Monday, March 14, 2011

Oh Ruby, don't take your love to town.

My husband is teaching the Vietnam War novel "Fallen Angels" to his students right now, and with the book running through the back of his mind, he's been playing The Killer's cover of Kenny Rogers' song a lot. The Vietnam vet with the bent and paralyzed legs who's asking his girl not to walk out on him again. The paperback sits on the shelf next to the kids' books, and the Flaco occassionally picks it up and then brings me "Que Prefieres" instead. It's this book of hypotheticals: would you rather have a dog drag you through the mud or be soaked with water? Would you rather dance with a goat or ride on top of a pig? Lolita, who doesn't speak much, points excitedly at her answers and rises her eyebrows, head knodding up and down, "Yeah!" and then emphatically, "Yeah."
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There's a page of scenarios that includes a boxing cat, and the statement that the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians plays in my mind every time I see the illustration. The verse is one that I've pushed away a thousand times without even realizing it, "I do not fight like a man beating the air." It continues on to a verse that's easily misunderstood, which is why I suppose I have avoided it. The translation I'm familiar with says "No, I beat my body* and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I will not be disqualified for the prize."
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Sometimes it's easy to see the Bible as a book of hypotheticals, where you're given the option of choosing a sentence you want to base your theology on. There are plenty of verses that would seem to say the exact opposite: the twenty third Psalm with its simple picture of a God who makes us lie down beside still waters. I picture these verses depicted on the page: Would you rather beat your body or rest? I would rather rest.
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But what he meant by rest was of course an extraordinary exertion of faith: the verse would be better illustrated showing a pack of wolves around the edges, a shepherd saying "sleep" when every instinct in you says run.
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We tend to view faith as something that is only of value if it passes some sort of litmus test: if it's real, it'll still be there no matter where life takes me. Rather than resting in faith, we rest from it: we handle it as something better left untouched. We think that true belief shouldn't require effort; we're afraid of becoming indoctrinated, brainwashed, convinced.
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Paul wrote of it as something to scramble after, something to never let go of. He wrote of a paradigm entirely different than the conventional wisdom that says follow your heart because your heart can't be wrong. He says we're like Ruby, taking our love to town. God has put himself in the position of the paralytic asking us not to walk away; with fickle hearts we paint up our lips and curl our tinted hair.
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My dad saw a demon one night. He was in his trailer asleep, and he awoke to hear horrible laughter. He saw a face before him; he was frozen in fear, covered in sweat. He remembered Sunday School and called out the only word he knew to say, Jesus. The face disappeared and he dropped - he didn't even realize he had been hovering some six feet above his bed. And do you know what I do with this? My mind automatically tries to rationalize, to let the story be anything other than what it is. Like the man written about in Mark, I cry out "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
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I cling to my faith with white knuckles and I beat my body because I know, even when I do not know, that Jesus Christ is real. And if faith is a flame and I spend too much time out in the wind, I cup my hands around the flicker that's left until it consumes me again. I see so much ambivilence: people let their knowledge of God go unfed, they douse it in water and say if it was real, they would feel the flame. They walk away from Christ and then marvel at his distance.
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Oh Ruby, for God's sake, turn around.



*Some of Matt's friends were in kung fu, and as a part of their training, they had to strike themselves with two by fours. It was to make their bones stronger and their muscles more accustomed to taking blows. My assumption is that he's referring to something similar (as opposed to the other picture mind my jumped to of Shias marching and whipping their backs.)

8 comments:

socstud said...

I don't know if Matt's looking for something else "Vietnam War-wise", but Steven King has a really good book (really two novellas and three short stories - thank you Wiki) called Hearts in Atlantis.

It discusses the Vietnam War from the perspective of: college students, soldiers in Vietnam, and a vet back in the States a couple years later.

There are some "intimate" moments amongst the college students, but nonetheless, I thought it was really good at giving a good picture of what it was like to live through the Vietnam era.

socstud said...
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socstud said...

Wikipedia entry for those who don't hate on Wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hearts_in_Atlantis

rolli grove said...

incredible, so very glad you weren't gone long.

Something on my heart ever since I read it, which is connected...Beth Moore wrote something incredibly simple about faith that i've tried to expand into a post several times, but it can't be expanded, maybe it does't need to be and I'll post it like this:

I was reading about David and thinking, my faith isn't strong like his. I said in my heart "I wish I could have strong faith like David. Oh well, guess that's what I get." Beth Moore wrote: "Faith in faith is pointless. Faith in a living, active God moves mountains." She was referencing David going into battle against Goliath.

All the times I said the same thing about my faith, "We think that true belief shouldn't require effort" and said I wasn't born with enough faith, when God is what I believe in not my faith, as though I can store it up like treasure and spend it at key moments. Kinda a sideline on my part, but your post struck such a chord. It's a really beautiful and inspiring post.

erin said...

LOVE this one.

maybe because these are pictures that have been playing in my head lately as well.

The Goodfellas said...

socstud: (i always think that's soc stud, like soccer stud, and then i think wait, is it like social studies? do tell.) thanks for the heads-up (on behalf of matthew.) is the part with the college students in a specific novella or short story that it could be skipped entirely?

l: i totally know what you mean about trying to "store something up" and the concept of faith in faith rather than faith in God. i have chided myself a thousand times for the circular thinking of purposefully building my faith, but then i realize it's simply building fidelity to God. it's nothing so mystical or confusing. i believe enough to want to believe more. i think it fits with the idea of weakness being strength: i know that i am foolish and easily lead astray. i'm glad that i know that.

e: i loved what you posted on "howl." i'm glad that you wrote it all out.

mistergoodfella said...

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mistergoodfella said...
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