Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Architecture and Artifacts

Sometimes the intangibility of my life is driven home to me. It's not just that I'm a daydreamer; there's a good role for the imagination in creating a better reality. (And it's not that my vocation is words, either - words are real things, palpable objects.) It's that I've lived in my head, clung to mindless routines, and insisted that I was happy in order to escape a reality that I found very confusing and frightening.

I'm a more real person now, trying to live a more real life. Last summer I got rid of over half my belongings (clothes, books, furniture) in order to be ready to move on to whatever was next. Now, my possessions barely fill up a quarter of my massive bedroom. To me it stands for the fact that I've started over, but also the truth that up till now I never thought it was okay to fully invest in my own life.

I want to build something. I lie in my bed and stare at the windows, framed by gorgeous curtains, a tiny picture frame on the windowsill and a half-burnt votive candle. Through the glass I see the sky and trees and the top of a lamppost. This summer I've been thinking about goals, refining old ones and polishing off rough new ones. I imagine myself as the architect of my life. Today I'm just framing it; one day it will be rich and solid.

The only way I know of to counteract a feeling I sometimes have that life isn't real (when it happens all the pictures in my head become instantly two-dimensional) is to have a life I can touch. I'm going to decorate my room with things that are meaningful to me, keep pushing toward an editing career, plan adventures, be with my friends. One day I'll look around and my life will be built with tangible objects. I won't be able to doubt it then.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Real Christianity?

I grew up being told that God loved me, but I really didn't believe it. Certain things about my life just didn't make sense. My heart was broken by pointless loneliness during my teenage years, and then, at about the time when life seemed like it was really becoming possible, I got so sick that I couldn't reach for what I wanted. I couldn't get out of the trap. It wouldn't have surprised me to learn that God sat outside guarding the exit, whip in hand.

I believed that God was perfecting me through suffering. (Which meant He cared more about my perfection than my happiness.) I also believed that I was receiving the greater gift of Himself in place of lesser gifts. (Which meant I had to pretend I loved Him and was grateful even though it hurt like hell.) I believed God wanted me to demonstrate faith by looking past the circumstances of my life to some strange reality beyond that I sometimes caught a glimpse of. (Even though my very life and identity were dissolving.)

You have to pull apart these Christian answers, look at them from the outside, to realize how awful, even abusive, they are.

* * *

In the religious world I grew up in, words do not have actual meaning. Love is not a real thing; it's an empty concept. God's "love" means perfecting us at whatever cost to ourselves. And if we really want to be perfect, we have to submit to that perfecting process without ever saying stop. We have no power. In fact, we are told that it is good to be humble and submissive. We are told that we are so evil, so fallen, that we couldn't possibly understand when to say no anyway. Our hearts are deceitful. Instead, we are supposed to exercise "faith" - saying it's okay even when all the evidence screams that it's not.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Story People

I'm one of those either/or, black-and-white, all-or-nothing people. I'm not saying this is always a bad thing, but at this time in my life it's not the best way to find emotional, spiritual, and mental balance. Dismantling the faultily built areas of my internal structure requires a steady mind, not one given to extremes.

So, it helps me to think about life, and myself, in terms of stories. When you're thinking about stories, you can't deal in extremes. For example, the Calvinist/Arminian debate goes out the window, because who can really sit around quibbling about fate versus free will when both are so clearly in evidence?

This weekend I started musing over one way to categorize the various personalities involved in a story. Here are the categories, and how they bring clarity to various personal conundrums:

Me (a.k.a. protagonist). While it's true that God is telling one big story about the history of the universe - the super-story, if you will - it's not true that each of us is only a little piece in this big story. Each of our lives is a story with intrinsic meaning.

We are not the story tellers, but luckily, as any author will tell you, characters do take on lives of their own. In other words, although I'm not the one creating the story, I have a say in how it goes. I have free agency. I may not be able to choose all the circumstances of my life, but I can decide what to do with them. I can decide, for example, to walk to Europe. Of course, I will have to turn around once I'm in over my head in the Atlantic, but at least I drove all the way to the beach. I got somewhere.

God (a.k.a. the author). This is the guy who actually sets up the story. He decides, for example, what the setting looks like and who the people in it are, and He calls some of the shots. A good author kinda lets things go at that point, sees where the characters end up next. However, I've never read a truly good story where there wasn't some kind of miracle at the end, just where you thought things couldn't turn out right. I'd like to believe God steps into my life, too.

One thing characters can't do, because they're imaginary, is interact with their authors. So I have to be careful about identifying too much with this author/character analogy. I may be a character in a story, but I'm not a powerless, voiceless victim of the author's pen. I can talk to Him about the story, get His perspective on it, tell Him my perspective.

Other people (a.k.a. supporting characters). The most important thing, here, is not to get the other characters mixed up with the author. None of the other characters can rescue me in the ultimate sense. None of them is perfect, so none of my relationships with them will be perfect. Also, although each person is the protagonist of his own story, none of them is the protagonist of my story. My story is uniquely about me. I can't depend on or allow other people to define my story or make it happen.

But if I realize that the perfect, powerful Creator is a distinct person from the imperfect, yet important and valuable, creatures, then I can interact with each of them as appropriate and not demand the wrong things from the wrong people.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sheer Silence

In church today, the Old Testament reading was the story of Elisha hearing God not in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the "sheer silence." I found this phrase particularly beautiful (other translations render the phrase "gentle whisper"). It makes me imagine God as so gentle and loving that when we need to talk to Him, He sits there quietly, patiently, really listening to us.

There are people who can't listen because they're making so much noise, externally or internally, that there's no room for your voice. And other people exhibit a dead silence, like a wall of snow that muffles you and protects them.

"Sheer silence" is something different entirely. It's like the silence you hear when you park your car at one of the overlooks on Skyline Drive, and no one else is around, only you know that all the trees and plants and leaves are growing and all the animals are scurrying about, and the Shenandoah Valley is scooped out before you like huge hands holding everything up to the sky. Or the silence you hear in a piece of music by Aaron Copland.

* * *

Back to my old blog name! Half-Life was the right name for the past 15 months or so, but I think I'm done with that part of the journey.

* * *

From a quotable book: "It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it" (Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer, ch. 15).