Wednesday, August 23, 2006


I realize suffering is a part of life, but refuse to believe it is the purpose of life.

I take heart from Alyosha's perspective, and would love to attain it:

Alyosha was certain that no one in the whole world ever would want to hurt him, and, what is more, he knew that no one could hurt him. This was for him an axiom, assumed once for all without question, and he went his way without hesitation, relying on it.

(from _Brothers Karamazov_ Book 2 ch. 3)

To me, this is a declaration of freedom from fear of the other.
I don't know what it means to serve the other "with fear and trembling," but it is something different, I am sure, than panic fear, that fear that is hatred in the guise of victimization....

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Gimpel, Javert, Kurtz

Here is customer service
Who is answering the phones today?
Gimpel? Javert?

Can we trust the heart?

Of Mister Kurtz, Marlow says

"Sometimes he was contemptibly childish. He desired to have kings meet him at railway-stations on his return from some ghastly Nowhere, where he intended to accomplish great things. 'You show them you have in you something that is really profitable, and then there will be no limits to the recognition of your ability,' he would say. 'Of course you must take care of the motives -- right motives -- always' (emphasis added).

Evidentally an awareness of motives is not enough.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Jacob's Ladder?

What I don't understand about Bethel is the rock as a pillow. This would certainly effect one's dreams . . .

If the ladder of success (should we even play the metaphor?) is seen as a Jacob's ladder, there is the idea of angels going up and down.

Turn the metaphor

Angela Ball taught me good things about poetry. One thing she taught me was to "try the opposite." For example, in a poem, if I were to say: "you won't believe this," I could also try "believe this--"

There is power in Angela's concept in poetry and in the words we use to live the world. This evening my 3 year old was making a very unpleasant trail across the carpet, mostly thanks to my escorting him without thinking of the consequences (was I afraid he would run off?). While I was trying to remedy the situation, I thought of the house I will live in one day, and felt to take a firm stand on "NO CARPET." Enter the metaphor: YOU DON'T PUT CARPET IN A BARN. Oooh--I liked that. I was seduced by my own metaphor. I said it again in my mind. I felt very clever.

Then came--the opposite--"you don't act like an animal in a temple."

Still, the statement was hard, but not at all clever, and the vision was better: the idea that control and change are possible; the idea that my someday home could be a good place with people in it who tried to be good, too.

Orwell insisted on the connection between language and thought.

The Bible asserts the power of life and death are in the tongue (the verbal experience).

Angela Ball said try the opposite.

Turn the metaphor, turn the heart.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Persistence of Metaphor

The other night I was trying to express a concern; I needed a metaphor, and settled on an ancient one: making bricks without straw. Later I thought of another metaphor I could have chosen: unfunded mandate. And later yet I was, as I am now, comparing the relative effectiveness of the two metaphors. Why do we hunger for metaphor?

If we must use metaphor, certainly the one we choose will color our perception of our situation and reveal our motives and sincerity.

I think Orwell would have preferred bricks without straw.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Dmitri, How Could You?

Dmitri's meeting with Alyosha on the dark road at the end of Part I in The Brothers Karamazov is troubling.

Here is Dmitri: he tells Alyosha that he could have kissed and hugged him, but chose to scare him instead. A few pages later, Dmitri continues the theme of choosing wrong, and repeats the choice-awareness twice: He confesses that he is about to do something terrible "which will come to pass, though I'm perfectly free to stop it. I can stop it or carry it through, note that. Well, let me tell you, I shall carry it through. I shan't stop it . . . I can still pull up; if I do, I can give back the full half of my lost honour tomorrow. But I shan't pull up. I shall carry out my base plan . . . ."

What troubles me is Dmitri's absolute awareness of his existential freedom, his moral agency, and his choosing to choose wrong. Dostoevsky's presentation of Dmitri is instructive of the larger problem: the mystery of iniquity. How is wrong consciously chosen, even when there seems no pleasure in it? Why would one consciously choose suffering that only compounds itself?

I don't think Dmitri uncommonly stupid or even uncommon.

The question, "how could you?" comes not so much from the position of one who accuses, but one who acquiesces.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mystery Play in Madison, South Dakota

This evening my three youngest children and I attended a mystery play in Library Park. Of course it was not advertised as such; rather, it was called "Puppets in the Park." This puppet show was partly to advertise for a VBS and generally to witness.

Having lived in the South, I'm fine with witnessing and almost invariably have been affirmed by being witnessed to--affirmed in my own faith, anyhow. But back to the show. It didn't take long, sitting on the grass with my children to think of the mystery plays. Here, centuries later, we were participating in outdoor, public doctrinal entertainment. I found the experience literary and anthropological--but such is the "academic" and easy approach to a sincere display of faith.

The problem lies in what to DO about such a performance--how to absorb and then act on these kid-values: really believing in the life- and world-transforming nature of a gospel of love; the reality of the conflict between good and evil; the value in not complaining, in receiving with gratitude; the idea of spiritual training and discipline for successful living.

I come back to Flannery O'Connor in Wiseblood--the idea of not really believing the doctrines one supposedly subscribes to; the idea of doing well enough without redemption.

I come back to Noel Polk in Outside the Southern Myth--the metaphors of sheep and soldiers.

I come back to where all literature leads me: do I want to be holy--but not yet?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Writing Instead

Wikipedia--dare I start anything with a reference book reference?--notes that "[Amy] Tan believed that her grandmother, her mother and herself all suffered from depression. Tan currently takes Zoloft to treat her bouts of serious depression [1]. In 1985, after her psychiatrist fell asleep for the third time during one of their sessions, Tan quit therapy and took up fiction writing instead."

There's a lot of courage and good sense, if it works for the individual--"writing instead."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

No Truth but in Analogous Thinking?

Literature and life happen together all the time. To not read because one is too busy is like not eating because one is too busy. The result is undernourishment and fatigue.