Sunday, May 31, 2009

zoom

Here's some randomness for Robbie (heh, heh), who says that's why he likes this blog: I was looking in the mirror about a month ago and decided I looked like Lance Armstrong (sans highly-developed musculature).

I know, I know. Doppelganger, right? Does this mean I'm going to get cancer, or just rich?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

the Whore of Babylon

Somewhere in the musculo-nervous twinings at the base of my neck a disgruntled gremlin is poking repeatedly with an electric prod. This makes me cranky. So instead of my usual joyous exposition on rainbows and butterflies, I'm going to rant. Today, it's against myself and this blog, which I believe I write at something of a disadvantage, since I am neither trendy nor enough of a hep cat to write about that which interests the public at large. You can tell, because I say things like "hep cat".

This is a problem because the point of a blog is to interact and spark further interactions, and that isn't going to happen if I don't dig on doodads, watch television, become aroused by politics, follow pop culture, or argue ad nauseum in comment threads about the latest idiocies being perpetrated by the oblivious, less-hep-than-me masses.

I guess I get a fairly steady stream of pop-culture drivel from teaching private-school teens, but for two main reasons I try to stamp it out in class before it can wiggle into my brain. First, because I'm so behind in this whole consumer/conformist speedrace that it is no longer possible for me to catch up; and second, because I'm living in Babylon and catching up would mean fornicating (metaphorically speaking) with this self-same disease-ridden *whore (hey, it's in the Bible). While in one sense I'm as corrupt as the next guy when it comes to being a real-life, physical-world lust-monkey, metaphorical fornication promises metaphysical STDs I don't even want to think about.

So where does that leave me? I write using a computer that's part of the whole devolution of desecration described in The Story of Stuff. I write carelessly all over the place, in the manner of bloggers, throwing words at problems I barely care enough to try to solve in my own life. The very irony of my use of a medium so imbedded in a culture I'm trying to resist would be laughable, if it wasn't me we were talking about.

Wanito says that at least I'm "aware"; but Wanito, as I've just pointed out, is crazy. Who cares if you're aware that the ship's hit an iceberg if you insist on continuing to dance around the ballroom in your overpriced, patent-leather shoes. I don't even know what "patent leather" is - so why am I wearing the freaking shoes?!?

I know I sound depressed and writericidal here, but I'm not. I take great pleasure in writing for the internet. It sharpens my ideas and technique. The promise of an audience forces creative discipline I doubt I'd develop otherwise, and it will all probably get distilled into the book I'm developing which should spell out a path I can follow out of the wallow.

Maybe that's what all this is good for... one imperceptible increment at a time it is helping me to wiggle out of the mire and into a better, cleaner experience. Maybe it's enough that I feel uncomfortable in these shoes, and maybe if enough people like me mutter long enough, we'll realize we're not alone and move together towards the lifeboats.



*My apologies to any prostitutes who may feel diminished by my derogatory references to their profession. Jesus Christ himself preferred prostitutes to preachers, and I have a suspicion that y'all have had a hard enough time of life without some sanctimonious blogger trashing you further. I'm not talking about you as individuals, but rather about the tragic interpersonal destructiveness of your job as a metaphor for the degradation of a culture that has sold it's innocence to lie in a bed of fast-decaying "stuff".

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wanito's World

That's Wanito. Sometimes links like his sit on the side of this blog like mexican snowmobiles, collecting dust. I'm not going to let that happen. I'm going to tell you why I endorse Wanito's World. First, the dude is crazy. I love crazy. Second, he writes about a wide variety of random stuff, but manages to sound intelligent. Third, the dude is crazy. Fourth, he writes almost every day, so even if it's not always profound, it's always there, like an old friend (which he is). Fifth and finally, I tend to agree with him about a lot of stuff. One thing I like is agreeable people - makes me feel solidaritous, wrapped up in a big blanket of sameness. Homogeneity is evil, of course, unless it means that everyone becomes exactly like me.

Don't take my endorsement for it, though. I've re-posted the text of his latest mental meandering to give you a taste. It's a perfect Wanito blend of consumerism-bashing, state-of-the-culture bemoaning, marijuana-foam-sword-battling, spider-loving fun. Enjoy.



