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I had a thought this morning about prayer. It’s not really a new thought (I’ve had it and heard it before in a variety of forms), but it struck me with vitality. And I’ve been meaning to blog. Lucky you.

Most of what we do in the name of prayer (and, by extension, most of what we do in the name of worship and religion–or for all of you us pretentious bastards, “spirituality” or “relationship [with God]”) is just noise–a straining of our voices and a flailing of our arms; incessant, senseless striving. If we’re lucky, despite all of that nonsense, we stumble upon a moment in which we hear the voice of God. I’m pretty sure that that fleeting moment is the only thing that can rightly be called “prayer.” The rest is waste.

I’m not at all convinced that there’s any causal relationship between the noise and the moment. If there is I suspect it mostly amounts to this: we reach a point of exhaustion in which, by God’s grace, we find ourselves, one way or another, unable to speak or act or even will ourselves Godward. Somehow I think it still matters that we at least have an intent in our heart in Her direction but that thought may merely reflect my lack of enlightenment. And, yes, I reckon “intent” as qualitatively different from “will.”

Okay, there’s that and the fact that all of our meaningless “spiritual” noise temporarily displaces all some of our other distractions. But that displacement is at best a nearly-incidental medial point and should not be (though it usually is) mistaken for the moment or its cause.

In the months during which I finally lost hope in philosophy, ironically, I read some of the best philosophy I had ever read. One of my favorite encounters during this period, a guy named Marcel, said something about our inability to apprehend Truth except “out of the corner of the eye.” Maybe that’s true because even our eyes are frenetically, spastically overactive. Maybe this excess of overactivity (yes, that’s a redundant superlative; deal with it) is closer to what the writers of Scripture mean by “lust.”

Whoever you are and whatever you think you know, the title of this post is my advice to you, to us. Of course the very nature of the advice provokes our minds to war against its intent.

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You start a conversation; you can’t even finish it.
You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything.
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
Say something once, why say it again?

Talking Heads: “Pscho Killer”

No, I’m not quite sure why I’m leading with that quote. But I felt that I had to. The potentially sad thing is that I love this song and I will reflect upon it again. But there are far worse things than your being overexposed to the frenetic, syncopated wisdom of the Heads.

I live on the Writer’s Block. That could mean something delightful. I mean the less hopeful thing.

I have so much to say–or at least so much that I think I should say (yes, I acknowledge that I might be wrong). That is the irony of this blog where I never write.

It’s just that the things that are important never seem quite ready. So I sit and wait or even strive for something that is ready but still meaningful–meaningful enough. Or I forcefully roll around the important stuff again, hoping to stumble across the turn of phrase or structure that might finally work.

It is sad, and I might shouldn’t (Lord, I don’t know why that construction so amuses me) admit this, but: I probably spend more time thinking about writing, thinking about words to throw out at an unsuspecting world, than I do most anything else. Sometimes I even practice my conversations with God. That’s probably not uncommon, but it is wonderfully ironic. We laugh about it together, God and I; of course, He’s laughing before I’ve settled upon how I want to say it to Him.

What’s sad isn’t so much that I rehearse my words (at least I don’t think it’s sad; I don’t think that any more at least). What’s sad is that I have so little to show for it. My words are not brilliant, honed by practice. I am not stunningly prolific, the fruitful volume a product of my obsession. I’m just another mediocre wannabe (please, let me at least bask in that). Who doesn’t write. Or who writes but hasn’t yet found a way to shake the foundations of the earth.

What’s funny is that the words I rehearse are rarely those that make it to the page. I’m pretty sure that, whatever joy they bring me in the moment of their conception, they are only a warm-up, or maybe the calisthenics whose application isn’t obvious until the time of crisis. “Wax on. Wax off.” Actually, that’s kinda hopeful.

Maybe I’m pushing it too hard. I’m a firm believer in the process of fermentation and in the truth beheld out of the corner of the eye. Maybe I should stop stirring it so much and just let it sit. I do need to find some quiet, empty spaces. Maybe I shouldn’t stare so long at what I hope to see.

