27 September 2010

Driving Thoughts (pt.2) - The Matrix, the Counting Crows, and Anne Lamott

I have a friend who set aside a time to blog every Saturday. Sometimes he would blog at other times, yet he disciplined himself to write at a set time every week. I think I will try to do that for Mondays.

I recently drove from Portland, Maine to Charlotte, North Carolina. 16 hours alone on the road gives you plenty of time to sing yourself hoarse to "Joshua Tree." It also provides a wee bit of time to poke through the recesses of grey matter and see what sets to scurrying. I want to explore briefly returning to life in America through the lenses of "The Matrix", "Counting Crows", and Anne Lamott. These are three diverse thoughts, yet please stay with me, as I think they tie together in the end.

Before I started writing this morning I read a post from my friend, Corrigan, who works in Haiti(http://apparentproject.blogspot.com/2010/10/begging-and-dancing.html), and it caused two reactions. First, "yep, he's on to something, but how can I write in light of something like this?" Second - and after more reflection - "This actually goes along with my thoughts on 'The Matrix,'so maybe I will write."

A striking scene occurs near the beginning of "The Matrix" in which one of the characters - Cypher - decides he has had enough with 'real life' and wants to get plugged back into the Matrix. While he plans his betrayal he says, "I don't wanna remember nothing. Nothing, you understand?" As I thought about this quote I expanded upon what this character could really mean. "I want to go back to a life of distractions - a life in which I don't have to live mindful of the realities of this world. I wish I didn't know better. What would life be like if I never truly felt or truly saw? What would life be like if I could only live distracted like others - oblivious (or at least pretending to be) to the real world around them?"

In ways different and at different times along this journey I ask myself similar questions. What would life be like if I didn't see the homelessness and could let it fade into the background of city life? What would life be like if I could tune out domestic disputes down the street by turning up the T.V.? What would it be like to walk into a grocery store...or turn on the hot water...or look at a closet full of clothes... and not think of people around this world with so little? What would it be like not to feel guilty spending money thinking, "Is this really necessary, or should we not buy this and give the money to Haiti, or Cambodia, or education, or the food bank, or...?" What would life be like if I could watch the news and not care? oh wait, I don't. I didn't intend to start out that way. Somehow I taught myself to skim the BBC or watch the news with casual disinterest or calloused cynicism. Even so, I know that I can't return to a life disconnected from a hurting world. At times I want to turn up the radio or T.V. and drown out the world, only to be confronted with real world. I watch movies or T.V. knowing the story is false and the people are just actors and actresses, yet what the story represents are real stories of joy and pain. How do I live in between the faux and the real? - between the joy and the pain?

As I drove around Maine last week I stuck in the Counting Crows for some distraction. A line from a song reminded me of some time spent with a friend a couple of weeks ago. We ranted, raved, problem-solved, and imagined a world in which the Church stood up and acted - a world in which the majority of people who claim a faith actually allowed their beliefs to change their lifestyles - a world in which he and I would actually do something... The line: "'Round here we talk like lions, but we sacrifice like lambs..." Our roar gets covered up by the bills, the new T.V. series, the game, the need for cable or dish, the need for more, the coupons, the flyers, the junk mail, the real mail, the telemarketers calls, the good causes, the political spewing on radio, t.v. and bumperstickers...
Our roar gets covered up, so maybe we try to roar again. At times we roar ourselves hoarse. Other times we roar quieter and quieter into disinterest because there's no use, right? We forget that our roar actually can make a difference. We wanted the roar to route the complacency of the wildebeest, and more often than not we end up trimming our mane and rolling in the dirt to look like wildebeest. If you can't beat them, join them, right?

It reminds me of the scene from "Dead Poets Society" in which the teacher has the student stand upon the desk and sound his barbaric Yawp. Amidst the jeers, snickering, and giggling, the teacher encourages the student to give voice to the poetry of his heart. It does not make sense at first as he goes on about a "sweaty-toothed madman." Yet this moment transforms the student and grows courage in him both to speak the truth of his convictions and to allow that truth to effect the way he lives.

This leads to Anne Lamott. In her book "Traveling Mercies" she describes a time when she struggled to pray. As I sat with my friend a few weeks ago, amidst our diatribe we shared of times when we could only pray like Anne.

"Lord, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Help me. Help me. Help me."

