Thursday, November 29, 2007

To my devoted reader

      And I do mean that in the singular, though there is the outside chance that I am underestimating my readership by a factor of 2. I have realized that the longer I procrastinate from writing a blog post, the harder it is to sum up all that has been going on in my mind. So in order to update you on the last six months or so of my life, let me do so in a literary sprint for the sake of space and time (and space-time):

      I got married on 7/7/07 and spent a lovely honeymoon with my lovely wife on the coast of Maine. I moved into a lovely stone house (that we are renting) in a historic neighborhood with my lovely wife and got a new car. We had an amazing time in Michigan with family and an adventure or two getting there and back. We saw Nickel Creek in concert on their “Farewell for Now” tour and it was pretty awesome. My wife went back to school (she teaches first grade) and we settled down into a wonderful married routine that is rather predictable, but not at all dull. We bought lots of furniture, spent a weekend in the wilderness of Northern New Hampshire, and hosted our first Thanksgiving for her parents, her sister, and about 8 college students from at least 5 foreign countries (Singapore, China, Swaziland, Russia, Texas, and North Dakota). I do know that those last two are not foreign countries, but each is more or less half of a foreign country and together should make a whole one. After Thanksgiving dinner we took a walk and then watched “The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!” That next Saturday we cut down our first Christmas tree and decorated it. Now I’m in New Orleans for a conference and staying in a nice hotel just outside the French Quarter. That is the last six months of my life in a paragraph.

      Of course any one of the above sentences is plenty of fodder for an entire blog post (especially the first one, which could probably be several), but you’ll just have to ask for more details (though I will tell you that the thanksgiving menu included brie cheese & mango chutney, raspberry pepper jelly & cream cheese, Vermont cheddar cheese, crackers, cranberry & pear sauce, salad, green beans, carrots, stuffing, cornbread dressing, blue mashed potatoes, smoked turkey & gravy, pecan pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie, and homemade vanilla ice cream). In addition to the many things that have happened in my personal life, there have been many blog posts kicking around in my head (“all of them so much more brilliant and convincing than the [blog posts] that I have written” to slightly misquote G. K. Chesterton). In similar fashion to the summary above, I will elaborate on a couple of them, but give each a paragraph rather than a sentence as above.

Blog Post 999 of those I have never written:

      For this post I have to beg the forgiveness of those who don’t live in the shadow of the new black hole at the new center of the sports universe (by which I mean Boston). Between the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics, and the Bruins (though I confess I don’t care at all about hockey), sports in the New England area has become the focus of much national attention and even more local pride. The specific controversy (or controversies) I have been pondering is the phenomenon of the New England Patriots football team. The bare facts run like this: After the first game of the season, the Patriots were accused of videotaping defensive signals of their opponents and fined seriously for it. This year they have been dominating opponents regularly by 40 points, leaving their starters in until almost the very end of the game, going for it on fourth down when up by 30+ points, and generally breaking just about every offensive record known to football scorekeepers. Of course, there is much speculation on what causal connection there might be between the two previous sentences and I don’t want to indulge in any of that. There are two points that I want to make, the first being the most off topic: Most of the talk is gossip created by the media. The Patriots are very professional, play very well, and have said nothing at all about trying to humiliate their opponents, run up the score, or get back at the league for the punishment and the subsequent ill comments thrown in their direction. The media has painted them as a team with an overdeveloped sense of vengeance, a hulk-sized chip on its shoulder, and a burning ambition to be the best football team ever. With this as their literary assumption, the media has taken turns vilified and praising the Patriots for their tactics (“Don’t run up the score on Joe Gibbs, that’s unsportsmanlike” turns to “there’s no crying in professional football, if you don’t want them to go for it on fourth down when they’re up by 37 points then stop them”). The second point I would like to make about the Patriots is that they are to a man unconcerned about what the media or anybody else says about them. They are always respectful of their opponents and yet defeat them with an air of methodic humility that the scoreboard hides very well. I find that a very challenging example. Maybe they do leave their starters in a little longer than other people think they should and score an extra touchdown or three when they’ve got the game pretty well in the bag, but they have a faith in themselves and their coach that affords them a very humble outlook and they do their very best regardless of what other people think. I must confess that I often get by with enough effort to please others when I could easily do better. I also have to confess that I don’t have that much faith in God, though I profess him to be much more in control than the Patriots think Bill Belicheck is. I pray that I can fight my enemies with such calm assurance and humility.

