Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Singing in Tongues

Cocteau Twins and Sigur Ros have created music that reminds me of the sort of songs that might be heard in Narnia, music sung by Heavenly beings...voices that can be heard but are yet incomprehensible. We aren't yet ready for a full grasp. I can't understand the words, nor can I express in words what they are singing about, and yet I feel like I understand what they are conveying, they resonate deeply within me. Stop to analyze or examine what I am listening to lyrically, however, and comprehension is elusive at best.

A Quote From: Julio Cortazar

"For me, literature is a form of play. But I’ve always added that there are two forms of play: football, for example, which is basically a game, and then games that are very profound and serious. When children play, though they’re amusing themselves, they take it very seriously. It’s important. It’s just as serious for them now as love will be ten years from now. I remember when I was little and my parents used to say, “Okay, you’ve played enough, come take a bath now.” I found that completely idiotic, because, for me, the bath was a silly matter. It had no importance whatsoever, while playing with my friends was something serious. Literature is like that—it’s a game, but it’s a game one can put one’s life into. One can do everything for that game."

(From: The Paris Review, Issue 93, Fall 1984)

Monday, January 08, 2007

N.T. Wright

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a handful of talks by N.T. Wright (Bishop of Durham) at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. Let me say right off the bat (for those of you who might be hoping for some actual substantive content) that I won't be able to say much about the actual talks here. For the most part I think I understand N.T. Wright while I'm reading or listening to him, but I feel he is just out of reach of my intellectual grasp, and so to try and sum up what he was talking about at any given moment would mostly just come out in some variation of "it was good and stuff", and so I'm not even going to try. He was speaking as part of The January Series, a month-long event at Calvin where they bring in a different speaker just about every day in January to speak for one hour at lunchtime, free and open to the public. I left the Detroit area around 7:30AM, my friend Carrie following just about 20 minutes behind me (we drove seperately because I was staying the night there and she was coming back home). We got there around 10:30, which turned out to be plenty of time (we were the first in a line which didn't really start forming until about 11). Thankfully she stopped to get subs for us and we had a great lunch before the lecture. We were able to sit up in the front row of a packed house (1000 seat auditorium)(we realized while sitting there anticipating the lecture that we were truly geeks). His lecture that afternoon revolved around one of his latest books, Simply Christian. Afterward we stood in line for booksigning and met N.T. himself. Rounding out the rest of the day was a meal at Paneras, bookshopping at Barnes & Noble, and then some more at Schullers along with some early evening tea, and then hanging out with friends for the rest of the evening.

Earlier in the week I found out that N.T. was doing an all-day seminar on Saturday, and I no sooner decided to go to that as well than registration was closed. I discovered, however, that there would be a few spaces left if I just came and registered on Saturday morning, so that's what I did (hence my staying overnight on Friday). He spoke in the chapel, a morning and afternoon session (with Q&A afterwards), on the sacrements of Baptism and the Eucharist. (These sessions will all be available online at Calvin's website soon, and the Friday lecture is up there now.)

All in all it was a great 2 days of teaching by one of the preeminent biblical scholars of our time. My friend Andrew said this of Walter Brueggemann, and I would say it's true for me of N.T. Wright now, that hearing an author speak and getting a sense of their personality and approach has a way of making an otherwise complicated text suddenly more accessible to understanding. I'm looking forward to reading more of Bishop Wright's work now, including Simply Christian (which he brought alive in his first talk), and one of his newest books on Evil and the Justice of God. That last one sounds pretty good and stuff...

Monday, January 01, 2007

For Christmas I beat a cancer patient and took his money

This past year my cousin was diagnosed with cancer (Hodgkins) and has spent the majority of the year going through the hell of treatments. This cousin and I have had a yearly Christmas Eve tradition, ever since we were kids I believe, of playing pool when our family gets together on that evening. We usually play for a few bucks a game, and usually we end up alternating years as far as who ends up winning by the night's end. And this year happened to be my year (despite my cousin's lame quips about "you know I have cancer, right?" and "how can you do that to a guy with cancer?" etc. etc.). He's going to be fine, and I needed the money, and as an added bonus, I get to tell people that's what I did for, you know, Merry F*cking Christmas and all that...

