Exploring where life and story meet!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Antediluvian snobbery?

I recently entered some pictures at the local fair and while picking them up afterwards, fell into conversation with a lady of my acquaintance who was likewise picking up her daughter's paraphernalia.  Said bairn is around twelve, only slightly younger than I was when I embarked on my photographic adventures two decades ago, but there has been a seismic shift in the world as we know it since then.  Growing up in the 1990's was like growing up in the 1890's, for then electricity, telephones, and automobiles were about to change the world as they knew it, for our generation it was the internet/computers.  This dear lady asked me what program I used to edit my photos and I was rather at a loss for an answer.  I use the program on my mac to weed out anything that's blurred, out of focus, or has unwanted artifacts but I don't even consider editing them (unless they are fun or irreplaceable shots of people).  'Back in my day,' we amateur photographers had little access to all the cool stuff the professionals had and with film and commercial processors, you could not rely on 'editing' to get a good shot.  I was forced to learn how to take good pictures and knew that each shot cost around twenty-five cents (between film and processing costs) whether it was 'good' or not, whereas digital shots are pretty much 'free.'  Back in those days our phones were also chained to the wall and did nothing but make phone calls; ours even had one of those dially doohickies…talk about outdated!  Cameras were cameras and phones phones.  I still refuse to take pictures with something intended for communicative purposes.

So does this make me archaic or simply a snob?  I love what people can do with photo editing and how widely accessible technology is nowadays, but I am afraid it has also made people less thoughtful and precise in how they treat the medium (just check out a random sampling of pictures on your favorite social media site).  Of course they probably complained about the same problems with the advent of the printing press!  Now the masses can read and gulp, perhaps one day write!  I should rather rejoice that any number of dabblers now have access to the art and one day may become good at it.  The problem with the 'good old days' is that there really is no such thing, we just paint them golden and rose through the lens of nostalgia and the semi-forgetfulness that comes with it.  I am outdated, of course in computer years I should be in my grave long ago…I will confess I am still a fan of Windows 95…I cannot hold this up and coming generation to the same strictures mine had to endure.  With so many amateur photographers (anyone with a cell phone) out there and so many poor shots, these kids will have to strive to become good and stick out from the masses, so maybe things are as they have always been, just with different circumstances.  As in any hobby at any time, and for life in general, one must strive to become more than mundane.  So strive on you photophilics and rise to the top of a vast mediocre sea!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A thesis I did not write!

I have found a book that sums up what this blog is all about, so hereafter I shall never have to blog again, but rather once a week shall simply refer you to said book.  It is by Ravi Zacharias, a man I greatly respect as a speaker and apologist, perhaps the closest thing we have to a living C.S. Lewis, and is all about 'Recapturing the Wonder,' and is very refreshing and exciting for those currently feeling life or faith rather lukewarm at the moment, and I shudder at the thought of being tepid!  I have not read a great many of his books, though the topics are all useful and interesting, I much prefer to listen to him as he is quite engaging.  His writing is straightforward and interesting, but do not expect C.S. Lewis style writing, though perhaps the intellectual acuity and commonsense are there, the writing style is different, but still very much worth the read.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The edge of the map

Back when the world was flat and people still used paper maps (somewhere between the advent of light and Google, probably sometime in the 80's) and before Columbus failed to stop to ask for directions, people did not know what lurked beyond the edge of the world and they feared it.  Was it a great, thundering waterfall that would bear you into oblivion?  Were there monsters warding secrets man could not know?  Were all the rest stops closed?  These questions haunted them, so they cautioned one another about going near the edge of the map and emblazoned the borders with serpentine monsters and the logo, 'here there be dragons.'  I don't exactly live off the edge of the map, but you can see it from here.  Down the road we have one of those deer crossing signs, except it has a dragon on it and says, 'next 30 miles.'  Well, yes this is all a silly story, but it is close to true, after all, I live 80 miles from the nearest Walmart.

So what am I doing in the hinterlands?  That's a good question and the same one I posed to God when my life was falling apart and it seemed like we were about to embark on this insane road trip.  But hold on, the story gets weirder.  I have my doctorate, I had a professional career, so why on earth did I marry a pastor?  That was another one of those, 'really Lord?' moments.  My life has been filled with such moments, as are all lives if we take the time to reflect, but it is just such kinks in the road that make life interesting.  Moses, Jeremiah, Gideon (just to name the first examples to pop into my head) all had similar doubts and God called them personally, so no wonder the rest of us mere mortals gape in astonishment when an unexpected call is placed upon our lives, the question is, will we answer?  I've dithered about, ignored it, done things my own way only to find myself doing what I knew I should have done at the first, but rather taking a long, tedious route to get there instead.  I have learned it is wisest just to answer the call, no matter how strange it seems at the time.

