Monday, September 14, 2009

the murky waters of our obsessions

Probably one of my biggest roadblocks in my spiritual formation (that I can discern, at least) is this tendency to get bogged down by my small worries (that seem not so small) and just completely absorbed in them. Not that these things have no importance, but it seems to me that I make my worrying about them all important--I let it become my life--as if there is no Creator and Redeemer who is working out his story in all of history, advancing his Good Kingdom into every corner of this sad and glorious planet.

I make my universe about me-- me figuring out whether Luke should stay in preschool, me trying to fix whatever I think is uncomfortable in my marriage, me attempting to get rid of any bad habit I have, me trying to make some kind of grade with my church community-- and I get completely absorbed in this-- and truly have gotten blinded to God's light.

After another early morning of sitting on my couch doing nothing but this kind of obsessing-- I came to the computer and read a little excerpt of some of our recent American history that seemed to me to illustrate very well this human ability to miss what's going on because of where we have decided to fix our gaze and our mind.

The Writer's Almanac (an NPR radio broadcast by Garrison Kellior which also has a daily email version) recounted a bit of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky story. At the end of that synopsis, there was this telling paragraph:

In the months that the Lewinsky scandal was dominating the press, the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed, killing 224 people and injuring more than 4,500, and soon linked to Osama Bin Laden. During this same time period of the Lewinsky scandal, Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela, and Iraq announced that it would shoot down any U.S. or British planes patrolling the country's no-fly zones, the Euro was established, and the Chinese government announced that it was restricting Internet usage.

Regardless of politics, this seemed to me a perfect example of how easy it is to lose our life in small things, to not see what actually is going on that matters.

I must engage fully with the cares of my particular life, but I must remember this is not the entirety of what God is up to in this universe, and it's not even, truly, the entirety of what He wants to do in my life.

Now, how to do this? I really, truly do not know... only, I believe strongly in that the idea of training our minds towards God.

But I'm a numbskull in these areas. Believe me. Still, I liked the illustration and since it was from Writer's Almanac I thought I could get away with posting it here.

Have a great day--

Saturday, September 12, 2009

So E. L. Konigsburg is my new chocolate

not that I gave up the original.

I just read The View from Saturday and I can say she is now in my top twenty list of favorite writers ever. This one had very similar themes and even in some ways a similar plot and characters to Jennifer, Hecate, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth. Very very smart and isolated, lonely young people who form secret bonds that involve a lot of cleverness and intriguing riddles and puzzles. So, I'll have to read more of her to find out if this is her little formula. It sure doesn't feel formulaic. The characters seem very alive and bright and they sing out their stories in a very organic way. I guess Marilynne Robinson's three novels all have some similarities, don't they? So do Charles Dickens' and Jane Austen's and Ha Jin's and Dostevesky's. (more of my top twenty).

Still, Konigsburg is utterly amazing and delightful and the added perk is the that they are written for a kid and so, I can consume and utterly enjoy them completely in a night or two.

Maybe she is the new gin and tonic. I have given them up, de facto.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Julie and Julia and all of us existentially angsted bloggers

We watched Julie and Julia last night. I thoroughly enjoyed it-- I especially enjoyed watching a movie in a theater with Jack. We hadn't done that in awhile. But the story-line really has me thinking.

We follow two stories-- one is Julia Child, in her 30s or 40s, I'd guess, in late 1940s Paris, where her husband works for the embassy and where she is trying to find something to channel her passion for life, her joy, and her love of food and France. She is indomitable (and Meryl Streep is quintessintially amazing), and she finds away to enter the Cordon Bleu cooking academy and then teams up with two French women to write a cookbook that had not yet existed-- a French cook book in English-- French Cooking for Americans.

The main story of the movie, though is the story of a 30 year old New Yorker in 2002, Julie, who has found herself in a life in Queens that is not the life she thought she should have. She had gone to school to be a writer, but she hadn't finished the book she started, and now she has this rather impotent government job. She finds plenty to be dissatisfied about--her small apartment, her friends, her job and most of all herself. But then she starts this project, cooking through all 500+ recipes of Julia Child's cookbook in one year, while blogging about it. As she undertakes this project, she finds a sense of purpose and accomplishment that she had not yet experienced. She also gets plenty of readers and fans of her blog and at the end of the year, she has acheived some actual fame and a book deal.

