Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Eight years.

There was a girl named Hanene. She was Tunisian of French descent; giant curly hair, magenta tights before people wore tights, a rather prominent nose, pretty. I got it in my head I should set her up with my friend. I remember telling him that she was so amazing except that there was one thing I should warn him about: she had a French laugh. I did a deep-throated French-voweled hahaha like a man in a cartoon might do, followed by sacrebleu. He said that could be a deal-breaker. I told him I was joking and he agreed to meet her.

We worked together that night. We were leaning against a podium by the north entrance taking tickets for a barely-attended folk concert. I thought I'd bring up the subject of romance. "So I'm getting married" I told her. She angled her chin up and scrutinized my face. "Why are you doing this?" she asked. I had been expecting a squeal, a girlish hug, a drawn-out aw. I was unprepared for a hard stare and a question that sounded like it was followed by a period rather than a question mark. I didn't even say "because I love him." I shrugged my shoulders, waiting, thinking something would come to me. "I just... you know..." "How can you say you will always be with him, with one person, for the rest of your life? How can you know that now? You do not even know what life will bring. You're what, eighteen?" "I'm almost twenty two." "It's the same thing."

I told her that I think that marriage vows are like jumping off a cliff and expecting that God will give you wings to fly. I felt like an idiot saying it.

She shook her head at me, earrings jangling disapprovingly, eyebrows furrowed. I didn't bother bringing up my friend.

I walked down the aisle a few months later, ridiculously poofy and covered in tulle. He was waiting at the end in his black suit, a white calla-lily pinned on. He looked a bit like a kid playing dress-up, like one of those sepia-toned greeting cards of kids holding hands, a pink bouquet of roses in the girl's hand. It occurred to me that maybe he didn't know what he was doing either.

We stood alongside each other in front of an assembly of guests and wedding-crashers. We promised extraordinary things; we would love each other forever, no matter what. We would love each other until we died. He held my hand, he gave me a nod. The I Do's felt like they should be followed by a pounding of a gavel in a room with marble floors. Instead he kissed me.

People cheered. The organ sounded and he threw me over his shoulder. I looked like one of those crocheted toilet-paper covers with the tiny body on top and a giant stiff skirt obscuring the fact that there is no body, as if it were normal to simply have a doll on the back of your toilet. A few pearls in the front, bent at the waist, a rush of crinoline in the back.

We got to the back of the church, to the street, and then realized we had no place to go. No rice had been thrown, no hands had been shaken, no well-wishers were waiting to hear the tin cans rattle. He took my hand and kissed me.

This was our jump.

And God took what we gave him and made it lovely.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Death of a Salesman

I think my last post has left the impression that I'm frustrated by peoples' unwillingness to buy what I'm selling. I feel like an aggressive homeless person who stands at interesections and rushes out and washes your window with newspapers, and you're left suddenly digging through your cupholder trying to find change because you clearly can't use a debit card. You sheepishly hold out a couple of Coke-covered nickels and you get cursed at. You start trying to find another route.
But then again, homeless people at least have an obvious reason for their hard-sell. Let me amend my analogy. I'm coming off like a drug pusher who's way too emotionally invested in people buying a dime bag.
Did you know that a two-ounce bag of brown-sugar heroin sells for under three dollars in Afghanistan? It used to bring about eighty cents. The fields are planted with poppies; bomb-blasted buildings are full of men with needles in their arms. Ten percent of the population are addicts. Bin Laden sold them death with a few simple promises: seventy virgins, significance, and drugs.
Teen boys born in the US to moderate Muslim parents were joining the jihad after watching some of his videos. A few of them were from St. Paul. Bin Laden had to have been the best salesmen of all time.
The Christian message, by comparison, is almost laughable. Muslim men picture an eternity of hot sex; Christian men picture an eternity playing the harp. And so earnest Christians, convinced that the gospel is true but not quite sure how to sell it, say something like this: Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship. You were made to want God. The only thing that stops you from a relationship with God is your sin, and once you accept Christ's payment for it, you'll have access to God. Your desires will be met (try it and see.)
It is a distortion so close to truth that the Christian can overlook the fact that it's not exactly what he experiences.
The truth is that the space in time between faith and the culmination of faith --believing that you will see God and actually seeing God-- cannot possibly satisfy a human heart. We go from blind to having sight, but the sight is blurry. The more you squint, the more you realize how little you see.
And you're suddenly required to be an Art major too.
So Christians take up their studies. They talk about what they saw in their textbook, about how much they loved the Raphael, and they work diligently on their assignment to copy the Mona Lisa, but in the end they know that they could barely see Raphael's piece because of their stigmatism and that their version of the Mona Lisa will never look like the original.
They eat their carrots to improve their sight and they listen to lectures on Art History, and they're glad the professor has such good vision, but they'd rather see it themselves than have to be told how beautiful the composition is on the screen. And most days, they'd rather skip the lectures completely and sit around watching football.
You see enough to wish like crazy you could see more: that is all.
Because it's not only sin that keeps us from having a relationship with God, it's being not-dead.
I have at times diminished Heaven so much in my mind that I tried to paint this present reality as fulfillment itself. I've acted as though dissatisfaction with seeing "as through a glass, darkly" were something to be silenced. It seemed so unholy, a reality to be embarrassed of and ignored. The truth is that I'm not particularly good at art, and I can barely see The Crucifixion. And yet, I know it's the most beautiful thing I've never seen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Instantaneous Personal Magnetism

