The Taser's Edge

In Which I Present Lots of Random Quotes from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead in a Ploy to Get You to Read It

This morning I have been trying to think about heaven, but without much success. I don’t know why I should expect to have any idea of heaven. I could never have imagined this world if I hadn’t spent almost eight decades walking around in it. People talk about how wonderful the world seems to children, and that’s true enough. But children think they will grow into it and understand it, and I know very well that I will not, and would not if I had a dozen lives. That’s clearer to me every day. Each morning I’m like Adam waking up in Eden, amazed at the cleverness of my hands and at the brilliance pouring into my mind through my eyes–old hands, old eyes, old mind, a very diminished Adam altogether, and still it is just remarkable. What of me will I still have? Well, this old body has been a pretty good companion. Like Balaam’s ass, it’s seen the angel I haven’t seen yet, and it’s lying down in the path. (p. 67)

The article is called “God and the American People,” and it says 95 percent of us say we believe in God. But our religion doesn’t meet the writer’s standards, not at all. To his mind, all those people in all those churches are the scribes and the Pharisees. He seems to me to bit of a scribe himself, scorning and rebuking the way he does. How do you tell a scribe from a prophet, which is what he clearly takes himself to be? The prophets love the people they chastise, a thing this writer does not appear to me to do. (p. 142)

Boughton says he has more ideas about heaven every day. He said, “Mainly I just think about the splendors of the world and multiply by two. I’d multiply by ten or twelve if I had the energy. But two is more than sufficient for my purposes.” So he’s just sitting there multiplying the feel of the wind by two, multiplying the smell of the grass by two. (p. 147)

No sleep this night. My heart is greatly disquieted. It is a strange thing to feel illness and grief in the same organ. There is not telling one from the other. My custom has always been to ponder grief; that is, to follow it through ventricle and aorta to find out its lurking places. That old weight in the chest, telling me there is something I must dwell on, because I know more than I know and must learn it from myself–that same good weight worries me these days.

But the fact is, I have never found another way to be as honest with myself as I can be by consulting with these miseries of mine, these accusers and rebukers, God bless them all. So long as they do not kill me outright. I do hope to die with a quiet heart. I know that may not be realistic. (p. 179)

Love is holy because it is like grace–the worthiness of its object is never really what matters. (p. 209)

And old Boughton, if he could stand up out of his chair, out of his decrepitude and crankiness and sorrow and limitation, would abandon all those handsome children of his, mild and confident as they are, and follow after that one son whom he has never known, whom he has favored as one does a wound, and he would protect him as a father cannot, defend him with a strength he does not have, sustain him with a bounty beyond any resource he could ever dream of having. If Boughton could be himself, he would utterly pardon every transgression, past, present, and to come, whether or not it was a transgression in fact or his to pardon. He would be that extravagant. That is a thing I would love to see. (p. 238)

There are a thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient. (p. 243)

A Parent, A Gardener, A Sex Tip

One of the themes of the conversations at Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke, VA (see previous post) was the idea of taking risks in being faithful to God’s calling.  This feeds into something that God has been working into me for a while–the idea of being more adventurous and truly seeing the freedom that there is in God and in my calling to Christian ministry.  Few people have spoken more truly of God than Mrs. Beaver spoke of Aslan–“He’s not a tame lion.”  And while I’ve been warned that there’s some kind of political subtext to that statement, I still take it to mean a very simple and important truth about God: God is far, far, far more adventurous than Christians want God to be.  This is especially true for this Christian, especially when God calls me to live into the adventurous part of the image in which I am created.

If you don’t know me at all but have read at least two of my blog posts, you might already realize that I think too much.  Realize that I know this, and I’m working on it in different ways.  As my AMP group talked Friday afternoon about faithfulness and risk-taking ministry, I began to dream up how that would be great for a church.  Set aside time each week for the staff to dream ridiculous dreams together.  All of the dreams just thrown out there so that they can be heard.  Although I’ve been warned (and believe) that the church shouldn’t emulate the corporate world, it’s hard not to think of Google’s elevator to outer space idea.  The point behind such a practice (crazy dream sessions, not transporting goods to space) is that too often we turn our brains on too soon, and it chokes both our imagination and God’s work in our lives.

When I was doing my senior seminar at Concordia University Wisconsin, Dr. David Krenz provided us with a metaphor (or is it an analogy?) of two parts–parent and child.  The child (who didn’t make it into the title due to the close proximity of the word “sex”), Krenz said, is the part of us which has all the creativity, the wonder, the wild abandon, and the ability to make wide-ranging and sometimes ridiculous connections.  The parent is the part of us which clamps down on that child to make sure that everything in our lives is respectable and looks good to the neighbors.  When you write a paper, he said, make sure that you let the child play for a good, long while before you let your parent step in.  Although you do need the parent to work things together for the finished paper, if you release her too soon you will lose those creative sparks and intuitions which are so important.

To put it bluntly, I have an overactive parent.

To turn to another metaphor (and this time I know it’s not a simile), my mind is a garden.  My ideas are its plants.  Some are full and flourishing, while others are just coming up from the ground.  But my overactive parent has now become, very unfortunately, an overzealous gardener who has also undergone a sex change.  He looks out over the garden plot, and as the tiniest shoot is coming out of the ground, before he can even see what kind of plant it might be, he makes a judgment of whether it will survive and be something desirable, and on that poorly informed basis decides whether to pluck it.  He usually plucks it.  He also usually decides to keep only plants that look fairly similar to plants he’s seen before.  And while I like snap beans alright, I don’t necessarily need 37 varieties; sometimes I think I might like some variety in my diet.

I’m not a violent-natured person, so rather than strangling my gardener (he is, after all, my mother, to continue mixing the metaphorical metaphor pot) what I want to do is sit down and give him a stern talking-to.  But that would be overthinking.  Instead, I want to try this: journal without thinking.  I journal from time to time, sometimes with great regularity and sometimes only a couple times a month (a little more regularly than this blog).  What makes it onto the page are my thoughts, but I think that sometimes they hit the page in a too highly developed form.  I strain out all kinds of things, making sure that I really think something or really feel something, or that I’m not going to change my mind in two minutes, or that I haven’t changed my mind since yesterday.  I don’t consciously think all that stuff, but there is a whole lot of refining, and I think it needs to stop.  I need to write my perceptions in that particular moment and not feel guilty that my impressions may be wrong or self-deceived or fleeting or whatever else.  I need to copy it onto the page, otherwise I think that I am missing beautiful sparks of the imagination and beautiful and risky visions of God.

What exactly am I fearing if I were to change my mind on a subject?  As I always say, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”  (Then most of the time I follow that up by admitting I don’t always say that, but Emerson once did.)  I need a place to pour out all those imaginative thoughts and dreams because otherwise I often won’t see them for what they are, and I’ll miss some beauties.  Let the child keep playing.  Who’s he hurting?  Let the plants keep growing.  You’ve got plenty of soil and you might as well see what those new plants turn out to be.

You might just find that you even like those random rutabagas better than your snap beans, although I doubt it.  I’m told rutabagas are gross.  I’ve never tried them to find out and I swear to you I never will.

Bonus tip: Sex can also be better when you turn off your brain.