At the same time, I know that I do lack discipline, focus and genuine commitment. It doesn’t seem that one would have all of these problems at once–that one could be both undisciplined and obsessive–but I’m pretty sure I am. And it does make sense. It makes too much sense.

But this isn’t meant to be an exploration of my problems writing, or, um, not writing. Ha. That’s too important. That post isn’t ready.

Oddly enough, what I mean to say is this: I’m not quitting. I think my meaningless words do matter. I think there is hope in my hopeless rambling. I will make noise. However inconsistent I am still committed and I am at least hanging on.  I am a writer, goddamnit, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.  And there are moments when I don’t even care whether I am a good writer; likewise, there are moments when I do care.  No, I’m not sure which is more important.

Horton, can you hear me?  Can they hear me?

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.

In lieu, again, of something more significant, and perhaps in the tradition of bloggy blog, I’m just going to write again today.  And, yeah, I don’t know why that’s such a big deal. I think the just writing is what this is supposed to be, but there’s something evil in the back of my mind (it has a name, and I’ll be writing about it eventually) that makes me think just writing isn’t good enough.  Screw you, thing in the back of my mind.  Indeed, screw you.

I’ve talked to folks lately about learning to be a bad writer–or, rather, learning to let myself be a bad writer.  Which is not to say that I’ve been a good writer up to now.  That’s the point.  I just haven’t been a writer.  Which maybe isn’t exactly true.  I haven’t been much of a writer.

What I’ve decided (I’ve been becoming a decider, lately–slowly perhaps, but still; thanks, Dubya; you the man) is that to get where I want to go, I need to let myself be a bad writer: lacking profundity, grammatically incorrect, stylistically lame, obtuse, convoluted, lacking readers, etc.–yaknow, all the stuff that comes naturally.

All of you fine people who aren’t reading–or, reading, aren’t responding to–my blog are actually helping.  So there.  Er, I mean, thank you.  Really.  It’s sad how dependent I am on people’s responses, or lack thereof.  It’s sad how sensitive I am to being unread or unreadable or so easily misunderstood.  It’s sad that at this stage in my life I am still so fundamentally insecure and hopelessly hanging on the approval and acceptance of others.  But I am, and, there, I confessed it.

There are other sad things, but that’s a whole other post.  What’s funny (I don’t know about you, but I’m coming to the conclusion that if it’s funny one way, it’s probably funny several others and the whole bit about “ha ha” and “strange” is just another intravenous line of bullsh** we all accept to our great detriment) is that the acceptance-hungry voice in my head says “don’t promise more sadness; people hate sadness.”  Screw you, acceptance-hungry voice.  Though (and this is not a concession to AHV, that dirty bastard–he is, in fact, a bastard, btw, but that too is a whole other post) I will add that much of what I mean to write about the sadness is that it’s also a place of laughter, curiosity and enlightenment–maybe mostly laughter, as far as I can tell.  That doesn’t make any sense, you might say, if you were reading this and responding to it.  Ah, but it does, I might respond, were we interacting.  Stay tuned.  Which obviously makes no sense if you’re not already tuned.  But there, again, I said it anyway.

I have a point.  What’s funny is that I keep having it.  This then may become a blog largely about blogging–or about not blogging or about the incipient potential of the blog.  Probably not.  Probably I say that because I’m self-conscious about a dozen different aspects of my and my blog’s inadequacy.  But I notice that others blog about the blogging and the not blogging.  Again, why this should matter to me, an adult–at least I have the chronological accumulation to suggest I might be an adult–I’m embarrassed to ask (I do ask–in case you’re curious–in my head, and fire back the answers I don’t want to hear).

So, yes, the point (implied but not quite yet spoken in the preceding paragraph): I will write and keep writing.  I will be bad.  I will be unread.  Oh what a glorious thing it is.

“The views and opinions . . .”

The primary motivation for most disclaimers we encounter is to cover the asses of corporate America and to hedge those asses against litigation (ha: a “hedge of protection,” indeed [inside joke for Evangelicals]). What they should really say is “we, the reigning plutocracy, are, in our great magnanimity, allowing the artist to speak, which we’d really rather not, but, well, just so long as you know not to blame his lunatic rantings on us.”

