Neighborly Hope

Neighborly Hope

It strikes me that any politician only wins by the slimmest popular margin (and sometimes not by a popular margin at all). Their use of power–and this is the inherent nature of power; it cannot do otherwise–will please half of the population and send the other half into bouts of depression and paroxysms of outrage. So I cannot for the life of me figure out why anyone who claims to be a Christian would throw any flamboyant support at all towards any politician, much less the mode of the in-the-highways, in-the-hedges gloating and mocking and general mouthing off that passes for political speech these days. In doing so, these professing Christians (of all political stripes) are showing themselves willing to alienate half their neighbors just so they can feel like a winner in a losing game. Talk of depression and outrage, that pretty much does it for me.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t have political leanings or even an idea for what kinds of policies would best serve the common good. I’m just saying, what happened to that ambition to live a quiet life? To do your level best to live at peace with people? Have we so bought into the narrative that politics is the final arbiter of riches and ruin–a narrative that, mind you, tilts awfully heavily in favor of the politicians–that we are too afraid to laugh at such a preposterous notion? And live out that laughter by being decent neighbors?

We’re too caught up in the utopian, the treadmill lies that we’ll get there just around the next bend, but only if the right people hold the reins. We need a good does of the apocalyptic, the settled realization that, based on a few thousand years of pretty much ceaseless and fruitless power struggle, things are pretty well going to flame out long before we get anywhere so we’d best look away from the squabbling in the dining car and consider that ghostly spirit seated up in the engine. Christians are supposed to believe God is that one up there with a hand on the whistle and a hand on the brakes working to save as many from ruin as will be. It’s why we go on so much about ‘Thy Kingdom come’. It’s because that Kingdom is supposed to be so much more desirable and assured that it cools our jets about wrestling over this one.

What can a government do? They can stop and start the flow of money and they can stop and start the infliction of punishment which is, as I said before, laughable along the arc of the cosmic. And it’s also a real source of suffering for those on the receiving end. Is it really such a good look to be merrily clutching the coattails of someone’s oppressor?

To put it another way, if you’re waiting on the power of kings and presidents, you’re going to be waiting an awfully long time. Anyone in this country who’s been waiting around on a state-drafted and -enacted solution to the human condition has been waiting 241 years and things have only gotten as good as they are now. I mean, we have free wifi just about everywhere, but all that’s really worth is bringing the full scope of human atrocity and pettiness into our pockets and living rooms. We did get penicillin, though, and that’s hard to find fault with.

So, while I realize that the world is crazy and it’s a perfectly good instinct to want to stop the crazy, against the blinding angels of our misplaced hope, I pledge my grievance:

The hope for preventing crime and dissuading criminals isn’t legislative, it’s neighborly.

The hope for feeding hungry kids and and keeping the homeless from freezing to death isn’t legislative, it’s neighborly.

The hope for rebuilding the family unit as a stable and reliable source of flourishing society isn’t legislative, it’s neighborly.

The hope for anyone not already hell-bent on racial hate isn’t legislative, it’s neighborly.

The hope for anyone not already hell-bent on seeking an abortion isn’t legislative, it’s neighborly.

And, by God, the strong right arm of no legislature will ever be the hope for anyone hell-bent on anything. Then, hope can only be neighborly.

On Tools

On Tools

When you have small boys, you get a window of time when they want to help out with everything (besides laundry and dishes and room cleaning, but, surprisingly, yes sometime to dog-poop-picking-up). When you have an oldish house that you and your wife are slowly renovating–she the design and you the labor–you therefore get a lot of help when you’re sawing and nailing. Of course, saws and tiny fingers do not always make the best playmates and this goes probably quadruple when you’re talking power saws. An electric saw poses a danger even to adults (ask any ER nurse), but they also tend to terrify kids because they’re extremely loud. This all poses a bit of a dilemma because that window when your boys’ highest aspiration is to be a good project helper is a precious time to pass along not just the know-how of completing a carpentry job, but also more broadly the value and pleasure of working and building something.

The solution to this dilemma, I think, is to slow down. Why did we start using power saws in the first place? IMG_2885They were fast and they left a cleaner, more squared edge (although that cleaner, more squared edge really only applies in comparison with a rushed or inexperienced cut with a hand saw). But, in speeding up our work and removing some of the necessary skill, we also removed some of our available company.