Matthew took up the hollowing of books a while back. He gave my dad one with a carved-out slot for his pearl-handled pistol to sit in; my daughter's will hold her earrings and hairbows. We started browsing the books at Goodwills and carried home a stack to slice up, only to find that we couldn’t cut into most of them. The covers were fantastic; the contents even better.

One that we found tells the reader how to gain influence through increasing his personal magnetism. It included a section on foods not to eat. Bacon, previously recommended by health experts for its carbon (according to the author), is best avoided. Wilted carrots, gravies of all sorts, boiled eggs, and fish. Men in three-piece suits with remarkably white teeth were scattered throughout the book, looking classy, confident, and composed.

Their poise reminded me of an article I read a few months ago about gaining influence through posture. Participants in a study were told to spit in a control cup; their saliva was studied for its levels of testosterone. They were then told to sit in power-diminishing poses for 15 minutes, shoulders slumped forward, knees together, chin down. They spat. Then they sat in postures that exuded bravado. They put their feet up on desks, put their hands behind their heads, and spat again. Across the board, people who acted like they were self-assured had raised levels of testosterone and, presumably, the ability to intimidate people.

I’ve been thinking about these essays on influence recently because I’ve become increasingly aware of the fact that I have none.

This is not to say that I will be eating Magnetism Dinners on a TV tray or that I’ll consult a chiropractor for the sake of the gospel. And does that sentence make sense at all? Did you know already what I was referring to?

I write post after post about Christ, about God, about the reality of the unseen, and the only ones who respond are the Christians. I’m not saying that my writing should persuade you to get on your hands and knees, but does it do nothing? Do you not wonder, at the very least, if it is true?

I think that it is because I am nothing to most people. And I don’t say that in mock-humility or out of low self-esteem. I say this because we simply don’t place value on what another person believes.

My mom saw man land on the moon in Ecuador on a grainy black-and-white TV screen. She thought it was a hoax. Ridiculous! A man on the moon. I recognize that asking you (dear Reader) to believe that I have seen the darkness tremble at the sound of Jesus’s name, that I have felt the power of his forgiveness made possible because of the cross, is as illogical as asking a TV viewer to believe that Neil Armstrong wasn’t walking on a Hollywood set.

And yet, you believe that the American flag flies in outer space.

You do. Because at some point, we all have to believe someone else. We choose when to listen and when to walk on.

Books used to be hollowed because Christians were hiding tiny copies of New Testaments inside them. They were willing to risk their lives for the chance to know this God more. They still do.

I met a woman who was tortured for her faith. She was beaten on the pads of her feet until they were raw like meat, and then made to walk in the dirt with heavy shackles around her ankles. She was told that all she had to do was sign a document recanting her faith. Communists in China, they give weight to belief. She walked in circles, reeling in pain, and finally decided to sign. As she was about to, she glanced down and saw her bloody footprints, now pooling up as mud. She said that she stopped for a moment, startled, realizing that this is what Christ’s footprints must have looked like as he walked towards Golgatha. She said, her voice choked, that she realized that he endured the same pain, only he didn’t have to.

You are so beautiful, Jesus. You are so beautiful, she said.

She wept. She could not deny him. She walked on.

You don't have to.

The blurb for Instantaneous Personal Magnetism reads: In light of today's understanding of biology and physiology, many of Shaftesbury's explanations of how to promote Personal Magnetism seem quaint and exaggerated. Regardless of the terminology, the methods work, and produce results. Little to nothing will come from just reading the book, it is the application of the outlined principles that manifests the ability.