Now, it's a fun story. And really, it was hard to compete with Julia Child or Meryl Streep. They are two inimitable women. But I just came away with this impression that what this story really illustrated was the sad, trapped self-absorption of our generation. They acknowledged this within the movie. Julie started to have marriage troubles because she was so obsessed with herself and her little blogging project that this became all encompassing. And after her crisis, she seemed to become more aware of her husband and a little less caught up in her self- drama. But only a little.

The Julie character seemed like a very decent, talented and personable young woman--and also-- quite typical of my generation. What was her big acheivement? To say she had finished a goal she had set for herself. To become "a writer." To acheive some success-- a book deal, a movie deal, fans. But actually, she never did anything very far outside of herself, that wasn't primarily revolving around her.

But contrast this with Julia Childs--and there was such a difference. Certainly she didn't do anything very heroic or self-sacrificial--but still--it wasn't quite so self- absorbed. She wanted to make a cookbook so that Americans could learn how to cook the French food she loved. There was this was in love with the world around her. She and her husband were utterly delighted with each other. She didn't whine and fuss when her husband had to move them out of France, although she loved Paris. She had some bigger world to live out of than herself. And I don't know how she got that...except that it seemed like that was more the norm for her generation. (though she was certainly exceptional in her talents, her spirit and her personality).

And Julie is the norm for our generation, although perhaps exceptional in her talents. But this is the world all of us live in. I've experienced it myself. It isn't attractive to me. I don't want for me or my friends to simply set a goal and acheive it, to write a blog that gets recognized, to do something that makes us look good. I want us to make real good in this world. Real, genunine beauty. Real, true, life-giving good. Does anyone else see the difference? Does that make sense?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Book Recommendation

Who else loves a good young adult novel?? Actually, a lot of people, I guess, considering the popularity of those books about the orphaned wizard from the London suburbs--

I haven't read that much Harry Potter. He'll do in a pinch--I can think of worse flight reading, that's for sure.

But I just recently picked up a book from the library and it was so splendid, so cunning and delightful in this joyous, clever and understated way that I hadn't found in Rowling's work (to my memory and opinion and experience (all which are extraordiarily limited). )

The book was Jennife, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg (it was her first novel, I think). And as the title suggests, it's a charming story about two girls-- the new girl, Elizabeth, and Jennifer, who claims to be a witch and makes Elizabeth her apprentice witch.

This isn't a fantasy book. The girls are witches the way that children usually are, through their cleverness and loneliness and will. And their friendship is tenuous and has ambivalence and longing and much joy and play, the way that friendships typically do.

The writing is skilled and smart and sweet. And... it's always nice that YA novels are easy and quick reads. I appreciate that these days.

Here's a little sample.

"The rest of that week seemed to have a month's worth of days, but Saturday came. It was a golden day full of the smells of autumn. I told my parents that I'd skip going grocery shopping with them. I told them that I had some work to do at the library. No argument. I was usually a nag for them to take to the A & P. I wasn't very popular at the A & P either. Once I had rammed the cart into a big mountain of cracker boxes. Avalanche! I told the manager that I'd pick them all up, and I did. I arranged them very aristically; the aisle was blocked for forty-five minutes. I hadn't been very popular at that A & P since.

When I got to the library reading room I knew Jennifer was already there. Her wagon was parked by the enclyclopedias. She was looking at a big book of maps when I came in. Libraries are for whispering, and I soon discovered that Jennifer whispered beautifully, with many nice sssssssss sounds coming like steam out of a kettle.

I whispered, "Hi."
She whispered back, "Did you bring something to eat?"
"No," I said. "A & P day. The cupboard was bare."
She closed the atlas and looked at mean for what seemed like a very long time. Leaning way over and in such a quiet voice that it was almost zero, she said, "I've decided to make you an apprentice witch."

"What do I have to do?" I asked.

"Answer 'yes' or 'no.'" I must have looked worried. She didn't let me waste time; she came across soft but fast. "If you really want to be a witch, nothing you have to do will seem like too much. If you really don't want to be a witch, everything will seem like too much. Answer ' yes' or 'no'"

I answered, "Yes."


I was going to check out more E. L. Konigsburg novels when I was at the library today, but I had reached my 30 book max. Those picture books add up fast. Especially, I have to say, when they are heavy on the dinosaur end of things. Thanks very much, to my dinosaur crazy nephen who hooked Luke. Now I have to try to pronounce all those crazy words. I need witch powers or something.