Driving Thoughts (pt.1) - on the edges of an inside joke

Driving thoughts - maybe this will provide a space to share some of the thoughts that come to me while driving... not that I blog while driving (that's dangerous!) yet while I drive my mind wanders over traffic, trees, and various thoughts, and maybe writing them down will help me to blog and to share more consistently.

I read a comment from one friend to another friend that brought into focus this idea of how serving in mission can leave you standing on the edges of the inside joke. Inside jokes often develop situationally within a relationship. "Guess you had to be there to understand," is a moderate response compared to the extreme, "What happens in [fill in the blank - Vegas, Spring Break...] stays in [blank]."

I loved living in Seattle. Yet even during my time 'in' Seattle I spent time away in other places - and I would not trade those experiences. Yet just as I had those experiences and my life went on, so to did the lives of friends in Seattle. And while we would email and talk on the phone, I missed out on some of the fun and joy, despair and pain. We had a good time when we reunite telling stories and laughing. I was enough on the inside to be a part of the group, yet my absence proved long enough to leave me on the edges of stories.

I have had this experience many times since. I am thankful for all of the friends developed in the places this journey has landed me. Thankful for the memories, inside jokes, and bearing of burdens that has occurred with others along the way.

I remember returning, too, looking in from the edges. I imagined the joy and even laughed a little, though not as deeply as others. I recall wishing I could have shouldered some of the burden. I remember the emptiness in my gut when I heard, "You weren't here. You left. You wouldn't understand."

Courtney and I talk about this from time to time. We are thankful that the thread of our stories have criss-crossed threads with many others along the way. Yet sometimes I/we wonder what it would have been like had I/we just stayed in one place or region. What would it be like not to be on the edges of the inside joke... Yet at the same time, what would it be like to deny this passion and calling to 'go'...

I don't know exactly the point of writing this, only that maybe it's a glimpse of my wandering thoughts.

This thought also leads in at least two directions. One of which I hope to blog about soon regarding the Matrix as remaining a metaphor for my life. The other I will briefly explore now.

The other day some people asked me how their congregations could support people in mission. I replied, "Write to them. Share about your life - whether exciting, trivial, or mundane. Ask them about their lives. Sometimes small specific questions are better than open-ended ones. Question like 'how's it going?' or 'what do you do?' can seem ominous at times... Engage them, let them know they matter and that they belong to a bigger story. Remember that you matter, and that you belong to a bigger story as well."

24 September 2010

An Attempt at Restarting

How do I begin? We know that we have not written consistently over the past few months... Something I (Dan) have wanted to do many times, yet when the time comes I stare at the computer screen not sure how to articulate all the thoughts. Sometimes I think I need to recap everything - thoughts, events, emotions, etc. - between entries and that daunts me. Sometimes I get too tangled in words that I know it would just confuse anyone who reads. Sometimes I just come up with too many excuses.
I just need to write. I wrote in my journal the other day - it felt like Spring! For the first time in weeks (if not months) I felt life pouring from the pen. I once heard (can't remember where, and I don't want to get sidetracked looking for the place) that writers need to write everyday - whether they 'produce' anything good or not. It's like exercise. It's like photography - if you only take a photo once in a while you may never develop the habit. It's like... now I'm rambling.

Part of the silence has come from transition with the accompanying unknown, and not sure how to write into that space.
Part of the silence has come from insecurity - what will people think if I write this or that...

A few weeks ago Courtney and I discussed Frederick Buechner and the impact his writing has had upon us and thousands of other people. In light of the fact that memoirs and self-reflection make up a good portion of his work we asked, "How can someone who writes about himself effect so many in a positive way - especially in ultra-egocentric cultures?" I feel inundated by self-centered advertising, sports' stories, media, people on the freeway, people in public places... People looking out for their own backs first. Wait, not only first, but many times solely - never looking to another. Yet in the midst of those stories we find someone who tells his own story and it brings life.
Somewhere in his writings I read that he writes his memoirs because in some way each of our stories is the story of all of us. He writes not to set himself apart, yet to gather those scattered and driven apart together by reminding them that their stories, along with his story, are all a part of a bigger story.

Not that I vainly think this blog will have the same impact... but thoughts worth considering as I embark upon this journey to write more frequently.

I have a ton of thoughts while driving or walking around town... but by the time I get to the computer the words in my head have disappeared - like catching snowflakes in your hand, running inside to show everyone the beautiful pattern only to realize they dissolved along the way.

I probably need to discipline myself to a certain day each week, or certain days each month... but I haven't set anything in stone yet.

However, writings and reflections will come... Lord, help me.