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My young friend, Courtney–who is an extraordinary and musical young woman from an extraordinary and musical family–tagged me. You should read her blog–not just that one post, but in general; she has a way of being quietly and profoundly insightful and getting the rest of us worked up responding to her observations. Anyway, back to the instigating post: I’m supposed to tell you seven random things about me.
Normally, I wouldn’t respond to this sort of thing (Courtney called it a chainletter and she’s probably right; shame on you, Courtney). Those who send me fun little quizzes uplifting prayers and inspiring stories and encouraging little what-nots and promises of fame, fortune and the general good pleasure of God if I’ll only continue the chain and SPAM all of my friends–well, y’all already know this. Those who send me bigoted or otherwise specious and demagogic political crap know that I’m likely to fling it back in their faces. Those who send me silly urban legends know that they (and the rest of their unwitting friends whom they failed to blind copy) are in danger of a reply that includes a link to a Snopes article or some other debunking site. I make it sound like I’m a jerk. In fact, if anything, I usually go out of my way to try to not make people feel like idiots for spreading lies and, too often, hateful prejudice and fear. And, hey, the truth is, we’re all idiots sometimes. I’ve decided that being an idiot is part of what it means to be human. I’m an idiot. But we should, shouldn’t we, try to curb a few to the most destructive excesses?
Wow, that was a tangent or two. Anyway, here are my seven things. My own perverse twist is that I’m going to blatantly mostly ignore the randomness requirement. Those of us who work in technology or are students of human behavior or believe in intelligent design know that “random” is usually a false construct intended to make us feel better about our substantial ignorance of ourselves and the world we inhabit. No, I’m going to conspicuously plagiarize Courtney’s randomness. Consider Courtney’s blog the seed for my random generator, unless–I take that back, especially if–that makes absolutely no sense to you. And, we all know I’m going to make them “random” my own kind of way anyway, aren’t I?
1. When I get out of the shower (and I am so sorry for that mental image), there are two cats who lick my feet. I’m not entirely sure whether they’re really thirsty (they shouldn’t be: I bought them a little kitty fountain complete with charcoal filter which I change regularly, and a few times a day I run one of the bathroom sinks just for them because they don’t seem to appreciate water in a bowl by their food); or they just like the taste of water off my freshly washed feet; or they think the shower didn’t quite do its job and they’re generously offering to groom me; or they just love me. I like to think it’s that they love me . . . even though I’m also pretty sure that’s not true. In fact, the male is a bit of a freak and I think the female just does it because she sees that his freakish behavior gets a lot of attention.
2. I credit a lot of what’s good about me (not that I’m saying there’s a lot) not only to the persistent presence of concerned and loving parental and other adult folk in my early life and the persistent presence of a concerned and loving wife and child and other youthful folk in my later life but to something that happened when I was a wee lad and my mother was in charge of a church program of some sort (yaknow, Christmas or the like). One of her charges got sick on the day of the program. I was in a younger age group so wasn’t originally part of it. But in the time of need, she gave me a good chunk of stuff to memorize and recite that morning, which I did. Or at least that’s how I remember it. This led to a childhood wherein I was often memorizing scripture, especially in King Jimmy’s tongue. And, thing is, it’s been rolling around in my head ever since. It’s kept me from going off the deep end more than once. Perhaps as importantly, it’s helped me dive off the deep end more creatively than I might otherwise have. I’m not one of those that thinks the KJV is less errant than other translations, but it is quite beautiful and it prepped me for Shakespeare and a whole slew of other literary, musical, artistic, spiritual, philosophical, political et al. enjoyments.
3. When I was young, I developed what I came to consider a sort of tic wherein I was constantly counting syllables and beats and such, usually with the four fingers of one or the other hand. As a result, the meter of the world around me was seen in terms of its roundness by (or remainder from) four or eight. Sometimes the numbers would match the words as I heard them; i.e., I’d hear them together in my head. I had a sort of affinity for rhyming, too, Courtney. The sad thing is that, like many of my natural propensities, I one day came to the conclusion (of which I later repented) that I should stop both habits. And I did. Not that I can’t do them still, but it’s more an effort than I think it used to or should still be. Maybe this is why I so encourage and celebrate quirkiness and freakishness; I have mostly come to regret the quirkicides I’ve committed upon my own soul.
4. “Rhyme” and “rhythm” are two of my favorite words to say and spell (it is a happy accident that they relate to item #3). “Occasion” (and its many forms) has long had my number but I’m coming close to nailing the ornery bastard down.
5. My elder brother, John, once bequeathed on me the nickname Berf Luigi. I’m not making this up. “Berf,” he explained, is a combination of “nerf” and “barf.” “Luigi” is “Joel” spelled sideways, sort of. I’ve never met anyone with a better nickname. It made me feel special and seemed to resonate with something in my heart of hearts. I love my family.
6. I’ve always been a little embarrassed that I don’t know much about web design or programming. But honestly, I’m not sure that I’m willing to make the investment either. And I like dwelling in the ether between the hardcore coders and the helpless users. I can code a little if I have to and I can generally figure out and ruthlessly exploit software and systems (especially niche software), but I’m not a code monkey. I use and abuse programmers; I respect them; I need them; I like them. But I’m not really one of them. I’ve only ever been an honorary or pretend coder, like Marcus Welby or one of those charlatans with honorary PhDs (well, they’re not all charlatans; it was just funner to say it that way).
7. It’s always bothered me that I don’t remember much from my earliest youth and that I have a hard time with visual memory. I have an odd memory anyway. Words and goofy little thoughtcycles run through my head and clog out the other stuff, I think. My brain is a menagerie of caged rabid hamsters spinning their wheels like so many encircled monkey typists trying to work out “Hamlet.” That mixed and clouded metaphor (I’m a big fan of the mixed metaphor but you probably already knew that) contains an allusion to something about randomness I learned as a young man. It seems a fitting end to this little digression.
It will probably take me a while to get around to tagging; and I’m liable to do it intermittently and may not tag precisely seven of you and I may–pbbbt!–re-tag someone; I can’t say for sure what I’ll do. When I tag you, I decree that you must just say seven things whose random/derivative coefficient you must decide. But, of course, I encourage anarchy and rebellion, so do as you please. Yes, I demand it. I demand that you flout my decree of indefiniteness and dissent.
Oh, and end your post with a silly pronouncement.
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.