Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My life verse

This is a thing, apparently. No one in my peer group growing up had this as a thing, and if my parents or their friends did, they never talked about it, but a fair number of Christians apparently choose a "life verse" - one verse out of the thousands that they find most important, most informative to them, of what they ought to do or ought to think.

I'll be honest, I don't quite get it. I mean, I appreciate breaking things down into pieces - I like Lego as much as, if not more, than the next dad - but I don't quite understand picking just one verse. Over the years, I've had a few responses.

When I was a teenager, and a smart-mouthed one, at that, my response was usually, "Ezekiel 23:20." If you're not familiar with that verse, do NOT look it up. Seriously, don't. You might giggle, you might be horribly offended, regardless, just remember that it was the smart-mouthed teenage me that said that.

If I was being sincere, though, I would say, "And so, as we go into this world, let us hold on to what is good, honour all men, strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, help the suffering, share the gospel, love and serve our Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." When asked for a citation, I'd point them at my church's senior pastor, Ron Gannett. It's not a Bible verse, at least not really. It's a compilation of bits of various Bible verses put together in a particular order that I found - still find - useful.

Most particularly, I like that, "share the gospel" comes after strengthening the faint-hearted and supporting the weak. While I do share the gospel, in the sense of telling people about the lover and joy that comes with knowing the Father and the sacrifice of His Son, I know for myself that almost all of the things that have changed my life haven't coming from reading something or being told about something, but have come from seeing it acted out.

Talking is good. Words are good. Actions are better.

Anyway, it's a good little homily, but it's not a verse, and so apparently doesn't count. Next on my list: the book of James. The whole thing. Seriously, I once worked that up as a spoken word performance and used a portion of it as an audition piece and it is amazing. Like Shakespeare, I think James need to be spoken aloud to really get it. There's so much passion in the words that I think gets missed when you just read it.

Still, doesn't count, I know.

So, I picked one. Oddly, it's something that I thought was just a popular homily in Christianity: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God?

Well, it actually doesn't show up quite like that, as it turns out. Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

So, there it is.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Love is not a victory march

I've heard there was a secret chord

My uncle Wayne was a scientist. I mean, like the Platonic ideal of a Scientist, a man who seemed to love nothing more than asking questions about the world and being utterly delighted when the answers conflicted with what he'd expected (but seemed especially excited when he was closer than the last time).

That David played, and it pleased the Lord

Whenever we met, we seemed to spend at least a few minutes talking, just the two of us. What made these conversations remarkable was that, from the very first one I remember, he talked to me like I was just a person in the room with him. Not like I was a burden or responsibility, not like I was a child, even, but just as a person. I'm sure we talked about childish things, but he always seemed to enjoy it.

But you don't really care for music, do you?

One thing we never talked about, that I can remember, was music. If he's anything like my dad, he liked the classics - Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, The Beach Boys. Unfortunately, I'll never get to talk to him about music.

It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth

It was late in the day on the 4th when my dad called. Honestly, I'd anticipated the tone of voice he had. Pensive, nervous, sad. I'd imagined it would be a call about my grandfather, who's over 90 and has had some setbacks in his health. It wasn't. My Uncle Wayne died that day. We don't know too many details, and will never know all of them, but I don't really care about any of that. I took the next day off work and spent the next couple of days moving between trying to live and reeling from what had happened.

The minor fall, the major lift

On July 7th, I drove my son Graeme to the Ranch at Word of Life. It's his first week awake at camp. Over the course of the four-hour drive, we listened to audio books, sang to the radio and in all other ways greatly enjoyed each other's company. It was wonderful, really, and even the ride back, through the beautiful countryside, felt like a celebration. It was life. It was glorious.

Around the Vermont/New York border, Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" came on the radio. At the first few notes, I pulled over into a strip mall parking lot. I listened all the way through, crying so hard that tears ran down my arms*. When it was over, I gathered my wits about me, and prayed. Then, I headed home. Catharsis.

The baffled king composing Hallelujah

There's no good thing that I can see coming from death. Yeah, I know, "God works all things together for good," but my uncle Wayne is dead and he's not coming back. I can't think of anything that can counterbalance that. What does balance it? I still have his books, and he's instilled in me a lot of that curiosity he always showed. When I talk to my boys about science, I hear Wayne's words said in my voice, and it makes me happy. He taught me to smile, and to talk to children like they're humans. He taught me well, and, hopefully, if I'm doing this "living" thing right, I've brought him a little of the joy he gave me. I don't think I can ever fill the hole he left, but it's something.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Amen and amen.

* Yes, my arms. How does that even . . .?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Short story writers

A Facebook friend asked me about short story writers. This needs a blog post.

Lovecraft - Sure, he's not the best of the "eldritch" school, but his work is classic for a reason. It's creepy and unsettling, even today, although the near-blatant racism is rather jarring.

Samuel Clemens - It's sort of unfair that someone should be this darned good at a brand new art form. I mean, really, there have been great short stories since Clemens, but they're all held up to him.

Washington Irving - Well, Clemens, or Irving. He's the man.

Stephen King - Yes, yes, he could publish his grocery list and it would sell a million copies, but hear me out. The Long Walk. Survivor Type. The Night Shift. These are great stories, and that's not even talking about his best story ever - The Last Run on the Letter. If you get the chance to read it, read it. It's excellent.

Ray Bradbury - With a singular style caught somewhere between poetry and prose, Bradbury is singular and amazing.

Flannery O'Connor - If anyone ever inherited the mantle of Sam Clemens, it's O'Connor. From outright humour to biting social commentary and deep character studies, she does it all, and she does it all really, really well.

Philip K. Dick - Until he gets into his later , bizarre period, Dick is an amazing writer. I mean, he's so dark that he makes Kafka look like a circus clown, but it's worth it.

Arthur C. Clarke - Goodness, but this man can write.

There's more, of course, but these are the ones I can think of on a 90+ humid Saturday afternoon.