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I have some saddish stuff to say–not necessarily immediately, but eventually, and not continually, but at least occasionally.
And you will perhaps feel the urge to, in those timeless words of Mr. T., “pity da fool.”
Please don’t. Or please, at least, don’t feel any obligation to do so.
I’ve come up with literally (the literal “literally”, not the figurative “literally”) dozens of arguments against your pity (and may share some later), but for now I’m going to share just a few and, I hope, concisely.
It’s not that I’m opposed to pity per se. Pity, in its purest form is truly divine. Indeed–and especially within the last 18 months–I’ve gladly given and received it, a lot. And to those who have been the source of what I’ve received: thank you, deeply and sincerely.
And maybe that’s part of my aversion. I’ve received so much and I’m not sure I’m worthy of any more–certainly not any more than anyone else. Yeah, just the thought of it makes me feel guilty.
Pity can also be a bit oppressive. In some sense it implies a response of further sadness. It can be a sick cycle, really. You pity, the one pitied is further immersed in sadness, provoking more pity and so on; and if we’re not careful, we all end up depressed and suicidal. Well, okay, it’s maybe not so bad; it can be, but, thankfully, someone usually eventually gets the point and jumps the loop (which, unfortunately, still sounds like a euphemism for offing oneself). And I do hasten to clarify that the proper response isn’t to carefully tiptoe around the sadness. The pitied know they are sad and your careful avoidance only accentuates what a mess they’re in. As best you can–for what it’s worth, IMO, take it or leave it, et al.–don’t shower the pitiable with obligatory pity but don’t pretend there’s nothing wrong or that it can’t be talked about; just be and be honest. I know that’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Yaknow, come to think of it, that’s my main point. I want to probe this stuff, walk through it, unpack it. I want to dig into it like it’s a clearance rack of genuinely underpriced, actually valuable stuff (we all have stuff that matters to us; pick yours–it need not be material stuff–and the metaphor will work). Not the crap that’s usually–brightly and hopefully, in large, friendly uppercase letters on a field of obnoxious orange–emblazened with that invitation. There’s something good amidst the crap, buried perhaps, but still present.
It’s not so much a clearance sale, but more like an unwanted shopping spree. You didn’t buy it–at least you didn’t mean to. But they took your money–took more than your money, took most of what mattered or made any sense or had any value, at least most everything that you could hold and call, however imprecisely, your own. However unwillingly, you’ve paid the price. And, now goddamnit, you’re going to get something out of the exchange (though even calling it an “exchange” is the kind of affront that makes you want to throw up and punch somebody simultaneously–which would be a neat trick and, I imagine, potentially both satisfying and uniquely effective).
So now the price has been paid and all that’s left is to pick through the cheap baubles and find something worth salvaging. And what I’d really like, if you don’t mind my asking, is someone at my elbow to say, “Yes, Joel, that’s a keeper” or “Please, no. You don’t want that worthless sh**; just let it go.” This is a blog. Blogging is about open expression and dialog. Let’s dialog.
And here’s the other thing. I’m sometimes sad, but I’ve no interest in being morose and I will in one moment weep but even in the apparently same instant laugh–perhaps, you might think, inappropriately. I want to have fun and be amused and, frankly, whether you like it or not, I’m going to. I also want to be ruthless with the truth, want to beat it to a bloody pulp if I have to, and if either of us is tentative or inhibited, that kinda gets in the way. My point: if you want to laugh, please do; if you want to confront my intellectual dishonesty or sloppiness, please do. Don’t worry that the protocol of pity forbids it.
Well, that’s probably plenty of mixed metaphors for now (I have more and will pull them out later, lest you feel it is not).
I’m asking you not to pity or at least not to excessively express pity. More precisely what I’m asking is that you feel no need to pity. It is a favor; I don’t deny it. And you may deem me unworthy of such a favor and presumptuous to request it. But, there, I asked.
More transparently, I confess to you that this whole business of pity and obligations and expectations ends up functioning as Resistance. I will say more of Resistance but for now know that it is essentially this: not writing. Which brings us back to the beginning: I have some things to say–some things I feel I should and must say. Perhaps my request will deflect a few distractions. If nothing else, this public declaration is cathartic and helps me step around them. Come up they will, but I said I didn’t want them, so, no offense, I’m stepping past them. In truth, I’m still quite open to pity; I’d just rather not be bogged down by it here (ha: blogged down), if that makes any sense . . . and even if it doesn’t.