I don’t claim enough power for corporate America to worry about me (at least not yet). And, frankly, were I that powerful, I’d be ever so happy for the fiery darts to lodge precisely in the aforementioned, ample, posterior targets. I should might not have said that, but there I did. Sigh. There goes the publishing contract.

What I do claim is that people love me–and far more than I deserve. Indeed, that’s one of the things that most amazes me about life: that mine, in particular, has been–and is–full of all sorts of inexplicable love. And, no, it’s not because “I’m good enough” or “smart enough”; it’s just, as far as I can tell, because of grace. By virtue of some great cosmic Luck, I’m surrounded by loving people. And, lest there be any doubt, the credit for their loving me definitely goes to them and not to me.

That’s why I want to take the blame–for this blog, I mean. I’m as willing to make excuses as the next guy. The truth is, in what few words I’ve so far shared in this place, I already have more than once. I sometimes think of myself as erstwhile lord of the pathetic serfdom of prefaces, explanations and cautious contextualizers. The “erstwhile” is hopeful; you will, alas, probably see more. But when I make excuses, I want never to shift blame to those gracious souls whose admonitions–if only I’d have heeded them–and whose affection–if only I’d have fully accepted it–would have delivered me from a path that ends up with excuses.

Certainly, if you read anything profound in these pages, you can attribute it to the influence of, to name just a few (and I’m quite mindful this isn’t exhaustive in any sense), my departed beloved or my parents or my kid or or my siblings or the folks I fellowship with or, truly, the beautiful Spirit of Christ Himself (and God knows I will surely plagiarize badly from all of the above and from many others). But when I offend you, blame it on me. It’s probably my fault (or yours–but let’s not press that point quite yet); it’s almost certainly not theirs.

My being an offensive ass is, in fact, further testament to the character of those people who love me, and I hope you’ll understand it that way. For instance, instead of saying “Those Christians are all idiots (or pathological or pathetic or hypocritical or, ahem, verbose). Why would I want anything to do with Christ?” you ought rather to say “It’s true, then, that the love of Christ knows no bounds; how else could He put up with such an annoying, insipid buffoon? If He puts up with that, he can surely put up with me.” I venture to say you’d do well to adopt that perspective whenever Christians speak–probably especially the ones who claim to speak on Christ’s behalf. But we’ll discuss that in greater depth in the days ahead. For now, please, as best you can, don’t blame my being an idiot or obnoxious on Jesus or on anyone but me. I assure you, I’d be worse without them. And I’d like, despite myself, somehow to honor them.

So, this is mine. I claim it–not so much with pride, but with a sheepish apology and in the hope that you won’t blame it on anyone who rather deserves your respect. I guess, then, you should call this prefatory excuse not a disclaimer but a, uh, “claimer.” (Yep. See? That “claimer” thingy–that’s all me. Unless you like it. In which case, I almost certainly stole it and, what’s worse, I’ve forgotten from whom.)

Twitter Updates

  • In case the fearful end up killing us all, know that there were some here who loved & dreamed & gave freely. #MessageToVoyager #gishwhes 1 month ago
  • Life is pregnant with possibility. Go make some babies, so to speak. 1 month ago
  • I guess what I mean to say is that whether there's a @gishwhes or not, what gishwhes is about is the sorts of things we should do anyway. 1 month ago
  • Getting help, starting and ending with joy, being involved, giving, taking chances, being you, etc. 1 month ago
  • It also strikes me that the best way to get pregnant for the tenth time reflects the sorts of values intrinsic to @gishwhes itself. 1 month ago
  • I hope that's not a disappointment. 1 month ago
  • equally applies to getting pregnant just one time--and, really, to living life well (in my opinion, at least) aside from being preggers. 1 month ago
  • You might have noticed that everything I've said about the best way to get pregnant for the tenth time, aside from the "first nine" bit, 1 month ago
  • So that's what I've got: 1) the first nine precede the tenth; 2) get help; 3) start with relationship and joy. 1 month ago
  • That's the essential bit, right? Until you've been pregnant the nine times, you can't get to the tenth. 1 month ago