaring or non-existent. He answers prayers, but often the answer is 'no' or 'wait.'

I still don't like waiting, I want to open my christmas presents now (yes, it is April), which would utterly ruin a year's worth of planning and anticipation on the part of my family and friends, rather I must quietly abide in dire curiosity and pray that I not burst with the effort.  Rather than focusing all our attention and hope on something: a vacation, a future career or love interest, college, owning a certain house or car, getting rich…perhaps we should focus on Someone and we'll trip over the relatively minor details whilst our attention is focused elsewhere.  This is not to say one should not plan and prepare for certain things, but all our Joy should not be found in the fulfillment thereof.  The thing desired cannot become an idol to draw our attention away from the One who provides everything, else all is vain, for no 'thing' can ever fill the gap in our souls that is the source of all such longings.

Again and again, I have fallen into the trap of 'life will be awesome when…' even though I know better.  He has faithfully provided again and again, but yet I still fail to trust Him or look to Him for the easing of that eternal ache that can never be truly healed in this broken world.  But rather, when I do focus on Him, the wait is not nearly so bad, and suddenly the thing desired is before me long before I thought to look for it, or so it seems, for when I am waiting for 'something,' the days are long and the hours cruel, but when my attention is fixed on the Source of all good things, when my hope is set on things 'not of this world,' time is swift indeed.  The wait can be a blessing or an agony, why must I always choose the self-torture and the pain?  If I can trust Him to provide the sparrows, can I not trust Him with the far more important aspects of life?