On the gift-getting front, I actually did rather well for Christmas, opening a huge treasure chest of a box from Amazon, filled with books books books. I got more books from a good friend of mine, and as if that wasn't enough, I went used bookshopping on my way back from dropping my brother off at the airport. all told I've added 17 new titles to my shelves in the past week! One of those books is by a very respected author, Czeslaw Milosz, who's name I just learned how to say (from that book), and despite how cool his name looks in print, I will be rather hesitant to tell people in real life when I'm reading him, because it just sounds rather silly (CHESS-wav MEE-wosh). I feel like freakin' Elmer Fudd or something...

What was in that big box?
Thomas Merton - Cold War Letters
Henri Nouwen - Love in a Fearful Land
Charles Bukowski - What Matters Most...
Charles Bukowski - Betting on the Muse
Allen Ginsberg - Collected Poems 1947-1997
Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews
Czeslaw Milosz: Conversations
Wild Years: The Music and Myth of Tom Waits
Shouts and Whispers

and then I bought used:
Franz Kafka - Letter to My Father
Leo Tolstoy - A Confession (etc..)
Nabakov - Speak, Memory
Thomas Mann - Death in Venice

and then my friends got me:
Frederick Buechner - Secrets in the Dark
Thomas Merton - Asian Journal
Thomas Merton - Dialogues with Silence
Pema Chodron - Wisdom of No Escape

and now I have to figure out where in the hell I'm going to store all these books. But that's a good, fun problem to have, one that I hope will continue to get worse as time goes on...

My brother and his girlfriend were in for the week after Christmas as well, and we had a great time visiting and some good conversations, but that will all have to wait for another entry (one that I may or may not make public). I think I'm done blogging for tonight...

Beautiful After Midnight

Just over an hour after the strike of the new year, I stepped out into the relatively comfortable night air and went for a walk around the neighborhood. I was struck by how beautiful the sky was this night, the sun shining brightly from the other side of the world on the nearly full moon overhead, rendering my flashlight useless, causing the midnight clouds that passed by to glow white in the late night, and vividly demonstrating what the term "midnight blue" really looks like. If it wasn't so early in the night, I could have believed that dawn was breaking through, and I couldn't help but think that this is how Anne Rice's vampires see the world in the nightime hours. A few hours earlier, I finished a book by Ronald Rolheiser about rediscovering a "felt presence of God". One of the things he suggests we need is to once again approach the world around us with the awe and wonderment of a child, rather than as the same old same old. I felt something of this "caught off guard" wonderment as I went on my walk looking mostly up at the sky. I've taken a lot of nighttime walks in my life, and rarely does one get a beautiful bright night like this.

I was also reminded of a song by UnderCover that Ojo Taylor wrote after his mother had died, "The Moon And The Blue Around", one that has always touched me deeply and reminded me (once again, as UnderCover always seems to do) to not take those I love for granted, to sit still for a moment and truly share life with loved ones before they are gone, to "listen closely to their eyes". I always think of my own mother when I hear this song, and of the hardships she has had to endure throughout her life, and also of the hurt and hardship I will have to endure when she is gone. Depth in relationships takes a depth of courage - to be vulnerable, to be open and engaged and fully present, to take initiatives and risks (mostly to one's ego or personal walls of protection). It is this depth that I strive however feebly to attain. And however often I may lose my focus or resolve, there are those moments (if I am open to them) that will remind me and bring me back to at least the possiblility of awareness of what is truly real, what really matters in this life.

Treat her nice
Treat her to ideas you designed
She's been hurt before
I would gladly take her to the summer in my arms
I would gladly take her if I could

The moon and the blue around
We can find and play
After we have looked down
Moment seized, now silent, past

Speak to her, speak to her
In kindest terms
Listen to her
She's heard lions roar
Let me listen slowly to ideas she designed
Let me listen slowly to her eyes

The moon and the blue around
We can find and play
After we have looked down
Moment seized, now silent, past

Take good care
Take good care of my beloved's time
Innocence becomes her anyway
I would gladly keep her through the winter
If I could
Listen slowly to her lovely eyes