In homage to his T-ness, with an obtuse allusion to Adobe, I’m considering marking the most ostensibly pitiable posts with the category “PDF,” yaknow, so you’ll be warned. And I admit, I think it mildly clever. Very mildly. Almost unnoticeably. Don’t pity that I’m cleverness challenged; that’ll really piss me off.
I’m going to try to do more linking to other people’s blogs instead of jamming them with my comments. It seems better in lots of ways. So here I go.
A conversation I had yesterday and two blogs I’m reading have today reminded me of a couple of core convictions. By the way, these blogs are excellent, so I encourage you to explore beyond the posts I cite.
Brett talks, in the cited post, about Truth, and June about Grammar, but my takeaway from both is that the world is a beautiful place and we’re never quite capable of capturing either its beauty or its horror strictly with rules and formulae and such–which is not to say that we shouldn’t still try.
A commenter on June’s blog, a teacher, points out the paradox of grammar: that one first learns its rules, then how to bend them. I’ve decided, after several (not an enormous number, but more than a few) years on the planet that that’s one of life’s most important themes. I can think of no field in which it does not apply. At every point of revelation, some “truth” we’d been taught to get to that point is exploded by another or simply dissolves in its own insubstantiality.
That doesn’t mean it all dissolves, that there’s nothing substantial or absolute, but mostly perhaps that our plight is one of perpetual misunderstanding, of partial glimpses, of hints and guesses and approximations. And, really, that stuff itself (both our own concoctions and the world and order that exist to varying degrees independent of us–material and otherwise) is more or less, if not flimsy, at least shifting. Moreover, in a way that perhaps transcends or precedes (experientially) the universe’s shiftiness, there is perhaps a necessity that we learn lies or half truths on the way to understanding.
I do believe in absolutes, in Truth. I’ve experienced a bit of it. But it doesn’t come in a pill or a package. Of course, even that’s a lie. Truth is quite capable of sneaking up in a capsule or neatly wrapped container–but eventually, it’s gonna bust out. We learn lies on the way to truth because so much of learning is the acquisition of definitions, definitions are boxes, and gloriously, thankfully, Reality won’t fit in any box, no matter how elaborate and vast we might make it.
God, the world and we ourselves are fundamentally fraught with Mystery–Hallelujah!
Yes, that’s frustrating. Yes, I am continually aggravated by certain things I never quite comprehend but still somehow feel that I must. But there is greatness in surprise and hope and beauty that doesn’t sit nicely in my head or my heart but is always ever tugging at the seams.
I keep meaning to talk about this but then don’t because I think that I should say something profound or clever or whatever. A common theme.
Maybe a profounder or cleverer me will come back later and do better. Until then, here’s simple me in a hurry.
The picture that’s currently my banner is important. I awoke one morning asking God the usual questions. The answer I got is Joshua: “. . . walk . . . be bold and courageous” yadda yadda (not to be confused, well, maybe to be confused but only later, with “yada’ yada'”). Almost immediately, the image enters my head of Peter stepping out of the boat. Yep, walking.
I’m twisted enough to believe that this is God’s idea of a joke–a joke, which is not to say that He’s not also quite serious. Walk, never mind that you’re walking on water. And one might argue that it’s a loose interpretation of the verb “walk” (hence, the “or not”). There’s no guarantee you won’t fall precipitously, or that, in the falling, you won’t inhale lungs full of water. My mind goes a million places–joyous, scary and wonderful. Maybe more scary than joyous or wonderful; consider it an optimist’s sandwich.
I’m twisted enough that I laugh. The truth is, it makes more sense than most things. It makes sense, in fact, of all of the things that don’t make sense. It makes even more sense now than it did then. That’s the beautiful, sucky thing about this kind of revelation.
I believe that this is life. It is, if nothing else, the life of faith. It may sometimes seem cruel, when the water gives way, as water is wont, beneath one’s feet. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe, in the final analysis, that it is cruel but it is certainly a compellingly realistic and frightening facsimile of cruelty. Despite my supposedly knowing better, it usually convinces me.
Part of me believes that an über me (the me God meant when He dreamt me) will one day glide effortlessly across the surface of the broiling sea or even, if über me so chooses–rather, if God says (because, the key thing about über me is that he hears the voice of God with perfect clarity and, hearing, responds without hesitation)–dive deep beneath the surface, because, you see, über me not only walks (actual walking not just “walking”) on water but breathes water as if it were air.
