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.

 

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?

Scraps: Awkward Pauses

I had to cut this from something I’m working on, but it’s a darling so rather than kill it outright, I’ll just let it live here. It came from a paragraph about reviving the art of conversation in a world drenched with communication.

You have to navigate awkward pauses (which, the awkwardness might actually be just the realization that someone needs to venture some vulnerability to keep the conversation moving and, to your mutual embarrassment, neither one of you is brave enough. Hence that feeling you both try to disown by calling it “awkward” rather than “mutual and embarrassing cowardice”).

Music as Salve for Campaign Burnout

Music as Salve for Campaign Burnout

As a great artist does, Gillian Welch has expressed most of what I’d say about politics in a three-verse song, and with far more poetry. I’ve listened to it often in the past weeks. ‘Hard Times’ is the perfect song for when apocalyptic prophets climb up on the politician’s stump. When you’re working hard because of the hope hard work gives you; when you’re sheltered from the worry of the world by some kind of pleasure; when hardship has truly overtaken you; the refrain above it all should be, ‘Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more.’ The skill and repetition of the plow preaches the same gospel that Jesus gave to our worry. Each row has enough worry of its own. Just get to the end before you turn around and start back the other direction and you’ll be all right.

Have a listen and enjoy.

 

What do I mean when I say ‘the church’?

Especially in my recent posts on politics, I drop the phrase ‘the church’ or ‘the American church’ pretty often. What do I mean by the church? I mean people who call themselves Christians and who pray to God, with a straight face, ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.’ This does, of course, presuppose that people be humble and diligent about seeking and submitting themselves to a rigorously holistic vision for such a Kingdom, even and especially the parts that make them uncomfortable. After all, if the Kingdom is going to come to Earth, a journey that would require making some changes around here, it would have to come to each of us, change each of us, since we are of the Earth. That means the Kingdom is going to irritate each of us in some or other ways. The church is the people who choose to be so irritated without resorting to an editorial stance, scratching the itch with a blade that trims away sound and historic doctrine at the same time it trims away prodigious grace.

And, I might add that the church is made up of people who pray this prayer with an idea that they are active participants in the coming of the Kingdom, and this again circles back to humility and diligence, seeking and submission.

Marriage Advice From House, M.D.

Marriage Advice From House, M.D.

On a recent episode of House, M.D. (and by recent episode, I mean an episode from October 2010 that I happened to be watching recently), a patient’s clearly naive husband went to House for marriage advice of all things. His wife had kept hidden from him a huge underlying mental illness and he didn’t know what to do next. Alas, House never was one for patients, much less their husbands and the good doctor was blunt and brief. Their initial exchange, though, turned out to have remarkably sound marriage advice.

‘This is not who I married.’
‘Of course she is, you just didn’t know it.’

To the point as always, House pokes his giant, cane-shaped pin into the bubble that we can somehow know someone through and through before we marry them and so expect no big surprises til death do us part. Marriage is a big change filled with big changes. Buying homes together, planning a family together, navigating the ups and downs of those plans going in unexpected directions, starting new jobs and leaving old jobs all the while having someone watching you handle each transition very up close and personal. Point being that life will draw our character out and not all of it will be a monument to our hardiness and moral fortitude.

But, you’re sill married.

Just because you don’t (and can’t) know everything about someone before you marry them doesn’t make it ok to suddenly throw the future of the marriage into question when something you don’t like surfaces. The problem isn’t that our spouse is flawed, the problem is that we thought we could get away with marrying only the parts of someone that we like. For better or worse, you have to marry a whole person with some mysterious depths. There may be some sea monsters down there, but it’s possible to love someone in such a way that the muck that life may dredge from the deep doesn’t occasion a time to ask ‘yes’ or ‘no’ about the future, but instead ask ‘how’?

The fruit of working through hardship in marriage rather than running from it is self-evident in any old married couple if we’ll look for it. Survive enough together and a 50- or 60-year old marriage takes on this unconquerable, bulletproof patina (which is good, because circumstances surely don’t get any easier as a couple ages and faces the decline of their health together). Far better, then, to figure out how to move forward rather than to fret over whether to move forward. Because that is, indeed, the person you married. You just didn’t know it.