Blog Post 42 of those I have never written:

      I have come to the somewhat obvious and probably misunderstood revelation that I am slow. Before you misunderstand my meaning, let me explain. I don’t mean that I am unintelligent (in fact I have a pretty high view of my own intelligence). Perhaps a better way to say it would be to say that I think slowly. John Steinbeck once wrote that he couldn’t just sit down and write about his experiences, but that those experiences had to simmer and stew and ferment in his mind before he could make sense of them on paper. That is what I mean. I mean I am not good at debating or impromptu speaking; I would not make a good politician or courtroom lawyer. In that vein, I have been stewing a couple of thoughts for a while. One such thought I think came from my pastor and it went something like this: “One great misconception that drives our culture today is that the universe is a closed system with a limited amount of resources. The practical effect of this is that there may not be enough to go around, so you’d better get all you can, can all you get, and sit on your can.” The last part I think came much later than the first, but in a relevant context. The obvious application of this principle is in the material realm. We are not generous with our money and possessions because we don’t really believe that God can or will shower his blessings on his people. The less obvious application is that the same idea applies to time and our safety or wellbeing. We act as if God has not put enough time in the day or that he will not work everything for the good of those who love Him. We are so enamored will all the many “opportunities” that we have that we do not trust God to give us the opportunities that we really need; we are practical atheists. Despite the many ways that He has provided for us (from our existence to our talents to our salvation in Christ), we still cannot bring ourselves to trust Him. God is the “I am” not the “I might be” or “I could be.” We need to trust God to be God and to unclench our fists and let go of all those things of which we don’t trust Him to give us enough, whether it be material wealth, time, or choices.

Blog Post 43 of those I have never written:

      If I were to make an entire blog post out of the previous paragraph, I would probably connect it to this other thought that is newly fermenting in my mind: We as a culture think that freedom consists entirely of a lack of all restrictions. There is some truth in that thought in the human sense; we can (wrongly or rightly) restrict and repress our fellow humans and take away their freedom. But I think we wrongly take that small truth and apply it to bigger things than it can rightly handle. We put our freedom in opposition to God’s conquering love and forget that our “freedom” has bound us in sin; we put freedom up as a divinely ordained right and forget that God gave us our freedom by restrictions and separations (we are no longer free to be the dust of the earth, but by insisting on our freedom we will get exactly that). We have forgotten the pleasure and joy there is to be found in the restrictions that God has given us and that rightly define who we are. As Chesterton put it:

      “It is plain on the face of the facts that the child is positively in love with limits. He uses his imagination to invent imaginary limits. The nurse and the governess have never told him that it is his moral duty to step on alternate paving-stones. He deliberately deprives this world of half its paving-stones, in order to exult in a challenge that he has offered himself. I played that kind of game with myself all over the mats and boards and carpets of the house; and, at the risk of being detained during His Majesty’s pleasure, I will admit that I often play it still. In that sense I have constantly tried to cut down the actual space at my disposal; to divide and subdivide, into these happy prisons, the house in which I was quite free to run wild. . . . This game of self-limitation is one of the secret pleasures of life.”

      Of course, there is much more to the quote about pretending the couch is an island and other such self-limiting activities, but if I did not stop there I might just go on quoting the whole of his autobiography. I think Chesterton is exactly right that children enjoy restricting themselves because such restriction is a mirroring of divine creativity; by restricting ourselves with such seeming arbitrariness, we are taking part in the divine activity of creating by separation. If there is that much joy and pleasure in the seemingly arbitrary restrictions, how much more will we find in those that God has built for our pleasure and existence?