As this thought germinates and its roots take hold of my heart and my head, I begin to see a motif in Scripture that had erstwhile eluded me. It is this: that often, as we face this difficult–often watery–path, God seems absent or asleep. Indeed, in one account of the disciples tossed on the sea, Jesus is or appears to be, at first, not there. When He does show up, they think Him an unfriendly ghost. Then come Peter’s baby steps. In another episode on the stormy sea, Jesus is, quite literally, asleep. Asleep in the bottom of the boat. Nice one, Lord.
If you doubt the legitimacy of the motif, consider what Jesus quoted on the cross. And don’t even start with the “that’s not exactly what He meant” or whatever other dishonest bastardization you’ve conceived or borrowed to make His outburst palatable and theologically correct.
Jesus experienced the absence of the Father so that we wouldn’t have to. What else is there from which we more urgently need saving? And still we are, or seem to be, not fully saved. Who doesn’t wonder? Who doesn’t doubt? Who doesn’t feel, at times, somehow all alone or, seeing the foggy or distant apparition, more frightened than comforted by the presence of the Lord? Whoever you are, I’m not sure that I want to know you.
In November, 2006, Deb and I visited Christine in KC and, at our daughter’s behest (I say this to give her credit because it was a great idea for which I am grateful), we visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum. Some museums (such as the Dallas Museum of Art) get all uptight about people taking pictures–pbbbbt on them for that, btw–but Nelson Atkins did not, so I took several. This is a clip from a painting of Jesus asleep on the boat. He’s the serene one on the left, sleeping while everyone else panics. The painting really spoke to me. What it said is more than I can contain here. In any case, it seemed the hand of Providence, so I made it my banner.
So, anyway, there you have it. No great claim to faith or power. As I say, “walking” on (or under) water isn’t exactly a choice, except inasmuch as I see Jesus there, He calls and I answer (or something like that). It’s the theme. I’ll say more.
Previously, in Joel’s blog, we (a guy named Hafiz, to be precise) suggested that “complaint is only possible while living in the suburbs of God.”
I like that for many reasons . . . most of which I’m not going to discuss right now.
The thought that’s stuck like an earworm in my neocortex is that proximity to God is not necessarily the antidote to complaint, but may in fact be its prerequisite. I’m not saying that God inspires complaint. . . . Um, okay, I guess I sort of am.
A fundamental discontent stirs as we awaken to the presence of the Holy One. When our discontent responds in gratitude and hope, I believe it manifests in an increasingly insatiable desire that propels us toward Him, that motivates all of the illogically, incomprehensibly sublime acts of faith.
On the other hand, the awakening is also a realization of everything that’s wrong–with ourselves, with the world, with life as we know it. We feel many of the same core emotions; it’s just that sometimes we’re looking the wrong way.
The best I’ve been able to work it out so far is that complaint is the buttward approach to the Throne of Grace.
I’m not sure that I’m ready to say anything else just yet, but wanted to throw this out before it became too stale:
Mother Teresa (Reuters)
As I’ve thought about coming back to this, it’s occurred to me repeatedly how unfortunately fitting, how ironic, how sickly sadistically portentous it was to have launched off in the direction I did.
If only I’d known.
Isn’t that what we say? Isn’t that what we believe? If it were a different kind of thing, we’d call it a joke. But to call it that–it being what it is–might make it sound like God’s a cruel bastard.
Maybe it is a joke. I don’t think I think that God’s a cruel bastard.
But consider that the Father is fatherless and the Son, well, they always wondered about Him, didn’t they? And, if you’re a believer, you’d have to say His Daddy wasn’t the man His mama married, wouldn’t you? I’m just sayin’.
As for the cruel part, again, ultimately I don’t believe He is. At least not most of the time. Sometimes I wonder. Maybe there’s a part of me that always wonders. It would be dishonest (and maybe a little melodramatic) to say that it’s what I believe; but it’s equally dishonest to deny that I often–especially lately–feel it.
O me of little faith.
I had added the following to the preceding. I decided to take it back. Not because I don’t mean it, but because I think I rather prefer the original as it was. Even in the blogging, I think I could do with a little less editing . . . or at least with a little more segmentation. And it’s all good. No one’s reading anyway . . .
It occurs to me that since this is the only thing I’ve posted here so far, I shouldn’t leave it uncommented. Someone might get the wrong impression. But what is the right impression? Do I, of all people, have any friggin’ idea what that might be? That, I would say, is partly the point (and much of the point of Jesus’ interactions with his friends on the boat–both the time that He walked and the time that He slept): I don’t know. Oh, how I don’t know. Volumes could be written about the depths of my unknowing. I suppose that’s what I’ll do.
Can’t You see we’re drowning here?
And don’t You care?