A while back, my parents gave me a de-lectrified miter saw they found at a garage sale. It has its limitations. It can only accommodate a 2×4 or a 2×6 at most and it doesn’t always cut smoothly (though that could be user error). But, it does cut straight and fast enough. As I used it earlier in the spring to saw lumber for a bookshelf and my two-year-old squatted right at my elbow to watch, even held the handle and ‘helped’ me make a few cuts, I also couldn’t help but notice that this little hand saw had torn down the barrier of fear that used to keep my boys far from my work (and often crying at the hideous screeching whine).

His presence and interest increased my enjoyment of the task immeasurably and the extra time it took felt golden.

 

Dead Darlings: convergence

In a piece about wonder and accepting that some things can be true whether or not we can do the math on them, I had to chop this. So, it is resurrected here.

The point where contradicting lines of thinking converge is simply outside the furthest limits of our imagination, to say nothing of our perception.

 

10 Things I’ve Noticed Since Starting to Work on a College Campus

10 Things I’ve Noticed Since Starting to Work on a College Campus
  1. There are a surprising number of people standing around wanting to hand you things–even if you’re obviously walking around empty handed, unencumbered, and pretty happy about that situation. Pieces of paper advertising various bands at off-campus venues and various lectures with academically obfuscated titles that mostly seem aimed to get you to leave mad about something or maybe everything. Coupons. Self-published fiction (in hardback!) with links to apps printed on the dust jacket.
  2. There are not nearly enough recycle bins ten paces beyond these people.
  3. College kids rely very heavily on their peripheral vision, especially the upper peripheral. This is because their heads are typically pointed down at their phones or at least down below the visual plane where they might make eye contact with someone.
  4. There is very, very little eye contact.
  5. But, especially not from the guy on a bench who either couldn’t think of an excuse fast enough or was just too polite when two eager young fellas offered to come up and read their Bibles to him while one sat on the facing bench that was rather intimately close, like knee-to-knee, and the other stood blocking the exit.
  6. Lots of college kids have really big, colorful headphones that don’t plug into anything and just sit there on their ears which, you know, wireless stuff exists but it’s still kind of new and strange to see so that, remember that TV in The Shining that unplugge tvDanny and his mom watched a movie on even though it wasn’t plugged into
    anything? It sort of makes campus look like everyone’s just a little crazy in a Kubrick kind of way. And, you wonder, does staying in your own head space like that, cocooned all the time in sound that has to grow predictable after a while, does that start to make everyone actually crazy in a Kubrick kind of way?
  7. On the campus I work at, there’s a main road made out of the same material as the sidewalk which looks really nice but, given the aforementioned tendency of students to walk around with headphones on while looking down, those visual cues 2-3 paces in front of them become really important for their navigation and the seamless aesthetic kind of makes it a little dangerous because they can’t tell when they’ve left the sidewalk and wandered, say, into the path of an oncoming minivan (whose driver honestly isn’t doing that great a job paying attention either). It is funny to see the college kids jump like scared house cats when the minivan lurches to a stop just inside their lateral peripheral vision, though.
  8. An oddly high number of young men walk around with gallon jugs of water. Seems strange to make it where you have to leave and pee three times during an hour-long lecture to which you paid an admission fee you’re going to be paying off well into your 40s. Their muscles are pretty big, though.
  9. There are sidewalks everywhere. Except on the straight line that you would most want to walk to get somewhere.
  10. This last one may be too peculiar to be universal, but someone in the building I work in (the campus library) leaves their office door open and they have a life-size little cutout of a kitten standing on the floor in the doorway and it tricks me every time. I ought to pop my head in and congratulate them sometime.

Excerpt: the masonry of faith

Excerpt: the masonry of faith

Here’s an excerpt (that actually made it in the final edit) from a recent essay for Christ and Pop Culture. You can read the rest here if you’re a member (which is pretty affordable). It’ll pop out from behind the paywall in a couple of months, otherwise. I’m sure I’ll post again when that happens. Unless I forget. Either way, thanks for stopping by.

