Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


A year ago we moved several hundred miles west and south, into a region very different from that in which I had spent my entire life, and as an avid birdwatcher, this opened up a whole new world of possibilities, at least as far as variety of bird species goes.  I spent all winter pouring over the range maps in my bird book and making a wish list of potential species I'd like to see, and this spring I am giddy as a kid at christmas, always glancing out the window hoping for a glimpse of that next new species.  There are three species of oriole on my list, two of which would be novel sightings for me.  I heard one whistling the other day and eagerly sought him out, hoping it would be either a Bullock's or an Orchard Oriole, but when he finally showed himself, it was nothing but a commonplace Baltimore Oriole, a bird I had seen a thousand times.  I had to stop and wonder at that thought, for there is no such thing as a 'common' bird, especially where orioles are concerned.

Even the most abundant sparrow species is quite remarkable when studied up close, each feather an exquisite work of art in its own right, add to that the complexity of migration, communication, and survival in this cold world, and that birds exist at all is a miracle.  I am especially fond of orioles, their song is beautiful, they are fun to watch, and they are stunningly gorgeous, that and they are a certain sign that spring has arrived at last.  So here I was, upset that I had seen so wondrous a creature, disappointed solely because it was not the bird I thought I should see at that particular moment.  And that is just birds, how much worse is it with everything else in life?  How often am I disappointed or upset because something did not happen how or when I thought it should?  Why can't I just graciously accept the beauty and blessing of the moment, rather than being discontent because life was not exactly as I thought it should be.  It would take much of the beauty and wonder out of life if everything happened exactly as we thought it should all the time, so maybe I should be more like that kid at Christmas, wide-eyed and excited, even if he is only getting socks.

In a humorously ironic side note, I saw an Orchard Oriole a few hours later and the next day there was a Bullock's Oriole strutting his stuff quite blatantly in the tree outside my window.  We are told He knows when even a sparrow falls to the ground, and that we are of much more value than the sparrows, you'd think by now I could trust Him implicitly.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Delving into the uncomfortable

I think I owned a single cheap paint brush, acquired who knows where and never used, before this project.  My idea of home improvement is eyeballing where to place a nail to hang a picture frame; refinishing furniture had never entered my mind.  Like most of our furniture, our dressers were once owned by distant relatives or discovered at a rummage sale, and unlike most of our functional pieces, they looked like it.  I'm not sure, but they might have been in the trenches during the Great War or even involved in the War of 1812, the War of the Roses was probably a little too early though, but whichever war they came through, it was time to do something about it.  I like them, they are very roomy, solid, and functional, but they look like they were left out in the rain for a couple months and then were run over by a bus.  We could have bought new ones, but modern dressers seem to be abominably expensive, of very poor quality, and lacking in functional space.  So I asked the almighty google if there was any hope, and after perusing various and sundry blogs, I discovered there was.  Thus began my career as a furniture refurbisher.  It has been an interesting project, and no, I won't be taking this up full time, but it is fun to know I can do it and the results are rather impressive (and much more economical than buying new furniture).

So what does my foray into home improvement have to do with anything?  Probably nothing, but it reminds me that often life takes us in directions we can hardly begin to imagine and looking back we wonder how we ended up there in the first place but are quite happy for the detour.  This was one such, though very minor, example.  I just read a passage that minded me of this very thing: Jesus had been speaking all day and there were thousands of people gathered around, it was getting dark and they were hungry.  He then turns to his disciples and asked them to feed the ravenous throng, which of course resulted in protestations of impossibility from his companions.  Of course painting a dresser is nothing compared to feeding thousands, but still, the reaction is the same, 'but…"  How often do we balk at attempting the difficult, let alone the impossible, simply because of our own doubts and fears?  Is it not such crazy ventures that make for the best stories?  Is it not around such unanticipated bends in the road that we find the most satisfying and intriguing results?  Perhaps, instead of balking at something as impossible, we need to step out in faith and simply say, 'yes, Lord,' and trust that He'll work out the thorny details.  The results will definitely surprise you!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What's your meta-narrative?

Why do we do what we do?  That is a questions that's been driving me crazy of late; it seems that most people have no idea why they do or do not do a particular thing at a particular moment.  As a culture we have embraced the idea of 'if it feels good, do it,' and to heck with the consequences, but there are usually consequences (good or bad), and we then tend to blame the former on ourselves and something else on the latter, which makes no sense at all.  Perhaps I am the insane one, trying to make sense of modern culture?  I just heard about a proposition in Australia to ban reading bedtime stories to children since there are some children who do not have parents who read them bedtime stories and are thus harmed by you reading to your kids.  Ah ha…?  Yes, I am definitely the crazy one around here.