I laughed at how easily the blurb could suit the Bible. In light of today's understanding of biology and physiology, many of these claims (ie. dying for sins and resurrection from the dead, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence) may seem quaint and exaggerated. Regardless, Jesus's methods work, and produce results. Little to nothing will come from just reading the book, it is the application of the outlined principles (faith and love) that manifests the ability (to someday see God.)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

On Looking Good

When I was in high school, I wanted some tattoos and a nose ring. My dad said no, you'll give people the wrong impression. I said "What impression is that?" He said they'd assume I was on drugs. I said that was their problem, not mine. I sang the teenage party line that appearance shouldn't matter. He asked if I really meant this. I said yes. He said if appearance doesn't matter, then starting tomorrow he would wear biker shorts with a flannel shirt tucked in, and I could do whatever I wanted with myself. I thought it best to not call his bluff. He had a little bit of crazy in his eyes; you don't play chicken with someone like that.
I saw an episode of What Not to Wear a few weeks ago where the girl sang the same tune. She was a recent graduate with a doctorate in Sociology, and she insisted that image is nothing. Stacey said something to the effect of "You're trying to communicate that you don't care about materialism, but what people are actually seeing is that you're sloppy." (I could picture my mom telling me that I looked like I didn't care enough about the people I was going to see to bother putting myself together. She burned my favorite pair of pants. Burned them.) The girl saw the futility of trying to claim that appearance is nothing. She ate her words just like I did.
I don't know why we're so insistent of this notion. It's youth, I suppose; you think you've discovered something that no one else has thought of. Gonna shake up the establishment, teach them a thing or two: what people think about you doesn't matter. I've been noticing recently how much Christian teenagers apply this line of thinking to religion, treating the appearance of evil as insignificant. They make comments that would cause people to assume that they mess around with people of the opposite or the same sex; they pursue godliness but don't want people to know it. They shrug off the dissonance by claiming it's not their problem how they're perceived, it's what's on the inside that counts.
The outside matters. Case in point: my dad once once gave a guy a discount on his car repair because he looked a little punk. I was away from home and he missed me.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Joy of Faithlessness

I was tucking my son in last night in his polar bear pajamas in his tiny bed, putting away his dinosaurs that scare him at night, leaning down for one last skinny-arm hug. "Quedate no mas" he said. I can't, I told him. Octavius is little and he needs a bottle; I have to go. "Yo no soy chiquitito, soy grande" he said, making tiny fists, clenching the muscles in his arms. So big, I said. He was suddenly quiet. "Why don't I see angels anymore now that I'm a big boy?"
I shoot from the hip when I talk to my son. I said that God wants us to have faith in him, and that faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see. If you could see God and angels, I said, you wouldn't have faith. Entiendes?
He's gracious with me. "Yeah," he said, "I understand." And someday you won't need faith at all, I said. Someday you'll see God face to face. He considered this. "God lives in a palace in the sky? That is very strange." Yeah, I said. It is very strange. "And he's making a room for me in his palace?" Yeah Flaco. There is a room for you. "Do you think he will paint a pteradactyl on the wall? Eso si me gustaria." I think that's a nice idea. I ran my fingers through his blond hair, wincing. "I think Loli's room should have a painting of a hen on the wall." Oh Flaco, she would love a hen. "When is Loli going to die?" Heart stopping, in my throat; I shoot from the hip but I try not to lie. I don't know, Flaco. But you don't have to think about that, not at all. Estamos en las manos de Dios.
It got worse. "Will I have bruises?" What? "When I die, will I have bruises like Jesus? When they killed him." He's three, he's three, I thought. He's only three.
Flaco, when you die, God will come and take you by the hand, and say "Come home, mijo." It is nothing bad. "Okay." A pause. "Me va a llamar mijo?" Yeah, he'll call you mijo.
Octavius was finished with his bottle; I could hear Matt at the sink. I covered my son up again and kissed his little face. Duermete no mas, I said. Eyes burning. Te amo. He closed his brown eyes and I stepped out to the darkened staircase, heart turned upside down and sinking like lead, telling myself not to be afraid. I reached for faith as if it were something substantial to hold, while realizing for the first time that the only reason it has any value at all is because it will one day it will cease to exist.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Birth of El Che

This is love at first sight.