At work i took all the kids to church. Our home church is low key in a megachurch way, so they're laid back and funky; no stadium seating, no rotating, color changing lights, no brass section (usually)... but all of these are regular features of the church we take the kids to. One of the boys today said "If you're trying to get us to try out different religions, you should take us to other places sometimes.... like.... a Baptist church." Can you tell we live in Grand Rapids? That a Baptist church is a different "religion". I suggested a mosque or synagogue, but i don't think the kids knew what those were. Plus, i think they meet on Saturday, and i'm pretty sure the kids aren't THAT interested.

Anyway, we take the kids to a flashy, fancy, high-dollar megachurch. Before the service starts, the giant video screens up front show a countdown to eleven o'clock, with various trendy eye catching themes. Well, today's theme was various still pictures of wholesome looking, racially diverse people, with a constant background of a US flag, and down in the corner... a bar code. A bar code! It sat there..... existing.... it was clear from the look that it was intentional. My forehead wrinkled, and i asked one of the kids (smartest kid we have right now) for his analysis of the interesting juxtaposition. Instantly he said "That's God telling us that it's okay for us to use the Internet."

Um, okay... so i went on, pointing out how we're in church, and up front is a giant flapping American flag, and a bar code. Religion, patriotism, consumerism? Is this church telling us that religion and patriotism are products for us to consume??? Are they reducing God and pride in our country to, basically, double cheeseburgers from McDonald's? The kid said instantly "Those are really good." Sigh.

I got home, and instantly the kids said "Daddy! Come here! We found a jumping spider!" Sure enough, it was exactly that; a jumping spider. My kids are so smart. We watched it for several minutes, thrilling at the way she (don't really know the sex, but it was bigger than most jumping spiders i've seen) tracked us when we got close. And we worried about her maybe jumping onto us, which would be quite a surprise. But she didn't, and i managed to coax her onto my finger. Usually, spiders hate crawling on people -- in my experience they jump off as soon as they can. But this one was content to crawl about exploring. We ran downstairs to find a bug to put the spider near. A fly was lurking on the window. We put the spider up to the glass, and her attention was instantly riveted by the fly. She crouched. She jumped! And missed. The fly flew, and i got the spider back onto my finger for another try. This time she judged perfectly, pounced directly from my finger to the fly, and snagged it in her jaws, and dropped to dangle from a tether of silk. The fly flapped and wiggled, but the jumping spider held tight, and... ate the fly while we watched! Absolutely amazing. It was one of those things we will never forget. She's living somewhere on our front porch now, which seems to attract lots of flying insects... wasps sometimes... which sucks, because many wasps sting spiders and take them back to their nests paralyzed for their grubs to eat alive. Sad! And really freaking creepy.

Most of our local wasps are paper wasps, which collect nectar for their grubs, which is much less H.R. Geiger.

Then we went for a bike/scooter ride. We found a group of dreadlocked people fighting battles with foam swords and war hammers. I couldn't resist, so i flung Katrina up to my shoulders and walked across the street to chat. They were all very friendly, talking amiably with me, told me their names, and whacked ungracefully at each other with foam noodles held together with spray adhesive and duct tape. Awesome. And they smelled like weed.

Houston opined "They did seem a little mean." Because smoking weed is illegal, and we have told him that it's not an option for anyone in our family, therefore people who do must be mean. We chatted for a while about that... most people who smoke marijuana are quite friendly, probably even more friendly than most people. But we still don't do it in our family. Plus, i don't know how much weed costs, but i know i couldn't afford it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Gazing at Infinity

The next question, once you've decided that most of mainstream contemporary "christian" music (and "christian" art in general) sucks the camel's tail, is, "Why?"

I think that in the interests of good faith we must allow that one does not have to be inherently evil in order to sign with Sparrow Records. So why is so much Devil-Awful music made by these folks? Are they really that oblivious? My suspicion is that the answer is yes and no. No, because I believe that good music is something that flows like a river through Reality, something that you have to work hard to avoid acknowledging. And yes, because I think that this perhaps intentional ignorance is part of a broader sub-cultural context and a most pervasive and un-Jesuslike way of thinking.

In the words of Inigo Montoya, "let me 'splain. No, there is too much... let me sum up." I think it all has to do with power and control.

I am twenty-nine years old and I'm convinced that every day I learn a little more and know a little less. This is because the God I believe in is infinite and that which has emanated from him is so complex that it might as well be infinite, too. I therefore have to conclude that the only honest approach to this Universe I can see but a fraction of and this God I can hardly glimpse occasionally is wonder, awe, humility, fear and, ultimately, love. I do not like this. Let me restate that, in case you missed it: I hate this. Occasionally I am comforted by infinity, but most often it scares the living bah-hootsies out of me and I gotta do something, anything, to get back the illusion of control.

