Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Snakes, Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails

I went to Alex's studio in her basement this evening and watched my fiancee dance. I would say 'work out', because that's how she sees it, but it's not the same. I watched her dance - and not just in her feet and in her movement. She dances in her eyes and her smile when she's caught in those moments like the beautiful smell of hay in an October barn. I can't help but think of how much I love that woman. I marvel at it like true alexandrite in my hand. I fall into the unfortunate habit of wondering, "Why can't we always feel like this?" But a life of utopia in constancy is as mundane as a prison cell trapped in winter, at least this side of such an awfully big adventure as death. Heartbreak is as valuable in this life as ecstacy.

It's an easy thing to remember from the well-guarded safety of my own room - wearing wool socks and jeans, watching Andy doze and listening to Linford play the piano. When I venture out into the death-defying world of making memory amongst humanity, I am much quicker to become a boy in my thoughts. I am quicker to drop the true man's knowledge of sorrow and happiness and Love that stands between and encompasses all. But then, aren't we all boys. Boys who chase and play and hit and yell and are made of snails and puppy dog tails. My father says he keeps waiting for the day he'll feel grown up, which I take in part to mean, "I keep hoping for the day when I feel like I know what I'm doing." It's good that part of humanity is still inadequacy. Walking down the street and tripping because of clumsiness, then turning to see what it was that you tripped over (when your own feet are following you). Not knowing you went too far until you can't see where you came from anymore. I am hesitant to say that I've learned something from all this, because my mask of great intellect is made of loud claims that once were worth something, before I spoke them to myself and then to others.

I need to eat, like Elijah. The journey is too much for me - I'm always a boy. The time for talking is gone with the sun...

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Warblings of the City

In the woolen context of a pre-Valentines-Day weekend, I found myself drawn back to my stomping grounds around the dark wet Friday streets of Knoxville. She's changing, like a season I haven't known before. She puts on a face that smiles like a woman hiding that she's running scared. I feel I'm being torn away from this city.

Kat and I wrestled through tears of our unfaithfulness. We needed to take time to re-find what it is we're really searching for. I saw a shirt melt through the mix of East Town Mall the other day. Carpe Noctem, it said. Coupled with its brother, Seize the Day, we see that it is our time to spend, and not wantonly. I feel the warm smell of prayer coming through chinks in the walls. If we must say goodbye to this old girl, we'll shake hands, have a drink, give a hug, and ask her to keep our friends well. We talked of spice and cities, as we ate a nice dinner and saw a movie in rebellion of Valentine's Day. Over my raspberry sweet tea and her well-done prime rib, we remembered pipe dreams of New Orleans. We spoke of her accent, and her perfume. She drew our minds in like only a deep southern lady can, with a mystery behind her eyes. And we remembered faithful Knoxville, where she breathes of coffee and bricks and barbeque. She talks a little softer, hides her charm behind a librarian's bun and thick glasses. We don't know where the road is walking, but we miss her already.

I still feel like we're being made to let go though. The old girl's charm is more a memory that we never made. She's brusk now, and sharp around the edges - it's difficult to see why without thinking that I'm full of imaginary sicknesses. Perhaps it is me, perchance that Pavlov's bell calls me to dreams not yet unfurled. Whatever the case, this beautiful woman and I are riding on a sail of hope. We can't see, and the fog has never felt so good and so horrifying.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Death Becomes Us

The night is waxing in cold, as the winter wind brings the baring of February's oft-forgotten teeth, at least for now. The living room still hangs with the haze of jambalaya that I slow-cooked yesterday, in honor of Tuesday the Fat. Andrew Osenga's throaty tenor warbles in harmonious cadence with my shivering as I warm up from coming in the door. It's still football weather. I think it will always be football weather in These United States. And yet, it is sometimes with a treacherous spirit that we compete. This past Saturday, the better part of the afternoon was engaged in the pitting of two church youth groups against one another in the friendly competition of flag football. And while the leaders got along well with the knowledge of the day's innocence, the students were admonishing their teammates in praise of mangling the members of the opposing team. To my knowledge, and to quote my wise fiancee, "The afternoon could have been better spent." While there are greater tragedies in the world by far, the division of the Body of Christ to whore ourselves out to idolatry of a game has the potential to rank well among crusades and inquisitions, at least in the eyes of our Lord, who gave us "a new command: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34) Few things are more tragic than the hopelessness of the One Body which is meant to give Hope to the world. And still, just today, I listened and watched as a good friend of mine cast himself into disappointment and bitterness because of the loss of a basketball team. I approached him about it and was told that I don't understand. I've seen people who I know to be loving - in any other context - shout hateful things at television screens and become irate with strangers that they've never had the chance to meet, let alone know. I understand being a fan of something, even though I'm not a fan of sports on television (I like playing them with friends). And I also understand being so overcome by something that you feel indignation and rage toward those you love most when they disagree with you (even though it's not sports that I get hung up on). But I really don't want to be involved in something that is always on the verge of breaking out into a raging malice.

Maybe it's not completely mob mentality. I remember sitting in a wonderful BBQ joint called Sticky Fingers in Irmo, South Carolina, watching calmly and dispassionately as our air force induced "Shock and Awe" in downtown Bagdhad. I sat and consumed spare ribs at my leisure and watched on live television as people were incinerated as they slept. Maybe it's something more which has made us devalue life. Maybe we forget that we are real people who bleed as red as the next man. Maybe I forget to step back and see my brothers and sisters. Maybe I rest in the comfort of my delusion of irresponsibility to all of humankind to be loving as Jesus was loving. But I also know that the last time I was at my friends' house, their youngest son, Jonathan, played with me by taking my hat off and putting it back on my head. Jonathan has Downs Syndrome, but I've learned more of love and mortality from this 'broken' child than from many wise men put together.