No, there were no bright lights or talking donkeys or visions of angels to guide my steps, I just knew I should do something and had to trust God for the rest.  I remember sitting on my couch in grad school, literally 'wrestling' with God, it was the only time I have ever had an experience quite like that before.  I had been to a gathering of friends to celebrate the upcoming wedding of another friend (I had been shanghaied into that as well, I was too 'busy' to go, but they kidnapped me and I went) at which I met a guy.  We had one date and I was pretty much ready to call it off (I think panicked is the word I am looking for).  I wasn't interested in a relationship, he was a pastor, I was a grad student with lots of debt, I was busy, I was…the excuses went on and on, but I knew I had to give it one last chance, go out with him one more time, that was it, nothing else was required of me.  Sigh, fine, have it Your way.  Nine years later we have a family and are living somewhere just slightly more civilized than Outer Mongolia.  I have my doctorate and now spend most of my days chasing after a person who sounds like a strange combination of Flipper and the Swedish Chef with a few random 'vroom' noises interspersed; I should have studied philology rather than medicine!  But life is good and I know there is a plan and a purpose in this, now if I could just learn to say a hearty 'yes,' rather than, 'but Lord!'

Of course I am not so pious that I can just drop everything and leave Ur of the Chaldeans without question or qualm, rather it took my whole previous life falling apart to make me even consider the change.  I lost my job, our health insurance was gone at the end of the year, we were living with my in-laws, I still had student loans to pay off…you want us to go where?  Okay, we'll give it a try but…silly child, will you never learn Trust?  I hope so, it would sure make life a whole lot smoother.      

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The silliest thing in the world

Modern culture has moved beyond fairy tales and children now outgrow them before their age reaches the double digits, or so goes the thinking of much of the 'enlightened' West.  Children lose their innocence far too early in this bizarre society and adults think themselves too 'wise' for such nonsense.  Of all the strange notions of the modern day, this is the silliest!  For man does not outgrow myth, but rather thinks himself too good for it, much to his loss.  In this modern age of too many virtual friends, endless digital distraction, and technology that is almost as immersive as real life, we still come away empty and bored.  We can benumb ourselves but we cannot find satisfaction.  We can fill our hours but not our hearts.  That is the purpose of story, for story tells us who and what we are, defines our purpose, tells us from whence we come and whither we shall go, and reminds us that we are human and that others also are afflicted with that strange condition.  Story brings us together and gives a common sense of purpose and meaning so often lacking in the technological isolation of the current age of the world.  Whole communities used to sit around and hear old tales but now we sit alone at our computers staring blankly at a screen.  Fairy tales are the lifeblood of civilization and culture, the language of the soul, we forget them at our own peril.

At this point, I feel compelled to admit that I am not a great fan of the 'classic' fairy tales as presented by Grimm and Anderson, for they always seemed harsh, dark, and grim to my childish sensibilities.  When I refer to 'fairy stories,' 'myth,' etc. I am referring in general to any tale of things beyond 'normal' mortal experience and comprehension, which lumps in literally everything from Aesop's fables, greek mythology, the writings of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald (among many notable others), the animated theatrical versions of the old classic tales, and even Scripture (just because I call it a 'fairy tale' does not mean it is not true!) and everything in-between.  As with all literature, there are good, bad, and mediocre examples in the mix, but life is rather drab without them.  As for truth, some of the most fantastic stories are at their heart, more real than recorded history, for history only looks at things within time while story can glimpse into the eternal truths beyond it.  Story is the language of the heart, it defines our humanity.  Perhaps that is why modern culture has no use for it (or pretends it doesn't), we want to be creatures of pure reason, cosmic accidents with no transcendent reality or eternal fate.  We want to live for and please ourselves with no consequences now or ever; story does not allow us to comfortably believe that, at least not good story.  With bad story, anything is possible.

A wise man remains childlike (not childish) even into his fading years, while the best of children have a wisdom and seriousness about the fantastic that we adults can only envy.  Pity the man who has lost his sense of wonder, the cynic who has seen everything and has nothing left to life but to make biting remarks about everything (think of the Dwarves 'who would not be taken in' in The Last Battle or Katherine Brook in Anne of Windy Poplars).  For to dream, to wonder, to hope, is to be human: 'the substance of things hoped for, the belief in things unseen.'  All else is to give up and say, 'life do as you will, there is no meaning here.  All is futility!'  Such is not to live but to merely exist.  There is meaning, direction, and purpose but we must be willing to seek it.  Reading a good fairy tale is a great place to start.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Prophets 'ancient' and modern

I have been watching a little of a nature program done a few years ago covering many species, biomes, and locations, for the most part it is very well done; I am very jealous of their camera equipment but do not envy the people who get to sit in a blind for months on end in the worst conditions hoping something might traipse by.  I wish they would shut off the commentary however, at best it is inane ('not just rare animals but all animals depend on the sun for energy,' really?!) and at worst it is downright depressing.  Every scene basically has the same script (and they love using mothers with newborns) which goes something like: animal X is desperate (can they find any other word?) to get to Y food source because her milk is drying up and her babies will starve but it is dangerous because of Z, what will she do?  Her chances of survival are dreadful…as if the species has not survived millennia without pessimists peeping in on their most intimate affairs and predicting their ultimate doom!  I remember the same oppressive feeling as an undergrad at a college that prided itself on its environmental awareness.  Strangely, they seemed to be think that if they were miserable enough it would somehow 'save the planet.'  It was a rather depressing atmosphere and took all the joy out of life until I remembered Whose we and all creation are.