Note I said "illusion". This is an obvious point, but I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not think I am actually in control. I am, in a provisional, conditional, contingent way one hundred percent free to act in accordance with the broad parameters that exist for a white, college-educated, healthy North American male, but only within those ever-shifting parameters. This whole free will, nature/nurture tension is so tense that you might even call it a paradox, or possibly even a mystery. I like mystery novels, because they get solved. For the inverse reason, it is in my nature to despise metaphysical mysteries like free will, and God, and the significance of Hamlet's relationship to his dead father.

The problem that faces the hooligans of mainstream "christian" artmaking is that art by it's nature, must ride the wave of mystery in order to connect to truth. Great art is transcendent. It overpowers and says more than the artist has power or ability to control. That may sound to you like artsy-fartsy mumbo-jumbo, but I can tell you from my own experience that it is true. Many and many is the time I have painted or drawn or written something and looked at it with wonderment, asking myself, "where in tarnation did that come from". This is not just me being a lunatic after the fact, it is an essential ingredient to the act of art making.

It is the struggle and eventual joy of the artist to step aside in faith that the Art will transcend the artist's abilities and perspectives and take on multiplicities of meanings and subtleties of conveyance. As an artist you must work bone-grindingly to achieve such technical mastery that these transcendent realities can flow through, but you can practice 'til your gluteals fall off and never make great art if you never learn enough humility to relinquish the illusion of control.

When you stop trying to be god of the situation and start to see yourself as a vehicle of a reality greater than your ability to comprehend it, when you stop editing every thought and feeling to try to fit it into some pre-ordained conception of what you think your art ought to say and do and sound like - that is when the floodgates can and might open.

This is why so many people who are so narcissistic and nihilistic can make such beautiful things - because they are often much more in touch with their humanity: their brokenness, their isolation, their fear and doubt, their inchoate yearnings and inborn belief in some transcendent Truth that is, despite all evidence to the contrary, unutterably beautiful.

Jesus Christ, the dude who theoretically this was once all about, said that it isn't the healthy people who need a doctor, but the sick. It is widely understood that when he said it, he was not saying the folks who were on his case had it together - instead, he was actually half-mocking these sanctimonious hoo-hoos who had deluded themselves into thinking that they were, in fact, healthy.

In order to pretend that the world is controllable, that God fits into a box of ideologies that you can construct, you have to believe some pretty rambunctious lies. You have to do that old double-minded dualist trick of heinously splitting the world into your everyday, honest, sinful self and some La-La land of spiritualized unreality. This is a silly delusion, as such distinctions are fabricated nonsense which rapidly split and multiply like amoebas, taking over your entire way of thinking. Soon you begin to believe that God, like you, is in the business of boxing relationships and things and (most tragically of all) people into tiny little boxes they were never made to fit. This is ridiculous, wrong, and hateful. It is the anti-Christ. Life is so majestically, amazingly infinite in wonders and it is none of your freaking business to sort it all out!

If, as good old Buechner would say, you are laboring more under this kind of delusion than a cross, any art you produce with this effort will be oozing lie-holes from its pie-holes and, yes, will be fairly sucky.

Sucky art is obviously not the sole domain of lie-enamored "christians" who are afraid to face a world they cannot control. But I consider myself enough a fan of Jesus and enough in his camp, so to speak, that it irks me to no end to hear campy art proclaimed far and wide as being what He was all about. It is fine that amateur artists with little talent enjoy artmaking and do it for the enrichment of their family, friends and communities, but it is an abomination when bad, amateurish art gets elevated to the place of an ideal because it happens to conform to a false cultural construct we are desperate to preserve. This gets done often enough, in enough places, that otherwise gifted, thoughtful artists too close to the epi-cententer of this mad state become unable to identify the insanity in which they live.

Darn that, I say. Darn that to heck and back again!

I don't want double-mindedness, because two minds are nowhere near enough. I want to understand my own humble finitude in a way that allows me to point back at infinity with all the awe, gratitude, wonder and fear that it deserves; because it seems to me that this and only this will allow me to really love.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Wrong Note.