The other stone that a skillful mason needs is the capstone. The capstone makes possible the vaunted arches that fill our Gothic cathedrals with so much air and light that a person could walk in and feel in their tingling spine that the presence of God could indeed fill such a place. Whereas the cornerstone is square, the capstone is carefully tapered so that its weight can push not just down but also out through the curvature of the arch. This tension holds the pieces in place so that stone can defy gravity and reach to heaven.

And so we now circle back to the life of Christian faith, which begins with the fear of the Lord. Its cornerstone is Jesus Christ himself who, by the way, brings divine blessing and stability to the foundation with his own blood sacrifice, perfecting the ritual all that weird shadow-crushing imitated. On this firm foundation, the Spirit builds the arches of Christian virtue—sacrifice and service, contentment and joy, generosity and self-forgetfulness—otherworldly as they reach to heaven and defy the gravity of our Fall. It’s this cathedralic shape that makes the life of faith so distinctive and compelling, unsettling even. And it needs a capstone. Only a certain fearlessness in the face of death can rightly complement the fear of the Lord. It’s a weighty call, but our assurance of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven should settle into place and keep the entire life of faith and virtue from falling apart, even in those risky times when death gnashes its teeth (or smiles a placid smile while teasing and calculating our end with its barbed-wire bat).

Dead Darlings: the Lamb of God

Culling more stuff from another piece and, since I was writing about my beloved Jacques Ellul, I couldn’t just let it die in unfamy. So, here it is. And don’t worry, I had a second Ellul quote that got to stay in (at least so far). 

In its call to courage, our capstone [back-to-a-wall fearlessness in front of hardship, suffering, and even death] presses us into the cornerstone, the Lamb of God in whose flesh and blood we partake precisely because he was made the cornerstone through sacrifice. Our call to bear this image in the world should shape us in the most fundamental ways. Jacques Ellul, a Frenchman who never shied from calling Christians to an otherworldly fullness of faith, drew out the implications with characteristic clarity:

“It is the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who takes away the sins of the world. But every Christian is treated like his Master, and every Christian receives from Jesus Christ a share in his work…[the Christian] is the living and real ‘sign’, constantly renewed in the midst of the world, of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God…Christians should be very careful not to be wolves in the spiritual sense—that is, people who try to dominate others. Christians must accept the domination of other people, and offer the daily sacrifice of their lives, which is united to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.” (The Presence of the Kingdom, p. 4)

This is a bold claim. Ellul leaves the word sacrifice completely unbounded and, more alarmingly, weds it to the sacrifice of Jesus which, remember, persisted through humiliation and pain and finished in death. Blessedly, God often spares us full imitation here—especially if by extraordinary luck we were born American—but neither does God rule it out. If the crowning achievement of faith is Christ-likeness, well, behold the likeness. How can we endure such a hazardous calling?

We look to Jesus, who looked to the joy set before him to carry out his pioneering work, enduring the cross. See, Jesus saw the world in totem. The material world which tyrannizes our own perception, but also the hidden things. The spiritual things which we only see as shadows and copies and sometimes not at all, but which are inseparable, pervasive, and essential to a full accounting of the world and our lives in it. Such a vision told Jesus there were more fearsome hordes than our inevitable last breaths and, better still, that there’s a Kingdom of life beyond this walking death. This hope flows straight from the attentive awe of the Lord. Our assurance of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven should settle into place and keep the entire life of faith and virtue from falling apart, even in those risky times when death gnashes its teeth (or smiles a placid smile while teasing and calculating our end with its barbed-wire bat).

*     *     *

You can look for the whole piece soon at Christ and Pop Culture (if you’re not a subscriber there, it’ll pop up from behind the paywall eventually, but less soon).

Dispatches from the job market: sales

If a field of work (sales) is so notoriously unattractive to applicants (for reasons like cutthroat compensation packages plus the fact that you’d be, you know, the one person people go to great lengths to avoid [you and the door-to-door religion folks]) that you need euphemisms (business development/lead generation) to re-brand your industry in hopes of attracting applicants, then maybe it’s time to dig deep into what really turns people off at the outset. Surely it’s not the five-letter word. Surely it’s the work itself. Can you re-brand that?