A Rock So Big

Right now, the whole apartment smells like jambalaya. I can't wait to taste the treasure hiding in the crock pot in the kitchen. And I hope it tastes as good as it smells.

I've often heard questions such as, "Can God make a rock so big that He can't move it?" I think it's really foolish to say such things. But you must know, I've asked them too - even that one. But I think that such questions have no answers that we can know. When Jesus hung upon the cross, the Pharisees mocked him and said, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." Even one of the thieves said such things to him: "Are you not the Son of God? Save yourself and us as well." And I can't help but think of what Jesus said to Pilate. "You would have no power over me if it were not given you from above." For us to sit and ponder whether the God with whom all things are possible can make something impossible for himself is foolishness. Jesus said, "I have authority to lay my life down and to take it up again." I think that our Father's power goes beyond what we can imagine or know. We are made finite by nature, and it is written and woven deep in our being to be mortal and to have limitations. It is through our limitations that we see God as holy, in His omnipotence and His grace which exceeds all understanding and knowledge. Foolish questions like this prove that God is far far beyond our understanding. Glory be to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost that His Grace exceeds us all, and stretches to horizons past those where are feet are able to waywardly tred.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Cafe

Deep in the small and crumpled heart of Knoxville's Old City, the paved road suddenly becomes brick. The darkness of a treasure-laden cavern closes in and breathes in tandem with you. Antiques and relics of families long-gone peer through dusty windows. Poetry runs in rivets through hidden cracks in the dark brick street. If you take Jackson down from Broadway, and go to the four-way stop with the sounds of Manhattan's on your right, the Thursday-night Irish folk tunes of Patty Sullivan's across the way, and the secretive smells of the Melting Pot singing Siren-songs to you like you were Odysseus, you'll have found a place not too far from home. It's more home for those who travel. Pilgrims who notice that maybe the world is a little more alive than we gave it credit for. Turn right past Manhattan's and walk the street slowly. It gets quieter as you take steps. Past Java and Hannah's, and past the Red Iguana. A cake shop pops up on your left, and homemade pasta and great sauces tingle your senses through the window on your right. To your left, there's a door, underneath an old wooden sign that reads, "New City Cafe." Open the door and walk in on a Thursday night. Charles will be on your right at the corner table, painting icons and speaking to you in languages of old. The feeling of curiousity springs from the stairwell to the right - but there will be time for that later. Sonny sits with George beside Charles and talks of life and beggar's theology. Pay closer attention than you would think necessary to George - still waters run deep. Keep walking towards the counter. Justin stands behind the cash register and the smell of rich Sumatra Mandheling. He's an old disheveled gentleman in an apron, with kindly eyes. Further still into this web of humanity you listen, and my dear friend Ms. Penner's footsteps echo off the kitchen floor. She's gone for a while, but her smiles and her artist's hands (the art of a strong-hearted woman in the kitchen) still haunt us. Every pilgrim must journey. In the next room, Rick is moving about, making the world spin and stand still too. Nathan occasions the back of the room, giving artists a voice, and without prejudice. Mark is there somewhere with a silent smile, and if you're early, you might even see a small man with a quieting humility about him. He walks through, carrying papers under his arm. His shirt is buttoned and tucked in, and he smiles to think of his wife at home (she's from Vietnam, her name is Doris, and we miss her cooking) and his kids and their smiles. That's Kenny, and nothing more can be said until you meet him, and by then, you'll just want to sit and be quiet and drink in the air. This is a place to be, a place to know others. New City Cafe is a place that we'll all say we have been. We'll remember and tell others we were there and we knew. Years down the fraying road, we'll remember a quiet place. I'll see you Thursday...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Illusion of Power

In contradiction to one of my few superstitions, I titled this post before typing it. My superstition dictates that titling something pre-composition sort of jinxes the whole bit. But the case has been otherwise on several occasions, so I'm not too worried about it. On the whole, I think that fear stems from a desire to let my writings roam freely and develop on their own, unhindered by the goads of my assumption. Anyways, I'd like to talk about something I call, "The Illusion of Power."

Power itself is a thing, I think, that is truly unreachable for a human being. Say, for instance, that I decide to make someone buy me lunch. I might pressure them into doing so through blackmail, physical force, or a thousand other things. But, in the end, it's really up to them to decide whether my idea is worth their effort or not. I have no control over any human spirit except my own. I have no choices to make except my own. I worked this past summer at the Boys and Girls Club, and I highly recommend it as a short or long-term job. But I remember thinking quite a bit about what might happen if the kids there simply decided, "I don't want to do what I'm told." The kids who misbehaved did so for attention. They were simply in need of love. But by misbehaving, they were still giving themselves over into the will of the staff at the Club to make decisions for them and respond to them. They were still acknowledging the rules, even through breaking them. But if a child ever simply decided that what the staff said and thought was not important, whether for good or bad, the kid would be free of inhibitions to go wherever and do whatever. I remember thinking of the incredible and remarkable hold that I as a staff member had over those kids. I could hold a group of forty kids at my whim. Now, some of us were better at motivational speaking than others, but all of us on staff could simply bend these kids to our will, with a bunch of bullcrap rules that seemed stupid anyways! What power! And yet, in our minds, there was always the question of imminent anarchy. What would happen? How would we deal with it? What do you do when someone who you're responsible for just decides to quit worrying about what you think?

Thus, power, at least of human over human, is simply an illusion. Funny thing, that free will....