Have you heard of Hillsong? They're the sort of tinny, canned music-makers who haven't yet realized that the nineties are over and that the sounds they are making are not innovative. Except, I don't think they really want to innovate - that's not their point. They are music for the lowest common "christian" denominator, and they are not trying to challenge their creative limits - their lyrics are often reorganizations of Bible verses, just as their melodies are often reorganizations of past musical directions. They move dirt, dig trenches, and insist that if you are not behind them, you're on the wrong team.

As an artist who values art as a conversation we engage in best by referencing, not copying the past, I find this sort of regurgitation incapable of compelling my attention or touching me in any significant way. This is strange. It is odd that music ostensibly so obsessed with matters of the soul should be, well, so soulless, and engaging only to those who, intentionally or not, have never been exposed to gutsy art with the capacity to move the spirit.

I do not mean, however, to demean the folks who make this kind of music. Perhaps they do not realize they are in this mire, or perhaps hackneyed musical paths are all they are capable of or perhaps they are so deep in a culture that so affirms their lack of innovation that they truly believe they are making good music. There are a lot of "worship" bands that are much, much worse than Hillsong. And the folks at Hillsong do seem to have hearts that actually get some very basic truths, as evidenced by this video.

I don't blame the sinner, I'm just offended by this sin.

That's right, I said it... sin. I think of bad art as sin. Usually it's unintentional, the foiblings of blissfully ignorant folks who maybe want to do well, but don't know how. And no, I am not talking about technical prowess. Everybody is an amateur at one time or another. I am talking about honesty. For art to be good - for it to connect with something real and essential in another person - it has to come from a place of honesty. It has to be vulnerable, vital, visceral. You would think that "artists" who were actually making enough money off it to call it their "job" would have this vital characteristic. This isn't the way it is, I know. If you work your tail off, have something people want, and get lucky, you might just make it.

Again, this has nothing to do with the character of the artist in question. It is quite possible to be an absolutely wicked person and play an absolutely wicked guitar. Picasso, Dali, Gauguin and many other painters were absolute turds in their personal lives, but when it came to their art they set that aside and laid their real selves bare before the world. The same is true of a great artists of all stripes: writers, musicians, actors, dancers - no matter how much they perfect their technical abilities, if they are not willing to be honest about who they really are when the time comes to make art, then it doesn't matter how well-intentioned they are or what they might understand to be true about life, as artists they suck, and their art is, in the balance, immoral because it allows us to ignore some very important truths with which we really, desperately need to be faced.

So why do people buy so much of this art? Why do dishonest artists like Hillsong and Thomas Kinkade and the makers of this ridiculously bad movie become bazillionaires? Because good art challenges you. It breaks with your presuppositions and forces you to think differently. It bypasses inherited thought patterns and requires you to process the world in a way that is not comfortable. By referencing the past but not copying it, it gives you real, tangible access points and then leads you down hitherto unknown corridors. It is, like the very God of the Universe, absolutely and completely unsafe.

While I believe in my guts that every last man-jack of us positively yearns for this adventure of the unknown, on a very important level not one of us actually likes it. And so, instead, we choose to expose ourselves to "art" that does none of those things and takes us to none of those places. We choose hackneyed craft that has none of the soul required to really challenge us. We choose to follow the path of least resistance, and to expose ourselves only to "art" that shows us what we were already expecting to see.

That is not to say that there will be no truth in this immoral, comfortable drivel. "Everything is everything", as the Rastafari say, so there are going to be bits and pieces of Reality no matter how fearfully we try to hide from it. There will be the occasional achingly beautiful chord in a Hillsong piece, "Fireproof" will say some true things about relationships, and Thomas Kinkade will comfort someone who needs it and strike a surprising color balance in the middle of a whole lot of pastel nonsense.

But why settle? Why be afraid of honesty and why not demand... not perfection, but excellence throughout the whole dad-blamed thing?

In my worldview, all of the created order calls God's name. Not just trees and rocks and mountains, but also Matt Damon, Damon Wayans, and Waylon Jennings. And yes, I do think that it is most healthy to look for that calling in places where folks affirm goodness and truth. It is just my opinion that much of what passes for goodness and truth in the subculture of which Hillsong is a part is largely a deceptive, comfortable, partial truth; which, according to the momma who raised me, is still a freaking lie.

Again, I really loved that Hillsong video and what it said. I love truth wherever I, with my imperfect little nose, can smell it. But I will not allow a whiff of perfume to overwhelm the overpowering stench of decay. It's time for "christian art" to be called on its lies and its half-truths and the fear they promote. We don't need this kind of education - we don't need this thought control. It is time for folks who purport to follow Christ to stand up and say with their wallets, "you can make it, but we ain't buying". It's time for them to demand honesty in art, because if art is infested with an overbalance of lies, then it is incapable of connecting people with the truth.

