Month: March 2012

We have tests in this class?

Still fighting a vicious jaw infection after dental surgery, I dragged myself to three out of four classes today and managed to remain more or less conscious in each of them.

You know it’s bad when you go to a class for the first time in three weeks and the gal sitting beside you says, “I thought they kicked you out of school!!! So are you ready for the test today?” Wait… ah… test?

Every time I tell myself to suck it up and stop being melodramatic about how bad I feel, I walk into a wall or forget the word for “lunch.” Well, so maybe root canals aren’t so bad. Three well-placed injections, a lot of shoving and scraping and drilling, and a few hours later you’re on Vicodin and sound asleep on the sofa. Dreaming of attack penguins and midterms. Well, it could be worse.

The problem could be bigger than a root canal. I didn’t get really worried until T.S. Eliot’s poetry actually started making sense. 8 a.m. En 505–Modern Poetry. If narcotics don’t do anything for pain, at least they’re pulling the modern poets a bit closer to home.

Blue guitars, games of chess, blackbirds, Phlebes…  perhaps I need to go on a very long bike ride sometime soon. Adieu, blue GPA. It’s been nice.

It makes you feel smaller than life.

As though perhaps you’re not truly in control of your destiny (Isaiah 40:22, perhaps?). Mesmerized. Absurd, isn’t it, that millions flock to the edge of the water and stare out–as though there’s something to discover in those white-edged waves?

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?

–Robert Frost, “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep,” on beachgoers

Well. Today I looked out far. I’m sure I thought many profound, philosophical thoughts. And I saw, beyond the white-capped waves, the mountains of homework waiting to bury me as soon as I go back to school.

Maybe looking out to sea is a revolt against reality. I ignored the mountains of homework hidden beneath the waves, dug my toes deeper into the sand, my nose deeper into my book, and proceeded to get a sunburn. Ahh, this is the life.

It takes a lot of work to get really dirty.

After twelve hours of a certain kind of labor, you accumulate more than a layer of dust, grease, or whatever. It becomes an integral part of the fabric of your clothing.

When you move, it moves with you. You breathe it.

 It crystallizes in your nose and at the corners of your eyes. It exhales an almost imperceptible haze that you feel more than you see. I kid you not.

One fantastic aspect of the whole becoming-one-with-dirt thing is that it gives you the most amazing grip. With a little pipe dope, a little PVC glue, and a generous grinding-in of red South Carolina clay, nothing slips from your fingers. It also stops the bleeding of little nicks and scratches–no bandage necessary.

This afternoon, I could feel grit in my socks when I crawled out from under the house and saw the new unit I had just helped install. It was right where it was supposed to be, and it seemed to belong there. It was immaculate. 

New. All stainless silvery stuff and flawless paint. The copper joints were smoothly soldered, a rainbow of colors the torch had revealed now covered by a layer of carefully-applied foam insulation. The whole machine sat on a brand new sharp black curb.

And despite my (I hope) generally tasteful view of what is attractive and what isn’t, at the end of today that Trane air conditioner appeared crisply, refreshingly beautiful.

The two-horsepower motor purred to life.

I choked on the dirt I was trying not to inhale and made haste to scour my hands of their textured contamination (and an incidental layer of skin) when I realized what I was thinking. Because I know–really, I do–that there’s nothing beautiful about an air conditioner.

Chewing on books

I like Mortimer Adley’s concept of ownership. His example: You can’t possibly understand the full meaning of owning a 12 oz. T-bone until you’ve made it a part of your bloodstream.

Take it from a Texas native: Steak should be EATEN. Having a steak in your freezer–or walking around your 20-acre backyard–misses the mark entirely.

Mortimus (the poor kid must have suffered terribly from such a name) advocates the thorough chewing of books. In his essay “How to Mark a Book,” Mort argues that writing in a book and dog-earring its pages “is not an act of mutilation, but of love.”

Joy! Joy! Now I’ll have someone with a doctorate to back me the next time another student gasps in horror at my pencilled thoughts and questions in Stephen Crane’s margins.

Margins aren’t sacred. Neither is the space in between the lines. I might not actually write in every book I read, but I can’t argue with Mort: the well-chewed library is the only kind worth having.

I think Morty may be writing about more than just literature. His philosophy works on life, too.

If reading is to accomplish anything more than passing time, it must be active. You can’t let your eyes glide across the lines of a book and come up with an understanding of what you have read… A great book, rich in ideas and beauty, demands the most active reading of which you are capable.

And yet… there’s more to life than a well-chewed library. Is it possible that the greatest kind of life demands the most active living of which we’re capable?

Well. If we lived like that, we’d all be infinitely more exhausted, sleep-deprived, and hopelessly buried in responsibilities than we already are. Or would we? Maybe we’d find promises a whole lot bigger than our schedules–or our margins.

The LORD will give strength unto his people; the LORD will bless his people with peace.

Psalm 29:11

Lessons from Lebanon

The Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. 

 In 1975, civil war broke more than Lebanon’s cedars. Almost a million people lost their homes; a hundred and fifty thousand died. Imagine going to a church service and coming home to find the skeletons of what were once buildings–empty frames and ashes of the life you used to know.

On Tuesday, a missionary from Lebanon spoke to the members of the Africa Mission Team. I heard a testimony of brokenness that evening: how God uses broken people and shattered situations to accomplish His purpose. That man fairly radiated joy. He lost his house to war; God spared his life. He was forced to leave his homeland; God gave him the Christian education He knew would be most useful. He lost family; God wrote his love story as well as that of the woman who’d become his wife.

What is ministry? For sure it involves immediate, full obedience and complete trust. Even when you see God working and can’t make sense of the broken pieces. Even when it means an inglorious chapter of life, a large stack of textbooks, a broken family, or the loss of something precious.

Ministry starts with knowing and loving the God who heals all brokenness, the only One who ordains where all the shattered pieces fall.

Therefore, seeing as we have received this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But we have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

–2 Corinthians 4:1-2