The thing about this issue that has been driving me batty is that there is truly a reason behind things, but most people seem to think, at least on a superficial level, that none of it really matters.  This is why I have such a hard time finding a modern book I can read and enjoy, I tried to read Harry Potter but gave up, because so many critical things kept happening but there was no reason behind it; so many uncanny things happened that one must assume some sort of providence yet it was always luck, chance, etc. and the incongruity became too much.  It is bad enough that this is the reality in which I must live, I can't handle it in a work of fiction.  The 'ancients' (anyone writing before 1900) at least presumed a reason behind things; there was a motivation for their characters' actions and for the various events in the story.  Now things 'just happen,' and there is no explanation as to why or how.  Maybe that's why I can't stand literary fiction: I'm too analytical and want to know the nuts and bolts of what is going on.  I can suspend belief, in the case of certain fairy tales, it is much as my biochemistry professor used to say about things too tedious to explain, 'magic happens.'  But in those fairy tales, the characters and events make sense, even if the world's magic is never fully explained; the people are relatable even if the world is fantastic.

G.K. Chesterton probably puts it best:

“Can you not see, […] that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible? Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is-what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is-what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos. ”

So what are we to do with this 'mad' world of ours?  We need to find a meta-narrative, a meta-what?  We need a story behind the story, a reason for being, a purpose, a worldview, we need a lens through which to view ourselves, the world, and our place in it.  Yes, there are millions of opinions, ideas, religions, proposals, theories, and hypotheses out there about just that, the problems is, modern man is so busy 'just doing it,' that he has never sat down and decided which of these hypotheses fits life the best, thus he runs around like a headless chicken, oblivious that he is in effect dead.  What is the point to all this aimless running around if there is no reason behind it?  Simply living to 'enjoy ourselves' is a fairly vacuous existence, evidenced by the discontent and boredom in modern society; man needs more than mere pleasure to thrive.  'Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,' is a lifestyle as old as mankind and no one has yet found it fulfilling.  But that's your meta-narrative if you are of the 'accidental universe' school of thought.  If life and existence are some statistical improbability in a cosmic dice game, there is no point to anything so hedonism should be the order of the day, which is hardly conducive to civilization, so how has mankind survived if it is all pointless?

Perhaps there is a 'life force,' a 'mother nature,' a benign and distant or impersonal creative source for things?  Then our utmost happiness is to live in harmony with this 'force' or 'being' or whatever, with our fellow creatures, and with the universe at large (go watch that sci-fi flick with the large blue cat people for a good example).  Spend five minutes in a checkout line having register problems and tell me this is even possible.  It is a nice idea, but it doesn't survive two minutes in the real world, yes there are people who can pull it off, but they are few and far between.  And then there's the natural world itself, which is as cold, heartless, and ruthless as it gets; forget those cute talking animal movies and go watch a pack of hyenas maul a baby gazelle.  There is no utopian communion with our wild 'brothers and sisters,' you eat them or they'll eat you; not something you'd expect if our loving earth mother was in charge.

How about the 'pop machine god?'  You know, the god of popular american culture that will grant your every wish when and how you want it, because he loves you and just wants you to be happy and then you don't get something you REALLY wanted and lose your 'faith.'  He doesn't exist either.  Just try parenting like that, let alone supposing that is the nature of God!  The kids would run amok and we'd be even worse off than we are now.  Maybe that is why modern civilization is such a mess, we have tried parenting like that.  If that is truly the nature of God, no wonder the atheists are so intent on disproving him, which is really easy since he is as mythical as Zeus.

But happily, there is a fourth option, one we really don't like to think about, any more than we like to think our parents might be smarter, wiser, or know more than we do.  Instead of recreating God in our own image, or defining His characteristics to suit our tastes at the moment, and then getting angry when our tiny god fails us, maybe we could submit to the idea that we are created in His image, not He in ours, that maybe He is bigger than we can even begin to comprehend, that the things we think we know about Him barely begin to describe His attributes, that He is the author of this great story called life and we are merely characters upon the page, but since He has penned us, that also means we have some part to play, some purpose for being, and even more strange, He jumped into the story Himself, became a mere conglomeration of words and saved the entire story thereby.