It is incapable of love; and that's not just depressing - it's a sin.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

syphilis

I love old people.

This might be because I am daily becoming one, or it might be because they're just so frickin' awesome. Like Ione, whom I met last night at the opening of an art show wherein were placed some of my paintings. She was sitting on a loveseat by herself. In front of her, on a coffee table made out of the floor of a bowling alley by Charles (the patron of the show) was a collection of beanie baby-like dolls with beads embroidered all over them.

"Are those yours?" I asked

"They sure are," she replied, "they're wearable art... but they're not for sale, Charles just badgered me into bringing them."

Ione is over eighty years old. She wore a peach pastel jacket and matching skirt, and more bling than most hip-hop artists: a panoply of silver and turquoise, beads and shells. She had a twinkle in her eye, a ready laugh, and a long string of fascinating stories.

I love old people on principle, but I especially love when they tell me something about myself. I mentioned early in our conversation that I was born in Lancaster, right near here. About an hour later Ione said, "You mentioned you were from Lancaster. Well, I try not to ever go there. I'm a member of the Moose Club, you know, and the closest chapter is in Lancaster. And I don't mind saying I like companionship as much as the next girl. The problem is, down in Lancaster these older folks, they think, 'well, we're past child-bearing years - no danger of getting pregnant', so they'll go to bed with just any old body. And that is part of why Lancaster has the second highest rate of syphilis infection in the whole country." Then she had her another hearty, head-back laugh.

Imagine that.

Syphilis.

I never would have known that the town of my birth is so notorious for, well, y'know.
Fact is, I love "syphilis". Not the disease, so to speak, but the word. It may not be something the Italians are proud of, but I just think it's gotta be one of the most beautiful words in the whole wide world. Maybe I need to learn more Italian, cause every time I say the word "syphilis" it brings me joy and makes me think of bubbling brooks.

I can see why Elizabeth Gilbert of "Eat, Pray, Love" fame fell so madly in love with the language that she'd move to Italy for four months just to learn it. Maybe my attraction to the word has something to do with me being from Lancaster. Who knows?

Old people, syphilis, and Elizabeth Gilbert. I love the way that art connects the fragments of my life.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

polygamy revisited

At the request of my younger brother Jason, I am re-posting that bit I referenced a while ago about Polygamy. Interesting how my voice changes as I go along. Here 'tis:

...

I've been thinking about polygamy lately. Not in the sense where I want to take it up as a hobby, but in the sense where I sit naked in the snow and hemmmmm about it as a concept. This isn't the first time - it probably came up as far back as my early teen years. I was a missionary kid being brought up in a very reserved environment where sex was “tee-heed” or “poo-pooed” but almost never discussed in a frank manner, and I was looking for loopholes.

It doesn't really matter whether you are the clean-cut child of straight-laced missionaries or the illegitimate son of a prostitute named Maria being raised in a Mexican whorehouse – at the age of early teen you have got sex on the brain, toes, and everything between. Sex leaks out your very pores, and in Yarinacocha we were taught to stop up the holes until we were old enough to experience IT in the appropriate context.

I am a big fan of appropriate contexts. I have always known that human passions need to be channeled or you end up waging wars or overpopulating the earth. In this matter, however, GI Joe is dead wrong: knowing is not half the battle – it’s not even an opening sword stroke. For those who happened to have skipped over the years between eleven and, say, fifteen, know this: developing primary and secondary sex characteristics is hell.

What’s polygamy got to do with it? Well, I'll tell ya. Polygamy, in this painful interior landscape, seemed like a golden sunrise. I might have to wait forever for sex, but when I got old enough I could marry eight or nine willing vixens and have sex pretty much all the time. It’s in the Bible, for the love of Pete! King David of Israel, author and subject of a whole bunch of verses, had a mess of wives and concubines, right? And the Bible says that David was “a man after God’s own heart”, right? Granted, David had a bit of an advantage. He was a king and could therefore afford more diamonds and chocolates than the average Ezekiel, Hezekiah, or Zebulun. Still, the point is the same – you should try to grab as many wives as you can, cause God’s cool with it, and if God were a guy he’d be doing the same thing.