G. K. Chesterton proposes that nature is not so much our mother (as the ancient pagans and modern environmentalists assume) but rather our sister; we are fellow creations begotten of the same Maker rather than children of unfeeling chaos and chance.  This is a much healthier basis for a relationship with 'mother earth' than many modern thinkers otherwise suggest, for then we can cooperate with and enjoy nature rather than deify and regard her too highly, sometimes at the expense of our own wellbeing.  It also means we are stewards or caretakers, rather than the enemies or slaves of creation.  We were created to use and enjoy nature, not to either wantonly destroy it or undermine our own species in defense of it.  Those that think 'nature' needs our protection have never had a garden (I am not saying we should not try to preserve species or sensitive habitats that have been unscrupulously exploited in the past, but rather that the natural world is far sturdier and resilient than we give it credit).  Just spend an entire day weeding and look at your efforts on the morrow, the whole thing will be covered anew in verdant growth, not of your planting!

It saddens me to hear all the commotion over man and his 'war' against the natural world, as if we were some alien virus sent to destroy all else that lives rather than a part of the natural order of things, if the former be true, the species as a whole had better just commit suicide and do the world a favor.  Or, if we are a mere collection of atoms and the whole universe will eventually be a cosmic memory, why not just live however makes us happy and who cares about anybody or anything else?  But as a species we are neither completely suicidal nor so libertine as we might be, thus Chesterton's proposal makes much more sense than either an abiding hatred of all things manmade (and thus 'unnatural) or a complete 'survival of the fittest' mentality wherein we simple, 'eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.'

I much prefer Chesterton's buoyant and joyous spirit to the doom and gloom of the modern prophets of looming environmental apocalypse, and if you have ever read him, you will know that amid his silliness and wanton buffoonery, he makes a great deal of sense, which often is sadly lacking in our more 'enlightened' age.  So I shall enjoy the wonder of all about me rather than mope that all is doomed to futility.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

And a light unto my path

I recently read a comment on a blog or message board somewhere recently that was actually rather insightful, it was in reference to the well known passage, 'Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.'  To many within the church, it is so familiar that it is nearly forgotten.  Besides its familiarity, we also live in an age where 'lamps and lights' are of far greater efficacy, power, and availability than were such implements in bygone days.  They had no batteries, street lights, or incandescent bulbs; they had fire: torches, oil lamps, and candles.  The modern equivalent might be a cheap flashlight with dying batteries in the middle of a rain soaked night while one is trying to locate something in the dark.  The commenter made note of the fact that all the world about us is dark with impenetrable night and the Word is a faithful lamp, but one that only illuminates what is immediately around us.  I can look back on life's winding path and wonder how I have come so far with such seemingly feeble light, but must remember that life is accomplished one step at a time within the confines of that firm and steady glow.  I cannot see far ahead, but rather must deal with what is immediately before me.  I need not fret about what lies beyond the bend and outside the light, for those matters are in hands far greater than mine.  I like to strain my eyes at the darkness ahead, and wonder and worry what lies thither, but rather my task lies within the sphere of the visible and to that must I attend.  It is a sobering and reassuring thought, and testifies to the wisdom of, 'sufficient unto the day is its own evil.'  We naturally want to stand on the pinnacle of the temple and survey all the Kingdoms of the earth when our domain of responsibility is actually much smaller and far more intimate and manageable.  As the old hymn goes, 'tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.'

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A glimpse of a far country

They locked the door but left the window open.  That is the thing about life that I find the most intriguing.  Have you ever had that sense that there is something more than you can touch or hear or smell or see?  A song behind the music we strain to hear but can only catch a few lilting, haunting strains and wonder if we are hearing things.  As if we are trying to see in the ultraviolet range but never can, no matter how we squint.  We almost see it in a sunset, it stirs in a great piece of music, it pierces our heart in a moment of true and unaffected love, the great stories wring it from our souls, it teases us in the scent of the sweet pea and lily of the valley, a vagrant spring breeze whispers it in the trees.  There is something there, something beyond our mortal senses, something beyond this tedious life.  It is the stirring of the very deeps our souls.  It is that exquisite beauty beyond mortal glory that calls to that in us that was meant to live forever.  We have lost paradise but still we can catch an occasional, fleeting glimpse of Heaven and it invigorates and awakens, if only briefly, something deep within that knows we are but sojourners and strangers in this earthly realm, longing for our true home.  Such is the Kingdom of God, that is why we must enter it, 'as little children,' for children can see and hear that which 'wiser' folk cannot.  Turn your weary heart towards home and listen for the music that is too wondrous to hear with aught but the soul.