While this line of “reasoning” about women and sex seems fairly elbow-slappingly funny to me now as a married man – at the time it was serious stuff. I mean, there had to be some sort of sex pot at the end of the chastity rainbow to make it worth the wait, didn’t there?

I tried the argument out on Mr. Burke, my eighth-grade teacher, and when he stopped laughing he said that it was a nice try, Josh, but the Bible expressly forbade polygamy. I had been doing some pretty extensive reading on the subject and was pretty sure he was wrong, so I demanded scriptural corroboration.

“Don’t you remember, Josh”, he replied, “Jesus himself said it very clearly – ‘no man can serve two masters’”. At this he doubled over in paroxysms of mirth. Mr. Burke was always doubling over in paroxysms of mirth when I was around – reveling in the foibles and fumblings of my youth – but he was married and had fathered several children, so it didn't help. Polygamy remained a blank, open book, and I was happy to take up a pen and write it.

A lot has gone on between my floppy ears since then. These days, I am not too keen on multiplying wives unto myself. I am much too poor for that and have enough trouble as it is staying out of just one doghouse. Still, I can't help but wonder where the whole “one wife or go to jail” thing came from in our culture – was it just a by-product of our economic reality?

Let's look at the flip side: In many of the patriarchal societies of the past every man was a little king or tyrant and women were not allowed to have regular jobs. What with the men running around smiting each other with swords and hand grenades and what have you, there were a lot more women available than men. If a man couldn’t have more than one wife, then a lot of women would have starved to death. Starving to death, while very noble and poetic, was probably not a lot of fun. And in many indigenous societies today, women still hate starving to death. Go figure.

Now granted, I would be one of the first to argue that patriarchy is not all that and a bag of sex toys; but who’s to say we’re all that much better off with our own state of legislated monogamy, where domestic violence and insolvency reign supreme? Isn't it better to have a man with six wives who is committed to loving them all than a monogamous man who wouldn't know love if it walked right up and kicked him in the teeth? Granted, neither situation is ideal; but where in this mixed-up, backwards, loopy, fallen world are you going to find an ideal? David was probably overdoing it (the Bible does make it clear that his weakness for the ladies is what brought him down), but what right have we earned, with our divorces and our Hollywood-bankrupted version of marriage, to point fingers?

What brought polygamy to mind at my advanced age of twenty-seven was not, however, the desire to move to Utah, but rather an odd little question: as in, why is it always, always, always guys who do the polygamizing? I know it seems obvious – men being possessive, power-hungry, sex-obsessed, machismo addicts and all – but how come you never hear tell of a woman getting dragged before the magistrates and penalized for polygamy? We are in a new era in which women have been economically liberated. Aren’t there any power-hungry, possessive, sex-obsessed women out there who want to run a bit of a man-pack?

Come to think of it, a girl did once ask me and a couple of other guys if we, as a group, would like to be in her harem. She was joking (of course?) but she was also very attractive, and since I always take things way too seriously I (jokingly) pointed out that her husband might take issue with the idea. She replied that “he’s not the jealous type”.

Now at this point, a guy with moxie would have called her bluff. “There are a few things I’d like to get cleared up first”, he’d say, “like, who gets procreative priviledges with you, and how often? And even more importantly, what about fiscal responsibility? Do we get an allowance, or are you expecting us to work for you?” I, of course, have always been a man more of words than action, so I dropped it.

Does it happen, though? Should it? Probably not, I think. For one, we haven't had a good, wholesale “girls-only” war in well nigh on forever, so there are plenty of women to go around. For two, you only need one nominally functional male to get a woman in a condition to fulfill her biological imperative and pop out a baby, so from a “preservation of the species” point of view, it doesn’t make sense. For three, with the women of North America allowed out into the sweat-of-their-brow workforce in the last while, wouldn’t a woman who gathered in a bunch of men to buy her candy and baubles just seem sort of greedy? And finally, is there any woman in her right mind who would want to put up with more than one of us at a time?

Still, who is to say what a determined and possibly insane woman should or should not do? I certainly don't claim to understand even my own motivations, so why should I judge a member of that alien species, “Women”. Besides, morality is a slippery eel. Those who try to capture and control it often get a nasty shock as they realize they’re messing with things undreamt of in their philosophy. I think the truth about all this is real, and perhaps graspable (if not necessarily by naked reason alone), I am just saying I am not entirely sure we are quite as bang-on as we think about sex and marriage.

I will have you know, though, that if anybody tries to horn in on Anya as a second husband, I will exercise my inherent right to go ape-excrement on their heinie. Unless, of course, they plan to stay out of our sight in the barn and do all the chores. It would be hard to object to a second husband if he was just going to be a sort of indentured servant. Who am I to mess with time-hallowed tradition? Hmmm.

Friday, May 8, 2009

the death of friendship

One of my tragic realizations of the past while is that for around ten years I have been gradually losing my capability to have and be a friend.

It started when I first left my home in the Amazon and moved to the cold, wet northern madness that is British Columbia. My first week of school I bumped into a cluster of bushy-tailed youngsters like myself - only they weren't like myself, they were talking about "Friends", and things that had happened recently to these friends, named Joey and Chandler and so on - and I had no idea what they were talking about. The weird thing was, I knew for a fact that some of them were from opposite sides of the country.

Later, of course, I learned that their connection was based on a television program which I had never seen, and that if I wanted to speak their language and join their cluster, I had better watch that show myself. So I did, a couple of times, and I learned that friends were a group of wealthy people who did very little actual work, and seemed to spend all their time lying to each other, insulting each other, and fornicating with each other in dizzying sequence.

Most of the people I was coming to know did not actually carry on this way, but I began to see that the show "Friends" had subtly affected their perception of what was acceptable in relationships. You were friends with people who were cool and good looking and sassy, and you mostly stuck by them because it was entertaining to do so. If your friends demonstrated any behavioral or emotional issues that made them unpleasant to be around, you insulted them until they got the point and changed. And they always did.

There was more to it than that, of course. Lack of commitment and willingness to struggle to maintain relationship had more to do with suburban "culture" than anything else, but the television show "Friends" became for me a touch point to the whole issue.

Then came myspace, and I began to hear friends and family members boasting about how many "friends" they had. They all knew that, technically, these people were more acquaintances than anything else, but the semantic damage was brutal, and exacerbated the already deeply entrenched attitude of friendship for convenience. "Friends" became less than people you used - they became tally points in an ever-growing cyclone of ego-boosting self-valuation.

It seemed, with the invention of facebook, that steps were being taken to reign this trend in. For most people, "friends" were generally understood to be more than strangers - the term covered everything from lovers to one-time acquaintances, but the assumption was that you had at least had some in-person contact with them. While this may seem to be a move in the right direction, to me it has done more to erode the significance of the term than anything else because now nearly everyone is on facebook and there seems to be less and less effort made to spend real face time with other human beings.

The phone calls have tapered off. The dinner dates are no longer made. No one pops in on their travels. "Why bother?" I've heard people say, "I know everything that's going on in their lives through facebook".

And so we each retreat more and more into our suburban castles of loneliness, surfing without vigor or joy into a net of our own devising, reveling in vapid, soulless interaction as we destroy the very thing we crave.

Maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe it's just me - maybe I'm no fun to be around. I have been known to get a little melodramatic. Changes to the meanings of words are an inevitable aspect of any living language.

I know that people still get together and do things, often at great inconvenience and expense, just for the pleasure of the company of other people. I know that true friendships continue to be made and lived and real connections exist. Even if the fact is that I am crying sour grapes because of some inherent unlikeableness in myself, I still do mourn for the thing that is no longer there - the deep human connection tied into and expressed by the word "friend" - because I consider it an unassailable fact that partly because of this change in meaning, many of us have shifted so far from what friendship can and ought to be that I do not know if we can ever find our way back.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Go Long...

Here is another nifty quote from Frederick Buechner.

"What is the kingdom of God? Jesus does not speak of a reorganization of society as a political possibility or of the doctrine of salvation as a doctrine. He speaks of what it is like to find a diamond ring that you thought you'd lost forever. He speaks of what it is like to win the Irish Sweepstakes. He suggests rather than spells out. He evokes rather than explains. He catches by surprise. He doesn't let the homiletic seams show. He is sometimes cryptic, sometimes obscure, sometimes irreverent, always provocative. He tells stories. He speaks in parables, and thought we have approached these parables reverentially all these many years and have heard them expounded as grave and reverent vehicles of holy truth, I suspect that many if not all of them were originally not grave at all but were antic, comic, often more than just a little shocking."

I think a major problem with how people claiming to be followers of Jesus relate to this North American culture is not that they haven't heard clearly enough what Jesus was about and just need a few more lessons, it is that they have heard and only take it as far as is comfortable. That is, to this side of the place where it becomes irrational, or silly, or shocking, or insane - the place, in short, where faith begins.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

splendour in the grass

Yesterday I was wheelbarrowing some large rocks (more boulders, really) across the lawn from the woods to our yard (cause that's what I do with my, er, huge muscles) and out of the corner of my eyes I saw these two clowns, um, befriending each other. I got my camera, captured this beautiful moment to share with y'all, and then hollered at the little fornicators to get a room.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Love and Marriage

I once wrote a bit on polygamy and how I thought prohibitions against it were pretty much just cultural flimflammery and you know what… No one got really mad and called me a pusillanimous popinjay! This could’ve been because it was published on a website that mostly only my mom was reading at the time. Nonetheless, I think I will give antagonism another shot by out and out yearning for the days of arranged marriages.

This all started the other day when I was listening to NPR (that’s right, I sometimes do listen to that propagator of pinko-commie rhetoric). They had a guy on who had written a book called something like “Making Love Around the World”. He told about a time he was staying with some random strangers in India. They had heard him being interviewed and invited him to drop in on them if he was ever in the country. He’d always had something of an issue with arranged marriage, so in the course of talking to the lady of the household, he asked her if she had loved her husband on their wedding day. She laughed out loud and so did her sister, who happened to be sitting there.

“You can’t love someone on your wedding day” the sister said, still laughing, “you don’t even know them”.

The lady of the house cut back in, “You Americans, you think of your marriage on your wedding day as a giant, beautiful mansion. You move in and everything is wonderful and perfect. Then, over time, the paint starts to peel and the gutters sag and you think, ‘we’ve got to get back to that perfect mansion’. Whereas in India", she said, "we see our wedding day as coming up to a vacant lot, on which we will build our mansion together. “

I’ll tell you, that grabbed me and didn't let go. You put those mansion metaphors side by side and live in them for awhile and you start to see all sorts of correlations to the differing attitudes among the cultures... the most notable implication maybe being the fact that if you live in an area with a high population of people from India (as I did fairly recently) and you go out to a public park in the summer, you’ll see piles of complete Indian families out there doing stuff together – I’m talking from little bitty baby Indians to old tottering about to fall over Indians. Our hyper-individualism, which sees us all as little princesses and princes who ought to have fairyland handed to us, doesn’t really give us a leg up when it comes to the hard work necessary to building community.

I told this story to a group of friends, and this older guy, who’s had his share of relationship mish-mash, said, “well, yeah, but which among us wants to have a spouse picked out for us?”

“I know”, I agreed, “I’m just as indoctrinated in this way of thinking as anybody else – but still, looking at an attitude so foreign to mine sure does give me pause. I love my individualism as much as the next guy, but this makes me wonder if the trade-off in loss of community is worth it. Besides, look at how well ‘pick your own poison’ is working for us in the marital satisfaction department.”

Later I was thinking this over and it reminded me of an internet conversation I had with a friend (whom I’ll call Leopardface) recently where I was admiring him for having waited until he was a bit older than most to get married, seeing as how it gave him more time to get to know himself and what he wanted. I had been thinking that one big reason marriages were so wonky in this culture is that the decisions were being made by young, horny people. Perhaps getting married a bit older was the answer? Leopardface’s answer surprised me. He said,

“My decision to marry also comes after a long struggle and both “Applesauce” [not her real name] and I know that we are going to have it tough. We both still have many conflicting desires within us as individuals and recognize the anxiety that this causes us as we move into our future together. Fear is so destructive an element in relationships but it’s often hard to discern what is fear and what is caution and positive intuition.

Applesauce and I are trying to anticipate bouts of resentment toward each other (ie toward ourselves!) as we grow in our relationship. We are going to try and see that it is our relationship that we have faith in and not so much each other. The relationship itself counts for more than the meanings we make of it in light of our own broken condition. I hope to trust how Applesauce's faith in our relationship of love will change me for good even when it doesn't feel so good (and visa versa).

We'll see how we do...”

From that response, I’d say it sounds as though Leopardface and Applesauce have found a way to somehow approximate some of the attitude that goes with arranged marriages. Could this be a viable middle ground?

They have decided, as individuals, to put their faith not in themselves or the other person, but rather in the value of that relationship, trusting that the idea of the relationship is right, and will not fail them. Like, as though "MARRIAGE" is somehow a special thing worked into the fabric of the universe. Hmmm. Sounds crazy to me.

So crazy, it might just work.